The European Union’s problem is substance, not narrative (openDemocracy)

The hard fact that ‘pro-Europeans’ have to grasp is that for many people the EU is not at all that great. Quite the contrary, the EU imposes tough economic rules, yet gives little palpable in return.

The argument that Euroskepticism could be overcome by better ‘framing’PR techniques or a ‘new narrative’ appeals to many ‘pro-Europeans’. Its logic is simple: the EU does good things, but they are complex by nature and thus difficult to understand. Therefore, the solution surely lies in simplifying the language, engaging the skeptics on Twitter and carrying the day. Sadly, this belief reflects the pro-European elite’s failure to grasp the deeper reality of what shapes people’s perceptions and what the EU today does.

In fact, the EU’s problem is not the absence of a catchy narrative, but the presence of a rather unpopular substance. The lack of a positive narrative is only the most visible sign of the EU’s growing institutional and ideological tensions and this is what the pro-Europeans should really be worrying about, rather than decrying the lack of spin.

(The article was published on openDemocracy on April 24, 2014 and is available in full here)

Marko Bucik is board member of WES and works as a consultant for the World Bank, in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to the Slovenian daily Večer, writing on the European Union, US politics and global affairs.

The Challenges of Nation-Building in the Syrian Arab Republic (POMEPS Briefing #22)

Syria’s ongoing existential conflict is arguably related to its nation-building trajectory starting in the beginning of the twentieth century. What can theories of nation-building and state formation tell us about the origins of conflict as well as future of the Syrian state? In The Politics of Nation-Building,[1] I identify the conditions under which the ruling political elites of a state target ethnic groups with assimilationist policies instead of granting them minority rights or excluding them from the state. I develop a theory that focuses on geostrategic considerations arguing that a state’s nation-building policies toward non-core groups — any aggregation of individuals perceived as an unassimilated ethnic group by the ruling elite of a state — are influenced by both its foreign policy goals and its relations with the external patrons of these groups. I posit that external involvement, whether clandestine, covert, or overt, drives not only the mobilization and politicization of the non-core group’ s identity, but also the host state’ s perception of the non-core group and the state’ s nation-building policies toward the group.

Through a detailed study of the interwar Balkans, I conclude that the way a nation-state treats a non-core group within its own borders is determined largely by whether the state’s foreign policy is revisionist or cleaves to the international status quo, and whether it is allied or in rivalry with that group’s external patrons. However, as I admit in the book, my argument does not travel to all states at all times. In particular, it should apply to countries that 1) are driven from a homogenizing imperative, 2) have non-assimilated segments of the population and no caste system in place, 3) have the capacity to directly rule the population, and 4) have a ruling political elite representing a core group with a clear “national type”. In what follows, I explore how my work illuminates some of the challenges of nation-building in the Syrian case.

Arguably, the Syrian government has not been motivated by a homogenizing imperative. This begs the question, why some places in the world are run by core groups consisting of apparent minimum winning coalitions,[2]while others by elites that go at great lengths to establish national states. [3] Why do some countries have leaders that try to make the national and the political unit overlap and others that opt to rule with a minimum winning coalition? One argument suggests that the degree of diversity prevents the nation-building path in some cases. Other arguments focus on the pattern of spread of nationalist ideology and/or the prevalence of competing ideologies such as communism, or colonial legacies. Yet others put forth the importance of war-making and imitation of successful military tactics as a mechanism that accounts for the spread of nationalism and the nation-state system.[4]

In The Politics of Nation-Building I build on some of these explanations and suggest that the main reason that leaders adopt the “nation-building option” is the reality, or anticipation, of other powers manipulating non-core groups in their state to undermine their stability or annex parts of their territory. This process is particularly conspicuous in situations where the ruling elites perceive their borders to be challenged. While this process worked in Tilly’s account of Europe [5] and fits the pattern I narrate in the interwar Balkans, it does not seem to fit so much the story in Syria. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and after a brief interlude of direct rule by Ibrahim in the mid-19th century, the territories of contemporary Syria were divided up by decree through a series of treaties. Syria was under the French Mandate since 1920 and after a tumultuous history gained independence in 1946. As it is often the case, colonial powers had to rely on local elites coming from specific groups for political and economic control. Syria was no exception and the role of the Alawis and Christian minorities was vital for the French from the beginning of their Mandate. As Wendt and Barnett put it,

“Lacking political legitimacy, the colonial state’s power was always underwritten by the actual or threatened use of force. Significant military resources were typically not available from the centre, however, and since mass mobilization was not viable for an army of occupation, colonial states tended to militarize coopted groups or ethnic minorities. A similar process occurred in colonial bureaucracies, which were staffed by persons with a vested interest in upholding the authority of an alien state. The character of colonial military and bureaucratic development, in other words, was shaped by the security needs of foreign actors and their domestic clients rather than of the mass population.”[6]

