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NATO Achievements and Challenges in 2013

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's latest Annual Report focuses on NATO's achievements in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Turkey and against piracy and the ways to ensure an efficient and capable NATO for 2014 and beyond. Here and on Storify are some of the main points as Tweets. Continue reading "NATO Achievements and Challenges in 2013"

Syria, Germany and the Europeanization of Great Britain

Great Britain became more European on Thursday, August 29th, when the parliament refused to give its Prime Minister the support he wanted (but did not need) for air strikes against Syria. Now David Cameron has been humiliated and a precedent for future war authorizations has been set.

The British public and the members of parliament are haunted by the Iraq war syndrome, tired of a decade of war, and concerned by a) lack of sufficient evidence that Syria’s military was responsible for the chemical attack, b) lack of legality and c) lack of strategy. The “special relationship” with the United States has been damaged heavily, although it must be said that its importance has been exaggerated in the past.

Britain is now more European. This could turn out to be more of a bad than a good thing, but I am optimistic as there could be more unity when strategic cultures are similar. Most other observers see this negatively, even describe Britain as turning into Switzerland or Germany. Yep, that’s supposed to be an insult.

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Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails

The United States has built huge internet surveillance infrastructures, but failed to implement its own 9/11 law about maritime cargo security.

The risks of an attack at a US port or the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (or their components) in shipping containers are big. Compared to the importance of scanning more cargo containers, the benefits of scanning emails appear quite small. What is needed is a serious debate about the right priorities for counter-terrorism and cost/benefit analysis of current policies.

While US and other Western governments claim that internet surveillance has prevented several terrorist attacks, it could also be argued that internet surveillance catches only some of the stupid terrorists, who can only pull off relatively minor attacks. (But not all of them, e.g. not the Boston bombers.)

Smart terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who have the brains and resources to kill tens of thousands of people, do not communicate over the internet. (Or they use very serious encryption, which the NSA computers won’t break in time.) They might plan sophisticated operations for American, French, Dutch or German harbors.

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Britain and the World Love Germany

What a pleasant surprise! Germany is more widely seen as "having a mainly positive influence" in the world than any other country, according to the BBC World Service's Country Ratings Poll. I doubt, however, whether poll participants really meant Germany's foreign policy.

A three-point increase in Germany's average rating returned it to the top of the BBC list, displacing Japan, which saw its positive ratings drop from 58% to 51%, and fell from first to fourth place overall. (...)

In Spain, the recipient of a bailout with tight German strings attached, 68% said they felt Germany had "a mainly positive influence in the world".

In Britain, it was even higher at 78%. In France 81% - the poll indicates that four in every five French people look over the border with approval!

Only Greece maintains its Germanophobia, with 52% giving a negative rating.

Will the poll matter? It might well. It may confirm German ministers in their belief that tough love is true friendship.

Re the last sentence: I doubt that people consider tough love in the euro-crisis as a true friendship.

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Romney Unites the Brits Behind the London Olympics

"Britain is an easy date. So how did Mitt Romney mess up so badly?" asks Jonathan Freedland:

So the big surprise in the opening ceremony is not what I expected. I thought Danny Boyle would set aside three minutes for a lavish video tribute to Willard Mitt Romney, thanking the Republican presidential nominee for doing what, until Thursday, neither David Cameron, Boris Johnson or Sebastian Coe had managed to do: silencing all but the grumpiest sceptics and uniting the British people in enthusiastic determination to enjoy the London Olympics.

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Telegraph: "Obama just plain rude to Britain"

Iain Martin writes in his blog for the Telegraph (HT: Marie-Claude):

The morning papers and TV last night featured plenty of comment focused on the White House's very odd and, frankly, exceptionally rude treatment of a British PM. (...) Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans.

This post has received 453 comments so far. Will President Obama soon be as unpopular as President Bush? Probably not, but he is heading to Clinton's approval ratings, which were not as good during his presidency as they are now in his retirement and philanthropist activities.

Are Americans concerned that Britain is becoming "Europeanised"?

Even America's most loyal and important ally is not as much appreciated as it used to be in Washington. The UK-US special relationship is being reconsidered in both Britain and the United States.

In an article about the British army's lack of soldiers, lack of money and lack of conviction, The Economist writes:

British commanders have belatedly realised that they have much to learn, or rather relearn, about fighting small wars in distant lands. "We have lost our way," says one general. Underlying this malaise is concern about Britain's relationship with America, its most important ally. Generals worry that the United States is losing confidence in Britain's military worth. Some Americans have indeed been expressing doubts: policymakers ask whether British leaders are losing the will to fight, soldiers whether their British counterparts are losing the ability to do so. There is talk that Britain is becoming "Europeanised", more averse to making war and keener on peacekeeping. Britain remains America's closest and most able ally; its special forces are particularly prized. But one senior official in the former Bush administration says there is "a lot of concern on the US side about whether we are going to have an ally with the capability and willingness to be in the fight with us".

Alex Harrowell with A Fistful of Euros takes issue with the assumptions behind the accusation that Britain is "Europeanised:"

First, the UK cannot do this because, having spent the last 8 years chasing various US-inspired missions, it doesn't have the troops, and more to the point, it doesn't have the air transport fleet to support them in the interior of Asia. Simple. But more importantly, there are two huge unexamined assumptions here. The first is that the Europeans have to come when the US calls them. What is in it for us? After all, NATO declared that the alliance had been invoked back in September 2001, and was told that its assistance was not required, at the same time as hordes of rightwing publicists accused it of not helping. Then, later, the US accepted the need for an international peacekeeping force, which was led by European NATO members for most of its existence.

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Britain to leave Iraq (in shame?), increase troops to Afghanistan

In an anticipated move, Gordon Brown announced that the remaining 4,100 UK troops will leave Iraq by the end of July.  Mr. Brown is quoted by the BBC:
I feel that the task that we set out to do is being done and that's why we can take a decision to bring most of our forces home.
The Times Online is less cheery, characterizing Britain’s withdrawal as “a humiliating proposal that lumps the once-valued deployment with five smaller contingents, including those of Romania, El Salvador and Estonia.”

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