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Dutch Goverment Falls over Afghanistan Mandate

It is a rather late stage in the game for the war effort in Afghanistan to claim its first political victim. But yesterday night the Dutch governing coalition broke up over the question of extending its mandate. And that less than a week after narrowly surviving a debate over the (purely symbolic) support for the war in Iraq back in 2003. The political process has its own pace in the Netherlands.

The Guardian has a quote:

"A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan," said the Labour leader, Wouter Bos. "Our partners in the government didn't want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this government."
Bos is pretending that the Dutch did their turn and will now have accomplished a virtuous task when they go home. His coalition partners, in turn, are pretending that their plans and conditions were ever intended to have consequences. The political process has its own rationality in the Netherlands.

Rasmussen's 7,000

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is promising that there will be 7,000 additional troops from 25 countries to support Obama's extended surge. Interestingly, one of the reasons he gave was the multilateralism of the US:
If we are to make Afghanistan more stable, and ourselves more secure, we must all do more. The US has pursued a multilateral approach to this operation. We must now demonstrate that multilateralism delivers concrete results.
Several commentators have recently hinted that Obama should act more unilaterally, as George W. Bush did (in his first term and a half). Calling for abandoning the multilateral approach is premature. The way multilateralism is described by its fans and opponents alike is also too romantic. The fact is that the US is still getting things done by excercising pressure on individual countries -- but it's doing so behind the scenes rather than through grandstanding. If Rasmussen is able to deliver his 7,000, it should show that the Obama administration's approach to diplomacy has worked.

Whether it really is as multilateral as it is said to be or not...

Central Europe is its own Best Friend

A few weeks ago, Poland's defense minister made the following appeal, reported in the Telegraph:
Radek Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, said he was alarmed by recent military exercises conducted by the Russian army in Belarus, a country that borders Poland, and wanted the US military as a counterweight.

"We would like to see US troops stationed in Poland to serve as a shield against Russian aggression," he said.

"If you can still afford it, we need some strategic reassurance."
It is hard to see why Sikorski would be so deeply worried by a military exercise featuring 900 tanks when Poland itself has more than that at hand. In an interview for Czech television, Zbigniew Brzezinski told East Europeans to grow up:
East Europeans should stop behave like small children, start to deal with their own problems by themselves and not to go to the United States complaining about Russian aggressiveness, for instance, Zbigniew Brzezinski said in in interview for the public Czech Television
Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic should be able to take care of their own - conventional - defence concerns to a large extent. Especially if they cooperate. They are both richer than Russia per head, they're not too small, and they have access to superior conventional technology. Meanwhile, the SIPRI database shows that Poland spent 2% of its GDP per year on defence in 2007, and the Czech Republic 1.4%. This compares to 3.5% for Russia and 4% for the United States.

(via, and via)

Europe's New Chairman and Envoy

The New York Times writes about the two new (or upgraded) posts that were filled in for the European Union yesterday:
Leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union on Thursday night chose Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian prime minister, as the European Union’s first president, and Catherine Ashton of Britain, currently the bloc’s trade commissioner, as its high representative for foreign policy. The vote was unanimous.

Both officials are highly respected but little known outside their own countries. After the European Union’s eight-year battle to rewrite its internal rules and to pass the Lisbon Treaty that created these two new jobs, the selection of such low-profile figures seemed to highlight Europe’s problems instead of its readiness to take a more united and forceful place in world affairs.
The eurosceptic British newspaper The Telegraph noted the following press reactions:
Spain's El Pais said the EU will be "led by two dull and low-profile figures."

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau claimed the 27-nation bloc will be represented by "leaders with no sparkle, without a vision and even without experience in the required fields".

France's Liberation newspaper noted that EU leaders had rejected candidates from the bloc's newest members in eastern Europe but had at least chosen a woman to fill one of the posts.
Neither the American nor the British press have much grasp of what these posts entail or how the EU works in general. To be fair, it can be complicated. But the British media have vastly exaggerated the importance of the President of the European Council, and to a lesser extent, also of the High Representative. The way these posts are written down in the Treaties mean they are little more than a chairman and a souped-up envoy for the Member States. So what we have is European Union in choosing competent, low-key people for senior posts shocker.