As a result of this legacy, as well as the geopolitical situation in the region, this system of choosing a loyal local ethnic group and ruling the rest of the population through it–that has its roots to the French colonial period–was perpetuated. The various military coups following independence until Hafez al-Assad consolidated his rule on the country in 1970 solidified this outcome. The legitimating principle of the Assad regime has not been state-level nationalism. In fact, repression and a carefully constructed network of informants were the basis for legitimacy in Syria for the past four decades—if not longer. To complement this apparatus Lisa Wedeen revealed a cult that the Assad regime—father and son—designed which operated as a disciplinary device. [7] For decades citizens acted as if they revered their leader. “The cult works to enforce obedience, induce complicity, isolate Syrians from one another, and set guidelines for public speech and behavior” as Wedeen put it in 1999.[8]

Another set of conditions for my argument to be applicable is that part of the population has not yet been successfully assimilated and there is no “caste structure” in place since in caste systems assimilation is by definition impossible.[9] Syria is definitely a heterogenous society, but the heterogeneity is more pronounced depending on which cleavage dimension is salient at each historical moment. In terms of ethnicity, about 90% of the population was Arab before the civil war—including about 500,000 Palestinians and up to 1.3 million Iraqi refugees—while there were about 9% Kurds and smaller groups of Armenians, Circassians, and Turkomans. In terms of religion, based on 2005 estimates 74% of the population were Sunni Muslims, Alawis were about 12%, Druze 3%, while there are also some small numbers of other Muslim sects, Christians 10%, about 200 Jews, and Yazidis.[10] Finally, in terms of mother tongue we find the vast majority speaking Arabic, and then Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian being used by the respective non-core groups. Moreover, although this was not a caste system the mode of rule was definitely blocking social mobility and especially political clout for non-Alawis and their close allies and informants. The rule of the Alawi controlled Baath party coupled with the state of emergency that had been in force since 1963 had decisively alienated the Arab Sunni majority. But following the Arab Spring and coupled with past violence, inequalities, and repression that many reportedly felt in Syria, resistance against the regime grew and by now it has turned into a multiparty civil war. The opposition is fragmented but defections from the Assad side have also been plentiful. The lack of any national cohesion is apparent.

Nation-building cannot be pursued by a failed state that cannot directly rule its population. Assad’s regime clearly did not suffer from this problem. Syria was far from a failed state. In fact, it is a state with high literacy rates– 88% for males and 74%for females. But even if Syrian ruling elites faced the pressures I described above and had the capacity to do so, they would have had a hard time to nation-build. For nation-building to occur, the ruling political elites of the state must represent a core group that is well defined and has a clear criterion of inclusion—a “ national type” in what Eric Hobsbawm called the age of nationalism. In Syria, the closest thing we can find to a constitutive story in Assad’s Syria has to do with a Pan-Arab identity. Particularly, a version of baathist ideology that combines a supranational form of nationalism that calls for the unity of Arabs with anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism and secular socialism.[11] Arab nationalism, a form of unification nationalism,[12] was vital in the struggle for independence—a by-product of British machinations against the Ottoman Empire—as well as the decolonization movement against the French. Thus, the state-level type of nationalism that dominated Europe, did not manage to emerge in much of the Arab Middle East, since such a unification was opposed by multiple great and regional powers. The short experiment of the United Arab Republic that brought Egypt and Syria together in a union between 1958 and 1961 was stillborn but characteristic of the supranational character of the constitutive story that motivated Syrian leadership.  Given this configuration, it is really hard to identify a Syrian constitutive story and this is reflected in the school curriculum that primarily emphasizes anti-Zionist ideas, Pan-Arab ideas, and ironically, Sunni Islam.[13] Thus, while linguistically and ethnically there could be an overwhelming majority constructed–that of Arabs and Arabic–if one had to decide what constitutes the core group in Assad’s Syria, they would most likely suggest that it is the Alawis – together with other minorities – in the exclusion of the Sunni Arab majority.

Despite the well-known arguments that territory is becoming increasingly less important in our globalized world, myriad of territorial disputes, dozens of border changes and the long list of “nations without a state,” or “stateless nations,” point to a more sobering picture. For the past couple of years, several external state and non-state actors are aligning themselves with internal factions or non-core groups in Syria. However, the most powerful regional states Turkey, Iran, and Israel – all non-Arab– are unable to dominate Syria through these local alliances. The USA can be an arbiter of the conflict by intervening with Sunni, which would please Turkey and the Gulf states along with Sunni populations in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt—each for different reasons.  Alternatively, if Iran prevails, Alawis in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia minorities in the Gulf States, and the Shia majority of Iraq would rejoice. But a more cynical point of view, one perhaps best summarized by Ed Luttwak,[14] suggests that the USA—and even Israel —should allow this war to go on since it is in their strategic benefit for the factions to fight each other thus preventing the emergence of a strong and unified Arab state, or a victorious Iran.  A note of caution flows from my work in the Balkans. Shifting alliances in the context of the current multiparty civil war with ample external backing, coupled with the rapid changes in control over territory already have lead and will continue to lead to repeated instances of violent exclusionary policies, since non-core groups that are perceived as enemy-backed, or collaborating with the enemy, are going to be targeted by the respective sides of the conflict.

