Tag: foreign policy

Lessons in diplomatic rhetoric

Foreign policy is all about language. Everyone seems to enjoy these carefully constructed sophisticated statements full of poetic brillance and subtle references mixed with highly complex and technical terms which usually hide the fact that the substance is rather slim. If you got lost there here is an example:
If you are a small country you probably “punch above your weight” and if you are not on the “axis of evil” you are probably  “one of our closest and strongest allies”. Learn from the master of political rhetoric:

German diplomacy on Libya: A quick explanation

Why did Germany abstain at the United Nations?

Germany was the only NATO/EU member to abstain together Russia, China, Brasil, India. Result: no common EU foreign policy (Ashton being absent from the wider debate anyway) despite the good opportunity for an interesting ESDP mission. The US seems to support the resolution but does not want to use own military capabilities. At the same time there is an agreement between France, the UK and Italy. It is a missed opportunity for ESDP and EU foreign policy in general. And the reason, strangely enough, is Germany. Moreover, Germany is partly to blame why the it took so long to agree on a UN resolution.

(Sorry for the lack of links and background info and the lack of any sophisticated writing, just think of it as a draft blog post – bit in a hurry at the moment…)

So what is the problem with German diplomacy? A quick explanation:

1. There are a couple of important regional elections in the coming weeks. Hugely important for Merkel’s CDU and it does not look very good. Merkel seems to be inspired by Schröder who won elections with swift decisions and a “no war” attitude. So, Merkel’s decision perform a u-turn on nuclear energy (albeit only for 3 months!) and the the “no” to war in Libya seem to follow that idea. However, I think Merkel completely misjudges the situation. The u-turn on nuclear energy lacks any credibility and does not seem to help the CDU (and first opinion polls do support this view). Libya is not Iraq. Libya is quite an easy narrative, and not as controversial as Iraq so you can’t win popular opinion with it. Afghanistan is unpopular, so the idea to do more in Afghanistan and not support the intervention is Libya is counterproductive.

I think the German population would rather support an intervention in Libya than to abstain as the only Western country. Moreover, supporting a UN resolution would not necessarily involve a commitment to military engagement. Germany could have supported the resolution without contributing (citing the real(!) lack of military capabilities). Support: yes, military involvement: no – that would have been a more successful strategy…

Maybe Merkel/Westerwelle were not sure how people would react to an involvement of the Bundeswehr – or even to a formal endorsement of the intervention in Libya. However, judging on trends in popular opinion at the moment it is easy to come to the conclusion that any controversial decision (i.e intervention) could become a hot issue in German politics.  The prospect of defending a war in the three upcoming election campaigns might have been a contributing factor that explains the German position.

2. Foreign Minister Westerwelle is not up to the job. He lacks the political feeling for situations, foreign policy is not really his field of expertise. He often seems uncomfortable with foreign policy. After the elections he should have taken over the ministry of finance and/or economics. And he is the most unpopular foreign minister ever. In Germany, Foreign ministers are always among the most trusted and popular politicians – with the exception of Westerwelle. Is Libya an attempt to become popular again? Oh, and it seems that the Chancellery is the main foreign policy player at the moment. So, the abstention could be a sign of the internal problems of German foreign policy, a disagreement between Merkel and Westerwelle is quite likely.

3. “No war” as a foreign policy principle. Not very convincing after Kosovo & Afghanistan but it might have some influence in the thinking on foreign policy among German diplomats. Especially the rather bad experiences in Afghanistan might have shaped the “no intervention” stance of the German government. A more serious point is that German decision makers are convinced that this “no fly zone” will basically result in a war which might last for quite some time. And nobody in Germany wants to send soldiers on Libyan soil. Not only is it unpopular, there are quite some risks attached to it.  Especially after  Afghanistan and  Iraq the danger of a getting into a conflict that last for several years should not be underestimated. Moreover, there has been very little talk about what constitutes a “success” of the intervention. German decision makers are naturally reluctant without having a clear exit strategy and general strategy what to do after the air strikes! I think these ideas are crucial in understanding the German position.

A last chance for German diplomacy?

The Libyan government just announced a ceasefire (a real chance or Gaddafi trying to buy time?). If implemented (which is doubtful anyway) there might be some negotiations about the future of Libya. Maybe a mediation to discuss an acceptable exit strategy for Gaddafi or some power sharing mechanisms; there might be a UN backed peacekeeping force – everything in flux as Gaddafi seems to be determined to stay in power as long as possible. So, any diplomatic negotiations will mostly happen in the background. Germany could be seen as the only ‘credible western country’ to negotiate between the Libyan government and the opposition/international community. If the German government wants to restore trust and credibility it might a good idea to get involved now. However, it is probably not very likely to happen…not with Westerwelle and Merkel.

