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Entries in Europe (37)


The Hegemon's Dilemma

Great bit from recent Economist story on how Germany is the only European state showing any genuine leadership (versus thinking only of itself):

In a Europe overshadowed by Brexit, Germany is thus feeling the dilemma of hegemony that America has known for seven decades: the temptation to use its power in its own interests conflicts with the duty to use that power to preserve global order. In Europe that means containing the EU’s “centrifugal forces”, as Mrs Merkel said repeatedly in the week after the referendum. 


Obama's serious movement toward a genuine foreign policy legacy

NYT front-pager yesterday on "Obama's Bid for Trade Pact with Europe Stirs Hope."

Impossible!  I know.

If trade deals are hard in good times, then they must be harder in tough times, right?  I mean, aren't we told by stern-faced national security experts about how the Great Recession is fostering trade wars and currency wars, so this move - amidst all such rising trade protectionism - is IMPOSSIBLE, correct?

Except trade deals like this get down EXACTLY during slow times.  Remember when we got NAFTA, because this one will end up being just as big or bigger.  NAFTA was Clinton's signature foreign policy achievement.  I know, I got the grand tour of his library from the director when I gave a speech there years back, and NAFTA was front and center.

If successful (and this will be), then this will be Obama's big achievement - the one history will remember.  Compared to this, the wars and the targetted assassinations will be miniscule, because they just deal with the friction caused by globalization's historic expansion, whereas this will fuel another wave.


WPR Briefing: Trans-Atlantic Ties Still Key to Renewing U.S. Global Leadership

For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.

Read the entire article at World Politics Review.


Fmr US Ambassador to Mali: Why we must save country

Nice op-ed in NYT on Tuesday.

A familiar charge:  "Islamist terrorists want a lawless stronghold in West Africa."

US, we are told, has spent $500m over past decade to keep violent Islamic extremists at bay in West Africa, but it's still too busy elsewhere to mount any serious Mali effort.  Thus the onus is on interested local powers like Algeria and interested outside powers like France.  Otherwise we get more Benghazi-style attacks.  This is a natural external cost of the Arab Spring - new garbage to be taken out.

Usual lead-from-behind pitch: US supports with logistics and intell and we need OCT (other countries' troops).

This is the reality of the Obama administration's decision to "pivot" to East Asia and disavow a troop-based approach to frontier settling in Africa.  It's tough love to say the least.

It's just so odd that we're always so intent on simultaneously containing China AND carrying its water (so to speak) elsewhere in the world, except now we're endeavoring mightily to make it somebody else's blood for Chinese resources.  It's just weird that we essentially refuse to cooperate when our strategic interests overlap JUST because of the tensions in East Asia.  Back in the day (read, Nixon & Kissinger), we had more of a linkages perspective.  But with Obama, continuing the Bush thing, it's our way or the highway; you either cooperate across the board or we oppose you across the board.

We need another Nixon to rationalize our relationship with China, because it is beyond Obama's strategic capacity.


Does Obama let the transatlantic bond fade too casually?


I have been preaching for well over a decade now that America needs to realize that it's most productive allies going forward, when it comes to security affairs, are going to be different from those upon whom it relied in the past.

It's a simple logic that fits global trends:  Europe was incentivized big-time before, it's far less so now.  America feels a different responsibility on a global scale.  China and India rise, their global interests expand, and they display more and more interest and capacity to defend those interests.

So not a hard leap:  you work with those most similarly incentivized in the era that you're in right now.  You don't hold to nostalgia.  You want allies with big (and growing) militaries), growing interests, and a clear willingness to go place and kill people to protect those interests.  Crudely put, but there it is.

We are currently in an age of transition from a familiarity and comfort-zone with Europe to one in which we are inevitably drawn into cooperation with India and China to manage this world from a security perspective.

And yet, there is a part of me that says, what matters most going forward is who gets to the shared future in the best shape.  And that means, who processes (as I've said in the brief for a while now) the widespread populist anger and pursues a sufficiently progressive agenda to clean things up and get their countries in shape for the economic competitions still to come.  By that last part, I mean, we see a global middle class rise now, and we face an era of extreme technological change as a result.  Why?  The compelling global need to disconnect standard of living from consumption - plain and simple.

For now, I like the path America is going to have to go down regarding painful reforms and improvements better than I like those of India or China (also a staple of my brief).  We've engaged in such progressive eras before and we're well suited to that task.  We simply lack the political leadership now.

And here's the rub that creates the doubt.  

If we run off too seriously in our strategic "pivot," I fear we engage in the usual escapism ("Look Ma!  I'm fixing the future!") instead of looking within and making the necessary changes happen.

Europe faces many of the same advanced challenges.  We unconsciously model ourselves on them, and they on us, far more than either cares to admit.  Read the Economist if you don't believe me.