This article first appeared in: The Political Science of Syria’s War, POMEPS Briefing #22, December 18, 2013. 

[1] Mylonas, Harris. 2012. The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Riker, William H. 1962. The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale University Press; Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, James D. Morrow, Randolph M. Siverson and Alastair Smith. 2002. “Political Institutions, Policy Choice and the Survival of Leaders,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct.,), pp. 559-590; Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce; Alastair Smith; Randolph M. Siverson and James D. Morrow. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival.  MIT Press.

[3] Weber, Eugen. 1976. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press; Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; Smith, Anthony. 1986. “State-Making and Nation-Building,” in John Hall (ed.), States in History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 228–263;  Smith, Rogers. 2003. Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Memberships. Cambridge University Press; Darden, Keith and Anna Maria Grzymała-Busse. 2006. “The Great Divide: Literacy, Nationalism, and the Communist Collapse,” World Politics – Volume 59, Number 1: 83-115.

[4] Connor, Walker.  1984. The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University PressPosen, Barry. 1993. “Nationalism, the Mass Army and Military Power,” International Security, 18, 2: 80-124; Wimmer, Andreas. 2013. Waves of War: Nationalism, State Formation and Ethnic Exclusion in the Modern World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

[5] Tilly, Charles (ed.). 1975. The Formation of National States in Western Europe.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press; Tilly, Charles. 1990. Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1990. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell. Tilly, Charles and Wim P. Blockmans (eds.). 1994. Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, AD 1000 to 1800. Boulder: Westview Press.

[6] Wendt, Alexander and Michael Barnett. 1993. “Dependent State Formation and Third World Militarization”,Review of International Studies 19: 321-47, p. 331.

[7] Whitman, Elizabeth. “Stalemate in Syria,” The Nation, April 23, 2012.

[8] Wedeen, Lisa. 1999. Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[9] They involve an “ideology of inferiority for the subordinate groups” and thus an almost fixed ethnic structure that is perceived as natural. For more on hierarchical systems, see Horowitz, Donald. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. University of California Press, pp. 21–32.

[11] It is characteristic that both in 1982 when the regime violently crushed the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in Hama and in mid-March 2011 following the brutal response of the regime to the protests in Daraa, the conflict was attributed to Zionists and Americans intervening in Syrian internal affairs using fifth columns as agents of Western imperialism. See Wedeen 1999 and Seale, Patrick. “The Syrian Time Bomb Forget Libya”, Foreign Policy, March 28, 2011.

[12] Hechter, Michael. 2000. Containing Nationalism. Oxford University Press.

[13] Landis, Joshua M.  2003. “Islamic Education in Syria: Undoing Secularism,” presented at the conference onConstructs of Inclusion and Exclusion: Religion and Identity Formation in Middle Eastern School Curricula, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University.

[14] Luttwak, Edward. “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins,” The New York Times, August 24, 2013.

For Transatlantic Trade, This Time Is Different (Foreign Affairs)

In the past, U.S. and European negotiators have tried and failed to create a unified transatlantic market. But the trade talks that President Obama announced this month have a much better chance of succeeding, thanks to a greater need for economic growth on both sides, the threat of China’s illiberal economic behavior, and the desire to give U.S.-European relations a new purpose.

TYSON BARKER is the director of transatlantic relations at the Bertelsmann Foundation.

The Promethean Dilemma in Third-Party Nation-Building (The Monkey Cage)

By Keith Darden and Harris Mylonas

[First published on The Monkey Cage]

The killing of the US Ambassador last week in Benghazi and the recent wave of attacks on NATOpersonnel by uniformed Afghan police and military highlight the perils of international efforts to build states and societies on foreign soil. Why is it that the people we arm and assist keep on turning those weapons against us?

The New York Times, CBSnews, Washington Postall reported on Sept 17, 2012 that the number of NATO personnel killed in Afghanistan by uniformed Afghan military and police is already at 51 this year, up from a total of 35 for all of last year.  Approximately one in six of the NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year were killed by our local allies and trainees. And this only counts those who killed while in uniform. The attrition and desertion rate from the Afghan National Army and police forces is exceptionally high and many have joined the ranks of the Taliban.  If we consider the number of allied personnel killed by soldiers and police who have been armed and trained by coalition forces, the number is certainly much higher.

The US has wisely put the training of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) on hold for a month until it can improve procedures for vetting its recruits, but the problem runs much deeper.

In a symposium published recently in Ethnopolitics we debated the merits of international state-building efforts.  Our main lesson: There is more to state-building than simply expanding the ranks of the army and police.  Expanding the army and police may be state-building, but it might just as easily be insurgency-building if it is not preceded by systematic efforts to build loyalty and to carefully select recruits. If you are unsure of the loyalties of the recruits who you are training, it’s best not to train them at all.

Here is the link to our piece, which was followed by some responses (Erin JenneFotini Christia,Gordon BardosDavid Siroky & Yoav Gortzak) and our reply to their thoughtful comments.

September Is the Cruelest Month (Foreign Policy)

September Is the Cruelest Month

Welcome back from summer holiday, Europeans! Get ready for 30 days that will determine the fate of your continent.

