Tagged: us politics

Mathis Lohaus

Scenarios for European External Relations in 2025

Dahrendorf Symposium

Last week I had the pleasure of attending (parts of) the 2016 Dahrendorf Symposium hosted by Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Mercator foundation. The event focused on European foreign policy. I will summarize the debates on the final day in a separate blog post.

A few months ago, Hertie School hosted a scenario planning workshop as part of the Dahrendorf project. It focused on the EU’s relations to other world regions, trying to draw up scenarios for the year 2025. Meeting in five different working groups, the participants developed scenarios for the future relations between the EU and the U.S., China, Russia and Ukraine, Turkey, and the MENA region. Given my interest in forecasting and curiosity about scenario planning, I gladly signed up and contributed to the EU/U.S. working group.

At the Dahrendorf Symposium last week, Monika Sus and Franziska Pfeifer (who are coordinating the scenario project) briefly described our method and results to the audience. The publication with our 18 (!) brief scenarios is available via the Dahrendorf blog: European Union in the World 2025 – Scenarios for EU relations

The results are interesting and I really encourage you to download the document! Personally, I particularly enjoyed the process. It was a great exercise to think about  basic assumptions we have about transatlantic relations; to identify key drivers relevant for change; and to come up with scenarios that reflect the most relevant combinations of key drivers taking particular directions.

Transatlantic mistrust on tech
Illustrations for the scenario report by Jorge Martin

Let me indulge in a bit of self-promotion and quote the intro to my group’s scenario:

“In the years up to 2025 there will be a situation of balkanised technological regulation in the EU, driven by political debates which emphasise the need to shield national markets and societies against the uncertain effects of technological progress. On the other side of the Atlantic, political leaders will continue to embrace new technologies, with an emphasis on keeping the competitive edge also in terms of offensive capabilities in the cyber and AI realms. Only after a series of trigger events, increasing the pressure on decision-makers, will transatlantic leaders be willing to invest in a new institutional framework to manage the political problems associated with technological progress.” (‘Transatlantic Frankenstein’ scenario)

Then, of course, there was the Dahrendorf Symposium, which included a couple of workshop sessions (that I couldn’t attend) and two round-table panels on the final day. I will put my summary of these discussions into a separate post.

Tobias Bunde

Putin, the Atlanticist

Putin wins a prize
Image credit: “Siggiko”

Since 1997, the American Academy in Berlin has awarded the annual Henry A. Kissinger Prize “in recognition of outstanding services to the transatlantic relationship.” Taken literally, this means that the next recipient can only be one person: Vladimir Putin.

Just a few weeks ago, even the most committed Atlanticists would not have predicted a spectacular comeback for NATO in 2014. At this year’s Munich Security Conference, often dubbed the transatlantic partnership’s “family meeting”, the mood was quite pessimistic. [My detailed conference report, in German, will appear in the next issue of the Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik.] The Europeans, and especially the Germans, were upset about the fact that Senator Kerry gave a speech about the “transatlantic renaissance” without mentioning the NSA affair at all. As some observers noted, the Americans “just don’t listen to us anymore, they only listen in.”

On the other hand, the U.S. representatives were frustrated that the Europeans were not eager to discuss other topics they deemed more relevant. Again, the old burden-sharing debate resurfaced – but with more urgency. In contrast to earlier debates, the U.S. administration has actually followed through and significantly reduced their troops in Europe while ramping up their forces in the Asia-Pacific (the “rebalancing” FKA “the pivot to Asia”). Quite symbolically, after 69 years, the last Abrams tanks left European soil in 2013, which many saw as a “historic moment”. [It should be noted, however, that a number of refurbished Abrams tanks have returned to Germany in 2014.]

Under Obama, the United States has made clear that it does not expect to lead every military mission the transatlantic partners undertake. In Libya, the Europeans had to realize that they lacked the capabilities to run an intense air campaign alone. In early 2013, when the Europeans discussed the crisis in Mali, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow, bluntly stated: “The US and NATO cannot be everywhere.”

In earlier years, U.S. politicians would have been furious if the Europeans had planned for an operation without the United States. But the new message was: Europe, it’s your job, get used to it. Yet, given that these debates were about “wars of choice” in a “post-interventionist era”, few Europeans pushed for a major overhaul of Europe’s defense planning – much to the dismay of Washington.

Waiting for the “transatlantic renaissance”

It didn’t help that a conversation between Victoria Nuland and a U.S. ambassador was leaked, in which the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs used the F-word in respect to the EU. Ironically, Nuland is one of the few remaining committed transatlanticists in Washington and had coined the notion of a “transatlantic renaissance”. Now, that whole concept seemed to be a non-starter.

Enter Vladimir Putin. Thanks to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threats from Moscow, the transatlantic partnership, and with it NATO, is back again.

