October 28, 2013

I Spy with My Little Eye

"Guten Tag. It's the NSA."

In 2010, a Russian spy ring was caught in the United States. It made big news, mostly because one of the spies, Anna Chapman, looked like this -- confirming in the minds of hopeful young males all over the world that James Bond films are not mere fiction, but depictions of reality. The American media had a good laugh over the situation, amused by Russia's quaint Cold War mentality.

The Obama administration, correctly, didn't make much of a fuss over it. Ms. Chapman and her cohorts were quickly deported back to Russia. Why did the administration take this approach? Because we've got American spies in Russia, too. Actually, the U.S. has spies everywhere, and we use technology to spy on everybody, including our friends. And our friends spy on us, too.

Don't take just our word for it. Here's what former head of French intelligence Bernard Squarcini had to say:

“The French intelligence services know full well that all countries, whether or not they are allies in the fight against terrorism, spy on each other all the time,” he said.

“The Americans spy on French commercial and industrial interests, and we do the same to them because it’s in the national interest to protect our companies.”

That's why the latest kerfluffle over how America (allegedly) tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone is a bit curious. If the French openly confess to spying on America, then Germany is spying on us, too -- whether or not they're willing to admit it. So why the hypocrisy? Why are Germans so critical of America when their intelligence agency is doing the same thing?

In Germany's case, the answer may have to do with their recent past. The Germans have nasty memories of the "Stasi," the secret police of former East Germany, who extensively spied on its own citizens.

But Germans aren't the only ones who are angry. Other Europeans, including the French, expressed outrage. Why? The answer appears to be one of scale: America's surveillance program is larger and better than everybody else's.

The BBC reports:

"Every country has weapons for spying, but most have the equivalent of a howitzer," says James Bamford, who has written extensively on the National Security Agency. "In terms of eavesdropping, the US has a nuclear weapon."

Perhaps tapping Ms. Merkel's phone -- if the U.S. actually did that -- was a step too far in Europeans' eyes. Maybe they are correct. Americans would probably be upset if they knew President Obama's cell phone was being tapped by German intelligence.

At the same time, however, Europe's complaints ring hollow. If they admit to spying, then the disagreement isn't over diplomatic protocol, but technological ability. Europeans are simply upset that the U.S. is far better at spying than they are. That's like complaining about "bullying" after your high school football team gets beat 91-0.

The only countries that agreed not to spy on each other are part of the "Five Eyes" alliance -- U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But, we're probably spying on each other, anyway.

(Photo: Reuters via Der Spiegel)

October 20, 2013

Germany's Coalition Talks: Checking in on Angela Merkel


Angela Merkel's monumental victory on election night wasn't quite big enough to allow her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party to govern on its own. The party won 311 seats, just five seats shy of an outright majority. As a result, Ms. Merkel must negotiate with other parties to form a coalition government.

In 2005, the last time Merkel's CDU was forced into an ideologically awkward "grand coalition" with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), a government was formed after six weeks of negotiations. This time, the CDU has already conducted two rounds of talks with the SPD, followed by failed talks with the center-left Green Party. Now, the SPD is back for Round 3.

But they come bearing a list of demands.

According to Reuters, included in the SPD's list of ten "non-negotiable" demands is "a minimum wage of 8.50 euros per hour, equal pay for men and women, greater investment in infrastructure and education, and a common strategy to boost euro zone growth and employment." They also want "equal pensions for seniors in the former West and East Germany, the ability to have dual citizenship, and measures to make it easier to combine work with family life."

Of all these demands, implementing a national minimum wage will be the trickiest. Merkel is in favor of something resembling the current system, in which sector-specific minimum wages are negotiated between employers and unions. Additionally, German economists are opposed, warning that a national minimum wage of €8.50 will cost jobs, particularly in former East Germany.

The SPD claims that it is not afraid of calling for new elections if they are unable to form a government with the CDU.

However, given Ms. Merkel's personal popularity and the German people's desire to see a CDU-SPD grand coalition, that may not be a very smart gamble. One could easily see Merkel winning an outright majority if Germans were forced to vote again.

(AP Photo)

September 2, 2013

The Results of Germany's One and Only Televised Debate


Unlike the United States, which has three presidential debates, a vice-presidential debate and (what feels like) several thousand primary debates, Germany is treated to just one televised debate between the major parties and one televised debate between the minor parties. On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the center-right CDU and her challenger, Peer Steinbrück of the center-left SPD, were given their chance to shine on national television.

Topics included: Greece and the Eurozone crisis, Syria, the American NSA spying on Germans, higher taxes on the wealthy and a national minimum wage. How did they do?

Reports indicate no major fireworks. This isn't a surprise. The Economist predicted that Ms. Merkel would talk "soothingly without saying anything" -- a rather familiar approach for the famously cautious politician. The AP reported, "neither contender scored a knockout blow or made a major mistake, and polls conducted by broadcasters showed no clear winner."

This is to Ms. Merkel's benefit and Mr. Steinbrück's detriment. Ms. Merkel maintains a 16-point lead over her challenger, so Mr. Steinbrück needed to shake up the race. But that most likely didn't happen.

Still, though the CDU will likely win the most votes, Ms. Merkel isn't guaranteed to return as Chancellor. Her current governing coalition, which includes the center-right FDP, is in trouble since the FDP may not receive enough votes to cross the 5 percent threshold to enter the Bundestag.

The speculation will be over soon. The election is on Sunday, Sept. 22.

(AP photo)

July 15, 2013

Which Imperial Power Was the Most Brutal?


Michael Rubin makes what I think is a rather bold claim here:

At its root, China is an imperialist power, one more brutal than Europe’s formerly colonialist powers who, to this day, continue to beat themselves up over their nineteenth and early twentieth century pasts. The Tibetans have been victims, Taiwan—whose unique identity is apparent to any visitor—might become a victim, and the Uighur Muslims are victims, as are any group who are not Han Chinese.

I'll admit up front that I know more about Europe's colonial past than I do about China's, but still, the above struck me as off the mark. Is China's current treatment of Tibetans really worse than what the Spanish did to the Incas or what the British did in Kenya? I could be convinced otherwise, but I doubt.

So, dear reader, I ask: over the sweep of history, has China's imperial rule been more violent and brutal than Europe's?

(Photo: Wiki Commons)

July 3, 2013

MSNBC Commentator Makes Uninformed Remark on Europe

Extinct? Not even endangered.

American journalists -- with the notable exception of foreign correspondents -- seem to have little knowledge about what goes on across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. That's not good, especially when we live in a globalized world. Considering that the European Union is the world's largest economy, and China's economy may soon surpass that of the U.S., it would be perhaps beneficial if American journalists showed at least a modicum of interest in global affairs.

In a recent interview on Hardball, Jonathan Alter discussed the issue of illegal immigration in America. His general point was that Republicans should support immigration reform because it would help their party in the long-run with Hispanics.

That debate is not our concern here. Instead, our concern is what he said next:

"[Republicans] shouldn't become a remnant party the way they are in Europe."

Hmmm. This is a rather mystifying statement.

It is completely true that there are no Republicans in Europe. For that matter, there aren't any Democrats, either. So, presumably, Mr. Alter actually means, "Conservatives shouldn't become a remnant party the way they are in Europe."

If that's what he meant, then he is still completely wrong. In the European Parliament, the center-right European People's Party (EPP) is the largest, and it governs in a grand coalition with the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES).

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party leads his nation in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In Germany, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats leads a center-right coalition. Until last year's election of Francois Hollande, France was governed by Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party. And Poland -- a nation with rapidly growing influence in Europe -- has two major political parties: One is center-right and the other is far-right.

Sure, European economic policies are further to the left than U.S. policies. But Mr. Alter's implication that conservatism is dead in Europe betrays a lack of knowledge of current European affairs.

(AP Image)

May 31, 2013

Who Doesn't Trust Banks? Europeans


Europeans are more likely to distrust banks than anyone else around the world, according to a new survey from Gallup:

Confidence in financial institutions was regionally weakest in the EU; among the 27 EU member states, a median 37% of residents said they have confidence in their country's banks, while 55% did not. However, the trust level in the U.S. was exactly as low as the EU median, in line with the record-low levels Gallup found three years after the recession officially ended in the U.S.

In sharp contrast to Europe and the U.S., many Asian countries have weathered the global financial crisis well and emerged with considerable economic momentum. This momentum helps explain why confidence in financial institutions was highest in Asia last year -- particularly among emerging markets in Southeast and South Asia, where median trust was 77% and 75%, respectively. In Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia, almost nine in 10 residents expressed confidence in the financial institutions in their countries.

Confidence in East Asia did not lag far behind its southern neighbors. Median trust in the region was 66%; in China, that figure was slightly higher at 72%.

None of this is terribly surprising, given the financial sector's role in plunging the U.S. and then Europe into a sustained crisis. But China may not be content with their financial institutions for very long. As the Economist has observed, China's banks are saddled with bad local government debt and "souring" property loans thanks to its recent "infrastructure binge."

(AP Photo)

May 28, 2013

Germany's Brewers Aren't Keen on Fracking


German brewers are worried that fracking will ruin the water they use to brew their beers:

Regulations controlling the brewing of beer in Germany date back to the beer purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, of 1516 -- the world's first food purity law. According to the Brewers Federation, German beer still may only be made from malt, hops, yeast and water.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition has drafted regulations for fracking, but the brewers say their proposed laws don't go far enough.

In the letter, which was sent to six federal ministers, the brewers said: "The legal changes planned by the federal government to date are not sufficient to guarantee the security of drinking water supplies and to take into account the requirements of the Reinheitsgebot." A spokesperson for the federation confirmed the contents of the letter to SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The letter goes on to argue that the brewing industry is dependent on high-quality drinking water, and that fracking could reduce or even completely eliminate the security of the water supply. The federation calls on the government to continue debate on the issue before reaching a final decision.

I guess we'll see how much clout the German "beer lobby" has.

(AP Photo)

May 23, 2013

Compass Goes to Budapest: A Photo-Essay

Last year, I rendered a not-so-flattering portrayal of my first ever visit to Budapest. However, I am pleased to report that my third visit to the city, which just happened this past week, went quite splendidly. Yet, that doesn't mean Budapest is off the hook; Hungarians still need to address their disturbingly racist hostility toward Jews, Africans and Roma (Gypsies), not to mention their government's erosion of free speech and the rule of law.

But, that's enough political commentary for now. Friendly or not, Budapest is a beautiful city with plenty to do. Here are some of the highlights from my recent trip.


Chain Bridge as seen from Buda. Budapest was originally three different cities, Buda and Obuda on the west side of the Danube River and Pest on the east side. The spans of the Chain Bridge were destroyed during World War II.


Chain Bridge as seen from Pest at night. This is definitely one of the most impressive views in all of Europe.


Hungarian Parliament. Situated on the east bank of the Danube River in Pest, it is currently where Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz Party conduct business. He's been a rather naughty boy, of late.


Szechenyi Baths. A few years ago, I visited the famous Gellert Baths, so I tried the Szechenyi Baths this time. These baths have smelly natural spring waters or large swimming pools to soak in. If you've never been to Budapest, I definitely recommend Gellert over Szechenyi.


Chess at Szechenyi Baths. People bring chess sets and play each other while relaxing in the pool. I played a game with a man (not pictured) who described himself as an "amateur." He then went on to give me a brief lesson on the history of American chess and proceeded to destroy me in about 20 moves. Amateur? I think not. But, perhaps I would have fared better if chess were taught in U.S. schools.


House of Terror. This building was used first by Hungarian Nazis (Arrow Cross Party), and then the Communists, to imprison, torture and execute dissidents.


St. Stephen's Basilica.


St. Stephen's Basilica.


Central Coffeehouse. This coffee shop was established in 1887. To put that into perspective, the City of Seattle -- famous for its coffee -- wasn't incorporated until 1869. So, Central Coffeehouse in Budapest is roughly as old as Seattle. Another coffee shop, Gerbeaud, was established in 1858.


Margaret Island. To get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, take a trip to quiet Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River. You'll still be right in the middle of a major metropolitan area, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

After departing Budapest, we headed north through Slovakia to the Polish resort city of Zakopane. Slovakia is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen, and my next photo-essay will start there.

May 17, 2013

Berlusconi's Bunga-Bunga Parties Featured Women Dressed as President Obama


Oh boy:

Silvio Berlusconi’s private disco featured women dressed not just as sexy nuns and nurses but also as President Barack Obama and a prominent Milan prosecutor the former Italian premier has accused of persecuting him.

Those are some of the details that have emerged Friday during the first public sworn testimony by the Moroccan woman at the center of the sex scandal involving Berlusconi.

I've never had the opportunity to host (or attend) a bunga-bunga party, but President Obama's likeness is about the last thing I'd want to see.

And food for thought: would Berlusconi's ladies have had to dress up as John McCain, if he won the election?

(AP Photo)

April 22, 2013

Europe's Cap-and-Trade Scheme Failing Spectacularly


Whether or not you accept the scientific data on climate change (you should!), it is common sense that pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere isn't the best idea in the world. Since scientists are unsure how much the temperature will change in response to CO2 levels, the "conservative" thing to do is to be cautious. After all, simple physics tells us that, over time, more carbon dioxide will lead to a warmer planet.

Therefore, finding ways to reduce our carbon emissions is good policy. Generally, there are two ways proposed to do it: A smart way and a dumb way. You can probably guess which one the European Union implemented.

First, the smart way: A corrective tax (a.k.a. Pigovian tax) applied on fossil fuels would be an easy, straightforward method to reduce carbon emissions. Dirtier fuels (e.g., coal and oil) would pay the highest tax, while cleaner fuels (e.g., natural gas) would pay less. Nuclear, solar, wind and other clean energy sources would pay none at all. The size of the tax would always be known, so companies could plan accordingly.

Then, there's the dumb way: Cap-and-trade. It's not that it can't be successful; cap-and-trade helped mitigate the scourge of acid rain. But, as Hank Campbell and I wrote, it suffers from considerable drawbacks, such as unpredictable price fluctuations and the creation of an inefficient, complex bureaucracy which can lead to corruption. This fosters a chaotic atmosphere that is not only bad for business, but undermines public confidence in governments' ability to reduce CO2 emissions.

Back in 2005, the European Union launched its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), and as the New York Times reported on Sunday, it is failing spectacularly. Why? Because of "serious flaws in the design of the system," as The Times writes. It goes on to say:

This year has been stomach-churning for the people who make their living in the arcane world of trading emissions permits. The most recent volatility comes on top of years of uncertainty during which prices have fluctuated from $40 to nearly zero for the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide.

There's that pesky price fluctuation we warned about. Too high of prices will hurt business, but too low of prices will undermine the entire point of the scheme. It's supposed to cost money to emit CO2, but if carbon is cheap, then there is no incentive to reduce emissions. And that's exactly what happened.

[A]t current levels, [prices] are far too low to change companies' behaviors, analysts say. Emitting a ton of carbon dioxide costs about the same as a hamburger.

To increase prices, carbon emission permits are supposed to be withdrawn from the market, decreasing the supply and increasing the price. But, given the poor state of Europe's economy, the European Parliament didn't want to do that. Thus:

[O]ver time, the declining prices for the credits have sapped the European market of value, legitimacy and liquidity — the ease with which the allowances can be traded — making it less attractive for financial professionals.

Furthermore, the EU Observer reported in 2009 that the ETS is "a magnet for tax fraud on a grand scale, costing government coffers around €5 billion euros." And to add insult to injury:

Europol, Europe's criminal intelligence agency, said that as much as 90 percent of the entire market volume on emissions exchanges was caused by fraudulent activity, undermining the very viability of the ETS just as the EU is touting a similar scheme for the rest of the world. [Emphasis added]

Unpredictable price fluctuations? Check. Inefficient bureaucracy? Check. Corruption? Check. Undermining public confidence? Check.

I'm not the sort of a person who does an "I told you so" dance, but, well ... I told you so.

(Image: AP photo)

April 10, 2013

Francois Hollande's Camel Has Been Eaten


It has been a year of bad omens for French President Francois Hollande. On the day he was inaugurated, lightning struck his plane. He has suffered a collapse in his approval rating that is the worst since 1958. And now, somebody has eaten his camel.

The New York Times reports that the nation of Mali -- which is receiving military assistance from France for its ongoing conflict with Islamists -- greeted the French president with a noble gift: a baby camel. The camel, however, perhaps sensing the French public's zeitgeist, did not take kindly to Mr. Hollande. Besides, where exactly does one keep a camel in the Elysee? So, Mr. Hollande gave it to a family in Timbuktu to take care of.

And take care of it, they did. The camel featured prominently in the family's tagine, a type of stew. (Here's a recipe for Moroccan tagine; presumably the chicken is replaced with camel.)

The Malian government was horrified. The Times writes:

"As soon as we heard of this, we quickly replaced it with a bigger and better-looking camel," an official in Timbuktu told the Reuters news agency. "We are ashamed of what happened to the camel," said the official, who asked Reuters not to identify him because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. "The new camel will be sent to Paris. It was a present that did not deserve this fate."

Hopefully the new camel won't be turned into bourguignon.

[via New York Times]

(Image: Camel by John O'Neill via Wikimedia Commons)

April 3, 2013

These Are the European Countries Sending Fighters into Syria


Like Iraq before it, Syria is becoming a magnet for foreign jihadists. The Washington Institute's Aaron Zelin has compiled a rough sketch of what the influx looks like and where it's coming from. Zelin estimates that between 2,000 and 5,500 foreign fighters have entered Syria of which between 135-590 came from Europe. Here's Zelin's European break-down:

* Albania: 1
* Austria: 1
* Belgium: 14-85
* Britain: 28-134
* Bulgaria: 1
* Denmark: 3-78
* Finland: 13
* France: 30-92
* Germany: 3-40
* Ireland: 26
* Kosovo: 1
* Netherlands: 5-107
* Spain: 6
* Sweden: 5

Zelin estimates that there are currently 70-441 Europeans still in Syria, mostly on the front lines in the war against Assad.

I wonder if they're all fighting for democracy and a Western-aligned Syria?

(AP Photo)

'Bieber Fever' Now a Legitimate Excuse in Norway


While the world has taken note of a new Bird Flu variant in China, another, arguably more insidious, threat has flown under the radar: Justin Bieber.

Now comes word that a school in Norway has rescheduled exams in a preemptive strike against the notorious Bieber Fever. Five schools in Alesund will have their midterm exams rescheduled since those tests were due to coincide with a visit from the teen pop sensation.

John Stoll reports:

“We considered that this was a battle that we could not win this time,” Roar Aasen, the principal of the Blindheim secondary school in Alesund, told national broadcaster NRK. He expects Mr. Bieber’s upcoming show to lead to sparse classroom attendance.

Five hundred students will be affected. Alesund is about an eight hour drive from Oslo, or an hour by plane...

This year, half of the girls at Mr. Aasen’s school are expected to attend one of Mr. Bieber’s Oslo shows, according to interviews done by NRK. The Norway stop is the beginning of a Nordic leg of his current tour, which will take him through Copenhagen, two stops in Sweden and Helsinki.

Foolish capitulation or prudent precaution? You decide.

(AP Photo)

April 2, 2013

Will We Enter a Post-Democracy World?


"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
--Winston Churchill

It's been a rough few years for democracy. Despite that, Westerners always seem to assume that the most highly evolved form of government is democratic. The trouble with that notion is that, at some point, a majority of voters realize they can vote for politicians who promise them the most stuff, regardless of whether or not it is good policy or financially sustainable. And once that occurs, the country is (perhaps irreversibly) on a pathway to decline.

Take Greece, for example. Even though it isn't the sole (or even largest) cause of the Eurozone crisis, it stands as an example of a poorly governed nation that lived far beyond its means for years. Tax evasion was rampant, and when the credit card bill arrived in the mail, the Greeks couldn't pay up. They sought a bailout, and the austerity imposed upon them appears to have made matters even worse.

In short, an irresponsible, democratically elected government in Greece had to turn to unelected officials to get something drastic done (even if that solution is far from perfect). Greece's fate is now in the hands of non-Greeks: Angela Merkel and unelected bureaucrats in the troika -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Events like this have had a pernicious effect on how Europeans view the EU. One Charlemagne column in The Economist describes how the EU suffers from a legitimacy problem because of a democratic deficit. Many of the movers and shakers are unelected or too far removed from the citizens they represent. Charlemagne summarizes the problem:

The EU boasts of being a union of democracies. But its crisis of legitimacy is intensifying as it delves more deeply into national policies, especially in the euro zone. One problem is the evisceration of national politics: whatever citizens may vote for, southerners end up with more austerity and northerners must pay for more bail-outs. Another is that the void is not being filled by a credible European-level democracy.

In other words, regardless of what voters vote for, they get what leaders think is best.

But is that such a bad thing? As The Globalist reports, for two millennia, Europe considered democracy to be little better than "mob rule." The author, Zhang Weiwei, highlights four points to make his case:

(1) Democracies often elect untalented people; (2) the welfare state unaffordably increases in size; (3) consensus, and hence governance, is too difficult when minority parties are keen on obstruction; and (4) populism sacrifices long-term interests for the sake of short-term gains.

These criticisms aptly apply to the United States. Indeed, in 2011, we lost our AAA credit rating because our politicians had no good plan to reduce the national debt, and instead engaged in brinksmanship over raising the debt ceiling.

Similarly, Russians have flirted with democracy and free markets since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But, polls suggest that they wouldn't mind flipping the calendar back a few decades: 51 percent of Russians want a centrally planned economy and 36 percent believe the Soviet system was superior to what they have today.

Mr. Zhang suggests that the world can learn from China, which chooses its leaders on a merit-based system. Of course, there's also a lot wrong with China, such as human rights abuses and a general lack of freedom.

Obviously, an entirely autocratic system is undesirable (and perhaps even evil), but it appears that a completely democratic one is, at best, dysfunctional. Is there a way, for the sake of economic prosperity, to strike a proper balance between the two?

(Parthenon: Steve Swayne via Wikimedia Commons)

March 25, 2013

Bedlam (Still) Boiling in Budapest?