By Tyson Barker,1

When German travelers return from their hallowed August vacations this week, they will find that the euro is gone — at least as far as Frankfurt airport is concerned. Without much fanfare, the massive euro sculpture, a fixture at Germany’s largest airport since 2001, was unceremoniously dispatched in the dead of night to make room for an inter-terminal railway. The sculpture’s unloved twin, which is famously perched in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) in the heart of Frankfurt, has become the symbol of the eurozone crisis (and a favorite of wire service photographers) and may suffer a similar fate. When the bank moves to the east end of the city in 2014, some urban planners are lustily planning the sculpture’s removal from public view. Symbols are inexorably tethered to politics, and this one is a doozy.

But in the coming month, anxiety-ridden policymakers struggling to maintain the euro will face a series of threats that are anything but symbolic. September will witness a political big bang that ushers in another existential crisis, and failure on any single issue could wreck the European currency. Over the next month, four potential crisis points constitute a political cliff for Europe that will be key to determining if the eurozone has a future.

First, on Sept. 12, Germany’s constitutional court is set to rule on the constitutionality of participating in the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), an institution that was envisioned as the permanent facility for pooled sovereign lending to debt-strapped European countries. The ESM, which passed the Bundestag comfortably (493 votes to 106) in June, would have autonomous control over German public funds — and therein lies the legal problem. The German constitutional court sees itself as the guardian of a certain idea of Germany — small, stability-minded, and inwardly oriented — and court watchers expect a “yes, but…” ruling that stipulates that the red lines of German democracy have been reached. Any further moves to integrate crisis management at the eurozone level — and there will inevitably be more — will necessitate a referendum, the first in Germany’s post-war history. Already the debate around a possible constitution-altering plebiscite is driving the political narrative.

The second crisis point is the upcoming assessment of Greece’s progress in fulfilling the terms of its loan conditions by the troika of the ECB, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), expected in late September or early October. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is already trundling between Berlin and Paris in an attempt to prepare eurozone leaders for a disappointing report. Athens’ hope for extending its repayment schedule has sparked heated debate in Germany, where exasperated rhetoric on the political right about the inability of Greece to meet its commitments has become more vociferous. Grandstanding in the Bundestag in the wake of the troika report is likely, especially from the arch-conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the business-minded Free Democratic Party (FDP). Germany’s paper of record, Der Spiegel,called in May for Greek’s exit from the euro, citing its unwillingness to undertake structural and labor-market reforms.

For ultra-cautious German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the unintended, potentially devastating second and third order consequences of the “Grexit” are anathema. She is a politician who prizes the maintenance of the status quo above all else and fears the unpredictable effects on Spain, Italy, and France, among other countries. A Grexit would eliminate all credibility that the eurozone has left as an insoluble currency union. This could lead to massive speculation and capital flight on an unprecedented scale from countries seen as next in line to go. While German banks have limited but important exposure to Greek debt, they have much more exposure to other countries of the eurozone’s south and a need for these markets as consumers for German exports. The effects would tear through the German economy. It is this worry, not a vague sense of European solidarity, that drives the chancellor to hold firm on Greek membership in the eurozone amid the siren calls from her backbench to kick Greece out.

Which brings us to the third element in the eurozone crisis saga — the Dutch elections, also scheduled for Sept. 12. The Netherlands is one of the small economic powerhouses that has aligned itself with Germany — tough-minded but traditionally somewhat pro-European. This summer, prominent Dutch politician Bas Eickhout excoriated a group of American commentators for focusing on Germany when lamenting the eurozone’s future, when they should focus more on the Dutch and the Finns. His criticism is justified — both countries are seen as losing their resolve to contribute to the financial lifelines for more bailouts beyond current commitments and the Dutch elections are expected to serve as a release valve for voters’ frustration with regarding the eurozone crisis management.

The Netherlands and Finland have not enjoyed the same economic boomlet that Germany had experienced until recently. The Dutch economy shrunk by almost 1.5 percent in the first half of 2012, and Moody’s added a negative outlook to the country’s prized AAA rating due to the weakening economy. This economic stagnation has bolstered the country’s political fringe: The far-left Socialist Party (SP), which is currently leading in the polls, says it would flout EU budgetary rules, call for a referendum on the recently signed EU Fiscal Pact, oppose rescue packages for Greece, and roll back the “Berlin Consensus” economic policy built on hard money, tight fiscal controls, and structural reform. Euroskeptic Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) will also play a pivotal role in the election’s outcome: The famously anti-Muslim politician was in an informal alliance with the center-right until recently and brought down the countries’ last government over opposition to EU imposed austerity requirements. His party is also expected to get a substantialshare of the national vote.

The Netherlands’ atomized politics reflects a wider ungovernability sweeping Europe. Here, as in Finland, the Euroskeptic fringe is squeezing out the pro-European center. The Dutch elections could add a new actor to the already unwieldy pantheon of potential spoiler governments.

