Author Archive

Germany: Towards A New Role and Renewed Relations

The national conscious of the Nazi atrocities in German memory has led to cautiousness towards conflict in the German public and government. While this position is a natural reaction and in many respects noble, it has unfortunately decreased Germany’s ability and consequent role to be an international peacekeeper and decision maker. Indeed, Germany’s relations with traditional powers such as the United States and Great Britain have undoubtedly been affected by the apprehension associated with German worldwide involvement. In order to sufficiently repair important diplomatic relationships and raise its role as a purveyor of social democracy, Germany must engage in a plan to increase militarization with the appropriate adjustment of political stance to encourage public opinion towards proactive international contributions.

In the wake of World War 2, West Germany was decidedly demilitarized in order to avert future German involvement in conflict and to spur economic growth by focusing funds on development and human capital. Though West Germany rearmament occurred in 1951 in reaction to the Korean War, West Germany’s military (and later reunified Germany’s) was willfully smaller in comparison to other NATO nations. This has continued to this day, where German spending on military as a percentage of GDP is significantly less than other industrialized nations (approximately 1.5% of GDP in 2003 compared to 4% in America, 2.4% in the UK). Further, “According to a Department of Defense report, Germany’s defense spending was 1.45% of GDP in 2003 and with $35 billion amounted to less than ten percent of US spending ($384 billion). The only US allies with a larger defense spending than Germany were France, the UK and Japan. As percentage of GDP, however, Germany’s defense spending is smaller than those of 21 US allies.” Politics and policy have been similarly affected: Germany participated in Operating Enduring Freedom because of NATO commitments, but was a staunch opponent of action against Iraq, leading to a freeze of relations between Germany and several countries.

Currently, the German economy is the fifth richest in the world per capita and third largest in the world by nominal GDP. Conversely, Germany is the 36th biggest provider of military and police contributions to UN efforts (in-between Rwanda at 35 and Slovakia at 37). Combined with NATO figures, Germany contributes approximately 6700 troops worldwide, including two thousand in Afghanistan. The invasion of Afghanistan, a multilateral operation agreed upon by NATO, serves as an excellent example. German assistance is done at considerable smaller percentages than other NATO nations, with 20 thousand originating from the United States, 2500 from Canada, and 1000 from Spain. Further, Romania, a country with an average income of $3000, contributed over 800 troops.

However, Germany is presently experiencing an economic stagnation combined with high unemployment. A logical part of the solution could be increased spending on military and efforts towards recruitment, especially in East Germany where poverty and joblessness has fueled the rise of Neo-Nazi groups. A simple rise to 2 percent of GDP spent on military, on par with other modernized nations, would mean an increase of 11 billion dollars.

German’s increased involvement worldwide will have numerous positive outcomes. Countries such as Romania and Slovakia, relatively new NATO and EU members, will not be forced to carry the burden that could be sufficiently executed by more traditional and developed countries such as Germany. This will buoy German position in its two most important member groups, NATO and the EU. Domestically, increased employment for able-bodied Germans will hinder extremism and the hostility in the reunified nation. Most importantly, Germany will emerge as a proactive, rather than reactive, member of the international community, contributing to the welfare of the globe and repairing its relations with the United States and Great Britain.


Submitted to Carnival of German-American Relations



For those of you in NYC, June 3rd

An important event in New York City next weekend being run by Independent Viewpoints:


Date: Saturday, June 3rd 2006
Time: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM

New York Society for Ethical Culture
2 West 64th Street at Central Park West
New York, NY 10023

AM Session: Shia-Sunni Speakers’ Panel Discussion

Moderated by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!
PM Session: A Dialogue with Noam Chomsky
Small Group Discussions:
8-10 audience members in each group, Seating is limited
Ticket Price:

$20/ticket online if purchased by May 26th,
$35 thereafter and at the door
Profits to go to Iraqi Relief

Click here for more info



Addressing Corruption in Russia

Unfortunately for many post-Soviet style countries, corruption has embedded itself deep into society, and has continued to influence all spheres of life. Democracy did not solve this problem, but rather turned the patronage system into an electable charity. Vladmir Putin, fresh off a state of the union address that championed domestic reform with not so subtle warnings to America, has promised recently to address the corruption that plagues the Russian bureaucracy. Pavel K. Baev writes:

The political buzz in Moscow in recent weeks has surrounded corruption, which, according to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, “has acquired the character of a national threat” (Vremya novostei, May 16). No new data have emerged on the scale of this phenomenon, and in the latest Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International, Russia still sits quietly in 126th place, between Niger and Sierra Leone.