Last year, I wrote a piece about a growing trend of nationalism in Hungary that has manifested as intolerance toward ethnic minorities and anyone perceived to be an outsider. I received some flak for that article, mostly because critics didn't like the anecdotal nature of my piece. For instance, Yong Kwon, a freelance writer for Asia Times, accused me of misdiagnosing the real issue in Hungary, which in his opinion is economic trouble, not an attitude problem. And he ended his commentary with this delightful quote:

"[I]t pissed me off that ... he complains about a bad travel experience and turns it into a wider political commentary. What a jerk."

I won't contest the fact that I could be a jerk; unfortunately, that doesn't make Mr. Kwon correct. Despite his robust defense of Hungary, hard data suggests that ethnic intolerance is indeed a widespread phenomenon.

As reported by Benjamin Ward, a December 2012 poll asked Hungarians if they would allow their children to be friends with Jews, Africans and Roma (Gypsies). Their answer was, to paraphrase, "No, no and hell no." Specifically, 46 percent rejected friendship with Jews, 58 percent with Africans and a whopping 68 percent with Roma.

Lydia Gall of Human Rights Watch expounds:

A prominent columnist calls for a "final solution" for Hungary’s Roma population. A member of parliament calls for drawing up a list of Jewish people involved in Hungarian politics. Two-thirds of those asked in an opinion poll say they wouldn’t let their child be friends with a Romani child. Another poll suggests a similar number believe Jewish people have too much influence. One doesn’t have to be a student of history to be worried about the growing climate of intolerance in Hungary.

Gall's post goes on to detail how Hungarian fans at a soccer match chanted "dirty Jews" when their team played Israel.

Racism, specifically anti-Roma and anti-Semitic sentiments, isn't uncommon throughout much of Europe. But when it is openly preached by influential people and politicians, something has gone terribly wrong. Of course, Hungary's economic problems aren't helping the situation. In times of trouble, people often fall back on prejudices and blame ethnic minorities and foreigners for their troubles. This has even happened in the United States.

And to rub a little extra salt in the wound, the Hungarian Parliament recently amended the constitution to limit both the freedom of speech and the power of the constitutional court to review laws. Needless to say, a deeply racist country that is becoming increasingly autocratic is not headed in a healthy direction.

What's the solution? Better economic times for Hungary will certainly help. But to tackle racism, there is only one solution: open ridicule. Burying our heads in the sand and pretending it isn't a big problem yielded disastrous results in the not-so-distant past.

(AP Photo: Viktor Orban)

March 11, 2013

Austrians Think Neo-Nazis Would Poll Well in Elections (If They Could Run)


According to a poll published by Der Standard, 42 percent of Austrians believe "not everything was bad under Hitler" vs. 57 percent who said there was "nothing positive" about the Hitler era.

Austrians also feel good about how their country has dealt with its Nazi past, according to the poll. Sixty one percent said they felt Austria handled it "adequately" vs. 39 percent who feel more should be done. Nevertheless, a full 54 percent of Austrians think neo-Nazi parties would do well in elections if they weren't currently banned by Austrian law.

(AP Photo)

March 8, 2013

European Parliament Members Don't Want to Hear Your Porn Complaints


Yesterday we noted that the European Parliament was set to vote on a report that recommended banning pornography, writ large, across Europe.

This, naturally, ruffled some feathers and concerned Europeans began to email their "representatives" in Brussels. Except that these legislators weren't that interested in constituent feedback. Instead, they complained to the IT department of the European Parliament to block the incoming mail.

This set off Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom, who revealed the blocking on his site, calling it an "absolute disgrace."

"A parliament that views input from citizens on a current issue as spam, has very little democratic legitimacy in my opinion," Engstrom wrote.

(AP Photo)

March 7, 2013

The European Union Wants to Ban All Porn Next Week


First Iceland, now Europe?

Next week the European Parliament is set to vote on a report titled Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU. Sounds pretty noble, right? Well Rick Falkvinge read the fine print and declared the report a "horrendous attack on our fundamental freedoms of speech and expression."

Why? Because a provision in the report calls for "a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism." It also calls for Internet service providers to police supposedly adult content across their networks in language vague enough to be construed as including flirty text messages and emails.

You would think, given Europe's current travails, that waging a war against porn would be a lower-order priority, but apparently not.

(AP Photo)

March 4, 2013

The U.S. Military Will Move Thousands of Soldiers Out of Europe


A new realignment plan announced by the Defense Department will see the U.S. Army reduce the number of troops stationed in Europe by 10,000 soldiers in addition to removing two brigade combat teams and one corps headquarters.

America's still sizable European force will also move around a bit inside Europe, with several units currently station in Germany shifting to a refurbished base in Italy.

The U.S. has been steadily consolidating its military footprint in Europe, as a useful Military Times rundown makes clear. Some U.S. lawmakers had pushed to remove all permanent troops out of Europe on the logic that the U.S. couldn't afford it and that many European nations had been neglecting their own NATO-mandated spending minimums, but the effort was squashed by the Senate.

Still, the trend line is clear. During the Cold War the U.S. stationed almost 400,000 troops in Europe. By 2015, the Army will have roughly 30,000 troops there, according to Lance Bacon.

(AP Photo)

February 28, 2013

Hollande Least Popular French President in a Generation


Bad news for France's socialist President Francois Hollande: he's wracked up the lowest approval rating of any president since 1981, according to a poll published by Le Figaro.

Hollande's support has been on the decline as France's economic woes have risen. Unemployment in France is at a 15-year high and its service sector is shrinking rapidly. Financial analysts are increasingly alarmed about the sharp divergence between the French and German economies.

The thus-far successful war in Mali has not provided any political lift to Hollande, proving that "it's the economy, stupid" is a trans-Atlantic truism.

(AP Photo)

February 26, 2013

Meno Male Che Silvio C'è

Francesco Giumelli and Davide Maneschi explain why Italians keep voting for Silvio Berlusconi:

Italian voters have always been attracted by the uomo forte, the strong man, a charismatic leader who is capable of singlehandedly solving the country’s problems.

This happened with Mussolini in the 1920s, but the popularity of other figures such as the late Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, the late Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer and more recently the comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo can to a certain extent be explained by Italy’s fascination with the charismatic figure who makes promises of progress and prosperity. Italians find these strong men attractive even when they cut corners in the democratic process.

With his ever-young look, elegant attire and almost shameless show of wealth, Berlusconi effortlessly fits the image of the uomo forte.

The unintentionally hysterical pro-Berlusconi party video/musical number above is brought to us by the very talented Joel Weckgenant. Follow him on Twitter for the latest -- and some of the smartest -- analysis on the Italian election.

February 25, 2013

Norway's "Cushy" Prisons May Actually Work


When Norway's Ander Breivek went on his horrendous killing spree, many Americans were surprised to discover that Norway's criminal justice system was, by U.S. standards, remarkably soft. There are no life sentences, no death penalty and a prisoner can serve a maximum of 21 years in prison (a sentence that can be re-upped if the prisoner's release is deemed a threat to the community).

Conditions inside some of Norway's prisons are equally liberal. One such prison on the island of Bastoy offers cells with TVs, computers and showers. Inmates can hike, swim and fish on the island. The inmates, murderers among them, work outdoors, often wielding knives, chainsaws and axes -- but never turn those weapons on each other.

Yet, as Erwin James writes, Norway's rate of recidivism is the lowest in Europe. Indeed, according to European researchers, while Europe as a whole has recidivism rates of 70 to 75 percent, prisoners who serve time in Bastoy have a re-offending rate of just 16 percent.

This seems to run contrary to public wisdom about prisons, which is that they should be so awful that no prisoner wants to return.

Among the reasons cited for Bastoy's success was the fact that all prisoners have to work and are treated humanely. "'Bastoy takes the opposite approach to a conventional prison where prisoners are given no responsibility, locked up, fed and treated like animals and eventually end up behaving like animals," Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, the prison's governor, told the Daily Mail. "Here you are given personal responsibility and a job and asked to deal with all the challenges that entails. It is an arena in which the mind can heal, allowing prisoners to gain self-confidence, establish respect for themselves and in so doing respect for others too."

(Photo: Astrid Westvang/Flickr)

February 13, 2013

Germany's Complicated Relationship with Islam


Writing in Die Welt, Ulrike Hummel says there is widespread distrust of Islam in Germany. He cites a survey conducted by the University of Bielefeld which found that just 19 percent of Germans believe that "Islam is compatible with German culture." It is, according to an expert quoted by Hummel, the lowest such finding in Europe.

The Bielefeld study also found that 46 percent of Germans felt there are "too many Muslims in Germany" and 30 percent were concerned with Islamic terrorism.

Another survey, published late last year by the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research found similar attitudes among the German public. Over half of the German population saw Islam as prone to violence (64 percent) and hostile to women's rights (80 percent). By contrast, 13 percent of Germans associated Islam with "love for neighbors." Forty four percent of those surveyed believed a "serious conflict" between Islam and Western Christian culture would occur in the future, while 25 percent said the conflict was already ongoing.

Germany is home to an estimated four million Muslims.

(AP Photo)

February 4, 2013

Women Can Now Legally Wear Pants in Paris


France has officially overturned a 200 year old law prohibiting women from wearing pants in Paris. Devorah Lauter explains:

The law required women to ask police for special permission to "dress as men" in Paris, or risk being taken into custody.

In 1892 and 1909 the rule was amended to allow women to wear trousers, "if the woman is holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse."

The law was kept in place until now, despite repeated attempts to repeal it, in part because officials said the unenforced rule was not a priority, and part of French "legal archaeology."

A small win for legal sanity.

(AP Photo)

February 1, 2013

Can Graphene Power a European Recovery?

The British government is investing $40 million in it. The European Union has pledged one billion euros over ten years to research it, calling it the "wonder material" of the 21st century. The "it" in question is graphene, a nanotechnology that uses carbon atoms to create immensely strong structures:

Unlike its carbon cousin graphite, which is dull as pencil lead, or diamonds, which are pretty but of limited uses, graphene has become the sexiest thing in materials science since it was first isolated in 2004. A sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern a single atom thick, graphene is stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum, more flexible than rubber and a better conductor than copper. It is also an excellent semiconductor; electrons can travel through it faster and with fewer collisions than they do in silicon. Excitable EU officials talk of a European “Graphene Valley” to compete with the better-known Bay Area basin.

Potential—there’s that word again—applications include use in computer chips, light sensors, wearable electronics, batteries, healthcare, LEDs, ceramics, airplanes, sportsgear and everything else besides.

Physicists believe that graphene is a technology capable of making the space elevator a real possibility. Clearly, any nation that constructs a space elevator is going to have tremendous geopolitical (and geospatial!) advantage, so it's no surprise that Europe is making this investment. They're not alone. China actually holds the most graphene-related patents. The race is on.

(Image: Quirky Science)

January 30, 2013

Can Europe's "Robin Hood Tax" Really Work?

Eleven European countries have agreed to levy taxes on financial transactions (a 0.1% tax on securities trades and a .01% tax on derivatives trades). The goal is to rake in some badly needed revenue and to discourage financial speculation.

Felix Salmon thinks the so-called "Robin Hood tax" will deliver on the revenues, but won't stop speculation:

I doubt that speculators will find this tax particularly off-putting. Europe doesn’t suffer from the high-frequency trading that has overtaken the U.S. stock market, and these taxes are low enough that any remotely sensible financial transaction will remain sensible on a post-tax basis. It’s possible that total trading volume might decline a little bit in some markets, and that would be fine: no one thinks it’s too low at the moment, and in the derivatives markets especially, increase in volumes generally just translates into increased rents being paid to big sell-side banks. But I’m not someone who believes that speculators are causing a noticeable amount of harm in European markets: as far as they’re concerned, the financial transactions tax is likely to make very little difference to a group of people who are not much of a problem in the first place.
Salmon also doubts the tax will do much harm to the European financial industry, as it's lower than London's more expensive "Stamp Duty" on financial transactions -- a duty which hasn't harmed the City's standing as a leading financial hub.

December 4, 2012

Vogue Editor as UK Ambassador?

Anyone who has paid a few minutes of attention to the news over the past, say, three years, should appreciate that Europe is undergoing monumental upheaval - its most significant since the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, naturally, the U.S. is looking to staff its embassies with top-flight talent:

President Barack Obama is considering nominating Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, as his next ambassador to either the U.K. or France as he looks to reward his biggest fundraisers with embassies never out of fashion, according to two people familiar with the matter.

It's a time-honored tradition to dole out ambassadorial positions to donors and Wintour is no less qualified than the other under-qualified people who have held these positions through the years.

Still, it's a nice reminder of how Washington's "meritocracy" works.

November 28, 2012

France Beware: The Rich Might Flee After All

Earlier this month I noted a study suggesting millionaires may not necessarily flee a country in response to high tax rates. New figures released in the UK indicate otherwise:

In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.

The figures have been seized upon by the Conservatives to claim that increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

It's not clear how many millionaires fled, used tax avoidance loopholes or simply lost too much income due to the financial crisis to no longer be counted. Still, Mr. Hollande will want to take note before he levies a much steeper tax bill on his own country's millionaires.

Europe Isn't Crazy Enough to Give Syrian Rebels Missiles, Right?

The New York Times reports that the Syrian rebels have gotten their hands on surface-to-air rockets and have used them at least once to down a regime helicopter, as shown above. The question now becomes: how did they get them? According to the Times:

Debate has raged since the start of the insurgency over whether Western and Arab nations should provide Syria’s rebels with portable antiaircraft missiles, often called Manpads. Some fear that such weapons could be smuggled away from the conflict and later used by terrorists against civilian airliners.

Manpads funneled by the United States to Pakistan helped Afghan rebels turn the tide against the Soviet Union in the Afghan war of 1980s. But that example is full of ambivalence — often cited in the Syria debate — because it led to an extended buyback program and decades of worry after Islamist militias, which eventually collaborated with Al Qaeda, prevailed over the Soviet-backed government in Kabul.

“Once these weapons are outside of government control, it is often extremely difficult to track their movement and control who has access to them,” said Matthew Schroeder, an analyst who studies missile proliferation at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

The rebels have slowly been acquiring them nonetheless, including from Syrian military stock captured in battle, and according to the unconfirmed accounts of some rebel commanders, via smuggling from outside.

Tuesday’s helicopter downing occurred not far from a large military base outside Aleppo, which rebels overran last week. It comes after a monthlong string of rebel raids on air bases, followed by their ransacking for weapons.

Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called the use of the missile “a big deal, but not a surprising deal,” and said it appeared to confirm one of two things: weapons seized from bases are functional, or that there has been truth to the quiet talk that after the recent meeting in Doha, Qatar, to reorganize the Syrian opposition into a new coalition, outside countries would provide more sophisticated weapons to the rebels.

It would be one thing if the rebels raided regime stocks - that's unavoidable. But if any Western government thinks funneling surface-to-air missiles to Syrian rebels is a good idea, they need to have their heads examined. These weapons can be used to down passenger jets and there's no way that Western intelligence officials could stop a few of these weapons from leaking beyond Syria (it will be hard enough to stop Syria's own stockpiles from leaking).

Al-Qaeda has a long and ugly history of targeting Western aircraft. Literally handing over potent tools to Islamist rebels to do just that is insane.

November 20, 2012

'The Economist' Angers France, Taiwan

A few months ago, The National Interest ran an article essentially describing The Economist as the most important newsmagazine in the world. It's certainly hard to disagree with that assessment. (Full disclosure: I have written articles for The Economist.)

The author writes:

Twenty-five years ago, if you had asked a typical senior American corporate type or public official what his or her weekly reading consisted of, the answer would usually have run something like this: "Time, Newsweek and maybe U.S. News & World Report... oh, yes, and the Economist." Today, instead of being an afterthought, the Economist probably would head the list. It might even be the only publication mentioned.

That statement is also probably true globally. How do I know? Obviously, important people in France and Taiwan both read the most recent issue. And, oh boy, are they mad. High-level officials from both countries felt the need to respond. That's quite an impressive feat for a weekly newsmagazine.

What did this British publication do that ruffled so many feathers?

Calling France "the time-bomb at the heart of Europe" apparently didn't go over well in Paris, however true it might actually be. The cover photo, which was of several baguettes bundled like a package of dynamite, was their way of rubbing a little extra salt in the wound. Nobody can torque the French quite like the British can.


The French government responded with a childish ad hominem attack against The Economist. The credit rating agency Moody's responded by downgrading France's debt, which led ForexLive to speculate how exactly The Economist was celebrating. Sacrebleu!

Taiwan is upset with the magazine for referring to its president, Ma Ying-jeou, as a "bumbler." He has an approval rating of 13%, so they can't be that far off. But, this article really touched a nerve in Taiwan. Even the opposition party stated their support for the president.

The Economist should (and probably does) treat these criticisms as a badge of honor. Clearly, the magazine has more influence globally than most nations do. And even if they occasionally make some critics mad, at least they know people are reading.

(Image: The Economist)

November 13, 2012

"Far Right" Views Are Rising in Germany

According to an ongoing survey of German public opinion, "far-right" attitudes are taking root in a broader cross-section of German society than previously thought:

Starting in 2006, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which has ties to the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), began publishing "Movement in the Middle," a series of biannual nationwide surveys the organization calls a "barometer of current anti-democratic attitudes in Germany."

Since the publication of the last results in 2010, the foundation has registered an increase of right-wing extremist attitudes from 8.2 to 9 percent across the country, with xenophobia found to be the most prevalent manifestation, a prejudice held by 25.1 percent of the population. The development demands attention, the researchers say.

The survey also found regional and age variations:

The study, based on surveys conducted in the summer of 2012, found that the prevalence of right-wing extremist attitudes varied greatly according to region. Compared to 2010, western German states actually showed a slight reduction, down from 7.6 percent to 7.3 percent overall. But there was a strong jump in the states that belonged to the former East Germany, up from 10.5 to 15.8 percent, the highest level ever measured by the researchers, who say it continues to rise....

Unlike the results of previous surveys, this time young people from eastern Germany aged 14 to 30 showed a higher level of approval for things like a right-wing authoritarian dictatorship, chauvinism, social Darwinism and the trivialization of National Socialism, than those over the age of 60. And while on a national average every eleventh German has anti-Semitic attitudes, levels were higher in eastern Germany than in the west for the first time.

October 18, 2012

Greek Brothel Sponsors Football Team

The wages of austerity:

A Greek amateur team Voukefalas will wear practice shirts emblazoned with the logos of two local brothels, one of which features a suggestively prancing horse.

"Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History" (!!) stepped in to plug some of Voukefalas' financial losses, but players also have an additional incentive to perform, as 67-year-old madam Soula Alevirdou has promised them "special time" on the house each time they win.

September 10, 2012

French Tax Hike and Flaring Tempers


In response to a plan to hike taxes on wealthy individuals, France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, has filed for Belgian nationality.

The French left has gladly offered to hold the door open for him. The headline above, from the left-wing daily Liberation, reads: "Get lost, you rich bastard."

Daniel Trilling provides some context:

The headline is actually a play on a famous gaffe made by the former president, Nicholas Sarkozy, who muttered "casse-toi, pov' con" ("get lost, you poor bastard") at a member of the public who refused to shake his hand. The phrase subsequently became a taunt taken up by Sarkozy's left-wing opponents.

August 25, 2012

Breivik Kills 77 People, Gets 21 Years in Prison


Anders Breivik, the racist and extremist who murdered 77 people in Norway last year, was sentenced to a mere 21 years in prison. This is because Norway's criminal justice system focuses more on "rehabilitation than retribution," according to the New York Times. And prison, by Norwegian standards, is quite different from what most people probably have in mind. According to the article:

Mr. Breivik, lawyers say, will live in a prison outside Oslo in a three-cell suite of rooms equipped with exercise equipment, a television and a laptop, albeit one without Internet access. If he is not considered a threat after serving his sentence, the maximum available under Norwegian law, he will be eligible for release in 2033...

Of course, he most likely will be considered a threat, since he went on racist ramblings during court proceedings and even mentioned beheading an ex-Prime Minister. Because of this, his "maximum" 21-year sentence can be extended:

[H]owever lenient the sentence seems, Mr. Breivik is unlikely ever to be released from prison. He could be kept there indefinitely by judges adding a succession of five-year extensions to his sentence.

That's sort of comforting. But, what if, in the future, he faces a panel of judges who decide to let him go? For a crime of this magnitude, that simply should not be a possibility. Norway would be wise to reconsider some aspects of its rehabilitative approach to criminal justice. Some members of our society are simply beyond rehabilitation.

(AP Photo)

July 30, 2012

Europe's Lack of Competitiveness


Lack of competitiveness is often cited as one of the reasons why Europe, particularly the Eurozone, is in such trouble. But what exactly does that mean? How does a lack of competitiveness manifest itself? An article in The Economist sheds light on this:

Europe gave birth to just 12 new big companies between 1950 and 2007. America produced 52 in the same period... Europe has only three big new listed firms founded between 1975 and 2007. Of those, two were started in Britain or Ireland, which are closer to America in their attitude to enterprise than continental Europe.

What is the result of this attitude?

Many aspiring entrepreneurs simply leave. There are about 50,000 Germans in Silicon Valley, and an estimated 500 start-ups in the San Francisco Bay area with French founders. One of the things they find there is a freedom to fail.

Failure is a tragic, yet necessary, component of capitalism. Entrepreneurs need the freedom to both succeed and fail. And when they do fail, they need the ability to declare bankruptcy, pick up the financial pieces and, if they are so inclined, start all over again.

But that's not what happens in much of Europe.

Some countries keep failed entrepreneurs in limbo for years. Britain will discharge a bankrupt from his debts after 12 months; in America it is usually quicker. In Germany people expect it to take six years to get a fresh start, according to the commission; in France they expect it to take nine... In Germany bankrupts can face a lifetime ban on senior executive positions at big companies.

Failure is a basic lesson not only about capitalism, but indeed about life itself. Yet, this lesson appears to have evaded many people - one of them the current President of France. Perhaps a change of attitude must occur before the members of the Eurozone can expect to see economic progress.