Amidst all this chaos, the fourth and final crisis may be sparked by attempts to draw EU countries closer together. On September 11, the European Commission is expected to present a blueprint a for banking union — a logical extension of EU’s single market. Such a union should create depositor guarantees across the eurozone, guarantee muscular pre-emptive supervision across borders, and establish re-capitalization and wind-down plans for troubled banks that ensure consistency in case of a systemically important bank failure. It would also sever the link between banking and sovereign debt woes. In short, such a scheme is intended to free Europeans from a vicious cycle in which a collapse of a major national bank in a country such as Spain will inevitability lead to the total collapse of Spain’s public finances.

These would be necessary and straightforward reforms in a political vacuum. But the EU is anything but a politics-free zone. A banking union will work only if European member states are willing to cover depositors in neighboring states and provide European institutions with tools, such as taxation, that allow reserves to be accumulated in order to shore up weak banks. Since negotiations on such a union will be awash in parochial politics, Euro-watchers should expect decisions that will limit ability of the EU to override national authorities in countries such as Spain and France. Talks are also probable on a limited role for any fiscal pooling that could create a eurozone-wide deposit insurance designed to mitigate the risk of exit from the currency union.

These are just the latest sagas in the ongoing eurozone crisis. In the absence of strong institutions, clearly defined decision-making processes, and a pan-European political culture, the EU has created a snowballing political and economic crisis. The odd reality is that the world economy is now held hostage by such minor political dramas as votes in the Slovak parliament, bilateral collateral negotiations between Finland and Greece, and the ominous statements by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. This is the height of indulgence, and a reflection of a saturated political environment that is drowning Europe. All of this is having a corrosive effects on European society — which, if policymakers aren’t careful, may turn out to be the euro’s ultimate legacy.

Tyson Barker is the director of the transatlantic relations program at the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Romney’s Trans-Atlantic Policy Needs a Reboot (Spiegel Online)

Romney’s Trans-Atlantic Policy Needs a Reboot

A Commentary By Annette Heuser and Tyson Barker

Likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will visit the United Kingdom and Poland at a time when the GOP’s policy toward Europe seems to be trapped in the days of the Cold War. It will be a chance for him to update his outdated views.

Mitt Romney’s first foreign tour as the Republican Party’s likely presidential candidate includes visits to two European states. While designed to send a message to potential voters at home, particularly blue-collar Reagan Democrats in the Midwest, the trip will be about photo opportunities. Romney’s visit to London is meant to echo his own successful management of the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City and play into a campaign narrative built on executive experience and sober business acumen.

His visit to Gdansk and Warsaw will highlight the triangle that broke the back of communism: the Polish people’s courage, their Catholic faith and Western resolve. Not coincidentally, Polish-American immigrants dot the landscape in important battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Romney’s visit will inevitably draw parallels to that of candidate Barack Obama, who on a visit to Germany in July 2008, resolutely declared on the steps of Berlin’s Victory Column that he is a “citizen of the world.” Now the Republican candidate has an opportunity to articulate his vision for US relations with Europe, which has so far remained underdeveloped and reliant on dated platitudes.

Cold-War Rhetoric

At the moment, Romney’s European policy hints at a worldview more reminiscent of 1982 than 2012. In a March interview, Romney described Russia as the US’s “number-one geopolitical foe.” More recently, one of his top defense surrogates warned of the creeping Soviet threat in the Arctic. Another stated that the Obama administration’s decision to opt for a phased adaptive approach to missile defense was abandoning “Czechoslovakia.”

Individually these unfortunate statements are meaningless, but taken together they represent a worldview that is tinged with Cold War-era tropes. The Romney camp seems to overlook that Russia’s accordance of access to the International Security Assistance Force’s northern distribution network has been essential to the continuation of the mission in Afghanistan. His campaign also fails to remember that recent arms reductions in the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty make the US military more effective and the world safer, and that Russia’s entry this month into the World Trade Organization forces Moscow to accept higher standards for the rule of law.

That is not to say that US-Russia relations are unproblematic. Russia’s obstinacy in the face of the Syrian civil war runs counter to the humanitarian responsibility incumbent upon the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members. The Kremlin’s new, restrictive laws on non-governmental organizations and internet freedom also call into question even the most basic commitment to civil society. And the country’s endemic corruption is worrisome. Indeed, Russia’s relationships with the US and Europe are complex and wrought with difficulty. They cannot be boiled down into simplistic, anachronistic sound bites.

Lack of Vision

In Poland, Romney is expected to criticize the Obama administration’s reset policy with Russia. In fact, US and Polish approaches to Moscow have hewed closely together. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has stated that his country started its own reset with Russia in 2007 and paved the way for the US to follow a similar path. Even in conservative Poland, Obama’s approval rating stands at 50 percent, up from George W. Bush’s 41 percent during his last year in office, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey.

