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Ten Elections to Watch in 2017

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Courtesy of las.photographs/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 9 December 2016.

Millions of people around the world went to the polls this year. The results provided plenty of surprises. British voters defied the pollsters and voted to leave the European Union. Colombians did much the same in rejecting their government’s peace deal with FARC, though Colombia’s president found a way to complete the deal a few months later without a vote. The biggest electoral surprise of all might have been in the United States, where Donald Trump defied the political experts and defeated Hillary Clinton. Perhaps 2017 will produce similarly surprising results. Here are ten elections to watch.

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Politics of Monuments and Memorials

The German occupation monument in Budapest

The German occupation monument in Budapest, courtesy Tim Venchus/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 12 July 2016

In March 2014, Budapest’s Liberty Square became home to the newest controversial monument in the city. The now-notorious German occupation monument consists of two parts: an angel and an eagle. In the middle of ivory columns lined up in a wedge, Archangel Gabriel stands with his arms wide open. His right hand is holding a golden orb, an element of the Hungarian royal insignia. His eyes are gracefully closed, as if he is fully aware of his destiny. A giant, pitch-black eagle—the symbol of Imperial Germany—ominously flies overhead. Its three-pronged claw swings as if it will snatch the orb from the angel’s hand.

Immediately after its construction, the monument was met with fierce criticism from home and abroad. Civil organizations denounced the Hungarian government, saying it was “falsifying the Holocaust” by erecting a monument that glosses over Hungary’s collusion with the Nazis. The monument comes as another expression of surging nationalism in the country, which the current government has stoked by granting voting rights to foreigners based on their Hungarian ethnicity, disseminating anti-immigrant questionnaires filled with leading questions, building fences along the country’s borders with Serbia and Croatia to block the influx of refugees, and making openly xenophobic statements against non-Christian migrants.

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A Greater Military Role for Germany?

Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset

Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset, Courtesey of Wikimedia Commons, Jürgen Matern

This article was originally published by Carnegie Europe on 7 June 2016.

The German government will soon publish a new defense white paper, a strategy document setting out guidelines for German defense policy, the first since 2006.

This paper has already received some attention abroad, mainly in the UK in the context of the country’s referendum on EU membership on June 23, due to extensive press coverage of Germany’s alleged ambition to build an “EU army.” However, the improbable rhetorical aim of a European defense union obscures the more interesting aspects of Germany’s evolving defense policy and its growing significance for European defense.

Germany has long had difficult debates about its military role in European and global security, going back to the Social Democratic–Green government’s support for the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Germany’s military contributions since then have fluctuated from strong support for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan during the 2000s to its abstention from the UN Security Council resolution preceding NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011.

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Germany and Russia: Berlin’s Deadly Self-Delusions

Putin propaganda art, courtesy volna80/flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 15 February 2016.

There is a German word for nearly everything. An unquestioned lifelong self-delusion is referred to as a life-lie, a Lebenslüge. When it comes to Germany’s policies vis-à-vis Russia there are plenty of such self-delusions that drive Berlin’s foreign policy. This fact is more important given that Berlin heads the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which runs the two observer missions that are supposed to monitor the implementation of the Minsk II agreements in Ukraine. In January 2016, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, laid out the priorities for the OSCE chairmanship — and they could hardly be more revealing. They indicate all that is wrong with the German approach to European security. Steinmeier seems to believe that the current insecurity in Europe is the result of a lack of trust stemming from a breakdown in communications between Moscow and Western nations. No wonder, then, that Germany’s emphasis is on dialogue to restore trust and ultimately make Europe secure again.

Unfortunately, this logic has it backwards. There is indeed a lack of trust. However, that lack of trust is a direct consequence of Russian aggression, not Western miscommunication. Approaching Russia with suspicion and mistrust — as many Eastern European nations do — is the only sane reaction, given that Russia has invaded a neighbor, annexed part of its territory, and tried to divide the rest of the country while threatening half a dozen other countries in Europe, all based on a “blood and soil” ideology.

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Why Would the US Spy on its Allies? Because Everyone Does

People in Berlin protesting the NSA surveillance program. Image: Digitale Gesellschaft/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 24 June, 2015.

The spotlight must be an uncomfortable position for intelligence organisations that would far prefer to remain in the shadows. But since Edward Snowden fled the United States in the summer of 2013, there has been an almost constant drip-feed of stories concerning the operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Yet the most recent scoop – originating from Wikileaks – has shown that we would do well to consider these kinds of “revelations” with a little greater care.

At its heart, the claim that the NSA spied on French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Holland, effectively boils down to: “country A spied on country B”. As a piece of news, this surely sits alongside the Pope’s status as a Catholic. What else would we expect a national intelligence gathering agency to do? The fundamental purpose of such organisations is to seek out national advantage, in whatever field – whether it is political, economic, military, or otherwise. » More

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