(AP Photo: Petros Giannakouris)

July 12, 2012

Cockroaches Invade Naples

The disgusting wages of austerity:

The invasion started in early July with a massive hatch in the city’s sewers, which hadn’t been cleaned or disinfected in over a year because of budget cuts triggered by Italy’s economic crisis. To make matters worse, changes to the city’s garbage collection system, which functioned poorly even during the best of times thanks to infiltration by organized-crime syndicates, require residents and restaurants to put out their garbage the night before early morning collectors pick it up, leaving festering food on the curbside by the sewer drains. Add the above-average temperatures and high humidity and you’ve got a cockroach paradise.

Now city workers are spraying sewers, stores and restaurants several times a day to try to stop the critters from multiplying. When the poison kills them, their dry shells litter the sidewalks. Street sweepers are working extra shifts to remove the crunchy carcasses. Health workers fear the insects could eventually carry hepatitis A or typhoid fever if they aren’t able to contain the invasion. Cockroaches are also known asthma triggers and city authorities have warned asthma sufferers to stay away from the most affected parts of the city.

June 28, 2012

Kissinger's Revisionism

Via the AP:

"Who do I call if I want to call Europe?"

Variations of that question have been attributed for decades to Henry Kissinger, but the former U.S. secretary of state says he doesn't think it originated with him.

The 89-year-old, who served as America's top diplomat under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s, said Wednesday that he thinks an Irish foreign minister first used the expression in describing a meeting between the two.

"I am not sure I actually said it," Kissinger told an audience that included diplomats and academics. He then drew laughs when he added, "But it's a good statement so why not take credit for it?"


June 22, 2012

Germany Ejects Greece from the Euro...


Soccer tournament, that is. Germany wins, 4-2.

To carry the great Eurozone-football metaphor even further, Greece's two goals are like financial bailouts: Just enough to give the Greeks hope, but ultimately, not enough to save them.

Germany advances to play the winner of England vs. Italy.

(AP Photo)

June 20, 2012

Germany vs. Greece: The Ultimate Metaphor


The Universe enjoys nothing more than a great metaphor and delicious irony. Amazingly, the Euro 2012 soccer (ahem, football) tournament has delivered us a dose of both. On Friday, Germany will face off against Greece in a match that will be played in Gdansk, Poland.

For the past several months, the Eurozone crisis has pitted the fiscally responsible (and perhaps, harsh) German Chancellor Angela Merkel against the profligate (and perhaps, lazy) nation of Greece. Tensions are high. Germans think that Greece has a "lying, cheating government that routinely breaks its promises and expects others to pick up the pieces." Greeks think the Germans are acting like a bunch of Nazis. Their mutual frustrations will be made manifest in a football match that has become the global economy's greatest metaphor.

And the irony? The match will be played in Poland, a country that does not use the euro and whose economy never went into recession during the crisis. While the Germans and Greeks duke it out on the pitch, the Poles will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Thank you, Universe. We'll be watching on Friday.

(AP Photo)

June 8, 2012

Euro 2012 Soccer Tournament Kicks Off Today


One of the biggest soccer (ahem, football) tournaments in the world - the UEFA European Football Championship - kicks off today. The host countries are Poland and Ukraine.

Though we like to think that sports is one of the last refuges against the divisiveness of politics, we all know that isn't the case. Sport and politics do mix. As always, the football matches in Europe will be seething with political undertones.

The highest-profile political fight has revolved around former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is currently in jail. Many believe her imprisonment is politically motivated, and politicians from several European countries - including the UK, Germany and France - are boycotting the matches held in Ukraine.

Eastern European countries also have the reputation of being obnoxiously (and perhaps, dangerously) racist. The BBC recently ran a program exposing the racist aspects of the Polish and Ukrainian football cultures. As described in The Atlantic:

The program showed Polish and Ukrainian fans beating up Asian fans and slurring opposing teams as "Jews."

The full 30-minute report is full of shocking moments. In Ukraine, there's one scene showing fans making monkey sounds at black players. There's also one where a white supremacist group admits it embraces "some aspects" of Nazism, like getting rid of non-Ukrainians. The group also happens to train its members in knife fighting. Polish slogans include "Jews to the gas" or "death to hooknoses."

Polish hooligans are another area of concern. (See this European Journal video starting at 5:15.) Many of the hooligans aren't even football fans and simply enjoy beating up on people from other countries.

The current economic and political troubles facing Europe will serve to add more fuel to the fire. From a political standpoint, the most interesting matches will be:

Poland vs. Greece (June 8)
The tournament begins with one of Europe's strongest economies (Poland) facing off against a country who may be ejected from the euro in a matter of months.

Germany vs. Portugal (June 9)
Angela Merkel and the frugal Germans are not especially popular this year across Europe, particularly in countries facing serious economic trouble, such as Portugal.

France vs. England (June 11)
After all these centuries, they still dislike each other.

Poland vs. Russia (June 12)

The Poles absolutely detest the Russians, and the feeling is rather mutual. The match will be played in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

Depending on which teams advance past the group stage, even more political intrigue could await us. Let the games begin!

(AP Photo)

May 23, 2012

A Turning Point for GM Crops in the EU?


It's not a big secret that many Europeans are afraid of new, cutting-edge technologies. Microbiologist Dr. Anne Glover, the very first EU Science Adviser, affirmed this - although she expressed it in a rather more diplomatic way in an interview with the journal Science. However, there is reason for hope that things are about to change.

On Monday, the European Food Safety Authority struck down a French ban on a strain of genetically modified corn produced by Monsanto. Their reason? "There is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment" to support a ban.

This is a really big step forward for a continent that, as of 2011, only had approved two genetically modified crops. (Compare that to 90 crops in the U.S. and 28 in Brazil.)

The molecular biology community welcomes Europe to the 21st Century.

(This entry is cross-posted on the RealClearScience Newton Blog.)

(Photo: Greenpeace)

May 15, 2012

Francois Hollande Inaugurated, Struck by Lightning


Francois Hollande was inaugurated today as the new president of France. He immediately boarded a plane to Germany to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. En route to Berlin, his plane was hit by lightning. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

However, one wonders if Mother Nature is sending an omen about the future of the Eurozone.

More from the AFP.

(AP Photo)

May 7, 2012

The Long Term

I happened to listen to this TED talk over the weekend by Paul Gilding dubbed "The Earth Is Full." The short version is: we, as a species, are doomed! Gilding claims that we're outgrowing our environment and will enter an era of "peak everything" with some pretty grim consequences.

Then this morning I read Daniel Bier, who, while not responding directly to Gilding, rebuts his central thesis thusly:

Growth is only limited by our ability to innovate and solve problems, and that is only limited by our access to innovators and problem solvers.

The quixotic effort to quantify the exact amount of resources on earth and calculate when we will “run out” is doomed to fail because people are constantly inventing new ideas and discovering new uses for things. Nothing is a resource until someone discovers an application for it.

These two lines of thought are not actually mutually exclusive. One can believe that we're poised to exhaust economically viable energy sources and modes of agriculture yet still believe that we'll merrily skip along via some technological breakthrough to other modes of energy or agriculture that we can't think of yet. In fact, to have Bier's growth-oriented optimism, you essentially accept Gilding's case that existing resources are eventually going to run dry. One school of thought is worried about that outcome, the other is not.

Still, this and the recent European elections did get me thinking about a curious ideological disconnect. On the one hand, the left (in general) favors Keynesian solutions to economic crises on the basis that sacrificing growth today for balanced budgets in the future is a dangerous trade-off. "In the long term, we're all dead," as Keynes famously quipped. Conservatives, by contrast, are generally willing to embrace austerity and negative growth in the short term for fiscal balance over the long term.

Yet when it comes to the environment, it's the reverse: liberals are more willing to sacrifice short-term economic growth for long-term gain, while conservatives are more concerned with near-term growth than with long-term balance.

May 4, 2012

UK Voters Punish Conservative-Led Coalition


The UK's Conservative-led coalition government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron took a beating in local elections, losing some 400 seats. The junior partner of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats, lost 336 seats.

The election did not affect the membership of Parliament, but it did send a loud, clear message of voter dissatisfaction, perhaps driven by the country's poor economic performance. Last week, it was reported that the UK has officially entered a double-dip recession.

More from the Associated Press.

(AP Photo)

May 2, 2012

May 6: Europe's Point of No Return?


For the past few years, the world has watched with bated breath as Europe has suffered from the slings and arrows of the ongoing Eurozone crisis. Anxious markets caused borrowing costs to soar in debt-stricken countries and austerity measures caused riots - but, so far, imminent catastrophe has always been staved off by last-minute deals.

But, as Time reports, the EU must now face its biggest obstacle: democracy.

On May 6, Greek and French voters will go to the polls. Because of France's central role in European policymaking, the French election may be of greater consequence. French voters will be forced to choose between the embattled incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and challenger Francois Hollande. Currently, Mr. Hollande (of the center-left Socialist Party) leads Mr. Sarkozy (of the center-right UMP Party) by around six to 10 points.

That might not be good news for the Eurozone. Michael Sivy in Time writes:

Hollande is not opposed to the euro in principle. But he rejects austerity policies and calls for a greater emphasis on growth. Further, to the extent he has to reduce the budget deficit, he favors tax increases over spending cuts. In short, Hollande’s efforts to save the euro will probably be halfhearted. Sarkozy’s replacement by Hollande would therefore likely weaken the German-French axis, undermining confidence in European financial markets and leading to a general loss of direction in the euro zone.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel - who obstinately insists on budget discipline - has already publicly clashed with Mr. Hollande over a recent fiscal compact agreed to by most members of the EU. While Mr. Hollande raises a good point about implementing more pro-growth policies, publicly clashing with Ms. Merkel portends a rocky future for the EU.

Still, fiscal discipline is important, but it does not appear to rank high on Mr. Hollande's domestic wish-list. Instead, Mr. Hollande has threatened to implement a marginal income tax rate of 75 percent - potentially scaring away wealthy citizens - and he wants to roll back Sarkozy's pension reform which raised the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Recently, The Economist warned in an editorial titled "The Rather Dangerous Monsieur Hollande" that he would be "bad for his country and Europe." It went on:

[I]f we had a vote on May 6th, we would give it to Mr Sarkozy—but not on his merits, so much as to keep out Mr Hollande.

But, Patrick Smith, writing in the Fiscal Times, applauds Mr. Hollande's rejection of austerity. Instead, he believes that, "Europe has needed this kind of debate from the first."

The French decision on May 6 will have repercussions far beyond their own borders. Let us hope they make a wise one.

(AP Photo. Mr. Sarkozy (left) faces off against Mr. Hollande (right) on May 6.)

April 25, 2012

No, Germany Is Not About to Start a War

I've heard many criticisms of President Obama's foreign policy but I think Victor Davis Hanson mines new ground by suggesting that the president is stoking a potential war on the European continent:

Historical pressures, well apart from Putinism in Russia, are coming to the fore on the continent — pressures that were long suppressed by the aberrations of World War II, the Cold War, the division of Germany, and the rise of the EU. The so-called “German problem” — the tendency of Germany quite naturally at some point to translate its innate dynamic economic prowess into political, cultural, and above all military superiority — did not vanish simply because a postmodern EU announced that it had transcended human nature and its membership would no longer be susceptible to ancient Thucydidean nationalist passions like honor, fear, or self-interest.

If you have doubts on that, just review current German and southern-European newspapers, where commentary sounds more likely to belong in 1938 than in 2012. The catastrophe of the EU has not been avoided by ad hoc bandaging — it is still on the near horizon. Now is the time to reassure Germany that a strong American-led NATO eliminates any need for German rearmament, and that historical oddities (why is France nuclear, while a far stronger Germany is not?) are not odd at all. In short, as the EU unravels, and anti-Germany hysteria waxes among its debtors, while ancient German resentments build, it would be insane to abdicate the postwar transatlantic leadership we have provided for nearly 70 years.

I admit I had to read this last graf three times to fully convince myself that Victor Davis Hanson was actually arguing that the upshot of the European debt crisis will be a return of a militarized "German problem." (There is, clearly, a financial "German problem" on the continent, depending on how you view the austerity debate.)

Look, economic dislocation is going to lead to radicalism in Europe. It is arguably already in evidence. German-mandated austerity is roiling the continent. But just to straighten it out: the most likely German reaction to having to use its money to bail out a broke European periphery will be to continue to insist on austerity or to eject Greece and other indebted nations from the Eurozone (or even to have a change of heart and embrace Keynesian pump-priming, although that's unlikely). Re-arming, acquiring nuclear weapons and soothing over "ancient resentments" via military force doesn't strike me as the most plausible German route at this point.

Update: Larison has more:

In case Hanson hadn’t noticed, using its military to project power is the last thing that modern German governments want to do. President Köhler was forced to resign in 2010 after he seemed to suggest that securing German economic interests might justify the use of force overseas. Germany was the most outspoken European opponent of military intervention in Libya. Following the Fukushima meltdown, Merkel reversed her position on nuclear power, which means that Germany is not not going to be interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. Its official position is more radically anti-nuclear than most other Western governments. The “German problem” as Hanson describes it here is not a real problem for the foreseeable future.

April 13, 2012

High Drama in the Polish Lower House


Major drama broke out on the floor of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, late Friday morning. The major players were Prime Minister Donald Tusk and two opposition leaders - Jaroslaw Kaczynski and frequent mischief-maker Janusz Palikot.

Two years ago, President Lech Kaczynski - the twin brother of Jaroslaw - was tragically killed in a plane crash in Russia. Since then, Jaroslaw, the leader of the right-wing Law & Justice Party (PiS), has used his brother's death to advance his own political career. Additionally, each anniversary, he has gathered his supporters to spread conspiracy theories about his brother's death. His most infamous theory is that the Russians created the foggy conditions that fateful day and/or planted a bomb on the plane. He has others.

Today, on the floor of the Parliament, the endless politicizing of the disaster came to a head. The Prime Minister, in no uncertain words, told Kaczynski to stop: "I would prefer not to be born, than on the graves of the dead to build a political career." (Note: The accompanying link was translated using Google Translate.)

Kaczysnki responded by blaming Tusk for his brother's death. His logic is twisted: The tragedy would never have happened if then-President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Tusk flew together in the same plane to Russia.

A second opposition leader, Janusz Palikot, then bluntly implied that Jaroslaw Kaczynski was in need of medical attention.

And people think that American politics is polarized.

(Many thanks to my father-in-law and wife, both of whom helped translate the debate.)

(AP Photo)

April 12, 2012

Does NATO Still Serve American Interests?

Stanley Sloan makes the case:

Most would agree that the most vital American interest is defense of the homeland and protection of its citizens. An active alliance with America’s leading partners would seem to address that vital interest, even if the United States does not currently face threats of a truly existential nature. Having allies dedicated to considering an attack on one as an attack on all, as provided in the North Atlantic Treaty’s Article 5, is not a bad insurance policy – one on which the United States collected after 9/11....

The main strategic value of America’s European allies, however, is in the capabilities that the Europeans bring to the table, as they did in the case of Libya. Granted, European military resources have shrunk over the years, and the Libya “model” may or may not work for some other contingency. But as European allies reallocate resources as part of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is in the interest of the United States that they do so in ways that enhance their ability to assist the United States in dealing with future security challenges. NATO consultations can facilitate such an outcome.

I think Sloan was closer to the mark in the first graf: While it's difficult to see the U.S. entering into any conflict where it is the weaker power and thus actually in need of European help, a defensive alliance with mostly like-minded countries does provide something of an "insurance policy." In fact, as powers like China and Brazil pull more weight globally, having an alliance such as NATO ensures that the Euro-Atlantic region is firmly defended. It also makes economic sense for indebted Europe (and America) to leverage the alliance to achieve cost-savings in defense.

But this really isn't the case for NATO today, as Sloan makes clear. Rather, it's to have a set of allies to provide the U.S. with some additional capabilities (and legitimacy) for its international adventurism.

The insurance policy metaphor is apt. We would typically describe a person as insane if they deliberately hurt themselves just to luxuriate in the fact that they have medical insurance. By using the utterly unnecessary Libyan intervention as an example of NATO's worth, supporters of the alliance are chopping off their fingers, rushing to the ER and then waving the bandaged stumps around as proof of how important good medical coverage is.

To my mind, the case for NATO is actually closer to auto insurance - something that is important to have but that you try never to draw on unless something serious happens.

March 5, 2012

The EU Doesn't Do Subtlety

This video promoting the European Union seems destined to provoke controversy.

February 8, 2012

Whom Do Britons Dislike?

According to Angus Reid, the French and Greeks don't rank so highly in British esteem:

In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,011 British adults, about a third of respondents say they have an unfavourable opinion of France (35%) and Greece (32%).

The difference between the proportion of favourable and unfavourable opinions for both Greece and France is only ten points. Half of Britons (49%) have a favourable view of Germany, while one-in-four (25%) disagree.

At least half of respondents hold favourable opinions of all of the other nations included in this survey, such as Luxembourg (53%), Portugal (55%), Italy (57%) and Belgium (also 57%). The highest ranked EEC members are Spain (63%), Ireland (67%), Denmark (also 67%) and the Netherlands (69%).

January 23, 2012

European Sanctions Will Hurt Iran


The Obama administration has thus far managed to successfully tighten the economic screws on Iran and now they've apparently convinced the Europeans to do the same. Now, based on the chart above via the Wall Street Journal, it's clear that this is a move that will deal another major blow to the Iranian economy. Obviously the next step for the administration is to convince Asian governments to similarly restrict Iranian oil exports, since they are the countries most likely to pick up the slack in European demand. But to do that, the U.S. will have to some plausible alternative to Iranian oil to fuel Asian economies.

Where is that oil going to come from?

November 23, 2011

Spanish Voters Punish Incumbent Zapatero

By Alex Berezow

Voters in Spain soundly rejected the center-left Socialist Party led by Prime Minister Jose Zapatero in elections held Sunday. While some Americans may interpret this as Europe’s rejection of leftist policies, the reality is much more complicated.

Europeans are angry and frustrated with the economic and political situation the region faces. In particular, voters feel disenfranchised—mostly because they are. The Parliament of the European Union is the only directly elected body, yet it must share power with several other powerful institutions, none of which are directly elected. Because of this, Europeans feel that they do not have a voice in European policy, as indicated by a recent Eurobarometer poll. More than 60 percent of Europeans believe their voice simply does not matter in Brussels.

Such a belief, combined with the ongoing euro crisis, has led to a deep anti-incumbency movement. Incumbents across Europe, regardless of political affiliation, face defeat. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union has suffered recent electoral defeats. Center-right French President Nicolas Sarkozy would likely lose to Socialist challenger Francois Hollande if the election was held today. And just days ago, Italy’s center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was ousted from power.

The message is clear: Incumbency is a risk factor for electoral defeat. Americans, take note.

Dr. Alex B. Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience.

October 10, 2011

Poland Voters Confirm Tusk's Government


By Alex Berezow

ELBLAG -- On Sunday, Poles went to the polls to vote for a new Parliament. Initial projections indicate that voters approve of the current government, and Donald Tusk will return to Warsaw as Prime Minister. Most likely, the current coalition (Tusk's center-right Civic Platform party and the centrist Polish People’s Party) will continue to govern with President Bronislaw Komorowski, also originally from Civic Platform.

This is good news for the European Union. Civic Platform favors further integration into the EU, as well as adopting the euro at a future date.

There are four other points of interest:

First, Donald Tusk's party is the first in history to be reelected to a consecutive term.

Second, Poland is a very conservative country, as approximately 70 percent of votes were cast for the center-right Civic Platform or the far-right Law & Justice party.

Third, Janusz Palikot, a disaffected former member of Civic Platform, formed his own political party and received approximately 10 percent of the popular vote. It is difficult to define him politically, as he presents himself as a pro-business, social liberal who dislikes everybody else in government.

Fourth, Law & Justice, the party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski (twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski who was killed in a plane crash in 2010), received about 30 percent of the vote. He is a far right-wing politician who has spent the last few weeks spreading conspiracy theories about Angela Merkel, such as her desire to annex parts of Poland and her chancellorship being due to help from the East German secret police.

Alex Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience.

(AP Photo)

September 23, 2011

An Epic Failure

Walter Russell Mead makes a lot of sense here:

More to the point, we need policy discussions more than we need political ones. This is not just about how big the deficit should be; it is about whether the international financial system will survive the next six months in the form we now know it. It is about whether the foundations of the postwar order are cracking in Europe. It is about whether a global financial crash will further destabilize the Middle East and, if so, what we and the Europeans are going to do about it. It is about whether the incipient signs of a bubble burst in China signal the start of an extended economic and perhaps even political crisis there. It is about whether the American middle class is about to be knocked off its feet once again and indeed whether the middle class as we’ve known it will survive. It is about whether sovereign governments can still underwrite economic performance and financial stability in the leading economies of the world.

What's been fascinating to me about the entire collapse of the Eurozone is how it has underscored both how important Europe remains to the U.S. in an economic sense and simultaneously how utterly impotent Washington is in addressing what is a clearly "vital" interest in European economic stability and growth. All the billions we have spent in establishing a military foothold in Europe and the great effort to sustain an enduring role in European security issues, and for what? Now at the moment of actual peril, of real threaten-the-well-being-of-ordinary-Americans type issues, and Washington has nothing to offer and doesn't even have a receptive ear to what solutions it can cough up.

Incidentally, if you want to track the depressing news of the budding European depression, check out our Eurozone page.

September 22, 2011

NATO in the Old Age Home?

Elizabeth Pond:

NATO won't be dismantled. Instead, it will move to an old people's home. Sure, member-state officials will drop by Brussels now and then to pat auntie on the head, but they won't expect her to do any heavy lifting.

This pungent metaphor was coined by veteran U.S. diplomat Robert Blackwill at the conference that kicks off the transatlanticists' high season each fall. Surprisingly, virtually everyone at the Geneva palaver of the International Institute for Strategic Studies last weekend agreed.