Apart from criticizing Obama’s Russia policy, the most remarkable feature of Romney’s vision is his lack of approach. His 48-page document outlining his foreign-policy strategy does not once mention the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union. That will certainly be a source of concern for his European hosts, two of the largest members of both organizations and countries with two of the largest troop contingents to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The one bright spot in Romney’s trans-Atlantic vision has been his public call for a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, a major positive agenda item that is sure to find support from Europe’s most important leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But Romney has yet to address what role his administration would play in tackling the euro-zone crisis, now the most serious foreign-policy challenge for the US. Instead, Romney campaign rhetoric has used Europe as a foil in domestic-policy debates over debt and public spending: “We are increasingly becoming like Europe,” he has said. “Europe is not working in Europe. It will never work here.” He has stated that he would not allow America’s national balance sheet to be exposed to the euro-zone crisis, but the US is already exposed indirectly through trade, banking ties and returns on foreign direct investment. Romney will inevitably have to articulate a policy that recognizes America’s continued role as a European power.

Once upon a time, the Republican foreign policy brain trust was replete with some of the greatest minds on US relations with Europe. It was the creative tension in America’s center-right foreign-policy establishment from realists such as Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, to strident Cold Warriors such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, to brash pragmatists such as James Baker that drove successful American foreign policy in the latter half of the Cold War, eventually leading to an unequivocal geopolitical triumph for the West. Today, however, the Republican candidate’s relations with Europe have been relegated to vague pronouncements. Romney’s trip to Europe gives him a chance to change that.

Annette Heuser is executive director, and Tyson Barker is director of trans-Atlantic relations at the Washington, DC-based Bertelsmann Foundation.

Integrating the EU Defence Market: An Easy Way to Soften the Impact of Military Spending Cuts? (Brookings)

Opinion | July 12, 2012

Integrating the EU Defence Market: An Easy Way to Soften the Impact of Military Spending Cuts?

By Clara M. O’Donnell

As many European countries introduce their biggest defence budget cuts in years, they have been exploring ways to limit the impact on their armed forces. There has been much talk within the EU and NATO of increasing ‘pooling and sharing’ of European military capabilities. But many governments are struggling to commit to specific initiatives. They are worried that if they share military assets with their allies, they might disagree about when to use them – as happened during NATO’s deployment to Libya when NATO allies were at odds over taking military action. They fear that their national defence companies will be deprived of vital contracts. They also find it politically difficult to sign up to costly multinational procurement programmes at a time when they are cutting back on personnel.

Another way European governments can limit the damage of military spending cuts is through exploiting two new directives designed to integrate the EU defence market. One directive aims to increase the amount of competition in defence procurement across the EU. The other strives to facilitate the export of defence equipment amongst EU countries. Not only do the directives create the potential for significant savings, but also their use will not be as affected by the obstacles hampering ‘pooling and sharing’ efforts.

EU member states agreed to the two directives in 2008-2009, after acknowledging that the way they regulated their defence markets was highly inefficient – hurting their armed forces, tax payers and defence industries alike. Governments often bought military equipment without resorting to competition. At times, this was necessary to uphold national security. But often states were merely protecting their favourite national suppliers. Since 2005, there had been some improvements in buying habits as EU governments committed to open a substantial amount of their defence procurement to European competition through a voluntary code of conduct within the European Defence Agency. But some states continued to use ‘national security’ as a cloak for protectionism. EU member states also imposed unnecessarily strict export controls on their defence equipment. Defence companies frequently had to ask governments for individual authorisation when they moved a component between plants based in different EU countries. When the armed forces of an EU country bought military equipment from a neighbour, they often had to ask for authorisations to buy anodyne spare parts.

As a result of the directives, since August 2011, EU governments must allow defence companies from across the EU to bid when they procure military equipment, unless there are legitimate security concerns. (In contrast to the Code of Conduct on Defence Procurement, the directive is legally binding.) Since June 2012, EU member states also have to offer ‘general’ and ‘global’ licences. Broadly speaking, military goods which benefit from a general licence can move within EU borders without exporters having to ask for specific licences to do so. Global licences are granted to defence companies and allow them to transfer several goods to various recipients.

But the impact of the directives will depend on the extent to which governments use the new tools at their disposal. The new rules do not define which military equipment is so sensitive that it should remain excluded from EU competition. Some governments could continue to use the exemption widely. Even when states use the new procurement procedures, they could manipulate the criteria within their contracts to favour national suppliers. (Something several have done when using the Code of Conduct.) Governments also get to choose which military goods are safe for general and global licences. If they only provide streamlined licences to a limited amount of equipment, the impact of the new system could be modest.

So far there have been both positive and negative signs about the extent to which EU governments might choose to exploit the new rules. A number of countries have taken advantage of the directives to completely eliminate the need for export authorisations for some military equipment when it is being sent to the armed forces of another EU country, or if it is for the purpose of repairs. At the same time, some countries are being more cautious than others regarding the goods which benefit from general licences. For example, while one EU country now grants general licences to all armoured and protective equipment when sent to the armed forces of a fellow EU state, another only provides general licences to helmets and body armour. A small group of states have not even finished introducing the directive on export controls into their national legislation – even though the deadline was June 2011. Even more disconcertingly, a larger number of EU countries are nearly a year late in transposing the rules on procurement.

