Friday, April 23, 2010

Merkel defends Germany's Afghanistan mandate

According to , Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Germany's military presence in Afghanistan on Thursday - rejecting opposition claims that the country was now involved in a level of warfare that parliament had not agreed to.

Merkel's address to parliament followed the recent deaths of seven German soldiers in two insurgent attacks in northern Afghanistan, prompting renewed soul-searching in a country where the military mission is already deeply unpopular.

'This mandate is valid, over and above any sensible doubt under international or constitutional law,' Merkel said in an address to the Bundestag, or parliament.

The chancellor said she understood those who referred to the conflict as 'war' but added that the parliament had been fully aware of conditions in Afghanistan when they agreed to extend the military mandate earlier this year.

'We can't expect bravery from our soldiers, if we lack the courage to stand up for what we agreed to,' the chancellor added.

Merkel and Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, both of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), have raised legal questions in recent months by acknowledging that the armed conflict in Afghanistan could be described as 'war' in common parlance.

As a result, opposition leader Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats (SDP) has questioned the validity of the current mandate, which authorizes the German military to take part in 'armed conflict' in the region.

The government would legally have to seek renewed parliamentary approval for a mandate to wage war in Afghanistan.

War is legally defined as a conflict between states, which does not aptly describe the conflict that Germany is engaged in under the NATO umbrella.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tipping point in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo: EU and NATO must finish the job

Despite progress, trouble looms in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. Better engagement now by NATO and the EU can prevent backsliding.

Remember Bosnia? Kosovo? In the 1990s, we learned a new phrase – ethnic cleansing – and we embarked on the first of what have now been many interventions in regional crises. Yet 15 years after the Serbian massacre of more than 7,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, we have still not finished the job of making the Balkans peaceful and safe for all.

This was the subject of a recent hearing held by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Jim DeMint, and George Voinovich in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It’s also a subject likely to be discussed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at this week’s NATO meeting in Estonia.

To be sure, the region has seen some success. Slovenia and Croatia are vibrant democracies, increasingly prosperous, and members of NATO. Slovenia is also a member of the European Union, and Croatia is well on its way. Albania is a member of NATO. And Montenegro is making rapid progress.

But trouble looms. With nationalists pulling at the fabric of Bosnia, with Serbia and a handful of EU members refusing to recognize an independent Kosovo, with Serbia still not having found its place in the European family, with NATO and the EU fatigued on further enlargement, with crime and corruption rampant, the region risks sliding back into instability and worse.

This can be prevented – at far lower cost than it took to stop ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, or what it would cost to intervene again. Compared with Afghanistan, we have advantages in the Balkans: no active fighting; a literate population and skilled workforce; an advanced economy; and a surrounding region made up of EU and NATO members.

What’s more, we know what is needed for success: using the attractive power of NATO and the EU to drive through tough but needed reforms.

The challenge in the Balkans is the same challenge Europe has faced for centuries – overcoming history. It is no easy task. It takes strong incentives and disincentives for nations to let go of irredentism, the memories of territories lost, and the grievances of past warfare, and instead to invest in the future.

But as we saw in the 1990s, the real, near-term prospect of NATO and EU membership provides just that kind of incentive structure. It strengthens the hand of reformers in convincing publics that short-term pain and rejecting nationalist agendas will deliver greater benefits, and that the contrast – wallowing in these agendas – will separate a nation from a growing, integrated European family.

Clearly, countries must meet the conditions of membership. They must do the hard work of reform. But the EU and NATO can be passive or active. A passive stance gives little incentive and empowers those with revanchist agendas. But an activist stance, where we stress our willingness to admit new members and work with candidate countries on specific reforms, empowers those who are prepared to implement the fastest and farthest reaching change.

Now is a time to give new energy to finishing the job in the Balkans – to bringing that region fully into the European mainstream before it slides backward. Several steps can be taken:

First, the EU and NATO must reiterate, emphatically and credibly, that they are prepared to admit as members every country in the Balkans that meets the conditions of membership.

Second, to generate this renewed political commitment, Washington will need to engage actively not only with the EU and NATO as institutions, but also with key member states.

Third, the EU and NATO should aggressively use the tools already at their disposal to incentivize necessary reforms – for example, visa-free travel, EU association agreements, and NATO’s Membership Action Plan.

Fourth, in Bosnia, we should maintain a robust international presence and commitment, including a strong, international “high representative” and an EU force, until Bosnia sustainably implements far-reaching reform.

Fifth, we should maintain a robust commitment in Kosovo – both through the nearly 10,000 soldiers that make up the NATO-led Kosovo Force and through the European Union Rule of Law Mission – while pushing for recognition by all EU states and improved governance within (and throughout all) of Kosovo.