Americans across the political spectrum blame the decay of history's longest alliance on the free-riding Europeans' slashing their defense budgets after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reciprocally, Europeans blame the decay on American hyperpower hubris in starting the Iraq war and failing to end the Afghan expedition before the quagmire—thus overextending the West, incubating America's present war fatigue, and giving the last laugh to Iran in the Mideast and China around the globe.

The truth is that the existential threat to Europe is located in the balance sheets of their national banks and the southern states of the Eurozone. And that is something that the U.S. and NATO, for all their military might, are unable to save them from.

September 13, 2011

Finland: Home of Google and Facebook?

Nordic countries have weathered the economic downturn fairly well, certainly better than their Southern Europe compatriots. Now, they're poised to reap a windfall in server farms:

Finland’s chilly weather might sometimes be depressing for residents and visitors, but it’s the major reason why the country is suddenly the hot new locale for green data centers. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that following Google’s construction of its mega, green data center in Finland this year, other Internet companies are following suit, including an undisclosed U.S. Internet company widely believe to be Facebook.

The chief reason for the sudden interest in using the country as a data center haven is the cold weather. Internet giants like Google are starting to incorporate more and more outside air cooling, using the environment to cool servers, instead of inefficient, power-hungry chillers. The traditionally used chillers can suck up to half of the energy consumption of the entire data center, so eliminating them and turning to the outside air for cooling can reduce the overall energy consumption and energy costs of the data center.

July 28, 2011

Which European Countries Are Growing?

According to new figures from Eurostat, the European Union added 1.4 million people to its ranks in 2010. Of those, 900,000 were immigrants. So which countries registered the highest population growth rates? Dean Carroll reports:

During 2010, 5.4 million children were born with the highest birth rates recorded in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Cyprus and Sweden. The lowest rates were in Germany, Latvia, Hungary, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Malta. In the same period, some 4.8 million deaths registered with the highest death rates observed in Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania. The lowest death rates occurred in Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg.

Consequently, the highest population growth was registered in Ireland - well ahead of Cyprus, France, Luxembourg and the UK. And eight member states saw a population decline. They were Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany and Romania.

July 25, 2011

Terrorism in Europe: A Left-Wing Phenomena?

James Delingpole isn't happy:

There we were deluding ourselves after the USS Cole, and the Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam bombings, and the Madrid train bombings, and 7/7, and the ‘Mumbai’ Massacre and the shoebomber plot and the Heathrow plot and the LAX plot and the New York car bomb plot and the Fort Hood massacre and, oh, yeah, 9/11 that the world’s greatest terrorist threat came from Islamists who love death even more than we love Coca Cola. But this in fact was all just a red herring, brought about by the racism and Islamophobia of conservatives and libertarians and Tea Partiers to distract anti-terrorism resources from the real menace: Right-wing extremists like themselves.
When the news of the Oslo attack first broke I admit my suspicions turned toward al-Qaeda or a like-minded group, but Stephen Walt provides some actual data on European terrorist activity that helpfully clarifies the threat environment:
In 2009, there were fewer than 300 terrorist incidents in Europe, a 33 percent decline from the previous year. The vast majority of these incidents (237 out of 294) were conducted by indigenous European separatist groups, with another forty or so attributed to leftists and/or anarchists. According to the report, a grand total of one (1) attack was conducted by Islamists. Put differently, Islamist groups were responsible for a whopping 0.34 percent of all terrorist incidents in Europe in 2009. In addition, the report notes, "the number of arrests relating to Islamist terrorism (110) decreased by 41 percent compared to 2008, which continues the trend of a steady decrease since 2006."

The other thing to note about the report (pdf), which Walt eludes to, is that most of the incidents of terrorism are overwhelmingly perpetrated by self-styled separatists and left-wing groups - not right-wing extremists. The number of right-wing terrorism attacks, arrests, and foiled/failed plots is small in relation to those two groups.

Political Violence in Norway

Again, nobody knows who perpetrated these attacks or why (though the self-described jihadi group claiming responsibility said, as the NYT put it, that it "was a response to Norwegian forces’ presence in Afghanistan and to unspecified insults to the Prophet Muhammad"). But whether these attacks are related to those wars or not, I simply do not understand this bafflement being expressed that Norway -- of all countries -- would be targeted with violence.

Regardless of the justifications of these wars -- and Norway is in both countries as part of a U.N. action -- it is simply a fact that Norway has sent its military to two foreign countries where it is attacking people, dropping bombs, and killing civilians. Historically, one reason not to invade and attack other countries is because doing so often prompts one's own country to be attacked....

The solution is not to dismiss or justify acts such as the Oslo bombing. It's to realize that our own country and those in alliance with it -- unintentionally or otherwise -- replicate the horror that took place in Oslo in countless places around the world with great regularity, and that requires at least as much attention and discussion as the Oslo attacks are sure to receive. - Glenn Greenwald

That post was written on Friday. Now that we know that the perpetrator of the Norway attacks was a right-wing militant, what should we be discussing? The clear implication of Greenwald's post is that Islamist violence directed against Norway wouldn't be inexplicable because the country is participating in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya. In other words: if you play with fire, expect to get burned (a view, incidentally, I don't disagree with). But what of this view now, in light of the assailant's views? Are we to assume that Greenwald believes that right-wing, domestic terrorism is also to be expected (but not condoned or justified) because Norway's policies on immigration and multiculturalism are alienating portions of its own population?

July 14, 2011

How Debt Will Change the West


The daily drama of the European sovereign debt crisis and the U.S. debt ceiling debacle has obscured what could be a momentous and fundamental shift in the role of Western government. Hamish McRae's piece yesterday dug at the root of the issue:

That brings us to the great issue: what will government be like 20, 30 or 50 years from now? A century ago, when the foundations of the European welfare state were being laid, government was still typically 10-15 per cent of GDP. Governments did defence, a few public services and some welfare and pensions. That grew, helped (if that is the right word) by two world wars, and by the expansion of public services from the 1950s onwards, a process that is still moving forward in the US with the Obama health reforms. Now public spending varies between 35 per cent and 55 per cent in most developed countries.

The system worked well but did so under favourable circumstances: a growing workforce able to pay the taxes to support a relatively small retired population. Now, most European countries face a falling workforce and growing ranks of the elderly. In the extreme case of Italy there will in 30 years be only one worker for every pensioner. Something has to give.

Bill Jamieson also captures the issue:

More than ever in our history, government is caught between the two massive requirements: one of servicing the debt incurred by previous generations and administrations; and the other, of managing the growth of future debt: making provision for rising pension liabilities and the costs of an ageing population. The proportion of the population aged 65 and above is set to rise from around 17 per cent currently to about 26 per cent in 2061 - and with half the inward migration flows experienced in recent years.

Little wonder that it will seem to a new generation of politicians that history has left them a role no greater than old age home operators and debt commissioners. The scope for the type of government and politics enjoyed for half a century will shrink drastically relative to these two obligations.

Unfortunately, the West, and particularly the United States, appears trapped in a vicious cycle. As citizens assume more of the financial responsibilities previously assumed by the state, their economies - sustained by personal consumption - will falter still more. Money previously spent on iPads and SUVs will be directed toward retirement savings and rising healthcare costs. It's a necessary corrective, but it will be a painful and potentially explosive one.

But the debt crisis is also a vital reminder that the most potent security threats to the West don't come from overseas, but from their own dysfunctional domestic politics. More wealth has been destroyed by irresponsible banks, lax regulators and short-sighted politicians (and their constituents) than by al-Qaeda or any combination of ramshackle dictatorships that we frequently obsess about.

(AP Photo)

July 11, 2011

European Defense Plans In Limbo

As NATO fractures over the war in Libya, another European defense initiative is withering:

Europe's grand defence project, already wounded by divisions over Libya, is stuck in a political no-man's land as Polish ambitions to revive it face indifference among allies.

Poland had signalled for months that breathing new life into European Union defence would be a centrepiece of its six-month presidency of the 27-nation EU before it took over from Hungary on July 1.

But in the face of little enthusiasm among partners, most surprisingly France, usually the most ardent backer of EU defence, Warsaw agreed to scale down its programme for more modest goals, a European diplomat said.

Poland had hoped to seize on provisions in the nearly two-year-old Lisbon Treaty that foresee the deepening of military cooperation between EU states, with the ultimate goal of building a common security and defence policy.

The great irony of the current Eurozone fiasco is that at a moment when defense consolidation and coordination would seem to make the most sense (it could save money), it's much less viable.

[Hat tip: NATO Source]

June 8, 2011

Declining Fortunes for Europe's Left


The Economist notes the political trend in Europe:

Ten years ago almost half of the 27 countries that now make up the European Union, including Germany, Britain and Italy, were ruled by left-wing governments. Today, following the defeat of the ruling Socialists in Portugal's general election on June 5th, the left is in charge of just five: Spain, Greece, Austria, Slovenia and Cyprus.

May 17, 2011

DSK Fail

Judah Grunstein reflects on the Strauss-Kahn imbroglio:

In discussing the presumption of innocence, we often forget that there are in fact two varieties: The first is a legal presumption of innocence, to which Strauss-Kahn, like everyone accused of a crime, is entitled; the second is a social presumption of innocence, which often results in the miscarriage of justice before the formal system has even been engaged. This social presumption of innocence is what leads some to convince themselves that the behavior they have witnessed or that they are aware of did not really take place, or means something different, because a person like Strauss-Kahn can not be capable of such a thing.

Put me down as someone who is consistently shocked that people can behave so stupidly and recklessly (with the important disclaimer that DSK is innocent until proven guilty).

May 16, 2011

Europe's Fear

Alex Berezow notes a growing fear of ... Wi-Fi.

May 10, 2011

Defending Free Riding

U.S. tax dollars at work:

Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are signalling they soon will no longer permit US nuclear forces on their territory. The ‘De-nuked Three’ join a host of other European allies who are also cutting defence budgets and yet expect the Americans to proceed with missile defence at American expense. I think the Yanks call it chutzpah!

One delegate from a very large central European country that shall remain nameless, but with a fondness for worst, suggested not only the removal of American nukes, but that their defence should be assured by a real missile shield. Although, of course, the interceptors would need to be hosted by the neighbours. A clearer definition of free defence/free-riding I have yet to hear.

In effect, the ‘Du-nuked Three’ (not to mention the relatives) want free US defence, as well as the right to shift the burden of nuclear responsibility onto the three NATO nuclear powers – Britain, France and the US.

Of all the places the U.S. could recoup some budgetary savings as its debt burden builds, Europe seems the best bet. The New York Times is hosting a debate on just this topic here.

March 29, 2011

Foreign Policy Budgeting

Political capital, international support, time, military resources, and attention are all limited. Humanitarian interventionists insist that their cause should receive a large amount of all of these at a time when our government is already overburdened with commitments, but in practice they seem inclined to fritter them all away on the crisis du jour rather than conserve them and apply them to avert genuine, large-scale loss of life. If we were talking about any other area of policy, this indiscriminate and wasteful approach would badly damage interventionists’ credibility, but because it involves the exercise of American power abroad they are allowed to be as careless and wasteful as they please. - Daniel Larison

It's interesting to note that this appears to be a Transatlantic phenomena as well. The UK is undergoing a round of austerity budgeting and yet they still found enough funds between the couch cushions to sail off into Libya. On the other hand, Germany - which is being widely criticized for abstaining during the Security Council vote on Libya - has refused to participate. Perhaps it's no coincidence that they're one of the few Western nations not perilously in debt.

March 14, 2011

Polling Europe

The Guardian today reported on a new poll surveying members of

Europe's hope of a better future is faltering, as the financial crisis and spending cuts bite, according to a Guardian/ICM poll of five leading EU countries. It finds trust in government at rock bottom and widespread fear of further economic decline. Few people are convinced that the present signs of recovery can be sustained. The poll was carried out online using a representative sample of more than 5,000 people of working age in five leading EU states – Britain, France, Germany, Poland and Spain. It paints a picture of a continent confident in its liberal values and still mostly committed to EU institutions such as the euro and the free movement of people between states, but notably hostile to state spending and political leaders.

The poll also found deep economic pessimism in among Europeans:

Overall, 40% of those polled think their economy will get worse over the next 12 months, against 20% who think it will improve. Only in Germany are more people optimistic than pessimistic. Economic anxiety is greatest in France, where pessimists outnumber optimists by a net difference of 46 points. In Britain, the difference is 40 points and in Poland 30 points. Spain is more optimistic, with a net difference of 18 points – which could be explained by few people in the country thinking things can get worse than they already are.

March 9, 2011

Democratic Passions Then and Now

Pew Research has gone back into the archives to compare enthusiasm for democracy among citizens of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union with their current attitudes. It provides something of a cautionary tale:

In 1991, majorities of Russians and Ukrainians clearly favored democracy, rather than a strong leader, as the best way to address their country's problems. By 2002 opinion had reversed, with two-thirds or more in each country saying they preferred a strong leader. In Poland and Bulgaria views were mixed on the issue, while publics in the Czech Republic and Slovakia continued to strongly support democracy.

Seven years on, doubts about democracy persisted. The fall 2009 Global Attitudes survey found Russians and Ukrainians still believing that a strong leader was the best means of solving their country's problems. Bulgarians now shared this view. In most countries half or more approved of the shift to a multi-party system. But the level of support declined between 1991 and 2009 in all but Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Ukraine, a majority actually disapproved of the change to multiple parties.

These findings do not mean that East Europeans were inclined to abandon democracy. Publics across the region broadly endorsed the demise of communism. Rather these opinions point to the gap between what East Europeans hoped for and what they perceived in terms of political change.

February 7, 2011

U.S. Views on Forward Deployments

Rasmussen offers some grist for the coming austerity battle:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 49% of Likely U.S. voters think we should remove troops from Western Europe and let the region defend itself. Forty-eight percent (48%) feel the same way about Japan. However, 60% say the United States should leave its troops in South Korea....

Earlier polling found that voters are fairly evenly divided as to whether the federal government spends too much or too little on national defense, but most also appear to dramatically underestimate how much is actually spent. Removing troops from Western Europe and Japan could reduce military spending by tens of billions of dollars annually.

January 20, 2011

Norwegian Boy "Saved By Creed"


Not in the metaphysical sense:

While walking home from the busstop this week, a 13-year-old Norwegian school boy stubled upon four wolves. In the end, it may have been his love of heavy-metal music by the band Creed that saved his life.

Read the whole thing.

(Photo via kindofadraag)

January 19, 2011

EU Residents Upbeat About the Future

Some findings from a recent Gallup poll point to a generally optimistic outlook in the EU:

Residents in most EU countries surveyed in 2010 expect their lives will be closer to ideal five years from now. On a 0-to-10 scale, with 10 being the best possible life, people in nearly all EU countries -- except Greece, Romania, Luxembourg, and Slovenia -- give their future lives higher average ratings than their present ones. Greeks and Romanians alone predict their lives will be worse in five years; Luxembourgers and Slovenians don't expect their lives to be any different.

As Gallup observes, optimism increases the younger you get:

Young people across most of Europe are more likely than older people to rate their future better than their present. Fifteen- to 29-year-olds are the most likely to expect to be better off in the future while those aged 65 and older are the least likely to predict improvement. In every country, the percentage of respondents who rate their own future better than their present decreases gradually with age.

Euro End Game

Mark Blyth details the end game for the Euro:

The end game for the Germans, and the rest of Europe, in terms of resolving the current Eurozone crisis is pretty straightforward. There are four ways to deal with a financial crisis: devalue, default, inflate, or deflate. For any country in the Eurozone who transferred private debt from the banking sector to their public balance sheets, and thus blew a hole in their debts and deficits, neither inflation nor devaluation were options. That leaves default, which pushes the costs onto bondholders, or deflation, through domestic wages and prices via the public balance sheet, which places the costs onto taxpayers. For a host of reasons, as guardians of the Eurozone, as an inflation-averse savings-culture, we would expect the Germans to prefer austerity to expediency, and force deflation, but there are real and obvious limits to any such strategy, which is what I have found puzzling since the crisis began just over a year ago.

Read the whole thing.

January 18, 2011

Berlusconi - It Gets Worse


We take a break from security-related issues to focus on the downfall of Italy's raunchiest Prime Minister:

A "significant" number of young women prostituted themselves with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, prosecutors investigating him said in a document made public on Monday.

The prosecutors also believe that Berlusconi gave some women free use of a string of apartments in a residential complex near Milan in exchange for sex, according to the document posted on the website of the lower house of parliament.

It details accusations leveled by magistrates, who are probing whether Berlusconi paid to have sex with 17-year old Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer better known under the stage name "Ruby."

We have Berlusconi to thank for the term "bunga bunga" - which apparently refers to the type of parties he throws.

(AP Photo)

January 15, 2011

Good Use of Photography

This Sydney Morning Herald article shows you how it's done.

December 22, 2010

Abandoning Belarus?

While everyone else is focused on the Korean peninsula these days, James Kirchick's reports from the Belarus election deserve attention. Kirchick previewed the election by asking why the West is cozying up to Alexander Lukashenko:

Earlier this decade, Lukashenko’s abuses led the United States and the European Union to impose a series of targeted sanctions on regime officials, which led the Belarusian government to reconsider a handful of its draconian actions. The sanctions were effective, in large part, because the U.S. and its European allies presented a united front. After all, unilateral sanctions don’t have the same bite as those implemented by several countries. (See the painstaking effort of the Obama administration to convince governments around the world to get on board with sanctions against Iran.) But, over the past year, that erstwhile front against Belarus has cracked. The EU has dropped many of its sanctions, and European leaders have even begun cozying up to Lukashenko. Meanwhile, the United States, while maintaining sanctions, has done little to press the Belarusian president on his abysmal human rights record.

Why has the West gone soft on Lukashenko? The answer, in fact, lies to the east: Belarus has increasingly become a pawn between Russia and Europe and the United States. And the winner of this geostrategic chess match has been the Belarusian dictator himself.

Last week, Lukashenko was re-elected to a five year term under controversial circumstances and a government crackdown on protests. Kirchick describes the scene:

A column of spetsnaz stormed past me, throwing an elderly man to the ground and beating people—all of them unarmed—mercilessly. Presidential candidate Vital Rymasheuski staggered past me assisted by supporters, his hands covering a bloody gash on his forehead. I witnessed one police officer repeatedly club a person who was trapped against a wall. The sound of truncheons slapping plastic shields was the clear signal that unrelenting violence was only a few seconds away—and that one should run.

Six opposition candidates were arrested by the authorities, and Lukashenko is now set to be the head of state for a full 21 years - essentially, president for life. Shouldn't the United States care about this? Should the U.S. remain silent simply as payback for the Belarus commitment to give up Uranium stores? Is this really worth any diplomatic utility gained by using him as a pawn against Russia?

December 2, 2010

Berlusconi, Putin and Nukes


Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis digs around WikiLeaks and finds evidence that Italy, to his surprise, had pushed to have the U.S. remove tactical nuclear weapons from its territory:

As regular readers know, I have long supported the immediate consolidation of all US nuclear weapons in Europe to two US airbases — with Incirlik and Aviano being the obvious candidates. The surprise announcement that Italy wants the bombs gone too modestly complicates that proposal, although presumably Rome would welcome the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Ghedi Torre.

Does anyone know why the Berlusconi government might have shifted its position on forward deployed US nuclear weapons? Is it a function of some inexplicable Italian coalition politics?

A possible answer, I think, comes from another revelation in the WikiLeaks trove:

The official report that Mr Berlusconi “and his cronies” have been enabled to make money on multi-million pound energy deals concluded between Italy and Russia. Aside from alleged financial deals, the two leaders’ close ties were founded on Mr Berlusconi’s admiration of “Putin’s macho, decisive and authoritarian governing style,” the then US ambassador to Rome, Ronald Spogli, wrote in Jan 2009.

November 18, 2010

Defending Europe


Ian Brzezinski thinks President Obama should reject calls to draw down military forces from Europe:

Heeding those calls would be a mistake. Moving military forces based overseas to facilities at home involves high near term costs, including building of new infrastructure. The long term savings are marginal at best. Second, once basing privileges in another country have been terminated, it is never easy to regain them.

Most importantly, the United States would deny itself a critical force multiplier. U.S. troops based in Europe provide the most effective way to develop and sustain allied forces that are truly interoperable and ready to fight side by side with us. This is a critical and challenging necessity. U.S. military units that visit Europe once or twice year can in no way match the levels of joint training and exercises currently available to those stationed in Europe.

Accordingly, at Lisbon, Obama should announce a decision to keep U.S. forces stationed in Europe at their current levels. That would be a strategically serious and politically needed demonstration of U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance.

So what, then, would be a European demonstration of their commitment to the transatlantic alliance? Maybe not slashing their defense budgets so steeply? Maybe footing some of the bill - estimated to be in the billions - for retaining U.S. forces in Europe? Or does it not matter at all whether Europe holds up their end of the bargain?

I think we also need to differentiate between pulling up stakes completely in Europe - a root and branch removal of every last military base and soldier - and bringing current force levels down from the 80,000 there now to something lower than what is presently stationed in Korea (roughly 28,500 to defend a significantly more volatile strategic position). Is it not possible for the U.S. to maintain a greatly reduced military footprint in Europe while staying true to its Article 5 committments under NATO? Obviously it is - the nuclear umbrella alone ensures that. The U.S. could sustain a "tripwire" commitment of conventional forces that would be a down payment on a larger influx should the security situation on the continent deteriorate (an unlikely but not completely implausible scenario).

Europe is not under threat from any nation state that its own armed forces could not dispatch. What's more, it's not clear why Brzezinski is so dismissive about the costs of these garrisons. The U.S. Army was already in the process of consolidating its European bases and drawing down brigades - a process that the Obama administration has halted, at a cost of billions of dollars to the taxpayer.

What's more, if the U.S. reduces the overall size of the Army, rather than just relocating it out of Europe, there would be further costs savings as well.

