Central Europe

  • Ich Bin Ein Westerner

    “Ich bin ein Berliner." Fifty years ago this week President Kennedy made his famous defiant assertion of Western solidarity at the strategic fault line of the Berlin Wall.  What today is the state of the West?

    Kennedy’s moment has passed into strategic folklore.  However, perhaps more enduring was a speech he made the next day in Frankfurt.  Responding to threats to the Atlantic Alliance by then French President de Gaulle in the name of ‘Europe,’ Kennedy warned against those who would split NATO and “give aid and comfort to the enemies of the West.”  This quote came back to me as I stood last week in the Washington office of George F. Kennan, America’s great post-war strategic architect.

    Kennedy continued, “The United States will risk its cities to defend yours because we need your freedom to protect our own.”  That was 1963; this is now.

    Fast forward to a meeting I attended this week here in Rome.  A very senior NATO officer observed that the Alliance no longer does strategy.  Rather, NATO is today bereft of the ability to look up and out together by the deep, interminable and oft parochial political fractures at its peak.  Consequently, strategy has been trumped by bureaucracy. 

    Today, the West needs three acts of strategic maturity.  First, Washington must overcome its bombastic partisanship and recognize that the rhetoric of leadership is empty if a state cannot govern itself to effect and by example.  Second, Europeans must look out of their self-dug narrow political trench and have the courage to face the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. December’s ‘big chat’ about the almost moribund EU Common Security and Defense Policy should be about far more than declining defense budgets.  Europe’s place in the world and its collective influence over it is now very much at stake.  Third, NATO needs a new vision.  The Alliance is a, if not the, cornerstone of the Western world security order. 

    A couple of nights ago I had dinner with General John E. Allen, one of America’s most distinguished and brilliant soldiers.  It was one of those evenings when conversation flowed freely across time and place in a restaurant on the Via Antica Appia down which Roman legions once marched.  What struck me about our discussion was a strategic truism that I will hold to my heart to the day I die: the world is a safer place when the West is strong.

    Yes, the West has made mistakes.  Sadly (and eternally) that has always been the fate of power in complexity.  However, error is no excuse for retreat which is precisely what happens when strategy is superseded by bureaucracy.

    Kennedy’s commitment to Europe cannot and must not be taken for granted.  What is needed is a reassertion of Western solidarity and nothing short of that will now do.  As in 1963 NATO will have a central but not exclusive role to play in a renovated Western strategic architecture.  The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will be at least as important.

    However the new NATO (for that is what we need) must in turn be built on a new strategic contract between both members and partners.  This will include recognition that the US commitment to Europe is only as strong as European willingness to play a full security and defense role.  NATO itself must again become the focal point for the development of efficient and effective military capabilities.  Capable partners the world over must be given real access to Alliance strategy and thinking.  Above all, strategic unity and effort and purpose between four key European actors must be purposively established however hard; Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.

    It is for that reason I bang on about British military capabilities.  It is not so we Brits can sing a hearty rendition of Rule Britannia once a year at the Last Night of the Proms and not feel ever-so-slightly absurd.  It is rather to underpin the Western strategic contract with sufficient hard power so as to keep America in, get Europe up so the West can again look out with confidence and purpose.

    Lord Byron once wrote, “While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; when falls the Coliseum Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the World.”  The Alliance is the latter day Coliseum.  If it falls or fades away then the West falls.  And the world will be a much more dangerous place for it.

    Ich bin ein Westerner...and proud of it!

    Julian Lindley-French is a member of the Atlantic Council's Strategic Advisory Group. This essay first appeared on his personal blog,Lindley-French's Blog Blast.

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  • Obama Should Call for German Leadership

    President Barack Obama should use his speech tomorrow at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to call for more active, confident German leadership of the European Union—which is needed if the continent is to rise above its present political and economic crisis. As Europe’s largest trading, investment and security partner, the United States has a strong interest in seeing Germany lead Europe toward that outcome. By calling for greater German leadership on his visit to Berlin, President Obama would advance American interests in Europe, further the cause of European integration, and follow in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

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  • Influencing the World or Organizing Europe?

    As I was about to board a plane at Oslo Airport yesterday I found myself confronted by a dilemma. Do I read the latest Dan Brown novel, based at it is on Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth century classic “The Inferno,” or do I read the new "Towards a European Global Strategy," Europe’s eternal infernal? Push came to shove and I finally decided I would read the fiction and sat down to read the latter. Now, don’t get me wrong. EGS (as it is known amongst European strato-wonks) is well-written and well-structured.  Moreover, reading it took me back to my distant past when I used to write this stuff for the now long-dead and ever-so-slightly misnamed Venusberg Group...and moreover believe it!  In fact the idea that European nation-states should work very closely together for the common good in this world is still something in which I profoundly believe. 

