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February 27, 2018
- Let’s Not Panic: The EU’s launch of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) has brought to the fore the old issue of European defense and the debate about how effective it will be and at what price…especially regarding European contributions to NATO. There is an irrational response in Washington, much of it kneejerk reactions by the anti-EU warriors of old, who see PESCO somehow as a threat to the US. PESCO is no threat but neither is it a panacea for dramatically strengthening European defense. But it’s too early to make pronouncements about its success or failure. As PESCO initiatives get traction, the US should follow the advice of Carnegie Europe’s Tomas Valasek in Politico Europe: “[The] U.S. should do what previous administrations have done for the past decade: Work with like-minded allies to encourage the promising aspects and work the usual diplomatic channels to press back against the worrying parts.”
- The Axis: It’s not PESCO that Washington should worry about, but the failure of the Paris-Berlin axis to pump energy into building European military capability, including their own. But Berlin struggles with the idea of strengthening the Bundeswehr and in Paris, the opposite is happening: Macron is eagerly pushing ideas to lead Europe into a new era of military responsibility. Claudia Major, Christian Mölling and Gesine Holtma present in the Swedish Institute of International Affairs UIbrief four scenarios that describe what could be the future of the axis and its impact on Europe: 1) Weak and hollow axis: Nothing more than political; 2) Broken Axis: Classical German or French security attitudes return; 3) Strong Axis: Paris and Berlin drive and back European defense; 4) The Surprise Scenario: Defense Union in sight. Let’s hope for the third scenario, but with a European defense that does more than just add to the margins.
- Germany take note! Lets hope the Germans do better than the UK does with UK-French defense cooperation! (Thanks to @LordRickettsP and Matt)
- And If That Wasn’t Enough for Berlin, There’s This: Bild has published a poll showing the far-right AfD has topped the SPD in Germany 16% to 15.5%. Wall Street Journal’s Germany correspondent Bojan Pancevski tweeted “SPD going the way of similar parties in Europe because of @MartinSchulz, migration crisis, #Merkel's lurch leftwards and the Social Democrats' longstanding failure to connect with core voters.” That sounds familiar.
- Juncker’s Junket: EU President Juncker is on his 5 day “open door” tour of the Western Balkans, taking along the EU’s “Foreign Minister” High Representative Federica Mogherini. According to his Deputy Chief Spokeswoman the message is “Keep reforming and we will keep supporting your European future." In some cases, it may be start reforming, but glad this neglected part of Europe is getting some attention from Brussels..
- World Cup Update – Qatarstrophic: Not all news out of Germany this week was bleak. According to FOCUS Online Qatar is under increasing threat of losing the right to hold the 2022 World Cup. Numerous accusations of corruption have been made relating to how Qatar won the rights to stage the event, and it's reported that FIFA will reconsider its decision this Summer. The Dish is excited as the report also states that should the event be relocated the US and the UK are the two most obvious choices to hold it. It is probably too late to shift this year’s tournament from Russia though - despite clashes involving Russian soccer hooligans last Thursday that resulted in the death of a Spanish police officer.
- One More World Cup Factoid: @qikipedia has figured out that if Sweden plays Denmark, it’s abbreviated to SWE–DEN; the remaining letters spell DEN–MARK. Yes, you do need to know this! (Hat tip to @kreuzbergedwho tweets the wonderful Berlin Companion.)
- Orban Decay: Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index was released last week. That most countries are making little progress is sad enough. That Hungary, an EU member, is sliding down the index is worse. According to TI, it is now seen as more untrustworthy than Montenegro – recently told by the EU to make progress against corruption and organized crime before it can be considered as a member. Things look unlikely to improve. Earlier this month the Hungarian government submitted three separate bills: requiring mandatory licensing (and security screening) of organizations supporting migration; levying a 25% duty on funds received from abroad by organizations supporting migration; and enabling the Interior Minister to ban individuals from within eight kilometers of Hungary’s borders in certain circumstances. If passed, the package would shrink the space for civil society. How much of this is politicking in advance of an election in April is unclear. Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to win. In his recent State of the Union he said that “if things continue as they are, our culture, our identity and our nations will cease to exist in the form that we know them now.” He seems to be doing as much as he can to prove his own point.
- Is Imitation the Best Source of Funding?: Fresh from his first visit to DC, the UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson made his inaugural appearance before the House of Commons Defense Committee on Wednesday. He must have liked something he heard in Washington, as he praised the recent US National Defense Strategy, and its emphasis on the speed at which state-based threats have increased. Then he repeated the NDS in recognizing that those threats were now a bigger risk than counterterrorism and described a ten-fold increase in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic, a war fought through a combination of activity on the ground and cyber-activity in Ukraine, and an ongoing examination by Russia of how it could have a negative effect on many NATO countries. Williamson seems determined to do something about it – stating that the 2% commitment to NATO must be a floor not a ceiling and stressing that more investment was needed (perhaps in these). And he has given himself the chance by launching the first MOD owned (rather than Cabinet Office driven) defense review since 2010. As part of it Williamson announced he would be sending a team out to the US to work with folks in DC and learn lessons. We’ve got plenty of free advice…but you get what you pay for.
- Still Craving Post-Munich Reflections? In the need for some more transatlantic insight following the Munich Security Conference? Then you will want to be on the lookout for a new episode of our podcast Brussels Sprouts going live this Wednesday in which Julie Smith is joined by Dr. Celeste Wallander, President and CEO of the US-Russia Foundation, to discuss their experiences in Munich and the ongoing challenges to Russian-NATO relations.
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