Again, there are policy options between disbanding NATO and pulling out of Europe and sustaining (or doubling down on) the costly Cold War-era status quo. Europe is a secure and prosperous continent that is signaling quite clearly with their own defense budgets how they view their strategic environment. At a time when the U.S. is going to face some form of fiscal retrenchment and the potential for increased security demands from Asia, Europe seems like a logical place to pare back.

(AP Photo)

November 17, 2010

The Will to Power

What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who's willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

If the U.S. were to become another Europe—not out of diminished power, but out of a diminished will to assert its power—there would surely never be another Iraq war. That prospect would probably delight some readers of this column. It would also probably mean more fondness for the U.S. in some quarters where it is now often suspected. Vancouver, say, or the Parisian left bank. And that would gladden hearts from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side. - Bret Stephens

There's a few points to make here. The first, and most obvious is that it is because of Iraq that U.S. power (let alone "will") has taken the kind of hit that Stephens finds so objectionable. Champions of that war - far more than the Obama administration - are responsible for any declines in American power. I can't speak for the Parisian left bank, but for someone who wishes to see the U.S. retain its power long into the future, avoiding peripheral wars of choice that degenerate into trillion dollar boondoggles seems to be a prerequisite.

But what of Stephens' core charge - that Obama has embraced "multipolarity" as the organizing principle of the world and is thus ceding the globe to disorder and insecurity as the U.S. pursues a "European" foreign policy? First, it rests on fantasied rendering of American power and second, a caricature of the current administration.

Stephens would have us forget the years 2004-08, but none of the Bush administration's various diktats were met with sharp salutes and dutiful obedience from international miscreants like Iran and North Korea. The U.S. took "no" for an answer from all the same corners that the Obama administration is taking "no" from - not because of incompetence or lack of will, but because their objectives were difficult and because they had dug themselves a deep hole in Iraq.

As for the Obama administration, it's not clear that they've become "European" in their foreign policy outlook - if by European Stephens means dovish. They've escalated both the wars in Afghanistan and the aerial war inside Pakistan and they are extending America's counter-terrorism campaign inside Yemen. This may be insufficiently robust for Stephens but any honest reading of the record wouldn't confuse this with "European" passivity (incidentally that charge is somewhat slanderous in its own right considering how many Europeans are dying alongside Americans inside Afghanistan).

November 15, 2010

How to Survive a Pirate Hijacking

The European Naval Force for Somalia has released a helpful brochure in the event that you find yourself captured by Somali pirates. The advice is here. (pdf) Among its many recommendations:

Be aware that the ransom payment process is very stressful for the pirates and they may be more agitated than normal. Try to avoid contact with the pirates at this time. Confine yourself to established routines and behaviour patterns so as not to attract unnecessary attention on you. It may be some days after payment before you are released. Do not expect to be released immediately....

Khat is a common drug used in the Somali region. If the pirates onboard your vessel use this or other drugs, you should be careful to avoid any confrontations whilst they are under the influence of such substances. You should not be tempted to take drugs, other than for legitimate medical conditions, whilst in captivity. The taking of drugs may offer temporary relief, however the negative effects of withdrawal symptoms and increased tension due to cravings could result in unnecessary violence from your captors.

[Hat tip: Danger Room]

October 26, 2010

Losing Europe to Russia?


John Vinocur wonders if the U.S. is "losing" Europe to Russia. The framing of the question is a bit odd, because it presupposes that Russia is strong enough to "win" Europe away from the United States. What's really at issue is Europe's willingness to chart a slightly more independent course:

Rather, Germany and France, meeting with Russia in Deauville, northern France, last week, signaled that they planned to make such three-cornered get-togethers on international foreign policy and security matters routine, and even extend them to inviting other “partners” — pointing, according to diplomats from two countries, to Turkey becoming a future participant....

As for the Obama administration stamping its foot, what it came down to was a senior U.S. official saying: “Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve? After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it’s no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”

Needless to say that Washington does not believe in "spheres of influence" or the ability of a great power to have a say in another country's foreign policy decisions. No sir.

(AP Photo)

October 20, 2010

Courting Eastern Europe

Helle Dale offers some suggestions for the Obama administration:

Reform the U.S. Visa Waiver program, which still means that Polish residents have to line up for visas to enter the United States, when travelers from other European countries do not;

Work with the countries of CEE on security cooperation and democracy promotion. Make U.S. officials visible and available to the publics of these countries and reestablish public diplomacy institutions, such as America houses, that have been allowed atrophy since the Cold War;

Reexamine U.S. decisions on international broadcasting into the former Soviet Union, where services have been cut even in the absence of local free media.

Support the exploration of gas shale, which Poland possesses in abundance, and which would provide an alternative to Russian gas as Sikorski suggested. There is currently only $2 billion in U.S. business investment in Poland. Gas shale could give Poland energy independence; perhaps even make it an energy exporter.

I think these are mostly sensible ideas in their own right, but Dale implies that this is all necessary to blunt malevolent Russian influence. But I don't think we should view - or treat - relations with Eastern and Central Europe as zero sum standoffs.

Britain's Defense Cuts

The Guardian published a full list of what's on the chopping block. From a companion report:

Britain's armed forces will no longer be able to mount the kind of operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government's strategic defence review made clear today. For at least a decade it will also be impossible to deploy the kind of carrier taskforce which liberated the Falklands 28 years ago.

Though defence chiefs said today they will still have significant expeditionary forces, they will not be able to intervene on the scale of recent years. According to new defence planning assumptions, UK forces will be able to carry out one enduring brigade-level operation with up to 6,500 personnel, compared to the 10,000 now in Afghanistan, plus two smaller interventions, at any one time.

Alternatively, they will be able to mount a one-off, time-limited major intervention – "with sufficient warning" – of up to three brigades with about 30,000 personnel, which is two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003.

This is being greeted with dismay in many corners but I think it's useful to keep in mind that if we accept the fact that waging preventative wars followed by large-scale military occupation is not the proper way to combat terrorism, then fielding a smaller army is not necessarily a major setback to international security. But it is rather absurd to build an aircraft carrier without the attendant aircraft to carry.

Collective Defense


With NATO member states slashing defense budgets, Ian Brzezinski and Damon Wilson ask the obvious question: what becomes of a defensive alliance if none of the allies are meeting their defense spending obligations:

All allies are cutting or flat-lining defense spending. Italy reduced its budget by 10 percent. Germany may reduce the Bundeswehr from 250,000 soldiers to 163,000. The U.K. defense review could generate budget cuts of up to 15 per cent. Denmark is considering $500 million in savings by 2014 out of an annual budget of just under $4 billion. Central European allies are contemplating cuts of similar magnitude, and growth of the Pentagon budget will be surpassed by inflation. These trends are likely to be enduring....

A new Strategic Concept will be meaningless if the alliance allows its financial strains to undercut co operation, cripple capabilities and undermine solidarity with international arms sales. The summit’s success will be determined by how NATO leaders harness budgetary austerity to reinforce unity, drive forward collaboration and deliver military effectiveness. Only then will NATO’s new concept have real strategic substance.

On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense to wring defense savings through tighter integration between NATO members. But integrating the hardware is one thing, integrating the "software" of political decision-making is quite another. And it's difficult to see a post-Afghanistan NATO having the kind of political cohesion necessary to make a truly integrated NATO defense posture feasible.

(AP Photo)

October 19, 2010

Global Broadband


According to the Broadband Forum, there are just shy of 500 million broadband subscribers worldwide:

China, the powerhouse of global broadband in the 21st century so far, was responsible for 43 percent of all net broadband lines added in Q2 and performed far better than the same quarter in 2009 (China includes Mainland China, Hong Kong & Macau). In Western Europe, many markets did better than the equivalent 2009 quarter. Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey, amongst others, all reported strong numbers. Central and South American markets have cooled to an extent, but many are still reporting good quarterly growth (of 5-7 percent). However, the US and in particular Canada, broadband growth has significantly slowed, affected by the end of housing stimulus packages. In Canada's case, the market slowed to levels not seen for a decade.

Asia now accounts for 41 percent of broadband subscriptions, followed by Europe with 30 and the Americas with 26 percent. China alone accounts for 120.59 million or over 24 percent of the 500 million broadband subs worldwide. Check out the Gallup/RCW list of the Most Wired Countries for more on global connectivity.

(AP Photo)

October 13, 2010

Radical Germany

Michael Slackman reports on how Germany is a hotbed for home grown Islamic radicalism:

Although Germany has been spared the terrorist attacks that have hit the United States, Britain and Spain, Hamburg — and Germany in general — remains a breeding ground for Islamic radicals, security officials acknowledge. A spate of recent arrests and terrorism warnings in Europe and Afghanistan has underscored the risk that a small number of German citizens are under the sway of terrorist groups determined to stage new attacks, either in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

Officials in Hamburg emphasized that the vast majority of its Muslim population — which they put at 130,000 — rejected violence. But a Hamburg intelligence official said there were 2,000 residents who embrace radical ideology and another 45 who accept the ideology of Al Qaeda and global jihad.

“That’s what we all experience in America and in other countries and also here, that this phenomenon of the homegrown terrorist increases rapidly,” said the intelligence official, who spoke recently on the condition that he not be identified because of the secrecy of his work. “This is an extremism which grows right here. The recruiting, the radicalization happens right here, not in other countries.”

This again underscores a dubious argument often floated with respect to terrorism (and usually as a post-hoc justification for the invasion of Iraq): that democracy is an antidote to radicalism. But if German citizens, including those born and raised in the country, can turn to terrorism it's obvious that democracy isn't sufficient to quell their radicalism.

October 11, 2010

Dutch Antilles

In the news you may have missed file, the world has two new countries:

The former Dutch Caribbean colonies of Curacao and St. Maarten became autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Sunday in a change of constitutional status dissolving the Netherlands Antilles.

The two joined Aruba, which in 1986 had already gained this status that maintains direct ties with Holland, while three other islands, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, became autonomous special municipalities of the Netherlands in the dissolution of the 56-year-old Netherlands Antilles territory.

EU Distracted, Powerless

Struck by how rarely European Union foreign ministers focus on strategy during their monthly meetings, the Finnish foreign minister Alex Stubb asked officials to check how often he and his counterparts had discussed the role of China as a foreign policy power.

The answer was just once in the past four years....

On Thursday, Ms. Ashton, who recently returned from a visit to China, is expected to urge the Union to integrate its contacts with big powers — which range from the environment to trade — to gain more leverage.

This could help shift the focus from short-term problems. Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times. - Stephen Castle, New York Times

That's via Evelyn Gordon, who contends that this "obsession" with Israel has led the EU to rapidly lose its global power. I'm not sure that's completely correct not least because it's clear from the Castle piece that the EU never had all that much global power to begin with.

October 5, 2010

Germany's Historic Oktoberfest


According to Der Spiegel:

Visitors to the Munich Oktoberfest this year drank their way into the history books by downing an unprecedented 7 million liters of beer, beating the previous high of 6.94 million reached in 2007, the organizers said. The impressive list of lost items includes a set of dentures and a live rabbit.

Was it the sunny weather, the economic recovery or the special anniversary? All three factors might have played a part in the surge in beer consumption at the two-week Munich Oktoberfest this year to 7 million liters, up 500,000 from 2009 and just above the previous high of 6.94 million set in 2007, according to an impressive set of statistics provided by the organizers after the party ended on Monday.

"I've no idea why people drank that much," Gabriele Papke, the spokeswoman for the festival, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They were simply thirsty."


(AP Photo)

October 2, 2010

Staying in Europe

Earlier in the week I argued that the over-riding rationale for NATO was keeping America central to European security. Now that France's President Nicholas Sarkozy is proposing a "security and economic zone" with Russia, outside of NATO, the American reaction quoted by the Times seems to confirm that:

“Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve?” asked a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it is no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”

I suspect Europe will be increasingly eager to define for themselves what security arrangements work best if this is the kind of tone they receive from their benevolent American overlords.

September 30, 2010

Understanding NATO's Longevity

Every once in a while a commentator will dust off the Wither NATO routine, asking why the U.S. and Europe sustain an alliance whose central rationale - deterring the Soviet threat - disappeared decades ago. A staple argument is that NATO risks becoming "irrelevant" as European defense budgets shrivel and some members bear unequal burdens in Afghanistan. But I think these arguments overlook an important point. If you want to know why NATO endures, I think this interview with Condoleeza Rice sheds some good light on Washington's thinking:

SPIEGEL: But Americans insisted on full NATO membership for the unified Germany. It was very unlikely that Gorbachev would swallow this. Weren't the Americans trying to block reunification this way?

Rice: No. But we couldn't afford in the end game of the Cold War to make a bad misstep. And a really bad misstep would have been to pull Germany out of NATO, which would have collapsed the most important platform for the American presence in Europe.

SPIEGEL: But who could really believe that the Russians would ever agree to that?

Rice: There were debates in the American foreign policy establishment that maybe both the Warsaw Pact and NATO should go away. But we at the White House never considered the possibility of unifying Germany outside of NATO. It would have meant that at the last minute, with everything going our way, the United States capitulated on the essential thing in terms of the American presence in Europe. [Emphasis mine]

And again at the end:

SPIEGEL: In retrospect, what would you have done differently during the negiations about the unification process?

Rice: I'm sure there were small tactical things that could have been done differently, but how could it have come out better? Germany fully integrated and united with its democratic institutions intact, integrated in Europe, integrated in NATO and the American presence is secure in Europe. [Emphasis mine]

Whatever other rationales are offered up for why NATO remains relevant, it's central, animating purpose is to keep America immersed in the affairs of Europe. Seen in this light, Europe's collective decision to continue to sacrifice defense budgets on the altar of austerity is a feature, not a bug.

September 22, 2010

Ireland's Leading Export: Irish

Dan O'Brien reports:

After two decades of population growth, Ireland’s long-term pattern of decline looks set to resume.

Ireland is demographically unusual in three distinct ways: in its mobility, its mortality and its fertility. Last year, among the 27 EU member countries, Ireland had the highest rate of outward migration, the lowest death rate and the highest birth rate. In the year to April, according to figures released yesterday, a surge in net emigration came close to overwhelming the other two factors.

Last year, after many years of new arrivals exceeding departures, net human flows to and from this country went sharply into reverse. According to the EU’s statistical agency, nine in every 1,000 people left. This was double the rate of the country with the second highest emigration rate – recession-ravaged Lithuania. Of the 15 rich, long-term members of the EU, Ireland was one of only two to experience net emigration.

New figures released yesterday show that more than 65,000 people left the country in the year to April. Although this was only slightly more than in the previous year, the breakdown by nationality was very different. Most notable was a 50 per cent surge in the number of Irish people departing. This is in contrast to the earlier phase of the recession, when most of those relocating were immigrants from the new EU member countries returning home.

Meanwhile, Michael Schuman examines Ireland's vulnerability to a Greece-style sovereign debt crisis.

September 17, 2010

How the Greek Economy Will Recover

By selling novel souvenirs, of course:

Two U.S. tourists unknowingly bought six human skulls in Greece, which they learned when they were stopped at the airport in Athens.

The Americans carried the skulls in their hand luggage, which was scanned during a layover on their way back to the United States from the island of Mykonos.

September 2, 2010

Resource Wars


Two news items amplify Daniel McGroarty's piece running on the front page today regarding the potential for heightened resource competition around the world.

The first is Andreas Landwehr's report in the China Post on China's voracious appetite for minerals:

Never before has China invested so many billions of dollars to ensure that the demands of its manufacturers and consumers are met, but in their buying sprees around the world, state-owned Chinese businesses are also meeting with resistance.

China already uses twice as much steel as the United States, Europe and Japan combined, and the sheer scale and speed of the country's economic growth will see its demand for resources rise for decades to come.

The other, and perhaps more significant, warning is being raised by the Bundeswehr Transformation Center (a think tank affiliated with the German army) regarding oil shortages. The study, which was leaked to Der Spiegel, paints a fairly stark picture of a future market collapse and the rise of importance of oil exporting countries.

The West needs to return to strong economic growth, but such a rebound would set in train the competition for finite resources sketched above.

(AP Photo)

August 18, 2010

Germany Rising


Germany provoked the ire of many left-of-center economists for its embrace of fiscal austerity during the global downturn. Yet having just notched record GDP growth, the Germans are feeling their oats:

The battle over how to navigate the financial crisis helps display Germany’s emerging post-cold-war identity as a country less tolerant of foreign demands and lecturing, one with a tenser relationship with European partners. Though Germany has plenty of problems to grapple with at home, it has also become less obsessed with its historical crimes and more enthusiastic about its economic model, its culture and its improved standing in the world.

Jenny Wiblishauser, 33, a single mother in the southern town of Memmingen, said Germany’s financial prudence — and its willingness to ignore foreign criticism — made her proud. “Before, the Greeks would call us Nazis, and we would act vulnerable,” she said. “Now one says, ‘Well, I’m not driving there for vacation.’ ”

Some critics in Europe say that confidence veered toward hubris in the contentious debate this year over shoring up the Greek government and restoring confidence in the troubled euro. In particular, the venomous contempt in the German news media directed at Greece raised significant concerns among allies that a more assertive Germany had emerged, said Thomas Klau, an expert on European integration at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“That was like a wake-up call to the rest of Europe that something had changed in Germany,” Mr. Klau said.

Does this new confidence in the economic realm augur a more assertive Germany in the security realm? Not quite: the Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is backing a plan that would halve the number of German ground troops and battle tanks.

[Hat tip: Scott Bleiweis]

(AP Photo)

August 17, 2010

Europe & the Entrepreneur

According to Gallup, Europeans don't see their education system as conducive to producing entrepreneurs, unlike Chinese or Americans:


July 28, 2010

Strength in Weakness?

Richard Gowen sees the upside of a weakened West:

Containing new crises will be difficult. Instead of Bush-era “coalitions of the willing”, it may be necessary to form “coalitions of the weaklings”: groups of states that can’t handle international problems alone, but have sufficient leverage between them to do something.

In June, Germany and Russia proposed a new EU-Russia Security Committee – and said it should find ways to resolve the frozen conflict in Moldova. Less than two years after the EU and Moscow fell out over Kosovo and Georgia, this shows how both sides’ awareness of their weaknesses may boost security cooperation. Similarly, Russia’s sense of vulnerability has arguably helped ease diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program.

Structuring coalitions to deal with complex issues like Afghanistan is horribly hard. Yet the EU’s leaders need to recognise that weakness isn’t an excuse for inaction – it should be a stimulus for more activist diplomacy to resolve actual and potential crises now.

Certainly countries are going to be more cooperative if they think they're playing a bad hand. But shouldn't we be devoting just as much time seeking to improve that hand, than in learning how to cope?

July 12, 2010

Between the EU and a Hard Place

Can a regime survive without any friends? We may be about to find out in Belarus:

It’s not often that Brussels and Moscow see eye to eye on the politics of the former Soviet Union. But both want Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko gone, preferably after elections slated for early 2011. The EU has long criticized Lukashenko for abusing opposition activists and censoring local media. Now he’s alienated his onetime great protector, Russia, as well. His unpaid gas bills to the tune of $200 million led Gazprom to briefly cut off supplies last month. He called Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “the main enemy of the Russian people,” and refused to recognize Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states in defiance of Kremlin pressure. He also offered asylum to former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whom Russia helped oust earlier this year.

July 8, 2010

Merkel's Conservatives Feeling Heat


According to a new poll from Infratest-Dimap:

The popularity of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) is increasing, according to a poll by Infratest-Dimap released by ARD. 30 per cent of respondents would vote for the opposition SDP in the next election to the Federal Diet, up two points since mid-May.

The ruling Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) and its associate Bavarian Christian-Social Party (CSU) remain in first place with 33 per cent. The Green Party (Grune) is third with 17 per cent, followed by the Left Party (Linke) with 10 per cent, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) with five per cent.

(AP Photo)

Europe Supports Veil Bans


According to a new poll from Pew Research, there is widespread support in Western Europe for banning the full veil:

A survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, conducted April 7 to May 8, finds that the French public overwhelmingly endorses this measure; 82% approve of a ban on Muslim women wearing full veils in public, including schools, hospitals and government offices, while just 17% disapprove.1

Majorities in Germany (71%), Britain (62%) and Spain (59%) would also support a similar ban in their own countries. In contrast, most Americans would oppose such a measure; 65% say they would disapprove of a ban on Muslim women wearing full veils in public places compared with 28% who say they would approve.

In the four Western European countries surveyed as well as in the U.S., support for a ban on Muslim women wearing a full veil is more pronounced among those who are age 55 and older, although majorities across all age groups in France, Germany and Britain favor a ban. For example, 91% of French respondents age 55 and older approve of restrictions on Muslim women covering their face, compared with 81% of those ages 35 to 54 and 72% of those younger than 35.

In Spain, where 70% in the older group and a narrower majority (55%) of those ages 35 to 54 favor a ban on full veils, younger respondents are closely divided; 49% of those ages 18 to 34 approve of such measures and 47% disapprove. In the U.S., about one-third (35%) of those in the oldest age group say they would welcome a ban on veils that cover the whole face except the eyes, while 28% of those ages 35 to 54 and just 22% of those younger than 35 say the same.

(AP Photo)

What Norway Tells Us About Terrorism

Norway announced the arrests of three people it believes are linked to an al Qaeda plot to bomb the U.S. and UK:

Two were arrested in Norway and one in Germany. Officials would not say what country or site was the target of the latest terror threat, or even whether they believed the men had selected a target.

Those arrested in Norway included a 39-year-old Norwegian of Uighur origin who has lived in the country since 1999 and a 31-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan who had a permanent Norwegian residency permit, said Janne Kristiansen, head of Norway's Police Security Service. The man arrested in Germany was a 37-year-old Iraqi with a Norwegian residency permit, Kristiansen said.

She did not say exactly where the arrests took place but said all three men "had connections to Oslo."

It should be obvious by now that people with links to the West are vastly more dangerous than provincial Taliban militants scattered between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it will take police and intelligence work, not nation building in Afghanistan, to thwart that particular threat.