The trigger for the new campaign was a phrase Putin used in the opening of his May 10 address to the parliament: “Despite all of the efforts we have made, we have still not yet managed to remove one of the greatest obstacles facing our development, that of corruption.” The proposition was rather feeble and the quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt — on stepping on toes of those “comparative few who seek to retain or to gain position or riches or both by some short cut that is harmful to the greater good” — added an unusual twist, but not much force. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, always attuned to signals from the Kremlin, immediately promised to take all necessary measures and show no mercy in “exterminating this evil” (, May 11). Then several mid-level officers from the Ministry of the Interior, the Customs Service, the Prosecutor’s Office, and, most remarkably, the FSB were sacked. More extra-tough anti-corruption measures were promised, but on the closer look this sudden escalation of the eternal struggle involves several different policies and campaigns packed one inside another like a Russian matryoshka-doll.

The outer layer, the most elaborately decorated one, is a PR exercise where state-controlled TV channels provide calibrated spin for high-level state officials eager to demonstrate their zeal in implementing the president’s orders. Picking a fight against corruption is always popular with the public, and the previous campaign, back in mid-2003, against “turncoats” or “werewolves” in the Ministry of Interior registered positively. The problem here is that, despite all propaganda efforts, the Russians are losing faith in this cause. In a new poll conducted by Ekho Moskvy radio (May 15), 93% expressed the opinion that Putin was not serious about that fight.

The next layer represents Putin’s efforts at strengthening discipline in the vast Russian bureaucracy by activating the “fear factor.” He has good reason to be irritated with the pattern whereby everybody around him is eager to agree with every word he says — but it is impossible to get anything done. In the speech, Putin offered an interesting variation on the theme, reminding state officials about their “social responsibility” (Expert, May 15). That cliché had been previously applied to entrepreneurs as a means to force them to make contributions to various “good causes,” such as the pro-Kremlin United Russia political party. Now the bureaucrats, who, according to Minister of Economic Development German Gref, are engaged in a “Bacchanalia” of confiscation of private businesses, are expected to demonstrate similar “philanthropic” activities (Vremya novostei, May 19).

The third layer constitutes a special case; namely, the grotesque forms of corruption in the Russian Customs Service (Ezhednevny zhurnal, May 17). In April, Putin expressed extreme irritation about the de-facto privatization of the customs sphere, where smart officials and entrepreneurs “merged in ecstasy” (Moscow News, April 21). The real source of that irritation was the fierce struggle between several semi-officials “clans” for control of the customs business, worth billions of U.S. dollars. Now, with the appointment of the new head of the Customs Service, who will answer directly to Fradkov, this struggle appears to be over and the winning clan has consolidated its monopoly with the sacking of the competitors compromised as insufficiently loyal to their minders in the FSB (Ekho Moskvy, May 17).

The fourth layer was appended to this “complex struggle” to add a regional dimension. Official letters were sent to four regions requesting the recall of their representatives to the Federation Council; no explanation was provided, but corruption was implied by combining this demarche in one “news item” with other reshuffles. The reaction, however, was not exactly to Moscow’s liking: First the parliament of Khakassiya refused to recall its “senator,” and then the parliament of the Nenets okrug followed suit (Vedomosti, May 19). The federal center decided to raise the stakes and hit back with a criminal case against Alexei Barinov, the governor of the second mutinous “subject” (Kommersant, May 20). Other regions may join this tug-of-war with their particular grievances, but corruption appears to be just a smoke screen for these complicated intrigues.

The fifth and most secretive layer consists of the reshufflings in the FSB where two generals from the department for the protection of constitutional order and the struggle against terrorism were sacked (Novaya gazeta, May 15). Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the FSB, proudly reported last week on the impressive achievements in the war against terror, but the good PR was spoiled by a series of ambushes in Chechnya, clashes in Dagestan, and the assassination of a Deputy Minister of Interior in Ingushetia (Ezhednevny zhurnal, May 19; see EDM, May 19). The blame was duly allocated to those who cannot produce tangible arguments in their defense, but corruption was merely a cover-up for the increasingly bitter internal squabbles in the all-powerful “special service.”

In a traditional Russian matryoshka doll, the smallest figure is solid, but in Putin’s fight against corruption, beneath all the layers there appears to be just emptiness. In his overgrown state machine, which expanded by some 11% last year, corruption is not a side effect; it is the very mode of existence. The state spreads in every direction from its “commanding heights” in the economy by legalizing bureaucratic extortion and it asserts its dominance over society by monopolizing the distribution of the petro-ruble pot. The corrupt appetites are growing even faster than the oil revenues, and Putin’s dietary prescriptions could not make even the slightest impression on the obesity of his predatory system.



Victims of Their Own Vote

In an ideal world, economic sanctions against a country culpable of having a malicious leader or government promote internal grassroots change. The short version scenario is those responsible for the existence of sanctions, such as Saddam Hussein during the 1990’s or Hamas currently in Palestine, will be ‘starved’ out of office by being unable to provide basic amenities to its constituency. The idea is that food, medicine, and jobs will be so uncertain that public desperation will facilitate regime change, either peaceful or violent.

