Proposed US weapons deliveries to Ukraine raise fears of further escalation

(By Deutsche Welle) Calls in the US to supply Kyiv with weapons have been met with deep skepticism in Western Europe. As rebels in Ukraine gain ground, NATO is divided over how to prevent a broader conflict.

Two of Washington’s key European allies have rejected calls in the US to supply Kyiv with lethal military assistance, exposing potential fault lines within NATO as the war in eastern Ukraine continues to escalate.

The White House’s pick for defense secretary said on Wednesday that he was “inclined” to support supplying Ukraine with “lethal arms.”

“We need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” Ashton Carter said during a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN earlier in the week that the administration was reviewing the question of arms deliveries.

Opposition within NATO

But across the Atlantic, major European allies have been frank in their opposition. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters that Paris has “no intention of delivering weapons at this stage to Ukraine.” His comments echoed the long-standing German position, which Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated during a visit to Budapest on Monday.

“Germany will not support Ukraine with weapons,” Merkel told reporters. “I am firmly convinced that this conflict cannot be resolved militarily.”

Berlin’s opposition to weapons deliveries could play a critical role in White House deliberations. White House adviser Rhodes has called Merkel the “most important international partner on Ukraine.” He said that Obama and the chancellor would discuss Ukraine face-to-face during a “very important meeting” at the White House on February 9.

Kimberly Marten, an expert on Russian foreign policy at Columbia University, said that the reservations in Europe were well founded.

“There does not appear to be an endgame in the weapons proposal,” Marten told DW via email. “What will the US do if the fighting becomes worse and expands to more Ukrainian territory if we send in weapons?”

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Merkel meets Obama in Washington amid violence in Ukraine

(By Deutsche Welle) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with US President Barack Obama. The two leaders are seeking to repair ties after the NSA scandal and forge a common front in the Ukraine crisis.

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel held talks in Washington on Friday, amid escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.

In a joint press conference, the two leaders made clear that they were stepping up preparations to impose sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy, if Moscow did not work to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine before the country’s presidential elections on May 25th.

President Obama told reporters that the West was unlikely to end its business dealings with Moscow in the energy sector, but said that other areas of the Russian economy were vulnerable to EU-US sanctions.

“The idea that you’re going to turn off the tap on all Russian oil and gas exports, I think is unrealistic,” the president said. “But there are a range of approaches that can be taken not only in the energy sector, but in the arms sector, the finance sector, and lines of credit for trade, all of which have significant impact on Russia.”

Chancellor Merkel warned that the crisis in Ukraine has challenged Europe’s post-war order, which rests on the principle of the territorial integrity of all nations. Merkel said that although both the EU and US preferred a diplomatic solution, Moscow’s behavior would determine whether or not economic sanctions were imposed.

“It’s very much up to the Russians which road we will embark on,” Merkel said.

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Ehud Barak: ‘It’s a wake-up call’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak tells DW that the controls on intelligence agencies should probably be tightened as a consequence of the NSA affair. But he warns that citizens shouldn’t be naïve about security.

Ehud Barak has served as Israeli’s prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, among a host of other posts. He has decades of experience in intelligence matters and is Israel’s most highly decorated soldier.

DW: You mentioned during your presentation at the Cyber Security Summit in Bonn that offensive capabilities are greater than defensive capabilities in terms of cyber security threats. With the NSA affair, we’ve seen the extent to which governments are able to conduct surveillance on foreign leaders, private citizens and industry. What can these groups do to protect themselves against such surveillance?

Ehud Barak: I don’t think that we should look at it as a competition or struggle between the American government or other governments and individual citizens. I don’t think that the American government, by allowing the NSA to do what it is doing, intended to spy on individual citizens. Basically, I believe them. They are trying to block terror, and probably they drifted into somewhat of a more general kind of operation.