Update: Germany rejects Libya ceasefire monitoring role

President of the European Council: The contenders

Foreign Policy published a rather entertaining list of “European Idols” – aka (rumored) contenders in the race to become the first permanent “President of the European Council”:


The categories:

First, the president should be, well, boring — like Brussels itself. Politicians have knocked down candidates for being too controversial or too outspoken. Second, he should likely hold center-right or Christian Democratic political tendencies, given that Europe itself is headed that direction. Third, he should come from a country that uses the euro — showing full fealty to the concept of the union. Fourth, he should come from a small European country — anything other than Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, which normally dominate the union’s affairs. Finally, two wild-card characteristics: He should ideally speak French and have opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq — if not at the time, then soon afterward.

Read the article (with more less detailed profiles of each candidate) here. Obviously the list is debatable: For example, it seems strange to include Angela Merkel (not boring?) and Anders Fogh Rasmussen but not Mary Robinson… also candidates from the Iberian peninsula might might not be considered since Commission President Barroso is from Portugal, to a lesser extent that might also be true for Polish candidates (Buzek = President of the European Parliament). I was also wondering about the language skills of the contenders… (Most of them fluent in French? – And what about English ?). One important category is missing: The “I made the case for the EU while being in office” – category.
Oh, and  sadly even the analysts (in this case: “assistant editor with a degree from Harvard”) of Foreign Policy fall into the trap of talking about a “EU President”

Quick Poll: What is “EU foreign policy”?

Writing a PhD requires one to think a lot about definitions and typologyies. One of the more interesting topics in that respect is a definition of “EU foreign policy”. At the same time, there seems to be quite a gap between academic debate and public debate , although one can of course argue that this is quite normal in general. However, social science operates with concepts that are somehow connected to the real world (ok, no ontological/epistemological debates now…) Let’s get back to “EU foreign policy” What are your first thoughts when you hear the term?

(1) Everything that relates to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP)? (second pillar for EU geeks)

(2) “External relations” which include the Common Commercial Policy, trade relations as well as  development issues? (first pillar for EU geeks)

(3) Something else? (Please specify)

(4) What about the individual foreign policies of the member states? Are they part of EU foreign policy? EU foreign policy could be seen as an aggregation of different national foreign policies. Do people outside the EU make the difference between the French/German/British … approach or do they think it is part of the European approach. and ultimately a EU foreign policy?

(5) It does not exist!

(6) A mixture of all the issues above?

Obama, Berlin and the world

So what did we expect from Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech in Berlin?  Since Barack Obama is not even the official democratic candidate yet, and obviously not the US President, I think expectations were hugely exaggerated. Apart from that, the following list of expectations sums it up (at least for me):

  1. Great visions for the future of everything: yes.   – Policy details: no, not really.
  2. Great rhetoric: yes.  – Great visuals for his campaign: yes, definitely.
  3. Bush-bashing: no. – And a “Berlin surprise”: Oh yes please.

And what did we get? (You can read the transcript of the speech here)

1. What about “visions”: well, sort of. Barack Obama spoke about many global problems and a lot of shared responsibilities and the need for cooperation. Not more, not less. Of course freedom played a big role (George W. Bush would have said the same!). Also the importance of immigration is something Europe needs to learn! Interesting maybe the issue of nuclear disarmament. I haven’t heard any politician to call for that in the last decade or so. Of course he did not go into any detail (it is election campaign time! not a good time for details). However, the “big visionary moment” of the speech was missing. But considering what could have gone wrong with such a speech, I guess it was OK. But of course symbolism prevails over content in every election campaign…

2. What about “great rhetoric”: First of all, I think the rather short speech was well constructed. The second part was better than the beginning. But I also found that the family background did not really work (maybe he should have started with something else and talked about it later? ). I liked the idea of a “world citizen” (what do you expect with that blog name…?). The delivery was very professional but, again, the big moment was missing. BUT the visuals for the campaign were great (and eventually that matters at the moment): They can suggest that he is respected and hugely popular in Europe (the crowd of 200 000 was impressive, right? ) which might give him some foreign policy credibility in the US. But that depends on the spin of the campaign…

3) Obviously no Bush-bashing abroad which is unthinkable in the diplomatic world. So what about the “Berlin surprise”: Nothing really. Basically he used Ernst Reuter and the Berlin airlift for his speech trying to put it in context with globalisation and global challenges. Not a bad idea. But then again, since expectations were huge I doubt that he could have delivered a real “surprise”. Maybe next time…

Anything else?

Well, from a European perspective we can take note that he knows about the EU and he generally thinks highly of global institutions and international cooperation, which is good to know. But I think the really remarkable thing is the pure existence of this event, a kind of “globalisation of US election campaigning”. I think we will see similar events in the future! As somebody on German TV said “It seems that he is the candidate for the world presidency”.