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  • Hollande's Europe

    “It is my responsibility as a leader of a founder member of the European Union...to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people’s disenchantment with it.  If Europe stays in the state it is in now, it could be the end of the project.”  Europe owes French President Francois Hollande a deep debt of gratitude.

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  • Strategy Session on Transatlantic Defense with German Air Force Chief of Staff

    German Air Force Chief Karl Muellner
    On May 15, the Atlantic Council hosted Lieutenant General Karl Müllner, Germany’s Air Force chief of staff, for a strategy session about pertinent issues in transatlantic and German defense in an era of budget austerity and emerging security challenges.

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  • Roundtable Discussion with US Ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull

    Ambassador Stephen Mull

    On Wednesday, March 27, the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Relations Program hosted Ambassador Stephen Mull, US Ambassador to Poland, for an off-the-record discussion of the increasing importance of Poland in the transatlantic partnership.

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  • The Saga of US-Poland Missile Defense Cooperation

    Missile defense cooperation stands among the most prominent dimensions of the strategic relationship between the United States and Poland.  Both Washington and Warsaw have been strong advocates of missile defense within NATO.  Poland has enthusiastically accepted US requests to base missile interceptors on its territory, and recently made the acquisition of air and missile defense capability its top military procurement priority. Yet, what should be a unifying pillar of US-Poland security cooperation has too often been an irritant.
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  • "Let Freedom Live!"

    White Rose members

    Seventy years ago today three young German students were led to a guillotine by the Gestapo in Stadelheim Prison and brutally executed. Siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst faced death with immense courage, something even the Gestapo acknowledged. As the blade began its death fall Hans Scholl shouted out “Let freedom live!” With that single act of defiance Hans Scholl created modern, democratic Germany.

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  • US Aviation Detachment Establishes Permanent Presence in Poland

    AV-DET Poland

    On Friday, the United States will inaugurate its first permanent military presence in Poland by deploying an air force aviation detachment (AV-DET) at the Polish 32nd Tactical Airbase in Lask.  The detachment will further institutionalize US-Poland military-to-military engagement and is a needed and useful boost to the bilateral security relationship. 

    The detachment consists of some eight to ten personnel led by a US Air Force major.  It will plan and coordinate the activities of USAF elements that will rotate into Poland for exercises that will involve US and Polish F-16s and C-130 transport aircraft, among other assets. 

    While there are currently no plans to permanently station US aircraft in Poland, the US- Poland Memorandum of Understanding signed on 13 June 2011 creating the AV-DET outlines a robust annual exercise agenda. It states:  

    The USAF AV-DET will facilitate combined training exercises and military-to-military engagement, through periodic rotation (four annually, with a goal of quarterly rotations no shorter than two weeks each) of US aircraft, and continuous engagement, including combined skill development and exercises, between the USAF and PLAF. . . . It is intended that the four rotational deployments each year to Poland will consist of F-16 or C-130 aircraft. It is intended that two rotations of F-16 aircraft will be conducted each year.  Additional combined PLAF and USAF training exercises, including the use of fifth generation fighter aircraft, may be undertaken.

    In Central Europe, the AV-DET in Poland complements US Joint Task Force East which mans joint army and air forces bases in Bulgaria and Romania.  In addition to being the first permanent presence of US military personnel on Polish soil aside from military attachés, the AV-DET is significant for the following reasons:  

    • The activities and robust agenda of exercises will deepen and institutionalize ties between the US and Polish air forces and will serve as the cornerstone for an "enduring partnership" between the two.
    • It will provide opportunity for the two nations to fully exercise contingency plans for a full spectrum of scenarios ranging from peace support operations to establishing no-fly zones to NATO Article V missions. 
    • It can serve as a platform to support both bilateral and multilateral exercises.
    • In light of President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and ensuing decisions to reduce US ground and air force presence in Europe, the AV-DET is a needed demonstration of Washington’s commitment to and interest in Central Europe's security.

    The AV-DET is a very positive development in the US-Poland relationship, and it offers great potential to serve NATO.   In addition to reinforcing the credibility of NATO Article V planning, the AV-DET could support the Alliance's efforts to expand its global relationships, including with the Arab world.  One can envision the AV-DET and its Polish partners serving as the nucleus for multilateral air force exercises engaging, among others, air forces, from the Persian Gulf, Jordan, or Morocco.

    Ian Brzezinski is a senior fellow in theBrent Scowcroft Center on International Security and is on the Council’s Strategic Advisors Group (SAG).

    Photo credit: EPA

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  • Roundtable Discussion on Romania's Defense Policy

    On September 6th, the International Security Program hosted Dr. Sebastian Huluban, state secretary for defense policy and planning at the Ministry of National Defense of Romania, for a private strategy session with key Council fellows and advisors.

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