The real answer is not to be taken by citizens, but by government. If the German government or the French government or other governments in Europe want to discuss this issue with America – and probably they need to discuss it with America – and they expect the Americans to be responsive, they have to sit together and clarify what happened. What is done by the American and what is done by other, including European, intelligence services and to set together rules for future behavior. My experience with the Americans is that once they accept a rule, they respect it.

Basically, within a government – like the NSA case or be it any other operation – I believe from my experience that it should be not just at the disposal of the executive branch, namely the heads of the intelligence services, but controlled by a triangle of the three branches.

Namely, the executive branch of course [and] the judicial branch. Everything should be under control of a judge or group of judges that have total access for the details of what is done and should prove it from a legal point of view. And then inspections by subcommittees of the parliaments with enough stuff to be able to learn and know what’s happened. I believe that was the case with the Americans, that both the Congress and judicial system had their representative. If it didn’t work well enough it should be improved. But it’s not something that we cannot think of.

The real challenge will be with the bad guys. There are some bad guys in the world, both cyber criminals and even some governments with bad intentions, where certain steps should still be taken in order to avoid terror and avoid breaking the foundations of world order. And that needs certain capabilities in these arenas of intelligence gathering.

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Calls for Snowden to testify in Germany met with skepticism

(By Deutsche Welle) Members of Chancellor Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats have expressed openness to receiving testimony from Edward Snowden. But they are skeptical that the US whistle-blower can travel to Germany.

The suggestion by Greens parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele that Snowden could testify before the German Bundestag has received a mixed response in Berlin, with members of the governing Christian Democrats (CDU) saying that a US application for the whistle-blower’s extradition would preclude him from leaving Russia.

CDU spokesman for domestic affairs Hans-Peter Uhl told the daily Berliner Zeitung on Saturday that a German delegation could possibly travel to Moscow to question Snowden about the surveillance operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

“A trip by Snowden to Germany would be problematic because it is questionable whether or not he would receive asylum here,” Uhl said. “If he didn’t receive asylum, then there’s the extradition application from the Americans.”

Ströbele’s Moscow trip criticized

On Thursday, Ströbele traveled to Moscow, where he met with Snowden. The former NSA contractor said that he was prepared to testify before the German parliament on the condition that his security could be guaranteed. Ströbele returned to Germany with a letter from Snowden, in which the whistle-blower said he hoped “to cooperate in the responsible finding of fact” as it regards US surveillance programs.

Meanwhile, senior CDU parliamentarian Michael Grosse-Brömer criticized Ströbele’s trip, saying that the Green had done little more than act as a mailman. Grosse-Brömer went on to say that there “was currently no reason to make a decision about possible stay by Snowden in Germany,” adding that he doubted the whistle-blower would make the trip because of the US extradition application.

Call for Merkel to confront Obama

Revelations about NSA surveillance operations have strained US-German relations in recent weeks. In October, the boulevard publication Bild and leading newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had hacked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, sparking widespread shock and outrage. Over the summer, there were reports – based on Snowden’s leaks – that the NSA had also collected the metadata of millions of German citizens.

German representatives are currently negotiating a “no-spy agreement” to end the NSA surveillance operations in the country. However, Greens chief Simone Peter called on Merkel to confront US President Barack Obama in person over the issue.

“A no-spy agreement isn’t enough,” Peter told a German regional newspaper on Saturday. “Angela Merkel needs to immediately meet with President Obama in Washington, and put US snooping in its place.”

slk/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Merkel’s strength at the polls leaves her searching for a coalition partner

In the wake of arguably Europe’s most important election since the outbreak of the eurozone debt crisis in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decisive showing may ironically prove to be her Achilles heel. Although Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) managed to secure a whopping 41 percent of the vote on Sunday, their victory is in certain respects a hollow one.