May 19, 2010

Merkel's Coalition Takes a Hit


Via Angus Reid:

Fewer German voters would support the governing Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) and its associate Bavarian Christian-Social Party (CSU) in the next federal election, according to a poll by Infratest-Dimap released by ARD. 32 per cent of respondents would vote for the CDU or CSU, down four points since mid-April.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is second with 28 per cent, followed by the Green Party (Grune) with 17 per cent, the Left Party (Linke) with 11 per cent, and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) with seven per cent.

(AP Photos)

May 11, 2010

Will Europe Contribute to Transatlantic Defense?

Stephen Walt wonders:

In any case, whether Europe grows closer together or begins to spin apart, it’s going to carry a lot less weight in world affairs in the next few decades. Its population is shrinking and aging, its military power is increasingly hollow, and it’s going to be short on money for years to come. If U.S. officials think they are going to get a lot more help from NATO in the decades to come, they are living in a dream world.

So here’s my question: will NATO's new “Strategic Concept,” currently being formulated for presentation at the NATO summit next fall, reflect this emerging reality? Will it openly acknowledge that Europe is not going to commit more resources, and identify a set of (fairly modest) common goals that the alliance actually has some chance of achieving? Or will it contain the usual pious declarations of transatlantic solidarity, along with various empty pledges that everyone knows are no more than polite fictions?

I'll venture a guess: it will contain the usual pious declarations and empty pledges.

April 27, 2010

Norway & Exceptionalism, Ctd.

Newsweek interviews Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on how the country weathered the Great Recession with an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent. The secret to the country's success is, obviously, its huge oil and gas reserves in the North Sea. But the country has plowed the profits from its oil sales into a sovereign wealth fund worth $450 billion. Says Stoltenberg:

We have the most transparent and most predictable investment fund in the world. The reason we have this sovereign fund is we have saved most of the oil revenues rather than spend them on tax cuts. Our value-added tax is 25 percent and gasoline price is $8 per gallon. The whole idea is to replace our national wealth from oil and gas in the ground to equity and bonds in the international market. It has been important for the Norwegian government to avoid Dutch disease by not spending too much.

Could U.S. leaders be similarly responsible? I somehow doubt it.

April 26, 2010

European Air Travel During the Cloud

Airspace Rebooted from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

This video visualizes European air travel during and after the giant ash cloud. Very neat. [Via Passport]

April 23, 2010

Obama Spurns Allies Again!

Once again, the Obama administration is trampling over the wishes of its allies in an effort to appease America's enemies:

Fresh from signing a strategic nuclear arms agreement with Russia, the United States is parrying a push by several NATO allies to withdraw its aging stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

Speaking Thursday at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers here, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Obama administration was not opposed to cuts in these battlefield weapons, mostly bombs and short-range missiles locked in underground vaults on air bases in five NATO countries.

But Mrs. Clinton ruled out removing these weapons unless Russia agreed to cuts in its arsenal, which is at least 10 times the size of the American one. And she also appeared to make reductions in the American stockpile contingent on Russia’s being more transparent about its weapons and willing to move them away from the borders of NATO countries.

April 21, 2010

Inside Emperor Berlusconi's Reign


Alexander Stille unpacks the phenomena:

Berlusconi has transformed the political life of a major nation into a kind of reality TV show in which he is star, producer, and network owner: he is the ultimate “Survivor,” who will lie and cheat to kick others off the island as well as “The Bachelor,” distributing roses to a group of beautiful young women. Consider that Berlusconi’s approval ratings are consistently higher than Barack Obama’s. As The Daily Beast pointed out recently, Obama’s TV ratings and poll numbers have gone down in lockstep as his health care legislation has been weakened and unemployment has remained high: “The fact is he had 49.5 million listeners to [his] first speech on the economy. On Medicare, he had 24 million. He’s lost his audience…. He has plunged in the polls.” Berlusconi, facing public scandals similar to those of Tiger Woods and John Edwards, has kept his audience.

Berlusconi has understood that contemporary politics is a permanent campaign. In the old days, a US president campaigned for six months and governed for three and a half years. Obama rather quaintly followed this old-fashioned model, working largely behind the scenes to promote health care and other legislation, while the Republicans held the stage, claiming that the Democratic plan imposed “death panels” and socialized medicine. Berlusconi would never have let that happen.

(AP Photo)

April 9, 2010

Is a "European" America a Defenseless One?

Jonah Goldberg has a few questions about America's coming European future:

Europe is a free-rider. It can only afford to be Europe because we can afford to be America.

The most obvious and most cited illustration of this fact is national defense. Europe’s defense budgets have been miniscule because Europeans can count on Uncle Sam to protect them. Britain, which has the most credible military in NATO after ours, has funded its butter account with its gun account. As Mark Steyn recently noted in National Review, from 1951 to 1997 the share of British government expenditure devoted to defense fell from 24 percent to 7 percent, while the share spent on health and welfare increased from 22 percent to 53 percent. And that was before New Labour started rolling back Thatcherism. If America Europeanizes, who’s going to protect Europe? Who’s going to keep the sea lanes open? Who’s going to contain Iran — China? Okay, maybe. But then who’s going to contain China?

There are a few points to make about this. First, take the figures Steyn quotes - they're a bit out of context, aren't they? I mean, there was a fairly sizable strategic shift that occurred in the years from 1951 to 1997 that might have some explanatory power besides ravenous socialism.

Second, Europe's defense budgets are only minuscule compared to America - which, needless to say, is the wrong comparison. America is not only a European ally, it also spends nearly as much on defense as the entire world, combined. The better metric is to compare European defense spending to Russia (and throw in China too, for the fun of it) - and as you can see, they match up fairly well. Europe, collectively, accounts for a 20 percent share of defense spending, while Russia accounts for 5 percent and China 8 percent.

Now, you could argue that individual European defense budgets are low but if we assume that the Socialized America Goldberg fears spends what Britain or France do (about 2.5 percent of GDP) that's still a nicely funded, nuclear-armed, military.

So to answer Goldberg's first question: Europe can defend Europe. (It would also be nice to know what Europe needs to defend itself from that its current budget is somehow unable to cope with.)

The second question about sea lanes is a curious one because Europe polices sea lanes. Maybe Goldberg meant to imply that Europe doesn't defend enough sea-lanes to secure its trade and commercial interests. Or maybe he thinks they do a bad job?

As for who's going to contain China, why does Goldberg assume that an America with British-level defense spending wouldn't be up to the task? I mean, at the point that it becomes obvious that China needs to be contained, I'm assuming the U.S. military will prioritize accordingly and settling sectarian feuds in Baghdad and tribal spats in Kabul will take a back-seat.

And if China has to be contained, you would suspect that at a minimum the U.S. would find several Asian allies ready to contribute to that containment - including Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and, potentially, India and South Korea. Those are some wealthy countries with decently funded militaries and no small mount of suspicion regarding China's rise. So, to answer Goldberg's final question, even a "Europeanized" American defense budget, in conjunction with a concert of Asian powers, could contain China should the need arise.

March 30, 2010

Critics and Consistency


Responding to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's backhanded praise for American health care reform, Kevin Drum writes:

Sarkozy was something of a darling of the right when he was first elected, thanks to his support of laissez-faire economics and general embrace of American values. But the financial collapse of 2008 turned him into something of a regulatory hawk, and now there's this. I'll bet the American right doesn't think much of him anymore.

I'm not so sure. So long as he - or any leader of an allied country, for that matter - continues to criticize President Obama's performance abroad, I think the critics will continue to find praise, warranted or unwarranted, for Sarkozy.

I think this goes back to a point we've made repeatedly here on this blog, and that is that the president's critics have thus far demonstrated a serious lack of consistency when it comes to foreign policy. Neoconservatives in particular have been bemoaning the cultural and global decline of Europe for nearly a decade, but once administrations changed, so too did the tone.

This makes for some oddly inconsistent rhetoric, particularly from the right. So either Obama fails to meet the Sarkozy standard, or he leads a party too heavily influenced by the French. What does that even mean? Does it have to mean anything? Probably not; we're talking about the world of politics after all, where things needn't make sense in order to be repeated over and over again.

(AP Photo)

March 29, 2010

Parting Ways

The New York Times reported today that Europe is trying to woo back the U.S. and prove that it can be a credible international partner. Reading Gideon Rachman's blog leaves one with a slightly different impression:

I was struggling earlier today to understand why the French had been so reluctant to involve the IMF in the putative rescue of Greece. In my innocence, I thought it might have something to do with a French preference for a “European solution”. But then a French colleague explained to me. It’s simply that Nicolas Sarkozy sees Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, as a potential rival in the next French presidential election. So he doesn’t want to agree to anything that might make Strauss-Kahn look good.

There is a similar ludicrous jostling going on between José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, the first appointee to the new post of president of the European Council. In theory, the two men work closely together. In practice, they are shaping up as bitter rivals. So, after today’s European summit, aides to the two presidents were busily trying to round up journalists for rival briefings - as each man jostled to show that he spoke for Europe.

Amusing EU disarray aside, I don't think the hand-wringing over the U.S. "drifting away" from Europe is really justified. Europe used to be a major global flash-point. And now it mostly isn't (Ukraine and Georgia being notable exceptions). That's a good thing for Europe and the U.S. Isn't it natural that the focus is shifting elsewhere?

(AP Photo)

March 27, 2010

No More Love for Unilateralism?

Back when the United States was an Empire that could create its own reality, allies were seen as nothing more than a hindrance to our unipolarity. Unilateralism was in vogue, with conservatives championing an America willing to break publicly with traditional friends who didn't want to follow us into battle. Coalitions of the willing would replace the more staid, formal alliances that had guided American policy for decades. We didn't need "Old Europe."

Well, that was then. Now apparently, spurning allies is bad. Robert Kagan, who once asserted that Europeans operated on a different planet than the United States, is now aghast at how the Obama administration is supposedly treating our steadfast European allies. Charles Krauthammer, who believed the U.S. could ride herd over the rest of the world with "implacable demonstrations of will" is now a shrinking violet, wringing his hands nervously over how the Obama administration is being mean and thoughtless to our good friends.

What on Earth could explain such an about-face?

March 25, 2010

America's European Future

Max Boot peers ahead into the dystopia that is modern Europe in the aftermath of President Obama's health care bill:

To consider the implications for defense, look at Europe. Last year government spending in the 27 European Union nations hit 52% of GDP. But most of them struggle to devote even 2% of GDP to defense, compared to more than 4% in the U.S.

When Europeans after World War II chose to skimp on defense and spend lavishly on social welfare, they abdicated their claims to great power status. That worked out well for them because their security was subsidized by the U.S.

True, but it also worked out well for them because they had one main adversary and when that adversary collapsed, nothing on par rose to take its place. So modern Europe is relatively secure from conventional military threats, key members have a nuclear deterrent and it still has a serious, albeit small, conventional military capacity. But, as Boot notes, they don't have much in the way of sustained power projection:

But what happens if the U.S. switches spending from defense to social welfare? Who will protect what used to be known as the “Free World”? Who will police the sea lanes, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism, respond to genocide and other unconscionable human rights violations, and deter rogue states from aggression? Those are all responsibilities currently performed by America. But it will be increasingly hard to be globocop and nanny state at the same time. Something will have to give.

Lucky for us, the free world is considerably safer now than it was when we were sustaining massive conventional and nuclear forces to fend off the Soviet Union. And none of the specific concerns Boot cites above seem either tremendously expensive to fulfill or are even necessarily in need of a military solution.

A lot of countries are currently policing sea lanes - including Europe! The U.S. can spend less on defense and still field a capable navy. When it comes to stopping WMD, how large a role is the military really playing here? It was the CIA and other allied intelligence services that uncovered and put a stop to the AQ Khan network. The military clearly has a somewhat larger role to play in stopping terrorism, but if you don't conflate "stopping terrorism" with "nation building" this isn't hugely expensive either. We don't do a large amount of "responding to genocide" in the first place. Rogue states like Iran and North Korea tend to be regional problems with a very limited ability to strike directly at the U.S., and even a decreased defense budget would more than enable us to respond to an act of aggression from third-rate powers.

Simply curtailing our huge investments in Iraq and Afghanistan and not expanding the Army would help save the U.S. billions in defense without precipitating a wholesale retreat from our role as a global military power.

UPDATE: See also Christopher Preble. And thinking about this a little more, I'm wondering what Boot's pitch is to the people who are now going to receive health care benefits - sorry, but it's more important that the U.S. protect Saudi Arabia from Iran? And I say this as somehow who is skeptical about saddling our government with more entitlement spending....

UPDATE II: Via Matthew Yglesias, the OECD figures for health care expenditures shows that the U.S. already outspends Europe by a fairly large margin on health care while maintaining the Empire. So even with "European-style" health care expenditures, there's still plenty of slack to spread freedom and battle evil should their leaders so choose:


March 24, 2010

Is Euro-Skepticism a Tory Liability?

Daniel Larison follows up on yesterday's post on the UK elections: of the common themes in a lot of Tory Euroskeptic rhetoric is that Britain should align itself more and more closely with the United States and keep its distance from Europe. This view has an intelligent, learned exponent in John Redwood and a ridiculous, ideological one in Daniel Hannan. Regardless, the most reliably “pro-American” Tories are typically the biggest Euroskeptics, and Europhile Tories tend to be more critical of U.S. policy. The question is not whether a Euroskeptic-led Britain will be “relevant” or valuable to the United States (there is far more to the relationship that London’s ability to act as go-between with other Europeans), but whether the British electorate will be satisfied with a foreign policy that tilts more towards Washington than towards Brussels in ways that most British voters don’t like and which seems to get Britain nothing in exchange.

March 23, 2010

Does a Tory Win Spike the Special Relationship?


Max Bergmann argues that David Cameron's Euro-skepticism will hurt him with the U.S. should he prevail in the forthcoming British election:

The problem for the United States, however, is that Cameron’s anti-European stance would only serve to make Britain less relevant to the United States. The fact is that the UK is just not as relevant to the United States if it is on the sidelines of Europe.

British debates presenting UK relationships with the US and Europe, as competing alternatives offer a false and outdated choice. In case the UK hasn’t noticed, US policy toward Europe has shifted away from the divide and rule (old vs. new Europe) approach of the first Bush term. The US now wants Europe as a whole to do more globally, not less.

I'm not so sure about this. That's not to say this isn't the administration's thinking, but whether such an outlook is justified in the first place. First, I would think that the events of the last few months (hello Greece) would serve to reinforce Euro-skepticism, not undermine it. Does Europe really need another powerful voice pulling it in multiple directions?

Second, when you consider that the EU is unable to actually assist one of its own member states, I'm not quite sure how helpful the Obama administration can truly expect the EU to be particularly since, as noted above, it's consumed by its own rather significant problems.

(AP Photo)

March 22, 2010

Wither Europe?


The Peterson Institute's Anders Aslund says the failure of the Eurozone to come to Greece's rescue shouldn't sound the death knell for European economic integration:

I do not think that the idea of a common European fiscal regime has failed. On the contrary, the recent circus shows how badly needed it is. The Scandinavian countries are doing fine since they by and large stick to the Maastricht criteria. The recent debacle should be a good reason for us Europeans to tighten and straighten our thinking. Few things are as good for progress as a total and complete humiliation—which this is.

I'm not so sure. A new FT/Harris Poll shows declining support for the Eurozone:

The latest FT/Harris poll showed 61 per cent of Germans opposed the idea of their government helping Greece cope with its budget deficit, with just 20 per cent supportive. That compared with 56 per cent opposed to helping and 21 per cent in favour in the UK. Support for Greece was noticeably higher in Spain and Italy, where 45 per cent and 40 per cent were in favour.

German resistance was especially high towards the suggestion that their government should guarantee the debts of another European Union member, which was rejected by 76 per cent of those polled. UK and French opposition to the idea was roughly equal, at about 60 per cent, but Italians and the Spanish were less hostile.

EU leaders are likely to be horrified at the level of support for the idea of breaking up the eurozone - at least temporarily. Asked whether Greece should be asked to leave the eurozone while it sorts out its finances, 32 per cent of Germans agreed. That compared with 27 per cent in the UK, 23 per cent in Spain, 20 per cent in Italy and just 19 per cent in France.

Greece's woes may also have fuelled long-running German scepticism about the benefits brought by eurozone membership by reawaking fears that the euro will not prove as stable as the postwar D-mark they surrendered in 1999.

Some 40 per cent of Germans thought they would be better off outside the eurozone, compared with 30 per cent who thought they would be worse off. In France, Spain and Italy, a larger proportion thought life outside the eurozone would be tougher than remaining inside.

What does the in-fighting among European powers tell us about the EU being a harbinger of a "post national" future? Doesn't seem too imminent now that the chips are down.

(AP Photo)

March 21, 2010

Will French Politics Bankrupt Greece?

Simon Johnson walks you through the byzantine twists and turns.

March 15, 2010

Meanwhile In Dutch Politics...

Hope for humanity:

A Dutch political party formed by self-described pedophiles has voted to disband itself after failing for the second time to participate in national elections in June.

The group, which sought to lower the age of sexual consent to 12, says it could not get the 600 signatures necessary to win a place on the ballot in a country of 16.5 million. It would need 60,000 votes to win a seat in the 150-member Dutch parliament.

March 11, 2010



Danielle Pletka laments the end of American civilization as we know it:

Consider that the president’s own staff can’t gin up a single special relationship with a foreign leader and that the once “special relationship” with the United Kingdom is in tatters (note the latest contretemps over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bizarre intervention on the Falkland Islands); that neither China nor Russia will back the United States’s push for sanctions against Iran; that Iran, it seems, doesn’t want to “sit down” with the Obama administration and chat; that the “peace process” the president was determined to revive is limping pathetically, in no small amount due to missteps by the United States; that one of the key new relationships of the 21st century (advanced by the hated George W. Bush)—with India—is a total mess; that the hope kindled in the Arab world after Obama’s famous Cairo speech has dimmed; that hostility to America’s AfPak special envoy Richard Holbrooke is the only point of agreement between Delhi, Islamabad, and Kabul; that there isn’t a foreign ministry in Europe with a good word to say about working with the Obama White House; that there is a narrative afoot that began with the Obama apologia tour last year and will not go away: America is in decline.

Too many of these problems can be sourced back to the arrogance of the president and his top advisers. Many of Obama’s foreign policy soldiers are serious, keen, and experienced, but even they are afraid to speak to foreigners, to meet with Congress, or to trespass on the policy making politburo in the White House’s West Wing. Our allies are afraid of American retreat and our enemies are encouraged by that fear. George Bush was excoriated for suggesting that the nations of the world are either with us or against us. But there is something worse than that Manichean simplicity. Barack Obama doesn’t care whether they’re with us or against us.

And that's in just one year! Imagine how much he'll have ruined by 2012!

Needless to say, I find all of this to be a bit exaggerated, and even a bit disingenuous. Keep in mind that many once thought it cute or tough to alienate and insult allies; designating them as 'old' and 'new' Europe, for instance. When the Bush administration ruffled feathers it was decisive leadership; when Obama does it it's the collapse of Western society as we know it. Pick your hyperbole, I suppose.

After eight years in office, did President Bush actually leave us with a clear policy on ever-emerging China? How about the so-called road map for peace? How'd that work out? Did President Bush manage to halt Iranian nuclear enrichment, or did he simply leave Iran in a stronger geopolitical position vis-à-vis Iraq and Afghanistan?

Pletka attributes many of these perceived failings to "arrogance." But it has been well documented that the previous administration was also stubborn, resistant to consultation and set in its ways. How then, if Ms. Pletka is indeed correct, has this changed with administrations?

Pletka scoffs at the president's insistence that policy is "really hard," but he's right - as was George W. Bush when he said it. Perhaps, just perhaps, the problem isn't what our presidents have failed to do, but what we expect them to do in an increasingly multipolar, or even nonpolar world?

(AP Photo)

March 9, 2010

Russia's Hollow Energy Empire


The Wilson Center's Stacey Closson argues that Russia's energy empire isn't exactly the over-powering entity many in the West fear:

Some 85 percent of the EU-12 (newer inductees to the European Union from Central and East Europe) still rely on Russian gas imports but, Closson said, this figure is misleading. While 40 percent of all gas entering Europe is from Russia, only about 6 percent of it is used for primary energy consumption. In other words, some 94 percent of European energy consumption comes from non-Russian gas.

Closson argues that Russia is not an emerging energy empire. “People may think Russia is in control,” said Closson, “but Russia depends on energy sales to Europe for more than 60 percent of its hard cash earnings, so there is a strong degree of interdependence."

There is a similar dynamic - between the anxiety of consuming countries and the perceived power of the exporting countries - when it comes to Middle Eastern oil. But in that case, the exporter's power is even weaker than in the case of Russia. Middle Eastern economies are even less diverse than Russia's, making them far more dependent on the export of oil. There's a reason why the so-called "oil weapon" was used once and never wielded again.

So much of American policy in the Middle East is predicated on the fear that the oil will stop flowing, but there's no indication that the various leaders of the Middle East want to starve. And that includes the leaders of Iran.

(AP Photo)

March 8, 2010

Will a French Warship Boost Russia?

France's decision to sell a Mistral class warship to Russia has raised some alarm bells at the prospect of a rejuvenated Russian navy that could potentially menace nations such as Georgia. Dmitry Gorenburg says not to worry:

...the Russian Navy is declining, and the Mistral, while a fine ship, will not suddenly turn it into the most formidable force in the region. Furthermore, despite ongoing reforms, the Russian military as a whole will also get weaker before it gets stronger, in part because of deteriorating equipment, in part because of a decline in available personnel, and in part because of the retirement of well-trained officers who began their careers in the Soviet period and their replacement by officers who made their careers in the 1990s, when money for training was scarce.

March 2, 2010

Europe Backs Burqa Ban


A new poll shows strong European support for banning the burqa:

More than half of voters in four other major European states back a push by France’s Nicolas Sarkozy to ban women from wearing the burka, according to an opinion poll for the Financial Times.

As Mr Sarkozy presses ahead with plans to ban the wearing of the burka in public places, the FT’s latest Harris poll shows the move is not just strongly supported in France, but wins enthusiastic backing in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany.