With his actions in the past few weeks, Putin has actually provoked what he had successfully avoided for a long time: the rapid rapprochement of NATO members’ policies towards Russia. He might not have provided a “solution” to one of the core challenges in the internal debate about the Atlantic Alliance in the twenty-first century: How do we define our relations with Russia? But at the very least, he has made a new consensus among NATO member states much more likely. Continue reading

Zoe Williams

Trade Agreement Trends

Three expansive and controversial trade agreements – the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – are currently in the negotiation or ratification stages. These three (with some overlap with the EU, US and Canada) involve some of the world’s biggest economies and, if successful, will implement rules that critics claim go far beyond traditional trade agreements. However, the fate of all three agreements remains uncertain. CETA still needs to be ratified by the EU parliament as well as 28 member states, while TTP and TTIP are bogged down in negotiations.

All these acronyms can get confusing, so, who is involved in these agreements and what are the points of contention?

Trans Pacific Partnership

The TTP began as a proposed agreement between Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei. In January 2008 the US joined negotiations, followed by Australia, Vietnam, Peru (2009) and Malaysia (2010) and Canada and Mexico (2012). In 2013 Japan entered negotiations and Taiwan, South Korea and even China have expressed interest. All told, these countries make up 40% of the world’s GDP.
Continue reading

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Dick Cheney; Press Freedom; Publication Bias; Thesis Writing

In the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner has a captivating article on Dick Cheney’s legacy: First, the “war on terror” has changed the United States; human rights are ignored and the “dark side” of military and intelligence operations has been vastly expanded. Second, the decisions after 9/11 have changed the face of the world, and not in a good way. Danner then goes on and paints a picture of the man himself that will send chills down your spine:

[T]here is a kind of stark amoral grandeur to this answer that takes one’s breath away. Just as he was likely the most important and influential American official in making the decision to withhold the protection of the Geneva Conventions from detainees, Cheney was likely the most important and influential American when it came to imposing an official government policy of torture. It is quite clear he simply cannot, or will not, acknowledge that such a policy raises any serious moral or legal questions at all.

Reporters Without Borders - World Press Freedom 2014
Reporters Without Borders – World Press Freedom 2014

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have published their 2014 World Press Freedom Index. As they have done in earlier years, the NGO called out the United States: “Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it.”

Traditionally, RSF rankings are more strongly influenced by individual cases and physical security than the report prepared by Freedom House (FH). Their “Freedom of the Press” is usually updated in May.

The 2014 version of FH’s “Freedom in the World” report (on political rights and civil liberties), however, has just been published.

Jishnu Das and Quy-Toan Do diagnose a geographical bias in top economics journals:

Mathis Lohaus

“Tailored Access Operations” are exactly what I want the NSA to do

Happy New Year everyone! We’re back from our winter break. (Actually, some members of the IR Blog editorial board are still enjoying their time off, but I guess they will return to their desks eventually.)

At the 2013 Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Jacob Applebaum gave a talk that summarized what is known about the NSA’s “Tailored Access Operations” unit. You can watch the video above. Basically, “tailored access” means that these are high-tech “hackers” that acquire intelligence on high-profile targets. Their arsenal includes tiny wireless chips inserted into hardware that is intercepted on the way to customers (!) as well as a special kind of bug that can be accessed by radar waves. Given that the information is from 2009, they probably have even more sophisticated tools now.

The related SPIEGEL story is here (in English). Bruce Schneier has collected a couple of links on the topic, and currently presents one of the exploits every day.

In the Guardian, Matt Blaze makes a very important point: “The NSA’s Tailored Access Operations show there’s a way to be safe and get good intelligence without mass surveillance”. The crucial difference is that between (A) civil-rights-abusing mass surveillance (as currently discussed, again, in the German cabinet) and (B) targeted surveillance of people that were chosen based on meaningful criteria. As Blaze puts it:

TAO is retail rather than wholesale.

That is, as well as TAO works (and it appears to work quite well indeed), they can’t deploy it against all of us – or even most of us. They must be installed on each individual target’s own equipment, sometimes remotely but sometimes through “supply chain interdiction” or “black bag jobs”. By their nature, targeted exploits must be used selectively. Of course, “selectively” at the scale of NSA might still be quite large, but it is still a tiny fraction of what they collect through mass collection.

For over a decade now, the NSA has been drowning in a sea of irrelevant data collected almost entirely about innocent people who would never be selected as targets or comprise part of any useful analysis. The implicit assumption has been that spying on everyone is the price we pay to be able to spy on the real bad guys. But the success of TAO demonstrates a viable alternative. And if the NSA has any legitimate role in intelligence gathering, targeted operations like TAO have the significant advantage that they leave the rest of us – and the systems we rely on – alone.