The chancellor’s governing partners in the last coalition, the both fiscally conservative and socially liberal Free Democrats, have failed to surpass the all-important five percent hurdle. That means they will not have representation in the upcoming parliament. And Merkel’s Christian Democrats just barely missed securing an absolute majority on their own. Their nearly 8 percent gain compared to the 2009 election result came partially at the expense of the FDP.  So although the Christian Democrats are indisputably the strongest force in German politics, they apparently aren’t strong enough. Germans overwhelmingly confirmed Merkel as chancellor, but effectively voted against her now defunct center-right coalition.

As a consequence, the chancellor will have to seek a coalition partner among one of the opposition center-left parties, with the most likely candidate being the Social Democrats. The CDU and the SPD governed together in a grand coalition from 2005-2009. Other political combinations seem unrealistic. Although Merkel moved to trade nuclear for renewable energy in the wake of Fukushima, she still remains far apart from the Greens on economic and social issues. Likewise when it comes to the socialist Left party, still the pariah of the German political system.

A grand coalition would alter the political landscape in Berlin. The Social Democrats won a respectable 25 percent of the vote and are firmly anchored in a broad base of support. Merkel will not be able to simply twist the SPD’s arm and pull them in her direction, as was the case with the much smaller FDP.

The bottom line: Europe’s political landscape continues its slight tilt leftward. When Greece first asked for a bailout in 2010, Merkel was governing in a secure center-right coalition. She had a conservative ally in neighboring France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Today, Merkel faces the prospect of a coalition with Social Democrats, while a socialist president already resides in the Elysee in Paris. In light of this, the eurozone’s debt-stricken member states may be hoping for a reprieve from biting austerity and more focus on economic stimulus. But they shouldn’t expect drastic change in short order. After all, the SPD – despite its rhetoric – has voted for Merkel’s eurozone policies.

US foreign policy looms over German election

(By Deutsche Welle) In Germany’s election, controversial US policies on surveillance and Syria have forced the candidates to walk a fine line on relations with Washington. But the US wants Berlin to play a bigger global leadership role.

At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg this month, major European nations such as France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain all signed a joint statement supporting the United States’ position on Syria. The document pointed the finger at the Assad regime as the likely culprit behind the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus and called for a “strong international response.”

But the signature of Europe’s largest economy and arguably most important political power, Germany, was noticeably absent from the joint statement.

Berlin hesitated and then ultimately signed the communiqué one day later. It’s an election year, and with the campaign now in its final leg before the vote on September 22, the center-left opposition is trying to breach Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly impregnable position in the polls. Even foreign policy, often a back-burner issue in elections, has become a point of campaign contention.

The issue of military strikes against Syria is not the first time that US policy has stirred up partisan recriminations in Germany’s election campaign. Reporting by newsmagazine Der Spiegel on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about US surveillance programs, and Berlin’s alleged involvement in them, has dogged Merkel for months now.

“It’s a fine line – the candidates can’t get too close to the US, especially on the NSA issue,” Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy, told DW. “On the other hand they can’t be seen as being too distant either, because the US is still one of German’s biggest economic partners. It’s still its major security partner.”

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Berlin steadfast in Libya abstention despite political fallout

(By Deutsche Welle) For the first time in post-war history, Germany has publicly taken a position contrary to virtually all of its major allies. The fallout of Berlin’s abstention from coalition operations in Libya could be far reaching.

By abstaining from the UN Security Council vote to intervene in Libya, Germany has managed to position itself against both the United States and Europe for the first time, said former NATO General Klaus Naumann in an interview with the daily Stuttgarter Zeitung.

Berlin’s abstention has sparked controversy domestically with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government coming under bi-partisan political fire. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, member of the Green Party, wrote in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that he was “ashamed” of the German government’s “failure.” And Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel’s party and chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, expressed concern that Berlin had isolated itself.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Merkel has declared Berlin’s “unreserved support for the goals of the resolution” despite its opposition to military intervention. And Merkel has sought to demonstrate this ambiguous support by offering humanitarian aid for refugees and pushing for an oil embargo against Gadhafi. However, Berlin’s attempts at damage control are unlikely to contain the negative political fallout from its abstention.

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