Over the next few years, EU member states should not only fully embrace the current provisions of the two directives, they should seek to facilitate EU trade further by establishing a common list of military equipment which would benefit from general licences across the EU. They should also collaborate with the US to ensure that military goods with American components do not undermine the benefits of streamlined internal EU export controls. If some governments continue delaying the transposition of either directive, the European Commission should take them to the European Court of Justice. (Commendably, the European Commission has already begun infringement proceedings against the current laggards.) The Commission should also be ready to call to order EU governments which might try to protect their national defence industry even after adopting the new rules. Although hopefully it will be not be necessary, a few rulings by the European Court of Justice against recalcitrant defence ministries would send a clear signal that from now on governments will be called upon to justify their procurement choices.

A more efficient EU defence market might unfortunately lead to some job losses as less efficient European defence companies lose out on contracts. But it may at least increase jobs in the better European firms and help ensure that Europe’s defence industry remains globally competitive. Streamlined export controls will also require some trust amongst European governments to ensure that military equipment is not re-exported to undesirable third parties. But the level of trust required for a government to send a spare part for an armoured vehicle to a fellow EU member state without an individual authorisation will be significantly lower than the trust required to pool aircraft carriers. In addition, integrating the EU defence market will not need any large investments upfront of the sort required when governments agree to large multinational procurement programmes. At a time when many EU member states are cutting back their defence expenditure by 10 per cent, and some have reduced it by over 20 per cent, governments must exploit all the possible cost-saving measures at their disposal – and those measures which are comparatively easier to introduce, even more so.

Are Europeans a Better Transatlantic Security Partner than Meets the Eye? (Brookings)

Are Europeans a Better Transatlantic Security Partner than Meets the Eye?

By Clara M. O’Donnell and Patryk Pawlak

The latest wave of European military spending cuts is swelling the ranks of Americans who believe that Europeans are not contributing enough to global security. But this assessment is too harsh. It is true that Europeans spend less on defence than their American counterparts. They have also been less willing to use force in recent years. But the US itself is reassessing the merit of its military interventions over the last decade. And when one takes into account policies that are not strictly military, such as aid, sanctions and homeland security, Europeans are making some significant contributions to international stability.

A number of European countries are undoubtedly falling short of their NATO and EU promises to develop a global military reach. Many governments have been slow to transform their militaries from immobile forces designed to counter a Soviet invasion into rapidly deployable combat troops. Even prior to the economic crisis, most European NATO allies had stopped spending the alliance’s agreed benchmark of 2 per cent of GDP on defence. And Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, the influential French blogger, estimates that the economic downturn will lead to a 30 per cent drop in total military spending by EU member-states between 2006 and 2014. As a result, even if America cuts its own defence budget by $1 trillion over the next decade – as Congress is currently considering – the US military will still receive more than twice as much as the armed forces of all EU countries combined.

Since the end of the Cold War, a number of European countries have also been reluctant to deploy troops, particularly for heavy combat operations. Many governments have refused to send their soldiers to the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. More than half of the European countries in NATO did not participate in the deployment to Libya. And many EU military and civilian missions have been too small to make a significant impact. Washington critics are particularly dismissive of the 60 EU officials advising Iraqis on how to improve their criminal justice system and the approximately 500 EU police trainers in Afghanistan.

Europe’s recent military track record derives from the fact that most Europeans have not felt threatened. Many also do not believe that war should be used to obtain ‘justice’. In a recent GMF survey of the US and 12 EU countries, only 33 per cent of Europeans believed that war is sometimes necessary to obtain justice – in contrast to 75 per cent of Americans. In addition, Europeans have been particularly doubtful of the merit of Washington’s use of force over the past decade, be it Afghanistan or Iraq.

In light of this mindset, Europeans have actually been quite active on the military front. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2011, Britain, France and Germany were still amongst the ten largest military spenders in the world (ranking third, fourth and eighth). The combined defence expenditure of European NATO members is still more than twice what China spends – even though Europeans do not reap the full benefits of it because they duplicate many of their military efforts.

For several years, European troops made up more than half of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. And on a per capita basis, Denmark and Estonia have suffered more casualties there than the US. Europeans undertook 90 per cent of the strike missions in Libya. In addition, many of the EU’s missions, even if modest, are still helping to stabilise countries across the world. In the Gulf of Aden, an EU naval force protects vulnerable boats from pirates, including the World Food Programme vessels which deliver food to Somali people. In the months to come, the EU will deploy civilians to help the government in Niger reform its security sector (a country where, according to European governments, Islamist militants threaten international security). EU experts will also soon help improve the security at the international airport in Juba, the capital of newly independent South Sudan.

In any case, American policy-makers are themselves reconsidering the merits of how the US has used force over the last decade. The Obama administration has been extricating US armed forces from Iraq and Afghanistan – even though in both countries, the US has not achieved the level of stability which it had initially aspired to. The government’s new defence guidance stresses that the US does not intend to deploy similar missions in future. It also argues that America cannot meet its security challenges through military force alone and that it must strengthen all the ‘tools’ of American power, including diplomacy, development, intelligence and homeland security.