The poll shows some 70 per cent of respondents in France said they supported plans to forbid the wearing of the garment which covers the female body from head to toe. There was similar sentiment in Spain and Italy, where 65 per cent and 63 per cent respectively favoured a ban

The strength of feeling in the UK and Germany may seem particularly surprising. Britain has a strong liberal tradition that respects an individual’s right to full expression of religious views. But here, some 57 per cent of people still favoured a ban. In Germany, which is also reluctant to clamp down in minority rights, some 50 per cent favoured a ban....

In the US, concerns about the issue are far less strong than in Europe. Just 33 per cent of Americans surveyed by Harris supported a ban, a far lower figure than the 44 per cent who said they supported it.

It's clear why Europe feels this way, but I wonder whether bans will ultimately improve the issue of Muslim integration, or make it worse.

This via James Joyner who observes:

Still, it's remarkable that we're seeing such strong support for limiting religious expression in the key states of Western Europe while Americans remain so adamant in opposition.

Aside from Americans tending to be more leery of government regulation than our European cousins, I suspect this is also a function of Americans being more religious and therefore tolerant of open symbols of worship.

(AP Photo)

March 1, 2010

Berlusconi's Election List


And you thought America was ungovernable:

Silvio Berlusconi risked renewed criticism of his selection of candidates for election when he unveiled a list that included a Miss Italy contestant, a former TV weathergirl and a showgirl turned dental hygienist.

Last year the Italian prime minister hastily dropped a group of showgirls from his list of candidates for European elections after his wife said the move was "shamelessly trashy" and demanded a divorce.

But Berlusconi, 73, who describes himself as a "single man" after the start of divorce hearings, has returned to the fray before important regional elections by putting forward Nicole Minetti, 25, the daughter of an English dance instructor who settled in Rimini and married an Italian businessman, Italia Caruso, a former Miss Italy finalist, and Giovanna Del Giudice, who worked at a nightclub frequented by Berlusconi, became a weathergirl on one of his TV channels and was among the women hurriedly dropped from his list of candidates last year.

(AP Photo)

February 26, 2010

Health Care and American Power

In response to my post from yesterday, our friends over at the sans-green Daily Dish send along this Times piece by Anatole Kaletsky. In it, Kaletsky argues that the future of the American economy - and thus, American leadership around the world - rests on the results of yesterday's health care summit in Washington:

If nothing is done to change the US healthcare system, it can be stated with mathematical certainty that the US Government and many leading US companies will be driven into bankruptcy, a fate that befell General Motors and Chrysler largely because of their inability to meet retired workers’ contractually guaranteed medical costs.

Today’s summit represents Mr Obama’s last chance to find a way forward, either by shaming some Republicans into supporting him or by embarrassing his own perennially divided Democratic Party into uniting around a single plan. If he is unable to do this, he will have almost no chance of passing any significant legislation on any other issue—– not on energy, budgetary responsibility, macroeconomic management or even on such seemingly popular issues as bank regulation and jobs.

In short, Mr Obama has staked his entire presidency on today’s summit.

I don't know that this passes political or economic muster. I am no economist, so all I'll add here is that, to my knowledge, the largest economy in continental Europe, Germany, has been dealing with an aging and entitled work force for years. While economic discontent at home can of course impact all forms of policy - including foreign - I don't know that it has had any effect at all on Germany's role in Europe and around the world, respectively. On the contrary, Angela Merkel seems to have become more globally assertive in the face of Western financial crisis.

As for the politics, I believe the general consensus is that yesterday's summit moved no one and only further entrenched actors and voters in their respective camps.

Kaletsky goes on:

Gridlock over healthcare would imply similar stalemates on taxes, public spending, the budget, macroeconomic stimulus and financial reform. As a result, an active response to any future financial crisis might become impossible. Even worse, any important action to control US government borrowing could be ruled out. If the financial markets seriously reached this conclusion, all the debates about government debt and public spending in Britain, Greece and other countries would be a waste of breath. A genuine loss of confidence in America’s fiscal outlook would create a financial crisis so horrific that actions by the British or European governments would be swept away like beach huts in a tsunami.


Did the United States not fight and win a world war in the face of economic depression and peril? Did economic ebb and flow affect the way in which the world perceived American leadership during the Cold War, or during the current War on Terrorism? Perhaps it did, which is why I open the floor up here to trade and economy wonks to fill in the gaps.

But I remain incredulous.

February 24, 2010

Will Europe Defend Herself?

Not, according to Judah Grunstein, if we keep treating her like a teenager:

this is akin to repeatedly insisting to a lazy teenager that he has to help out around the house. No matter how many times or how loud you say it, it just doesn't work. In fact, the more and louder you say it, the less it works. On the other hand, greeting him at the door with two suitcases packed with his affairs and asking him whether he's found a place to stay for the night is more likely to get his attention. Europeans will never adequately provide for their own defense so long as the moral hazard for not doing so is generously covered by the U.S.

Another reason it's unrealistic is that, despite the "forward defense" consensus among Western strategic planners, and notwithstanding the fact that NATO's next Strategic Concept is likely to extend the alliance's out-of-theater role for another 10 years, this is a posture that will exist on paper only. Politically speaking, Europe is finished with the kind of nation-building/counterinsurgency intervention represented by Afghanistan. In fact, the only way that European opinion was sold on the Afghanistan war was because it was passed off as the kind of humanitarian, peacekeeping and post-conflict stabilization mission that Europeans are comfortable with.

As I noted earlier, the idea that Secretary Gates sketched out, of collective sourcing - where Europe maintains a Europe-wide defense establishment that doesn't duplicate equipment and capabilities - makes sense. But Gates sees this as a handmaiden of helping Washington pacify Central Asia and the Middle East. It seems more plausible that Europe develops this kind of military establishment as a means to consolidate the defense of European territory more efficiently (and cheaply) and beg off following Washington on its counter-insurgency crusades.

February 23, 2010

Something Not Rotten in Denmark

The Wall Street Journal profiles how Denmark, despite suffering some of the highest casaulties per capita of the NATO coalition, has sustained public support for the war:

The Danes, meanwhile, have largely maintained support, selling the mission as a humanitarian effort rather than simply protection against a terrorist threat, and building consensus among political parties. They have reaped the benefits of a largely supportive media and the country has, to some degree, rediscovered its pride in an active military.

"The key to sustaining public support is an elite consensus that includes politicians in government and opposition as well as key opinion leaders: influential intellectuals, academics and columnists," says Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen, a security expert at the University of Copenhagen.

For more polling from allied nations in the Afghan war effort, just hit our "polls" tab and scroll away.

NATO Succeeded Too Well


The problem is not just underfunding of NATO. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO and national defense budgets have fallen consistently - even with unprecedented operations outside NATO's territory over the past five years. Just 5 of 28 allies achieve the defense-spending target of 2 percent of GDP.

These budget limitations relate to a larger cultural and political trend affecting the alliance. One of the triumphs of the last century was the pacification of Europe after ages of ruinous warfare. But, as I've said before, I believe we have reached an inflection point, where much of the continent has gone too far in the other direction. The demilitarization of Europe - where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it - has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st. Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats. - Defense Secretary Gates

This is a pretty obvious example of how the U.S. security partnership with Europe is creating a Europe unable (or unwilling) to underwrite her own defense - or at least, do so at a level we find sufficient. U.S. policy-makers tried to walk a fine line during the Cold War: they wanted Western Europe to rebuild and rearm enough to pose a credible threat to a Soviet advance, but they wanted Western Europe to define her security interests through a U.S. led institution with the expectation that the U.S. was immediately on hand to protect them. The fear in the early days of NATO wasn't just the Soviet Union, but also Germany, which had to be kept from renationalizing her security policy lest it set off another round of European power politics and arms races.

Now we have the opposite problem - a Europe that won't engage in an arms build-up even though we need and want them too. Gates does intimate that a solution could lie in even more denationalization:

This may require developing new ways to maintain capabilities through multinational procurement, more common funding, or reallocating resources based on collective rather than national priorities - as the Danes have done by eliminating their submarine fleet in order to double their expeditionary forces. At a time of financial scarcity at home, increased reliance on collective efforts is one way to do more with less.

This would move much closer to the creation of a European military force and I wonder, with the Euro undergoing its worst stretch ever, if there is much appetite for this kind of project.

The problem for Gates and the U.S. in general is the incentive structure. Years of jawboning haven't nudged European defense budgets. We've made clear we view NATO as vital to our own defense, which means we will remain Europe's protector. Outside an event that forces a reappraisal in NATO capitals about threats to their security, why should they pony up? The American taxpayer is doing it for them. Calls for Western solidarity are all well in good but the bottom line appears to be that Europe understands where it can afford to scrimp and where it can't. Unless we can alter that cost/analysis, we shouldn't expect more defense investments anytime soon.

(AP Photo)

February 18, 2010

Should Greece Go to the IMF?


Simon Johnson thinks so:

This is not an anti-Greek suggestion. The IMF has changed a great deal over the past 10 years – learning lessons and developing new ways of thinking. (For more detail, see my current Project Syndicate column.) Today’s IMF would give Greece a much more reasonable deal than would the EU acting alone.

But the main reason to approach the IMF is that this, if done properly, would drive the EU nuts in a most productive manner.

The Germans really do not want more IMF pressure to ease up on European Central Bank monetary policy or – heaven forbid - to engage in some fiscal expansion (or other increase in domestic demand). The Germans want to export their way out of recession, and the devil take the hindmost.

And President Sarkozy absolutely does not want the current IMF Managing Director - Dominique Strauss-Kahn - to do anything that can be presented as a statesman-like contribution to the world. Strauss-Kahn is a contender for the French presidential election in 2012, so you can see how that works. (Aside: strictly speaking, according to IMF rules, Strauss-Kahn should step down from the Fund; but he is too wily a politician to let anyone push him out at this moment.)

You can track the European debt crisis in our new Eurozone page here.

(AP Photo)

February 12, 2010

Ukraine's Post-Election To-Do List


By David J. Kramer

KYIV, Ukraine—Contrary to earlier polls, Ukraine’s presidential election turned out to be much closer than expected. After the run-off held on February 7, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych claimed victory over Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko—at last count, he had a 3 percent lead—but Tymoshenko was not ready to concede. She is expected to file court challenges over claims of fraud in individual poll­ing stations, but international observers across the board, including the delegation I led for the International Republican Institute, deemed this election generally free and fair and any problems not to have been systemic in nature.

Tymoshenko, of course, has every right to pursue her legal options, but it would be unfortunate if her efforts led to weeks of squabbling and political paralysis. Ukrainians have had enough of that over the past few years, when they grew disillusioned with those associated with the 2004 Orange Revolution. Based on the preliminary assessment of foreign observers, neither problems that may have occurred on Election Day nor a controversial change made to the electoral law three days before the election had an appreciable impact on the election itself.

Barring the unexpected, Ukraine will see Yanukovych assume the reins as presi­dent. There are some in the West who will be unhappy with the election outcome. They will see Yanukovych’s victory as the final nail in the Orange Revolution’s coffin and will want to keep their distance from Ukraine. This would be exactly the wrong approach to take. Leaders in the West need to engage the new president and his team immediately after he as­sumes office. Here are some things they should do in the near term:

* Invite Yanukovych to the West. U.S. President Barack Obama will be hosting a nuclear security summit in April, and Yanukoych’s participation in that would be a good start. EU countries should also reach out to him out of recognition that Ukraine is a vital neighbor.

* Visit Kyiv. Western leaders should make Kyiv a key place to visit, not on the way to or from Moscow but on its own.

* Strengthen bilateral commissions on a level comparable to what Obama established with Russia last year. Dealing with Ukraine can be frustrating, but the alternative of keeping a distance is even worse, especially when Moscow will be reaching out aggressively to the new government in Kyiv.

* For the European Union, move forward on finalizing a free trade agreement with Ukraine and visa liberalization. It should stress that future membership in the European Union, while not in the offing in the near-term, is a possibility. The door to the European Union must remain open to Ukraine if it undertakes the necessary reforms over the next few years.

* Avoid pressing on membership in NATO, especially since the majority of Ukrainians do not support NATO membership at this time. Injecting this issue into the political debate in Ukraine now would be distracting and counterproductive, but NATO should keep its door open, too.

* Push for resumption of International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending if Ukraine’s parliament and leaders stop their inflationary and unaffordable budgetary and fiscal policies.

Continue reading "Ukraine's Post-Election To-Do List" »

Goldman Sachs Hid Greek Debt

In the event you needed another reason to be angry at Goldman Sachs, Der Spiegel reports:

Goldman Sachs helped the Greek government to mask the true extent of its deficit with the help of a derivatives deal that legally circumvented the EU Maastricht deficit rules. At some point the so-called cross currency swaps will mature, and swell the country's already bloated deficit.

The "Lord's work" indeed.

February 11, 2010

Green End Game?


From Tehran Bureau:

Everyone we have spoken to so far this morning has said about the same thing -- in a word or two: "A big anticlimax," "defeat," "An overwhelming presence from the other side. People were terrified."

In fact, it appears that the regime was so confident, it did not feel the need to disrupt cellphone or messaging services, or even the internet for that matter.

One of the pitfalls in analyzing the ebb and flow of a reform movement by crowd size and exuberance is that you end up with rather bipolar measurements for success and failure. For instance, Greece is teetering on the brink of total economic meltdown, and nationwide strikes have shutdown large swaths of the public sector, yet no one is doing up-to-the-minute live blogging on that looming catastrophe. But if I had to put my money on a regime falling tomorrow, it would be Greece - not Iran.

And I understand why one is sexier than the other, but that's also why it becomes all the more imperative for knowledgeable people - academics, journalists, and policy wonks - to try their best to divorce emotions from the subject and relay what's going on with as much sobriety as possible.

Whatever happens today will not change the fact that Iran is changing. But how it's changing, and at what pace, is where people in-the-know must fill in the gaps.

[h/t Andrew Sullivan]

(AP Photo)

February 9, 2010

The Geopolitical Fallout from Ukraine

Walter Russell Mead takes stock of the post-election landscape:

The eclipse of the US project (based on NATO expansion that is no longer realistic) and the EU project (based on expansion) leaves the Russian project of re-integrating the Soviet space looking better, and there is hope in Moscow and fear elsewhere that the Empire of the Czars is once more on the march. It’s more of a lurch than a march; even with its oil and gas wealth, Russia isn’t rich enough to build a new empire where the czars and the commissars ruled. Russia’s influence in Ukraine will surely grow now, more because of commercial relations and deals as because of geopolitical power. But even if EU membership is a long way away, Europe is a much more attractive market than Russia and Ukraine’s new government is not going to give up the hope that trade with Europe can promote Ukraine’s recovery and growth.

And, from a US standpoint, there is not much that Russia can do in Ukraine that seriously threatens American security or vital interests. A Russian military takeover of all or part of Ukraine (Crimea is the most likely target) would not threaten the balance of power in Europe and, by forcefully reminding countries like Poland how much they need that NATO umbrella, would probably drive Europe as a whole toward a closer relationship with the US. Despite its new feistiness under Putin, Russia remains a country in decline. It’s population is declining; it’s economy isn’t gaining ground; and its relative position compared to the Chinese superpower in the east is getting dramatically worse. In the next few years Russia is much more likely to be worried about growing Chinese influence in Central Asia and the continuing Islamic insurgencies in the Caucasus than it will be busy plotting the entrance of its tanks into Kiev.

I think Mead identifies the important point, which is that we need to distinguish between Russian actions that we disapprove of (exerting influence beyond her borders) and Russian actions which pose a real threat to the security or economic well being of the United States. One of the dangers with the pursuit of global (or even just Eurasian) hegemony is that it is impossible for many people to actually make such a distinction, with the end result being that anything that offends our sensibilities is a wrong we must address or suffer a devastating loss of face.

February 8, 2010

Ukraine Election, Reaction


If the results of Ukraine's election hold, it appears that Viktor Yanukovych will be the next President.

Here's a look at some international reaction:

Adrian Karatnycky:

Indeed, the signals emanating from Mr. Yanukovych's closest aides, as well as key leaders from the Our Ukraine coalition with whom I met last week in Kyiv, suggest the new president and the government he will try to bring into office will likely represent a broad-based mix of longtime Regions party officials, and competent financial and economic technocrats and market reformers—including some from the former Yushchenko team. For instance, there is a good chance that banker Serhiy Tyhypko, who finished a strong third in the presidential race, will be offered the prime minister's post rather than Mr. Yanukovych's longtime ally and campaign director, Mykola Azarov, who is also under serious consideration. The odds of a broad-based coalition are reinforced by the modesty of Mr. Yanukovych's victory, clear-cut though it was.

All this means that, should the political coalition under discussion take root, Ukraine will at last achieve an interval of political stability and economic policy consensus. Ironically, that means Mr. Yanukovych's presidency may move further toward fulfilling the promises of the Orange Revolution than the fractious rule of Yushchenko-Tymoshenko ever did.

The Economist:

Moscow is likely to celebrate a victory for Mr Yanukovitch as a belated vindication of Mr Putin’s backing five years ago and as a victory over the West. In fact, Mr Yanukovich is sympathetic to large industrial groups and will guard their business interests more zealously than Ms Tymoshenko may have done. The relationship with the Kremlin will improve, but none of Ukraine’s mainstream politicians or tycoons sees any future in a political or economic union with Russia.

In any event, this election was not about geopolitics but about Ukraine’s own governance and economy. The choice of Mr Yanukovich as president would be neither a disaster nor a breakthrough for Ukraine’s oligarchic political system. He would inherit a country with weak institutions, a struggling economy and a disillusioned population. He may not be able to deal with those. But at this stage it is less important than having a clear winner.

Colin Graham:

A particularly tiresome event has occurred again and again ever since the Berlin wall came down. Leaders feted by the west as representing a radical fresh outlook for their post-communist, eastern European countries have generally turned out to be little different to their predecessors. In 2004, it was often conveniently forgotten that Yushchenko had at one stage been an integral part of the political establishment he was then seemingly trying to oust. The departing president at the time was the much-denounced Leonid Kuchma who had appointed Yushchenko as his prime minister five years before the "orange revolution".

Andrew Wilson:

By the end of the day, almost all the votes should be in. Turnout didn't quite reach over 70% - it is estimated at 69.1%, which was only 2.4% up on round one, and therefore another disappointment for Tymoshenko.

This means that the temptation to contest the outcome is still there, but depends on finding convincing evidence of significant fraud. The vote ‘against all' is confirmed at 4.4% and invalid or spoiled ballots at 1.2%. The abstainers did more than apparently defeat Tymoshenko; if Yanukovych wins it will be with less than 50% of the vote - which will be a less than ringing endorsement of his new presidency.

Benjamin Bidder:

Once again, it looks as though Ukraine is headed for political stalemate. For years, the country has been divided between those, like Tymoshenko, who would maneuver the country toward the European Union and NATO, and those like Yanukovych who prefer a more cautious approach to the West. Sunday's election did little to resolve the tension -- and a court case could inject even more bitterness into the rivalry.

(AP Photo)

February 7, 2010

Nuclear Weapons = Not Safe

Think U.S. nuclear weapons are secure? Think again:

[Hat tip: Kelsey Hartigan]

February 5, 2010

Video of the Day

The wide world of weird nuclear politics raises its head again:

It is interesting that a system completely incapable of withstanding a concerted assault by Russia should be so important not only to Russia, but to states like Romania and Poland. In this case it is not because of the capabilities, but the symbolism of the system. Eastern European states view the missile system, and presumably the troops that comes with it, as a clear signal of U.S. commitment in the region. Based on the reaction from the Kremlin, the Russians apparently agree - and they do not like it.

For more videos on topics throughout the world, check out the Real Clear World video page.

February 4, 2010

Is Georgia Worth Fighting For?


Politico's Ben Smith takes us inside the Bush administration during the Russia-Georgia war. We learn, not surprisingly, that they contemplated using military force to aid Georgia but wisely rejected it. Smith then brings up the debate over whether the Bush administration should have pushed harder to get Georgia into NATO. Georgia's NATO bid was ultimately back-burnered during a summit in Bucharest because of European reticence, but not after the U.S. signaled its strong support for Georgia. Smith reports:

The message out of the NATO meeting in Bucharest was "as good a deterrence message as voting them into” a formal path to membership, said Hadley. Vladimir “Putin was under no illusions about our commitment to Georgia and our commitment to Saakashvili. We’d been sending Putin a message about Georgia ever since Saakashvili was elected president."

Let's unpack this a bit. First, we know from Smith's report that the Bush administration, including its most hawkish hawks, decided that Georgia was not worth fighting a war over. Yet despite the fact that Washington had no interest in courting World War III over Georgia, it nonetheless pushed to admit the country into NATO which would have legally obligated the United States to go to war over Georgia if they were attacked.

Am I the only one confused by this?

Now implicit in Hadley's quote is the idea that the very act of being admitted into NATO would have stayed Russia's hand. It's obvious that Hadley was wrong in his statement above, there was no deterrence for Russia after Bucharest (and perhaps just the opposite). Instead, they attacked.

This not only demonstrates the lack of understanding regarding Russia's intentions, but a casual, indeed reckless, disregard for the seriousness of NATO. We know, contrary to Hadley's erroneous belief, that Russia was not deterred by Washington's high-minded expressions of support for Georgia. But what if Russia was not deterred even after Georgia had been granted a path to formal NATO membership? What if Russia decided to roll the dice even after Georgia was admitted into the alliance?

We would then be in the crazy position of either having to fight Russia over Georgia for the sake of NATO credibility, or stand down and watch a 60 year old alliance crumble over a single foolish decision. You don't enter into mutual defense treaties because you're just hoping it will all work itself out and that you'll never be called on it. You forge them out of strategic necessity.

And indeed, the Russian invasion laid bare the cynicism and sheer recklessness of even contemplating NATO membership for Georgia. It was a cynical gesture because it subverts the original intention of NATO - which was to provide common defense for Western Europe and to give the U.S. a strong role in Western European security affairs. It's clear neither consideration led the administration to strongly push for Georgia's inclusion in NATO, but nonetheless, they used Georgia's membership as a means to hem in Russia.

