March 08, 2018

The Dish | March 6, 2018

By Julianne Smith and Jim Townsend

Welcome to The Dish! Curated by the CNAS Transatlantic Security Team, the Dish sends you the latest in transatlantic relations once a week. If this is your first time receiving the Dish, click here to sign up!

March 6, 2018

  • The Dish Oscars edition. While envelopes were being opened in Hollywood to see which film won Best Picture (Dunkirk, the Post and Darkest Hour were robbed!), ballots were being counted in Rome and German noses were being counted in the SPD about joining the Merkel GroKo. The envelopes please…
    • “La Dolce Vita”: The Italian far right and populist parties were the clear winners in the Italian elections on Sunday with likely more than 50% of the vote. The Italian right wing “Five Star Movement” is now the party in the drivers seat towards any coalition. There was not one party with the magic 40% of the vote to form a government, so coalitions will be discussed in the coming days (what’s Italian for GroKo?), but for sure the eventual new Italian Government will have hard anti-immigrant and Euro-skeptic, if not anti-EU positions. What this means more broadly for Europe is that the populist and far right political movements continue on the march.
    • “The Blue Angel”: As Marlene Dietrich sang “Falling in love again/Never wanted to/What am I to do/I can’t help it.” The SPD rank and file couldn’t help it either and on Sunday voted to join the GroKo, which paved the way for “Mutter” to remain German Chancellor. But not everyone in the SPD is completely happy and politics in Berlin for the next few years will be in transition and turbulent, especially with the far right AfD in the ascendant
  • “Stupid Is as Stupid Does”: Our fans know that the staff here in the Dish newsroom do not stray too far away from Transatlantic security policy. But given that President Trump says he will impose steel and aluminum tariffs to protect US national security, we needed to brush up on our micro and macro. EC boss Jean-Claude Juncker responded to the US tariff warnings by saying, “So now we will also impose import tariffs. This is basically a stupid process, the fact that we have to do this. But we have to do it. We will now impose tariffs on motorcycles, Harley Davidson, on blue jeans, Levis, on Bourbon. We can also do stupid. We also have to be this stupid.” President Trump responded in so many words, bring it on. This was not quite what we were taught in grad school when it came to free trade, comparative advantage in wheat and wine and purchasing power parity. Let’s see what the President decides to do this week, but if a trade war ensues, you don’t need to be an economist to know transatlantic security will certainly be a loser.
  • More Sobering News from RAND: RAND has a new report out examining “how NATO and Russian force levels and capabilities have evolved in the post–Cold War era and what recent trends imply for the balance of capabilities in the NATO member states that border Russia in the Baltic Sea region.” Their findings echo earlier work about how quickly Russian forces could prevail in a Baltics dust-up but RAND stresses that their analysis does not suggest such a Russian attack is likely to take place. Small comfort. But the report goes on to say that, “prudence suggests that steps should be taken to mitigate potential areas of vulnerability in the interest of ensuring a stable security relationship between all NATO members and Russia. NATO has sufficient resources, personnel, and equipment to enhance conventional deterrence focused on Russia; a more robust posture designed to considerably raise the cost of military adventurism against one or more NATO member states is worthy of consideration.” In less diplomatic terms, there needs to be more action by NATO nations to bulk up defenses in Central and Eastern Europe and quickly; the timeline is not 2025.
  • From the Americas Desk - Wanna SNOG?: At least some people are making efforts to keep the transatlantic flame alive. (Contrary to what some Americans think, snogging is a British slang term for just kissing.) Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis announced plans this week to reestablish the Senate NATO Observer Group (SNOG). The SNOG was first established in 1997 to help the Senate monitor NATO expansion into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It is being reconvened now, for the first time in over a decade, given ongoing concerns over Russian aggression, the potential for further expansion and to monitor the process of upgrading NATO military capabilities. The Group will mirror the structure and make-up of previous SNOGs with eight members serving ex officio - the two Leaders plus the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations, Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. We look forward to seeing such a high-powered group SNOGging in Congress.
  • The Beast from the East: The much bigger threat to the Transatlantic community last week seemed to be the weather. In the US, the weather shut down the Federal Government and caused traffic chaos up and down the East Coast including planes full of vomiting passengers. In Europe, it was frigid temperatures that brought much of Europe to a stop. Indeed Europe was colder than the Arctic this week and federal scientists announced that the part of the Arctic covered by sea ice in January was the smallest since 1979 (when records began). Of course, in Europe, this arctic weather had to be given a name. SaaS Growth Marketer Edward Ford (@NordicEdward) tweeted:

In the UK they called it the "Beast from the East"

In Sweden they called it “The Snow Cannon”

In the Netherlands they called it “The Siberian Bear”

In Finland they called it “Wednesday”

  • The Boast from the East: Russian voters go to the polls later this month. And in the absence of any good economic news to offer President Putin wheeled out some pictures of weapons systems in his state of the union speech on March 1st. The Russian economy remains the size of a mid-sized European nation, hence the reliance on asymmetrical warfare, propaganda and cyber-attacks to try and find advantages. Putin’s speech looked as if it was more of the same - an information operation to try and make Russia, and himself, seem more powerful than they are. Regardless of whether any new Russian capabilities exist or not, more missile defenses might be a sensible response. We are a bipartisan team here at the Dish. And the decision this week to sell Javelin anti-tank missiles to help Ukrainian self-defense looks to be the right one too
  • The Dish Bookshelf: Stan Sloan has produced a new analysis of threats to Western political systems and international institutions. The new book, Transatlantic Traumas: Has Illiberalism Brought the West to the Brink of Collapse, looks at the meaning of “the West,” the external threats to it, the illiberal political challenges in European countries, the Turkish drift away from the West, Brexit, and the “Trump Tsunami” in the United States. Also on the Dish Bookshelf, Spencer Boyer and Alina Polyakova have co-authored for Brookings a piece on Russia, the West and the coming age of global digital competition

We want to hear from you, too! Have a Dish you want us to add? Send it to Jim Townsend at or on Twitter at @jteurope.

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