Obviously, this means that Europe is doomed.

(hat-tip to Joerg for forwarding these articles)

Germany Blocks EU-US Bank Data Agreement

An agreement negotiated between the US and the EU on sharing bank data in the context of antiterrorism has just been blocked by Germany, France, Finland and Austria. This shift in German policy signals general political changes that will continue to impact transatlantic relations.

  • Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, German Minister of Justice, has a strong socially liberal profile. She had the same post in a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition in the '90s and resigned when her party agreed to far-reaching surveillance measures, eventually turning to bring a case before Germany's constitutional court that overturned much of the legislation.
  • This move has happened in the EU at the ambassador level of the Council, in anticipation of a decision that would have been taken on November 30th. That is, one day ahead of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which will give the European Parliament the power to vote on this matter. The European Parliament, which wants to add significant protections or indefinitely shelve this agreement, was outraged by these plans. This procedural concern was also noted by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

Changes in Germany's coalition following the victory of the CDU/CSU and FDP have resulted in a more liberal profile on internal security matters.
Continue reading "Germany Blocks EU-US Bank Data Agreement"


Guido Westerwelle, new German Minister of Foreign Affairs, is a paradoxical figure. In his current positions, which also include being party leader of the FDP and Vice-Chancellor, he's followed in the footsteps of FDP legend Hans-Dietrich Genscher. But foreign policy is not his strength, and the future of the FDP as well as Westerwelle may depend upon him keeping a clear profile on domestic politics.

Westerwelle had something of a false start into his new role when a BBC correspondent asked him a question in English:

Another YouTube video showing Westerwelle as he tries to speak English has since attracted over one million views, and the social media hilarity has increased with a Twitter channel called 'WesterWave' in which the new German 'outside minister' posts regular updates in a kind of English only people who speak German will understand.

The upshot of this is that it is now normal for young educated Germans to be able to speak English fluently and they expect this from their Minister of Foreign Affairs as well. Young educated Germans are a tiny electoral minority, though, and Westerwelle should just stick to German, and translators.
Continue reading "Westerwenglisch"

Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Will he accept? Should he?

From the Committee:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.
Even if Obama's efforts may be remarkable, they're efforts. Not results. Similarly, while giving hope for a better future is a form of progress in itself and shouldn't be discounted, it's not as satisfying as actually delivering substantial progress. Now, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has jumped the shark a few times before and has still continued to stay prominent in the global imagination. So they will likely get over whatever controversy this generates. But this is one prematurely awarded prize.

What are the Consequences of Lisbon?

Now that Ireland has approved of the Lisbon Treaty by referendum and will soon have ratified, the immediate attention is going to be on the presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic. However, even eurosceptic blogger and UK Indepence Party spokesperson Gawain Towler does not see a prospect of the treaty being delayed long enough for a future Tory government to put it to a referendum.

This does not necessarily mean that independence has become impossible under the new European 'superstate' - as the sceptics would characterise the amended institutional structure. Our commenter John in Michigan points out that the treaty arranges for a procedure to let Member States exit the Union. There was no previous arrangement for such matters, which does not mean that leaving the Union was impossible, just that it would have to be sorted out under the very unclear rules of customary international law.

European defence policy and European foreign policy should be the main fields that benefit from Lisbon. In European defence policy, it will become possible to go ahead with integration in a smaller group if some states do not want to go along. The foreign policy of the European Union has previously been largely reducible to 'enlargement'. One thing the EU lacked was a professional diplomatic service. Another problem was the continuing wide divergence of perceived interests between Member States. Given that foreign policy will continue to be conducted by unanimity, the question whether a coherent policy will emerge - and how soon and for which reasons - will be a nice test of foreign policy doctrines.