Update: Here is the video of the speech:

One President of the EU

It is campaign time again! (the euro-blogoshpere seems to get into online campaigns…) “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” is one of the best known quotes by Henri Kissinger. Now Jon Worth and Jan Seifert want to answer this question and launched the whodoicall.eu campaign that calls for one president of the EU.whodoicall The idea is that one person should be President of the European Commission and, at the same time, President of the European Council (the position which is newly created under the Lisbon treaty). Read the arguments here.

Although I am not completely convinced about this idea, I signed the petition because I think that this new position of a European Council president is somewhat unnecessary. It will only create more confusion among citizens that already today are not too familiar with EU institutions. I am also not too convinced that EU policy making becomes more coherent with a permanent European Council president as well as rotating presidencies in the Council of Ministers. It just makes things more complicated!

But one critical remark regarding Kissinger’s quote. He was Secretary of State so his “natural” EU counterpart is actually the High Representative of Foreign Affairs. So he should call Mr Solana and none of the presidents! So, instead of talking about the presidents, one should rather give the High Representative more power (or introduce more QMV in EU foreign policy) to ‘please’ Mr Kissinger.

(I don’t know if I want to please Mr Kissinger though, and anyway I doubt that Kissinger would ever refrain from negotiating with national counterparts…but that is a different story…)

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Some random thoughts on Kosovo

I actually did not want to write something about Kosovo…but well, here we go again. First a few good pieces from around the web and then a few random thoughts on Kosovo.

A good commentary on Kosovo can be found on stanley’s blog that writes “Recognition of Kosovo’s independence is an unfortunate solution, but there is currently no better solution.” Another outstanding article by Timothy Garton Ash (This dependent independence is the least worst solution for Kosovo) with some great quotes:

The Balkanisation of Belgium meets the Belgianisation of the Balkans. (…)

Here is the 21st-century European style of decolonisation: from protectorate to EU member state, without ever achieving full, sovereign independence in between. (…)

And it was in Belgrade, not Pristina, that I heard this joke: the Serbs will do anything for Kosovo except live there. (…)

Both statements are true: Kosovo is unique, and there will be more Kosovos.”

Plenty of interesting stuff, so go and read the article here. A few days ago Dusan Reljic gave this interview. On the whole I agree, but I think it is a bit exaggerated when he argues about international law and the UN (that unfortunately lost credibility not only because of Kosovo). And I also would have liked him to answer the question on partition… Public Policy Watch thinks that ” the decision whether to recognize Kosovo’s independence or not is determined primarily by the self-interest of individual countries” However, the most convincing point is this one: “Perhaps the majority of democratic countries with respect for human life still perceive Kosovo as a victim and Serbia as an aggressor.(…) This perception enables European countries to endorse an action contrary to the spirit and practice of international law in the area of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Kosovo flagSince I don’t want to repeat much that has already been said, I just want to throw a few random thoughts into the discussion:

– I always failed to grasp a general common feature of South Eastern Europe: Why do people still argue with stories and myths that come straight from the 14th century?

– 10 years ago there was a genocide in Kosovo so maybe Kosovo has a point of not wanting to be ruled from Belgrade? (To be fair I have to add that ethnic cleansing happened on both sides…) However, there is a 90% majority for independence. Apart from that, Belgrade has had not control over Kosovo for the last 9 years… (the dilemma is of course that Kosovo is not economically sustainable)

– A number of mistakes have been made in the 1990s by all actors involved (that includes Germany). But it is also ironic that now 7 “independent and sovereign” states exist that all want to join the EU to share competences (again). They will eventually negotiate with each other in Brussels…oh yes and I guess they also want to join the Euro and Schengen… so what was the point in splitting up in the first place?

– Despite the recognition debate, the EU acted with one voice. Thanks to the “formula of constructive abstention“(as reported by the EUobserver) the Council decided to deploy its biggest foreign policy mission to date to Kosovo. And of course it was not a coincidence that both events, the decision of the Council and the declaration of independence, took place within a few days … The official voting records will reveal that most of the countries that made a fuss about the independence approved the mission. But without the approval of the EU mission there would have been no declaration…

– Does it set a precedent? well, everything is a precedent if somebody in politics uses it as an argument. Anyway, it seems people like comparing apples with oranges. So what about Bangladesh, Eritrea, … I am not aware of any legitimizing UN resolution in these cases. Maybe even the whole process of decolonalisation and the collapse of the Soviet Union could also fall in this category… (ok, I admit, also too much history!)

– Sovereignty and independence are also quite relative (one could even argue dying) concepts – especially within the EU, so it is hard to understand that EU member states think the case might have an impact on their domestic situation. Regionalisation in the sense of subsidiarity has always been a EU principle and usually everyone is quite fond of highlighting that.

– Without any further comment: Belgium has recognised Kosovo

– And finally the idea of partition: diplomatically this could become a solution in a few years. The deal could be: Serbia takes control over the north of Kosovo, in return it recognises Kosovo as a state (which also means Russia drops the veto in the UN). At the same time the EU could offer Serbia some sort of fast track EU membership (again).

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