These are areas in which Europeans are significant players. Combined, the EU institutions and member-states are the largest aid donor in the world. According to the OECD, they spent €69 billion in 2011 – notwithstanding the fact that some European countries reduced their budgets because of the economic crisis. This is more than twice the amount the US gave. Between 2002 and 2013, the EU institutions and member-states will notably have provided €11 billion in aid to Afghanistan. And in response to the Arab Spring, the EU institutions alone have offered nearly €7 billion over three years.

Europeans also invest significant resources in homeland security, even if budgets risk declining somewhat over the next few years because of the economic turmoil. Based on the latest OECD figures, the 21 EU member-states which belong to the organisation spent nearly €240 billion on ‘public order and safety’ in 2010 – nearly 90 per cent of what the US spent. This covers police forces, intelligence services, the judiciary and ministries of internal affairs. The US is a beneficiary of this spending too – in addition to supporting Europe’s internal stability, these bodies tackle the international terrorism and organised crime that afflict Europeans and their allies alike.

European countries are also increasing the EU’s involvement in security matters – including through the EU’s bilateral ties with third countries. One EU agency, Frontex, monitors the Union’s southern and eastern border, while another, Europol, tackles organised crime. EU funds for homeland security, although still modest, are increasing despite the economic crisis. From 2014 to 2020, the EU is expected to spend nearly €10 billion in this field. The money will notably fund research into intelligent maritime surveillance systems and help partner countries across the world fight criminal networks and monitor their borders more effectively.

European governments also leverage the EU’s large common market to pursue their foreign policy objectives. They offer preferential trade ties to support the economic development of numerous fragile countries across the world, and to encourage them to improve their governance. Pakistan is one of the states which qualify for some of the EU’s most generous trade concessions. EU countries also impose heavy sanctions on countries which they believe are undermining international security. Among other things, the EU recently introduced an oil embargo against Iran – even though the measure is inflicting significant economic hardship on Greece and other EU states which were already struggling with the financial crisis. And through the offer of EU and NATO membership, Europeans (and the US) have managed to spread stability across the European continent.

The fact that Europeans wield such extensive foreign policy ‘tools’ does not mean they always use them wisely. Nor should it allow Europeans to neglect their armed forces. Governments must ensure that their peacekeeping efforts are not hampered by inadequate military equipment, and that they retain the capacity to respond to a serious military threat if one were to emerge. But America is less alone in upholding global security than some in Washington would suggest.

The Implications of Military Spending Cuts for NATO’s Largest Members (Brookings)

The Implications of Military Spending Cuts for NATO’s Largest Members



  • Andrew Dorman

    Professor of International Security, King’s College London, and Associate Fellow, Chatham House


  • Bastian Giegerich

    Senior Researcher, Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences, and Consulting Senior Fellow for European Security, International Institute for Strategic Studies


  • Camille Grand

    Director, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique


  • Adam Grissom

    Senior Political Scientist, RAND


  • Christian Mölling

    Research Associate, International Security Division, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik


  • Nonresident Fellow

    Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe


There have long been debates about the sustainability of the transatlantic alliance and accusations amongst allies of unequal contributions to burden-sharing. But since countries on both sides of the Atlantic have begun introducing new – and often major – military spending cuts in response to the economic crisis, concerns about the future of transatlantic defense cooperation have become more pronounced.

A growing number of senior officials are now publicly questioning the future of NATO. In June 2011, in the midst of NATO’s operation in Libya, Robert Gates, then US Defense Secretary, stated that Europe faced the prospect of “collective military irrelevance” and that unless the continent stemmed the deterioration of its armed forces, NATO faced a “dim, if not dismal future”. Ivo Daalder, the US Permanent Representative to NATO, and James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, have argued that “if defense spending continues to decline, NATO may not be able to replicate its success in Libya in another decade”. The alliance’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has warned that “if European defense spending cuts continue, Europe’s ability to be a stabilizing force even in its neighborhood will rapidly disappear”. While Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide has claimed that “exercises have shown that NATO’s ability to conduct conventional military operations has markedly declined. […] Not only is NATO’s ability to defend its member states questionable, it might actually deteriorate further as financial pressures in Europe and the US force cuts in military spending”.

In order to explore the validity of these claims, this report outlines trends in military spending across the EU since the onset of the economic crisis. It then analyzes the fallout of the downturn for the armed forces of NATO’s largest defense spenders – France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Room for manoeuvre: The deleveraging story of Eurozone banks since 2008 (VOX)

Room for manoeuvre: The deleveraging story of Eurozone banks since 2008

Claus Puhr, Stefan W Schmitz, Ralph Spitzer, Heiko Hesse, 14 June 2012

In the following column we investigate balance-sheet growth, capitalisation, and deleveraging of European banks since the end of 2008 and show that based on existing empirical evidence banks have so far reduced their leverage (i) markedly and (ii) mainly by raising capital rather than reducing exposure to the real economy. In doing so, banks were able to address two concerns at the same time: One related to their fundamental soundness (“banks are undercapitalised”), the other related to potential harm done to the economy at large (“banks are causing a credit crunch”). This is particularly important, as history has shown that deleveraging too slowly can lead to periods of stagnant growth.