So my concern is this:  are we missing the great opportunity for co-evolutionary dynamics if America turns too swiftly and deterministically on this pivot?

Obama is an arrogant man and an even more arrogant president.  Not as bad as Bush, but still.  

I fear this strategic "pivot" is one of the most poorly considered shifts the US has ever made.  I usually cite the foolishness of picking fights with one's banker, and there are many more, but this time I think we're losing our center of gravity some inside globalization.

I also fear we're missing a chance to reform ourselves as needed.  We'll find no answers in China and India on this score.  And - again - the sense of geo-political escapism is palpable regarding the Arab Spring, Africa's churn, our need to integrate more with LATAM.

Don't get me wrong: I don't see scarier worlds out there that need more US military operations.  I see a world of small threats, small wars and small - networked - efforts.

And then I see a president with this grand notion of boxing China in - no matter what fine words he's using - and I see a narrow vision arrogantly pursued.


The micro-corollary of sovereign land sales: wooing foreigners to unsold properties

Again just back to a pet notion of mine:  all this debt + demographic aging in the West is going to lead to some countries selling off or making available for sale things that otherwise would not be considered to outsiders they would also not otherwise tolerate.

Point came up in recent Wikistrat sim on the Arctic:  Can you imagine China buying its way onto the Arctic Council by so bankrolling/purchasing/whatever a member state (bankrupt Iceland, independence-minded Greenland, etc.) that it effectively captures its seat.  I know, it sounds impossible, but then you remember how America got its seat (Alaska).  But then you say, those were different times when bankrupt states or overstretched regimes would sell off that which they could no longer manage/exploit/defend (like Russia on Alaska).

But then I wonder:  why can't we collectively head back into that territory with all this debt and demographic aging in the West.  Is this not the elderly couple downsizing their house - just writ large?

So you look at Spain right now, and the NYT headline reads, "Spain woos foreigners to thin its investory of unsold homes."

Now, Spain has always been sort of interesting on immigration - as in, innovative.  They wooed foreign workers in the good times, and then subsidized their return home in the bad times.  So now they're being aggressively innovative in the bankrupt times.

But it gets you thinking, huh?


No-fault separatism thanks to globalization

Old argument of mine:  globalization comes in and all manner of divorces ensue.  Typically it's a fake state in the Gap that's coming apart at the artificial seams, but the larger point is, the more overarching multinationalism you have, the lower the cost of divorce/remapping.  You're going to be together anyway (you still have the "kids" of the union), but why stay together if you don't have to?

Europe demonstrates this:  the more integrated it becomes, the more states appear.

Great FT one-pager on "long-simmering separatist movements . . . gaining strength."  You might think it's the Eurozone troubles that is responsible, but that's the proximate opportunity - not the ultimate enabler.  Real federalism is coming, so why not get out of your unhappy marriage in the bargain?

Here's the counterintuitive part: it's often the most competent and richest that want out.  The better want to leave behind the worse.

So this isn't about suffering.  This is about ambition.


Global inequality: before America ruled and when America ruled

No question we're heading for a globalized "progressive era" to match what America experienced at the end/turn of the 19th/20th centuries.  Been talking that one for about five years now, and it was THE major theme of "Great Powers" back in 2009.  Now the Economist joins in.

But this historical chart is interesting.  Note the rising inequality across Europe's long colonial age (let's say 1800 to 1950) and then look at what happens when US-style globalization kicks in (1950-now):  It slows, despite the ginormous wealth creation globally, and even flattens out and peaks across the period of its truest expression (1990-now).

To be sure, the 1% are slicing off too much wealth - just like during America's Gilded Age, thus my long-standing prediction of a necessary progressive era on a global scale led by coastal megacities (like NYC led ours and re-attempts to do so today with Bloomberg). But an interesting difference between how Europe ran the world and how we've managed to do it.


Culprit #2 for U.S. coal industry: China's economic slowdown

From a WSJ front-page story.

The U.S. coal industry wants you to believe its slowdown is caused by Washington's "meddlesome regulations," but as I noted earlier, the big killer is the cheap price of U.S. natural gas, which is displacing domestic use of coal for electricity generation big-time (25% down in a recent quarter).

Culprit #2 is the Chinese economic slowdown, which is really the culprit, along with Europe's problems, for the slowdown in general global economic activity.

Pretty amazing times, when you think about it.  Remember when the U.S. economy was all you needed for a global expansion?


Reasons to be optimistic regarding the global economy's response to global warming

US experiencing warmest year on record and 13 hottest years (going back to 1880) for the planet have all occurred since 1998.