When I wrote earlier that “we are genuinely shocked by the extent to which our friends feel the need to spy on us and don’t think twice about it”, I was mainly referring to mass surveillance. Wiretapping chancellor Merkel is disrespectful, but I expect her to expect this kind of thing as an occupational hazard. What I find unacceptable, on the other hand, is that systematically eroding the integrity of communications networks and the meaning of “privacy” should be the new normal.

In other words: I’m far more comfortable with the idea that U.S. operatives secretly plant a bug in some suspected terrorist’s computer in Berlin than with the fact that all kinds of “metadata” on German (and other) citizens are being collected non-stop.

Putting a stop to individual-level surveillance seems implausible to me, and also impossible seeing that U.S. legislators would have to decide to shut down pretty much all of what intellifence agencies are about. But is it really that far-fetched (or naive) to hope for some consensus in favor of civil rights? Even if you don’t care about somewhat lofty and abstract pro-privacy arguments, U.S. and European business is being hurt by the NSA’s horrible reputation, and then there’s always the risk that backdoors may be used by more than one party…

“Tailored access” is exactly what I want the NSA to do. But please leave my telecoms provider alone and stop tracking my mobile phone “just in case”.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Cyber Attacks, Trade Negotiations, Combat Drones

A Siemens device used to control centrifuges (via Wikimedia commons)
A Siemens device used to control centrifuges (by “Ulli1105” via Wikimedia commons)

Small anniversary: Link post #25. By the way, do you find these useful?

On cyber attacks, I would like to recommend three pieces that might not be for everyone, but are interesting to get a more technical understanding of what is going:

  • Ralph Langner has written a fascinating account of “Stuxnet”. It turns out that the U.S./Israeli (?) attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges consisted not of one, but two separate types of computer virus, with trade-offs between effectiveness, predictability and stealth. The newer version used a less sophisticated way to damage centrifuges, but a much more sophisticated way to gain access in the first place and then spread across systems.
  • Nicholas Weaver summarizes the steps taken by U.S. intelligence agencies to access/hijack communications through the Internet’s backbone. This discussion of the NSA QUANTUM program is not too technical, but introduces a couple of phrases you might hear more often in the future. (via Bruce Schneier)
  • Jim Cowie discusses a different form of attack, in which internet traffic is redirected to get access to sensitive information. Fascinating for laypeople: Since we’re talking about milliseconds, “[t]he recipient, perhaps sitting at home in a pleasant Virginia suburb drinking his morning coffee, has no idea that someone in Minsk has the ability to watch him surf the web”. (But keep in mind that this comes form a private IT security company and is phrased to maximize PR effects.)

Two items on free trade negotiations:

First, Philip Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, is very confident that President Obama will manage to get approval from Congress for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP (via AICGS / Tobias Bunde).

Second, regarding the other U.S. free trade effort currently under negotiation – the Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP – you’ve probably heard that the part dealing with intellectual property rights was leaked last week. GWU PhD candidate Gabriel J. Michael has analyzed the way in which different countries proposed changes to the document (which is visible in the leaked text) and offers the following summary:

  1. The U.S. and Japan are relatively isolated in their negotiating positions.
  2. There appears to be a strong negotiating network between Singapore, Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand.
  3. Canada is up to something!

Some commentators pointed out that he might be neglecting an alternative explanation: that the U.S. and Japan are simply happy with the current document, as they have had a bigger say in creating the draft.

Irrespective of the arguments about causality, Michael’s blog post is a great example of what can be done with leaked documents and visualization! (via The Monkey Cage, where you can find more comments).

Finally, a quick follow-up on last week’s post on combat drones, again by Charli Carpenter at the Duck:

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots secured an important victory last week when delegates of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) voted unanimously to take up the issue (…).


While this is an important and promising moment, the shape and trajectory of norm-building efforts will depend a great deal on the tenor and outcome of next May’s CCW meeting. And one thing is sure: if that meeting results in weaker norms that hoped for my human security advocates, NGOs may simply take their cause elsewhere.

Mathis Lohaus

Espionage, Surveillance, and Transatlantic Relations

snowdenletterOK, the NSA was bugging German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone for ten years, and a well-known German member of parliament has just met with whistleblower Edward Snowden in Russia. Snowden has written a letter and offered “to testify to a public prosecutor or an investigating committee of Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag”, as the SPIEGEL reports.

So I guess it’s time for some quick reflections on two of our favorite topics, Transatlantic relations and surveillance / espionage:

Continue reading

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Big Topics in IR; International Currencies; The Middle Class Is Not What It Used to Be


Phil Arena recommends Bear Braumoeller’s new book Great Powers and the International System. Not just because it’s good, but as a role model for grad students in IR:

[This book] offers a great example of a dissertation (or a project that began its life as one, at any rate) that speaks to questions lying at the center of the field. Yes, you can write Bad Pun: The Thing That’s Happening Now and How None of The Big Names Have Anything to Say About It, 1990–2008. But you could also think a little bigger.