However, idealism falls on its heels as the opposite often occurs: the Regime is not seen as the harbinger of poverty, but the victim of it. In the end, extreme poverty fosters a counter-productive extremist reaction in citizens: a disdain for those carrying out sanctions and sympathy for the government, consequently consolidating power instead of destabilizing it.

The current situation in Palestine reflects this reality. Hamas has existed as a militant Islamic organization since 1987 and recently won democratic elections in Palestine. The accepted but ill-perceived position in the West, perpetuated by pro-Israeli Think Tanks such as the Washington Institute (for evidence, read this report following the Palestinian elections), is that a terrorist organization was elected for being terrorist. In reality, Hamas was elected in a primarily two-party state (Fatah being the other legitimate party), not for it’s positions towards Israel, but for not being corrupt and hopefully being able to provide basic services Fatah failed to provide.

The situation has escalated since money from the United States, European Union, and the UN have dwindled to pay for government salaries and food and medical supplies. The New York Times covers the despair in Gaza in

Already, says Al Shifa’s general director, Dr. Ibrahim al-Habbash, the hospital can no longer provide chemotherapy for many forms of cancer, has only a few days’ supply of important surgical drugs like atropine, adrenaline, heparin and lidocaine, and has used up its strategic three-month cache normally kept for a health crisis.

…”We’ve suffered in the past, of course, but in the last month, the problems have really increased,” Dr. Habbash said. “There are shortages of medications and disposables in all departments, we’re trying to limit the operating list and people are suffering, even dying, because of these shortages.”

But his anger is a sign of the mounting frustration over the gaps in health care here, which are a result of a double crisis: the budget deficit in the Palestinian Authority — which has worsened significantly since Israel stopped transferring tax collections, and the United States and the European Union cut off aid after the Hamas government took over — and the inability to get goods into Gaza through the main crossing point at Karni, which the Israelis keep closing whenever there is a security alert.

But the victims of the sanctions that have denied them even the most simple health care do not reflect their anger at Hamas or the extremism that may be part author of these problems:

“I borrow from friends and have no more credit at the grocery store,” Mr. Siam said. “Unfortunately, the whole world has chosen to punish us for our vote for Hamas. And I also blame everyone who calls himself a Muslim and who does not help us.”

…In the dialysis ward of Shifa Hospital, Ahmed Shabat, 51, sits in fraying clothes. He must come every other day. “This is my work,” he says, then shows the swollen veins on his arms caused by a lack of mineral supplements normally provided. “What is the relationship between humanitarian and political aims here?” he asked. “The United States is the mother of democracy. What is political about salaries to teachers and nurses? Please,” he said, “please don’t mix humanitarian help with politics. Please separate the two.”

Further, by starving the constituency, sanctions against the Palestinian government have aggravated tensions between Fatah and Hamas.

“The fighting was the latest sign that the two sides could be sliding toward large-scale clashes. Each group has been training its gunmen for possible confrontation, and Hamas recently outbid Fatah in buying a black market shipment of 100,000 bullets.

… Hamas and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, have been wrangling over power, particularly over control of the security forces, and the friction has been compounded by a growing financial crisis – a result of Western economic sanctions against the Hamas-led government.”

While in the comforts of the West, it may be easy for one to denounce Islam, terrorism, and a broad section of the world as perpetuating violence and extremism, the results of such saber rattling have facilitated the demise of the moderate voice in the Middle East. Emboldening those in power and demoralizing the constituency, economic sanctions in Palestine have facilitated conflict and destabilization in a region that the West cannot allow to descend further into anarchy and tyranny.




The Jamestown Foundation, one of the leading anti-terrorism and all together best organizations regarding the movement of former Soviet republics, held a conference in Washington DC a few weeks ago. So what happens?

RUSSIAN BEAR GET ANGRY! That’s right, a few days after the event, the Deputy Foreign Minister sent a formal diplomatic protest to the US Ambassador:

WASHINGTON, DC (4/29/06)–On April 14th, The Jamestown Foundation held a half-day conference entitled “Sadullaev’s Caucasian Front: Prospects for the Next Nalchik” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Subsequent reports by state-run Russian media falsely alleged that the conference and its participants promoted terrorist attacks in the Russian Federation. Those false allegations later sparked a diplomatic protest by Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak to U.S. Ambassador William Burns in Moscow.

The Jamestown Foundation today released a brief summary of the conference proceedings in order to further refute mischaracterizations by Russian officials and state-owned media. The summary also provides policy-makers and the public with information concerning the growing separatist insurgency in the North Caucasus and its implications for both regional and international security. Copies of the summary are available in PDF format by clicking here.

It’s bad enough that Russia is slipping away from democracy, but to try to inhibit free speech on others soil in an attempt to stop what it views as anti-Russian free discourse is draconian.


Hot On The Web