David Leonhardt (whom I like a lot and always read) writing in NYT speaks of a non-punitive vector that seems to be emerging among the big players:

Behind the scenes [of the disappearing public debate on global warming], however, a somewhat different story is starting to emerge — one that offers reason for optimism to anyone worried about the planet. The world’s largest economies may now be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. The response is not guaranteed to work, given the scale of the problem. But the early successes have been notable.

Over the last several years, the governments of the United States, Europe and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean-energy research and deployment. And despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, the investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing.

The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country’s largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predicted only a decade ago.

Even natural gas, a hotly debated topic among climate experts, helps make the point. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible. The use of natural gas to generate electricity — far from perfectly clean but less carbon-intensive than coal use — has jumped 25 percent since 2008, while prices have fallen more than 80 percent. Natural gas now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago.

The successes make it possible at least to fathom a transition to clean energy that does not involve putting a price on carbon — either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program that requires licenses for emissions. It was exactly such a program, supported by both Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 campaign, that died in Congress in 2010 and is now opposed by almost all Congressional Republicans and some coal-state and oil-state Democrats.

The real goal, according to one scientist, is the emergence of disruptive technologies that push the planet "down" the hydrocarbon chain (wood-->coal-->oil-->gas-->renewables & hydrogen).

The more we shift from threatening fines to promising record profits, the migration will occur as it should.

Fascinating for me to watch a dozen years after I ran that global warming-focused "economic security exercise" with Cantor Fitzgerald atop World Trade Center One.

NOTE: the falling USG support for renewable energy research is why the influx of China investment is so important.


The Apprentice . . . without that jackass Trump

Fascinating WSJ piece from a few days back describing how German companies excel at training up their poorly prepared new workers so well that they're starting to spread their best practices globally.  It's basically a revival of classic apprenticeship training, and apparently German firms like VW are so good at it that companies and states and the fed in the US are looking to copy their methods.


There are 600,000 skilled, middle-class manufacturing jobs in the US that are - get this! - currently unfillable.

The VW HR person's blunt statement:

We've learned it is better to build our own workforce instead of just relying on the market.

VW's apprenticeship program runs 3 years.

I've gotten asked such questions about the US education system for years at my briefings all over America.  And I've always answered with some variation on the need for companies to both train up poorly prepared workers and reach down into educational systems to do much the same (what if VW oversaw the same sort of thing - for profit - at the right colleges/votec/institutes/etc.?).

But I've never actually come across an MSM article that captured it like this one does.


In Germany, nearly two-thirds of the country's workers are trained through partnerships among companies, technical schools and trade guids. Last year, German companies took on and trained nearly 600,000 paid apprentices

Nice numerical symmetry there - huh?

Story talks also about Charlotte community college that is pursuing the same sort of collaboration with 18 local firms - mostly European.  As one German exec put it:

We think we've found the missing link in the education system between high school and starting college.

In the U.S., falling into that gap costs lifetime earnings that are stunning.

This seems like a way of filling in that void.

It's one of those everything-old-is-new-again stories.


Globalization and the remaking of parts of this world

Nice piece by Friedman talking about the supranational challenges foisted upon Europe by globalization and the subnational challenges foisted upon the Middle East by the same.

He makes a big deal about both happening at the same time, but in my mind, the connecting logic is not all that hard to see.

Globalization requires strong states.  It does not eliminate them as many suppose, nor particularly weaken them. Data upon data shows that the national economies most able to successfully engage globalization do so thanks to strong states (strong in power, less so in reach as they tend to be democracies).

So when globalization comes to weak/fragile/fake states, like we have in the Middle East, it tends to fracture them, revealing the subnational fissures below.  In this way, the "divorces" we're witnessing now are very much like what we saw in the Balkans in the 1990s, where we saw a fake supranational state dismembered by the heterogeniety of the players within (some were ready to take on globalization and win, others less so).

So what are we looking at in the Middle East?  A long period of nation-building done by somebody, but mostly by the locals with help of foreign investors because outside governments with their aid are so bad at encouraging such things.  Beyond that, these relatively small states must come together in supranational organizations that reward their collective strength.  Imagine the US as 50 competing states versus a supranational union, because we are lucky to be so organized (actually, luck had nothing to do with it, because, once we made our miniature version of globalization happen in North America, we successfully set about replicating it globally over the past seven decades).

So yeah, a long row to hoe in the Middle East.

Europe is far more fortunate, and it's incorrect to make it seem like it's suffering similar dynamics.  Europe is full of real states and they have all the instruments necessary for true supranational union. They just need to evolve those instruments and their rules toward that end. So, if the Middle East faces a massive evolution/transformation that stretches over decades, Europe faces nothing of the sort.  It's just a matter of political will among the richer units (Germany especially).  The legimimate solution to Europe's problems can be set in motion in a matter of weeks.  It's simply a question of whether or not Europe wants that future or still fantasizes about a world in which smaller states can do better at globalization than supranational unions.