Dan Drezner wonders if the recent almost-shutdown of the U.S. government will trigger financial counter-balancing, as IPE realists have been predicting for quite some time:

The question is whether it’s worth being dependent on a growing economy that’s so politically unreliable.  So now we’re gonna see whether incipient U.S. rivals will start making the necessary down payments to act on their increasingly justified complaints.

As Benjamin J. Cohen suggested in a talk here at Freie Universität a couple of months ago, what keeps the dollar strong might be the lack of alternatives (rather than the inherent qualities of the global key currency #1). Drezner says we’ll see soon enough which side is right, but I have the feeling that in the absence of clear predictions or thresholds (how do we know “the end of the dollar” when we see it?), this dicussion will drag on for decades.


Speaking of money, and considering that this is a blog written by relatively young people, allow me to point to a non-IR topic: “We’ll never have it so good again.”

Well, in August 2011, [my parents’] former home was placed on the market. The asking price was £2,475,000. So a house that had once been affordable by a young, middle-class couple was now being aimed at buyers who were, by any normal standards, very rich indeed. (…) A similar process of exclusion has taken place in education. (…) So my father went to Eton. I went to Eton. And my son goes to Bishop Luffa Church of England comprehensive.

Of cource, these are still nice problems to have compared to most people, and many aspects of social life are certainly better than a couple of decades ago. Yet the overall trends regarding income and wealth in the rich parts of the world, which I’ve covered here earlier, look worrisome basically for everyone below of the very top of the pyramid.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: NSA, Brazil, Tenure, MOOCs

Plötzensee, Berlin (Wikipedia)
Plötzensee, Berlin (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

Over at Bretterblog, a colleague has noted (in German) that many IR blogs seem to take a summer break. Might that have been directed at us? Well, here are some links to prove that not all of us are swimming in a lake right now… (I wish!)

PRISM / NSA surveillance, even though you’re sick and tired of it:

In other news:

  • Nauro F. Campos analyzes why people are protesting in Brazil, using a dataset from 1870 to 2003. The list of factors he and his colleagues have identified for the current wave of protest doesn’t sound too surprising: “corruption and inefficiency in public services delivery, political ineptitude and the electoral cycle.” Another interesting finding: The number of riots is decreasing over time, but there are more peaceful protests.
  • There’s a great post at Scientific American by computer scientist Radhika Nagpal, who decided not to stress too much about tenure and instead treat her job as a “seven-year postdoc”. This means: don’t spend all your energy networking and sucking up to important people, but rather enjoy life and get good work done. Probably works best if you’re very smart and hard-working anyway; she’s now a professor at Harvard. Steven Saideman offers his comments at the Duck of Minerva.
  • Are MOOCs (massive open online courses) a game-changer, or are we just being fooled by the “hype cycle”? Dan Drezner contrasts the two perspectives and ends up in the skeptical camp [Foreign Policy account needed].
Mathis Lohaus

Links: Big data, Climate policy, Filibuster, Germany

Texas Senate (Public domain via Wikimedia)
“The Senate Chamber of the Texas Capitol” Source: Wikimedia (public domain)

Today’s links somehow focus on U.S. politics. But all of the topics matter globally, so please bear with me. Also, we’re pleased to announce that the Economist is as unhappy about the lack of German strategic thinking as we are.

  • Evgeny Morozov on the perils of Big Data: “there is an immense—but mostly invisible—cost to the embrace of Big Data by the intelligence community (and by just about everyone else in both the public and private sectors). That cost is the devaluation of individual and institutional comprehension, epitomized by our reluctance to investigate the causes of actions and jump straight to dealing with their consequences.
  • Obama didn’t really talk about climate policy in his Brandenburg Gate speech, but he did so yesterday. The excellent Duck of Minerva covers the main points and adds interesting links with further information.
  • By now everyone must have heard of the filibuster in Texas, right? For a nice summary and an appreciation of the crowd in the Senate building, check out The Monkey Cage.
  • Fun fact: Did you know that all U.S. states except Nebraska have upper houses?
  • Bonus fun fact: In Nebraska, the unicameral state legislature is called Legislature, but the representatives call themselves … Senators! (Wikipedia)

In line with our negative assessments of German strategy and leadership in the last weeks (ex. 1, ex. 2), please make sure to check out the Economist’s recent special report on Germany, the “reluctant hegemon”:

“On the euro, Germany’s competitiveness agenda is insufficient, and based on a distorted reading of the country’s own history. And Germany’s energy policy is less an example of bold leadership than of an ill-planned unilateralism that illustrates the country’s deep reluctance to think strategically about international challenges.”

Don’t worry, there are some more positive bits in there. The whole thing is available through the navigation on the right hand side of their website.