It's reckless because it's obvious no one believed Georgia was vital to the security interests of the United States or even the West, and yet there were people who wanted to put the alliance's credibility (and the lives of NATO members) on the line on a gamble that Russia would grudgingly swallow Georgia's entry into NATO just as it put up with earlier rounds of alliance expansion. But it's worse than that: Either the Bush administration did not seriously discuss Georgia and its value to the United States before they publicly proclaimed support for the country (convincing its leaders and its people that Washington had their back when we clearly didn't), or they just didn't think they'd ever be called to account for their rhetoric.

(AP Photo)

Without Moscow, Ukraine's Election Goes Unnoticed


Ukrainian voters go back to the polls this Sunday for a runoff election between Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych.

Andrew Wilson at the European Council on Foreign Affairs looks at the hurdles facing Tymoshenko:

Firstly and most urgently, she has not been able to win the public backing of any of the major candidates knocked out in round one. At the moment, she has about as many friends as the troubled English footballer, John Terry. Arseniy Yatsenyuk (who won 7%) is still bridling at the way Tymoshenko trampled on his corpse when his campaign faltered in the autumn, and is urging his supporters to vote ‘against all'. President Yushchenko's ongoing vendetta against Tymoshenko has not been interrupted by his miserable 5.5% in the first round. Yushchenko is still determined to make waves; by making Stepan Bandera, the most controversial figure of Ukrainian nationalism's controversial 1940s, a ‘Hero of Ukraine', and encouraging lose and delusional talk of prolonging his rule if the elections results in deadlock.

Meanwhile, Tymoshenko has been threatening another "Orange Revolution" if Yanukovych attempts to rig the vote. Unlike 2004, the Russia vs. the West storyline in the Ukraine vote is considerably more muddied, with both candidates professing a desire for warmer ties with Moscow. Which probably explains why so few people are paying attention.

(AP Photo)

February 3, 2010

Obama's Cowboy Diplomacy?

At a time when the administration is running up against China, snubbing Europe doesn't seem like a good call:

President Obama’s decision to skip a United States-European Union summit meeting scheduled for Madrid in May has predictably upset European officials, who suggested Tuesday that the summit meeting itself would now be postponed, possibly to the autumn.

In addition to the palpable sense of insult among European officials, there is a growing concern that Europe is being taken for granted and losing importance in American eyes compared with the rise of a newly truculent China.

European Union officials found out about the decision through the news media late on Monday, senior European officials said Tuesday morning. The decision was first reported on the Web site of The Wall Street Journal.

When you try to be the jack of all international trades, you become the master of none.

January 21, 2010

How the Post-Communist Generation See Things


Pew Research's Juliana Menasce Horowitz sees positive signs in the attitudes of young people in post-Communist societies:

In every Eastern European country surveyed, the post-communist generation is much more supportive of the move away from a state-controlled economy than are those who lived as adults under communism. As is the case with opinions about the change to democracy, the generational divide is greatest in Russia; about six-in-ten (62%) Russians younger than age 40 say they approve of their country's change to capitalism, compared with just 40% of those in the older age group.

A double-digit gap also exists in Ukraine, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Poland, and a smaller gap is evident in Lithuania and Hungary. In Ukraine, where the overall level of support for the change to a market economy is lower than in any other country surveyed (36% approve of the change), nearly half (47%) of those younger than age 40 say they approve of the economic changes their country has undergone; just 28% of those 40 or older share that view.

The entire study is worth a read. Of note, Ukraine, which just concluded a first round of presidential voting, has the lowest approval when it comes to a country's move to multi-party elections.

(AP Photo)

January 12, 2010

Is Europe Free-Riding on U.S. Defense Spending?


As someone sympathetic to the argument that they are (or at least were, during the Cold War) the Economist's Democracy in America blog sets the record straight:

Defence spending by Britain and France is around 2.5% of their GDP, which is about the world average. This is interesting in that neither Britain nor France, nor any other country in Western Europe, faces any conceivable territorial military threat. German defence spending is considerably lower, but (as Charlemagne noted in a 2008 column) it still fields the only other serious expeditionary force in Europe. In any case, Germany faces no military threat either, nor has there been any serious likelihood of military conflict anywhere in the region since the Yugoslavian wars wound down. The only European countries that face any risk of military conflict in the coming decades are those that border Russia, and indeed the Baltics are increasing their military spending; one could vaguely imagine Poland getting into a dicey situation someday (a blow-up involving Estonia's Russian-speaking minority leads to Russian intervention and Warsaw begins feeling the heat, or something), but it's a stretch, and Poland, too, is increasing its military spending to almost 2% of GDP.

America, for its own reasons, has decided to spend 4.7% of its GDP on its armed forces and on warfighting. But why should Europe match that? For the sake of comparison: India and Pakistan are actual nuclear-armed enemies with disputed territorial claims and huge armies facing each other across a hostile border. Each country is fighting active counterinsurgency campaigns inside its own territory. Yet Pakistan spends 3% of GDP on its military, while India spends just 2.5%, about as much as France. The world abounds in countries that enjoy no American security guarantees, yet spend no more than France does on defence: Brazil, Chile, Vietnam, South Africa, Nigeria, Ukraine, even, by some accounts, Iran. These countries are clearly not "free riding" on America; why should Europe be?

A fair point indeed. I think the GDP gap we see between the U.S. and other states is what we could probably call the "hegemony gap" - America spends nearly double what other industrial powers spend to sustain superiority around the world. Where the "free riding" claim comes in is not simply that we're spending extra money but that we're putting our military to use doing things - like keeping sea lanes open - that others benefit from but do not pay for. I think this claim about providing global goods as a justification for our large defense budget doesn't hold nearly as much water as it used to. And in any event, as the world's largest economy, it's in our over-riding interest to keep commerce flowing.

So the Economists' fundamental point strikes me as valid: the U.S. could spend less on defense and still be quite safe.

(AP Photos)

Radical Islam as New Left Protest

Commenting on the banning of UK Islamist group Islam4UK, the Daily Telegraph's Janet Daley observes:

The tactics of these fundamentalist organisations have more in common with the New Left protest groups of the 1960s and 70s than they do with moderate Islam: their strategy is to provoke the state into “revealing” its totalitarian imperatives by creating social disorder and gratuitous offence. Even their tendency to proliferate under different names – Islam4UK was already banned under its other incarnations of “al-Ghurabaa” and The Sacred Sect – are similar to the old Leftwing tradition of creating “front groups” to disguise their origins and make the movement seem more multi-faceted.

The New Left was quite a bit before my time so I can't pass much judgment on the accuracy of that analogy. My question is, from the standpoint of Western security, is it a good or bad thing if these groups borrow tactics from the radical left. After all, they didn't make that much headway, did they?

(AP Photos)

January 6, 2010

British Tories Look to the Wisdom of Crowds

A friend of mine once floated an idea about using the Internet to generate serious policy proposals outside the corrupted (or at least, special interest-influenced) environment of Washington, D.C. Well, it looks like David Cameron's Tories will give it a go:

The prize is an impressive £1 million pounds. But the competition is suitably difficult: the Conservatives want “the best new technology platform that helps people come together to solve the problems that matter to them.” So, they’re after a new online network – a political Facebook – which will supposedly work on a national and a local level, helping people to share ideas about anything from “tackling government waste” to “avoiding roadworks“.

The proposal is a neat one and – being philosophically Conservative – should appeal to traditional Tory supporters. But how on earth to put it into practice? Team Cameron is certain that the internet will play a crucial role in the decentralisation of power. Yet, as Jeremy Hunt (Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) recently said, “there are currently no technological platforms that enable in-depth online collaboration on the scale required by Government.” He says the million-pound prize “is a good and cost-effective way of getting one”. Let’s just hope it doesn’t signal a brick wall.

An interesting idea.

December 10, 2009

Where's the Outrage?


The Swiss ban on Minarets has certainly stirred a lot of commentary, but as Uli Abshar Abdalla argues, not much outrage in the Muslim world:

The ban itself might not qualify to be an “explosive” issue that strikes the Muslim nerve. Apparently the incident pales in comparison to Salman Rushdie Affair, for instance.

However, the fear circulating in Switzerland right after the referendum is that it will provoke an aggressive response from the Muslim world as people learn of the past incident of the Danish cartoon on the Prophet Muhammad.

Abdalla goes onto speculate why the response has been so muted:

Another possibility is that the Danish cartoon controversy taught Muslims a good lesson. The whole mess that has been conducted in the name of defending the Prophet after the outbreak of the Danish cartoon controversy seemed to tarnish the image of Islam.

Instead of doing a good service in Muslims’ interest, it turned into a “dirty” game played by many right-wing movements that have mushroomed in Western countries recently. It also fuels the existing image of Muslim as a “riotous ummah” (community).

There does appear to have been protests, but could it be that the response has been more pointed from Western Europeans (see Timothy Garton Ash's piece on the home page today, for instance) than by Muslims at large?

(AP Photos)

November 2, 2009

Does America Want an Independent Europe?

The European Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting report out today on the European-U.S. partnership. In it, the authors Jeremy Shapiro and Nick Witney argue that Europe is wasting the "Obama moment":

The US no longer dominates the world as the sole superpower. It knows it must turn to China on the economy and Russia on nuclear disarmament. Yet Europeans remain in denial about how the world is changing. They make a fetish out of the transatlantic relationship, anxiously pursuing harmony for harmony's sake without questioning what it is good for.

The mistaken belief of most European nations - not just the obvious Atlanticists like the UK and the Netherlands - that they have a ‘special relationship' with the US further distorts the transatlantic dialogue. These member states deploy different strategies to ingratiate themselves with Washington in a competition for American favour, believing that this works better for them than any collective European approach. The result is a frustrated US and an impotent Europe: Europe has 30,000 troops in Afghanistan yet virtually no say in strategy.

The truth is, the US would prefer a more united EU, but expects so little that it cannot bring itself to greatly care. When the EU is hard-headed, as with trade negotiations, the US listens. When it is not, Europeans are asking to be divided and ruled.

For Europe to become a credible and strategic partner for the US, Europeans need to shift their political psychology away from fetishising the transatlantic relationship. European governments need to get over the mistaken belief that their individual ‘special relationships' matter in Washington, and learn instead to act together and speak to the US with one voice.

From the European side, I can see the authors' frustrations. But I wonder just how much the U.S. wants a "united EU." Take the point on Afghanistan. What if a united EU wanted its troops out of Afghanistan immediately? The point on trade is also apt - is Washington necessarily pleased that Europe is driving a hard bargain when it stalls trade negotiations?

America's strategy for decades now has been to nurture strategic dependencies - in Europe first and foremost. A Europe with a greater capacity for independent action might be a more effective partner, but it is also a Europe that will almost certainly challenge Washington more directly. I suspect that for all the talk of wanting the EU to be a more capable and serious ally, the U.S. still prefers a (somewhat) pliable client.

This is an issue that is going to increasingly define America's relationship with both Europe and Asia - not simply how to encourage them to be more effective international players, but whether that is even a desirable goal.

(AP Photos)

October 7, 2009

Busy Eurasia

Interesting stuff from the Atlantic Council's Alexandros Petersen on the booming Eurasian gas market, and the looming consequences it holds for Europe:

Not only is it the EU that is desperately in need of alternative sources of gas to diversify away from dangerous dependence on Russia, but the biggest gas player in the Caspian, Turkmenistan, has a strict policy of only selling its gas on its borders. Turkmenistan’s Director of the State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources, Yagshygeldi Kakaev, underscored this point at the Bucharest Forum, amongst counterparts from Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania and Turkey.

In practice, this means that Western companies would have to build a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Baku to Turkmenbashi, on the Caspian’s eastern shore, to connect with the planned Nabucco line to Central Europe. China, the EU’s primary competitor for Turkmen resources, has almost finished its own pipeline across Central Asia to Turkmenistan’s borders, and despite a dispute with Ashgabat, Russia will seek to resume importing Turkmen gas in early 2010, some of which will be resold to Europe for inflated prices.

Moreover, Kazakhstan has taken the initiative to string together its own pipeline network. Azerbaijan is positioning itself as a key energy producer and pivotal transit bottleneck between the Black and Caspian seas. Turkey is busy signing contract after contract to live up to its name as the world’s largest energy hub. Turkmenistan is courting consumers in Iran and South Asia, while Russia and China muscle in.

In short, the EU’s neighboring energy players are busy. Only Europe, the beggar not the chooser in Eurasia’s energy game, is inactive. While the Lisbon Treaty and a new EU Commission have drawn the Union’s attention inward, neither Brussels nor European capitals should expect to have their energy security handed to them.

Read the whole thing.

September 30, 2009

GMF Event on the German Elections

Our friends at the German Marshall Fund hosted a discussion on the aftermath of the German elections. You can check out event details here, or, watch the event just below the fold:

Continue reading "GMF Event on the German Elections" »

September 27, 2009

German Election Update

Polls opened this morning at 8 a.m. Central European Time (2 a.m. EDT) across Germany for the 2009 federal election. Chancellor Angela Merkel's Chrisitan Democrats (CDU) have a commanding lead in the polls, and there is little doubt that she will remain Germany's leader for the next four years.

The question is: Will she be able to form a center-right coalition with the free-marketer Free Democrats (FDP) or will she be forced to continue the unwieldy grand coalition with the rival Social Democrats SPD), her governing partner over the past four years? The CDU-FDP bloc was above the 50 percent threshold for most of the summer, but as the election approached, its poll numbers have fallen and the possibility of a center-right majority coalition is again in doubt.

The polls will close at 6 p.m. CET (noon EDT). We here at RealClearWorld will monitor the election returns throughout the day until the results are known.

6:10 p.m. CET (12:10 EDT) - The first exit poll results indicate that Merkel may yet get her center-right coalition, with a razor-thin margin. According to ZDF exit data, the CDU is expected to win 33.5 percent of the votes, with SPD at 23.5, FDP at 14.5, the Left Party at 13 and the Greens at 10.

While the combined total of the CDU-FDP bloc is about 48 percent, under Germany's somewhat convoluted (and disputed) system, the CDU, with 228 expected seats, combined with the FDP's 92, will capture 320 seats for the center-right bloc in the 616-seat Bundestag, enough for a majority. [SC]

7 p.m. CET (1 EDT) - While the business of governing coalition will need to be sorted out, the clear loser of the election has conceded its massive defeat. The Social Democrats, in power since 1998, will be booted out of government after its worst showing since World War II.

Once headed by former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the SPD's fortune has declined in recent years, beginning with a narrow loss to Merkel and the CDU in 2005. The junior partner in the grand coalition the past four years, the SPD will be out of power all together after getting less than a quarter of the votes on Sunday, according to exit poll data.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, head of the SPD and Merkel's foreign minister, has already conceded defeat. [SC]

7:30 p.m. CET (1:30 EDT)
- The outcome of the election reached a swift end as Merkel has claimed victory and her aim of forming a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats seemingly assured.

From the Associated Press -

BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel has claimed victory for a new center-right government in Germany's general election.

A beaming Merkel told supporters after Sunday's vote that "we have achieved something great. We have managed to achieve our election aim of a stable majority in Germany for a new government."

Projections showed that Merkel's conservatives are headed for a majority with the pro-business Free Democrats, who performed very well in the vote. That fulfills Merkel's hopes of ending her "grand coalition" with the center-left Social Democrats.

Merkel still made clear she wants to maintain her consensual approach, saying "I want to be the chancellor of all Germans."


7:45 p.m. CET (1:45 EDT)
- A photo gallery of Merkel's victory. [GS]

7:50 p.m. CET (1:50 EDT) - Via Steve Clemons, the CDU-FDP coalition just may give Germany its first openly gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. [KS]

8:10 p.m. CET (2:10 EDT) - The BBC has another exit poll. [GS]

8:20 p.m. CET (2:20 EDT) - Madeline Chambers at Reuters has put together a nice, cursory analysis of today's vote and some of its possible policy ramifications. [KS]

8:45 p.m. CET (2:45 EDT)
- More on Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the Free Democrats, likely the top lieutenant to Merkel in the new center-right coalition. He's openly gay, and a fierce free marketer. Westerwelle also may be the most charismatic newcomer on the German political scene. [SC]

9:15 p.m. CET (3:15 EDT)
A vote for change? Reuters notes the hurdles:

The new government faces tough economic challenges in what is bound to be a more polarised political atmosphere, with the Social Democrats in opposition. The economy is expected to contract by at least 5 percent this year, and export-led growth is likely to return only slowly. Unemployment is set to explode in the coming months as short-time work schemes run out. The budget deficit is set to top 8 percent of gross domestic product next year, more than twice the EU limit. So 2010 will be an extremely difficult year. But there are some problems that are even more urgent. [GS]
9:50 p.m. CET (3:50 EDT) - Just to compliment Sam's last comment, CAP blogger Matthew Yglesias just so happens to be in Germany, and he makes the following observation:
One of the oddest things about being in Germany during an election campaign is that I’m pretty sure I have right-of-center views relative to German politics. The CDU believes in limiting carbon emissions and has no intention of scrapping universal health care or eliminating pensions for old people...Conversely, it really does seem to me that labor markets in Germany are counterproductively over-regulated.

In short - the likely center-right coalition notwithstanding - this is no Reagan revolution in Germany. It'll be interesting to see how the German Left regroups and responds to today's mostly mediocre showing. [KS]

10:50 p.m. CET (4:50 EDT) - Even with a victory in the bag, Ian Traynor thinks Merkel is not out of the woods yet:

Non-ideological, centrist, eschewing confrontation, Merkel is calculatedly inscrutable. Her non-partisan strategy won, but did not triumph. Despite her huge personal popularity, she led her centre-right Christian Democratic Union to its second poorest result, taking a projected 33.5% of the vote, two points down on 2005. It leaves her vulnerable to backstabbing within her party. [GS]

12:15 a.m. CET (6:50 EDT) - Adding to Greg's last update, Judy Dempsey of the NY Times breaks down the potential backroom wars facing Chancellor Merkel:

she will also have to defend her right flank from within the conservative parties. “Conservative leaders from some of the other states, notably Christian Wulff from Lower Saxony and Jürgen Rüttgers from North-Rhine Westphalia, will start talking about her credentials as a party leader,” Mr. Langguth said.

Both state premiers have already had ambitions to take over the Christian Democrats in a bid to win back the tens of thousands of supporters who, in 2005 and again Sunday, abstained or voted for the Free Democrats, he and other analysts said.

Mr. Wulff favors creating a separate party leadership apart from the chancellery, arguing that the organization of a party is too time consuming and that the current system concentrates too much power in the chancellor.

But Mrs. Merkel and her predecessor, Helmut Kohl, have resisted such efforts, fearing it would allow too much public dissension to interfere with running the government.


1:00 a.m. CET (7:00 EDT) The Financial Times reports that German business leaders are quite happy at Merkel's triumph. [GS]

September 21, 2009

Yushchenko: NATO Means Ukraine's Independence


"Since 1917, Ukraine has declared its independence six times, and five times it lost it," said Ukrainian President Vicktor Yushchenko in an event held at the Council on Foreign Relations. "That's why NATO membership and Ukrainian independence are synonymous."

Yushchenko gave a brief overview of Ukraine's post independence economic growth and democratic advances, but focused mostly on the country's relations with Russia and the West.

On relations with Russia, Yushchenko said bluntly, "They’re not the best." Of the many points of contention, he singled out the unsettled land border with Russia. "We have had 27 rounds of negotiations on that. We believe that both sides, from a technical standpoint, are ready to sign an agreement... Unfortunately it's not being done and it’s not our fault."

He also reiterated Ukraine's position that Russia's Black Sea Fleet clear out of Sevastapool in 2017, as agreed upon by the two countries in 1997. The Ukrainian constitution prohibits the stationing of foreign military bases on Ukrainian soil, he said, a ban that applies to possible NATO forces as well. "Our territory will not be used to threaten another country's territory."

(AP Photos)

August 21, 2009

Lockerbie Bomber's "Triumphant" Return

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi stepped off a plane in Libya to a hero's welcome, according to the New York Times.

From the Times:

As Mr. Megrahi’s plane landed in Tripoli, hundreds of young Libyans were bused to the military airport to welcome him home, cheering and waving Libyan and Scottish flags as he sped off in a convoy of white vehicles.

I'm not sure what this outrageous spectacle is supposed to earn Libya, but it certainly casts Scotland's leadership in a rather bad light, doesn't it?

(AP Photos)

June 22, 2009

Greenland: Brazil of the Arctic?

I hope readers make sure to check out Dan McGroarty's latest RCW column on Greenland. here is the money quote:

The largest island on Earth that is not itself a continent, Greenland is home to 58,000 inhabitants - and a treasure trove of resources, ranging from oil and gas to uranium, molybdenum, platinum, coal, gold and diamonds. In resource terms, that makes Greenland as a stand-alone state something akin to Saudi Arabia - save that the Saudis are a uni-dimensional resource superpower, shackled for better or worse to the petro-economy. Greenland today subsists largely on its shrimp, salmon and cod fishing industries, supplemented by transfer payments from Denmark, which amount to nearly half of its government revenues. Take it as given that an independent Greenland will harness its economic future to its resource sector.

Greenland's new step toward independence comes as its neighbors - Norway, Canada, the U.S., and Russia - have taken a new interest in the Arctic region's resource potential. Europe's East-West conflict, revived by a resurgent Russia, is likely to play itself out on the northern front. Will Greenland, a de facto NATO nation via its status as a Danish territory (the U.S. has maintained Thule Air Base on the northwest side of the island less than 1,000 miles from the North Pole since 1941), see its future security interests aligned with NATO - and will NATO offer an independent Greenland full alliance membership? Russia, in its latest strategic military forecast, avers that military conflict over resources is a possibility for which it is prepared. This conjures a scenario when a future president orders American troops into a "blood for oil" conflict north of the Arctic Circle.