Look around your world on the question of resources.  Check out energy and food and ask yourself: do you see far more interdependency on the horizon or far less?  If you see the latter, you say, "We'll get by on our own!"  If you see the former, you say, "We'd be safer in a larger multinational setting."

The Middle East has little hope for such solutions, except among the rich PG states, where Riyadh pushes such confederation instinctively.  Europe is in a good enough place.  It just lacks the political will to do what needs to be done. 

This is not the tragedy of the commons.  This is tragedy defined by political generations of leaders not being ready for what history has thrust upon them.  You look at Merkel.  You know her story.  You know what she's been through and what she fears.

Merkel may still be up for the challenge.  Women tend to spot these opportunities better than men.  She may also be playing the clever game of letting events deteriorate to where she gets what she wants and believes Europe needs.  I suspect that is the case.

I also suspect we are witnessing an enormous gamble.  

But, in the end, I expect Europe to pull it off.  It won't be pretty.  It'll just be enough.

Europe, after adding so many stars so fast, truly risks losing some now. America went through that under far worse circumstances.  But have no doubt, Merkel needs to become a bit Hamilton and a bit Lincoln.


Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: The consequences of France shifting left

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

The countdown has begun for France’s first-round presidential election on Sunday, and while socialist challenger François Hollande is expected to beat center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, there’s a decent chance that a second run-off election will be required for Hollande to crack the 50 percent of the vote mark. Either way, we’re likely on the verge of a major political shift for one of Europe’s pillars – right after the wobbly Eurozone had hoped to close the door on its threatened dissolution.

We know what you’re thinking:  socialists, lots of new government spending, the end of the “Merkozy” tight bond between France and Germany!

So what are we to make of this looming quake?  How high will it register on the political Richter scale?  Wikistrat asked its global community of experts to ponder this, and here are the 8 points they chose to highlight.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog


WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Time's Battleland: Why America should go slow on declaring victory in Libya - or making promises

[co-written with Michael S. Smith II of Kronos Advisory LLC]

The demise of Col Qaddafi, a despicable despot who should have met this or a worse fate sooner, will likely give rise to power grabs in Libya by groups whose agendas will often be anything other than what meets the eye. Despite many power holders' claims of “secularist” and democratic aims, Washington's policy makers would be wise to exercise great caution when assessing who should be trusted inside Libya. For, at present, it would appear Libya is taking on a political atmosphere that will carry a high Salafist quotient.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Post-Qaddafi Realities for Libya and the Rest of Us

They came to bury Muammar Qaddafi, not capture him. After more than four decades of rule, he was still in the business of threatening and killing Libyans — a kind of start-up insurgency that would never go away. So if Qaddafi is indeed dead, then so much the better; the great bogeyman has been removed from the scene. Of course the world will (temporarily at least) lament the violence required for his departure from power, but as dictator-toppling exercises go, this one was about as good as it gets: First, the Arab Spring's power of example, then the rebels-turned-ruling-military-force driving him out from below, and finally an enabling from the human rights-minded powers that be.

But still: How did we really get here? And, perhaps more importantly, what now?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


China will spend where it can own

It's becoming clear that China won't bail out Europe, simply because it sees no political will and has no desire to buy more Western debt.  Same will apply to US as things get worse.

What China will buy is access to stuff it truly wants: resources and management talent.  So, as the cited FT story makes clear, China is ready to invest in Brazil's new offshore hydrocarbon discoveries.

And as the Center for America-China Partnership made clear in our grand strategy agreement, China is interested in buying into US companies.

But no, it's not interested in throwing hard-earned money after bad.


Time's Battleland: Globalization at the barrel of a gun

Careful where you aim that weapon, buddy!

That phrase, with its powerful imagery, was often tossed at me following the publication of my 2004 book, The Pentagon's New Map. In it, I argued that globalization's expansion was, and would continue to be, the primary cause of unrest and conflict in the world, as connectivity - in all its forms - extended itself into the non-integrated regions and triggered rising expectations (as in, "If the Indians and Chinese are getting richer, then why do we continue to submit to this incompetent government that keeps us unduly disconnected from all that opportunity?").

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


WPR's The New Rules: Debunking the 'Russia Threat' Hype 

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I was completing my doctoral dissertation on Warsaw Pact-Third World relations. I immediately understood that my time in Soviet studies was done. Why? Because I knew that Russia was full of brilliant political scientists who, once free to pursue their craft free of ideological constraints, would do a better job explaining things there than outsiders could. 

The generation of Russian scholars that emerged in the post-Soviet era proved me right, and none has consistently impressed more than Dmitri Trenin, who heads up the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace . . . 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.