Sixth, we need to give a renewed impetus to resolving the Macedonia name issue. Because Greece’s own identity is linked to ancient Macedonia, it strongly objects to its northern neighbor going by the name “Republic of Macedonia.” The Macedonians could begin with modest confidence-building measures – Does the airport really have to be named after Alexander the Great? – followed by compromises by both sides.

Seventh, NATO and the EU should reward Montenegro’s reform successes by accelerating its path toward membership in both institutions – not least because this can spur greater momentum in the region.

Eighth, the US and EU should carry out a robust bilateral engagement with Serbia, building its sense of belonging within the transatlantic community.

And ninth, we should work aggressively with Albania to strengthen democratic institutions, transparency, and anticorruption, in part by leveraging the prospect of EU membership.

Resolving these lingering issues is difficult, but doable. And far better to invest the energy and effort now, when the region is calm, than to risk greater instability in the future. Remember: The worst human-rights atrocities in Europe since the Holocaust happened in the Balkans just 15 years ago.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vacancies left for DAYS 2010

Dear YATA-members,

Deadline for application for our annual youth seminar DAYS is now expired. However, we still have some vacancies left and we encourage all interested to apply for participation as soon as possible.

DAYS 2010 is the 25th anniversary of the event gathering young people from different countries to discuss and engage in foreign and security politics. The program is almost finished and we look forward to introducing you to a very inspiring and exiting seminar.

For more information you can have a look at our website:
Where you will also find the invitation and application form for DAYS 2010.

Application, motivation letter or questions can be sent to

Best regards,
Emma Hjernø
Project Coordinator DAYS 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quick piece on Prague dinner America and eastern Europe Guess who's coming to dinner?

Barack Obama tries to fix damaged relations with eastern European allies

THE Obama administration’s closest European allies are oddly tricky to please. An invitation to the leaders of the 11 ex-communist members of NATO to dine with the president in Prague on April 8th was meant to repair a relationship both cherished and moaned about. Instead, indigestion was looming even before the meal was cooked.

It should have gone smoothly. The president is in Prague to sign a new nuclear disarmament agreement with Russia. Even the twitchiest ex-communist countries don’t mind that. The choice of Prague, the capital of a key American ally in the region, over a neutral location such as Geneva, was meant to signal America’s continued commitment to the region’s security. Mr Obama could have simply headed home after the ceremony, or travelled on to a meeting with one big ally. Instead, he chose to invite, admittedly at short notice, all of his ex-communist allies to talk.

The first sign of trouble was that the guest list looked odd. From the three Baltic states, the administration invited the presidents (Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, Valdis Zatlers of Latvia and Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania). But from most of the other eight countries, it was the prime ministers. Admittedly, lines of responsibility between heads of state and government can be blurred. But the rationale for including the mainly ceremonial Baltic presidents but snubbing the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, who has rather more clout, was mystifying.

While heads were being scratched, Ms Grybauskaite dropped a small bomb. She would not be going to Prague, she said. Her prime minister, Andrius Kubilius, would stand in for her. Explaining her decision, Ms Grybauskaite complained that the dinner would involve “no decision-making”, that it was organised by junior officials, that its outcome was unclear and that she would have only two minutes to talk one-on-one with Mr Obama. Coming from a country roughly one-hundredth America’s size, that showed a startling self-confidence, even by Lithuanian standards.

Next came a remark by a “senior US official” in the New York Times, that the president “will seek to impress upon regional leaders a new attitude toward Russia in which the outmoded fears of Russians hiding under the bed are a thing of the past”. That appeared to confirm the east Europeans’ darkest fears about America’s new cosiness with Russia. Senior officials dealing with the region in the White House and the State Department categorically denied that any such thinking lay behind the dinner.

Clumsiness in American presentation of policy in the region is nothing new. Some Poles are still fuming about the botched announcement of a change in American missile defence plans on September 17th last year. That date, the anniversary of the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, matters there roughly as much as Pearl Harbour day does in America. The blunder followed a fretful public protest from leading figures in the region, such as Vaclav Havel, about weakening transatlantic ties.

But since then the administration has worked hard to improve things. It has pushed through NATO contingency plans for the Baltic states, the alliance’s most vulnerable members, bringing a spectacular German flip-flop on this previously taboo issue. The new missile defence scheme is bigger and better than the one it ditched. And now the president, on yet another visit to Europe, has invited everyone to dinner.

The lingering difficulties reflect the real problem in the US relationship with central Europe, which is in the ingredients, not the cooking. The days of instinctive Atlanticism in the region are over, as Ms Grybauskaite’s haughty stance, which would once have been inconceivable, demonstrates. The ex-communist allies’ contribution to solving most of America’s problems is marginal, at best. Europe itself is divided and lacks credibility in the eyes of busy Americans. Sorting that out needs hard thinking and a long slog, not just a nice dinner