February 05, 2014

How the Swiss government keeps its secrets secret

The price of a T-shirt

tshirt-enghttp://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business/The_price_of_a_T-shirt.html?cid=37881964

Switzerland: Foreign firms can't bid computer and communication tenders

swissinfo.ch and agencies
February 5, 2014 - 18:55

http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Foreign_firms_frozen_out_of_IT_contracts.html?cid=37893576

The Swiss cabinet has decided that foreign firms will no longer be able to bid for important government computer and communication tenders, reacting to allegations that foreign intelligence services have been carrying out illegal activities in Switzerland.
Invoking state security, cabinet said that service contracts for “vital” central infrastructure would only be awarded when possible to Swiss-based companies with a majority of local shareholders and providing those services from Switzerland.

The new rules cover contracts with the army as well as for mobile phones and computers. The decision is the result of talks within the cabinet about potential risks to government infrastructure, announced by the finance ministry on Wednesday.

The decision comes after the Federal Prosecutor's Office launched in November a full-blown investigation on the basis of a “genuine suspicion” of surveillance by foreign secret services.

There had already been preliminary investigations into alleged US spying activities in Switzerland revealed by former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden in June. Special mandates were given to the justice, foreign and finance ministries to seek further clarifications about possible NSA snooping on Swiss soil with a view to “adopting definite measures”.

Snowden had allegedly worked for the CIA in Geneva in 2007 under the guise of a diplomat. It was here, he said, that he first encountered the scale of the snooping operation. Washington told Switzerland after the revelations that the US respected Swiss laws.

However, in October the German magazine Der Spiegel claimed, based on a 2010 document provided by Snowden, that the US embassy in Geneva houses a powerful joint NSA-CIA electronic monitoring station.


Investigations into alleged spying on Swiss soil have taken a new turn with the Federal Prosecutor's Office opening criminal proceedings on the basis of a “genuine suspicion” of surveillance by foreign secret services.
“Various clarifications are under way, and will be later examined,” the office told the Swiss News Agency, confirming reports in two Swiss Sunday newspapers.

In particular, article 271 of the penal code, which lists punishable acts by a foreign state, had been broken, according to the office. It would not comment further on other aspects of the proceedings.

A request to open an investigation has been presented to the cabinet.

According to reports in Le Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung, the probe would focus primarily on spying activities by the United States.
Snowden fallout

Last month the Swiss government announced it had widened investigations into alleged US spying activities in Switzerland revealed by former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden. Special mandates were given to the justice, foreign and finance ministries to seek further clarifications about possible NSA snooping on Swiss soil with a view to “adopting definite measures”.

Back in June Snowden told The Guardian newspaper that he had worked for the CIA in Geneva in 2007 under the guise of a diplomat. It was here, he said, that he first encountered the scale of the snooping operation. He also described how the CIA recruited a Geneva banker by purposely getting him drunk and then helping him after he was arrested whilst driving.

Washington has told Switzerland the US respected Swiss laws.

However, in October the German Der Spiegel magazine claimed, based on a 2010 document provided by Snowden, that the US embassy in Geneva houses a powerful joint NSA-CIA electronic monitoring station.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer has said Swiss government had never had any contact with the NSA and denied speculation that Switzerland had exchanged data with the agency. The government has condemned any sort of intelligence activities by a foreign service in Switzerland.

swissinfo.ch and agencies
November 13, 2013 - 15:13
The Swiss government says it has widened its investigation into alleged US spying activities in Switzerland revealed by former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The cabinet announced on Wednesday that it had given special mandates to the justice, foreign and finance ministries to seek further clarifications about possible NSA snooping on Swiss soil with a view to “adopting definite measures”.

The controversy has alarmed certain parliamentarians. The Swiss government is facing calls for political measures and the parliamentary committee that oversees the Swiss intelligence services wants information about possible collaboration with the NSA. It announced on Tuesday that it had requested additional documentation.

Meanwhile, the Green Party wants to organise a special debate on the issue during the next parliamentary session, while the Social Democrats are calling for a parliamentary enquiry.

In June Snowden told The Guardian newspaper that he had worked for the CIA in Geneva in 2007 under the guise of a diplomat. It was here, he said, that he first encountered the scale of the snooping operation. He also described how the CIA recruited a Geneva banker by purposely getting him drunk and then helping him after he was arrested whilst driving.

The Swiss government immediately sought explanations from Washington and was told the US had respected Swiss laws. In September it announced it had ordered the defence ministry to continue an investigation into possible US spying.

In October the German Der Spiegel magazine claimed, based on a 2010 document provided by Snowden, that the US embassy in Geneva houses a powerful joint NSA-CIA electronic monitoring station.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer told reporters the Swiss government had never had any contact with the NSA and denied speculation that Switzerland had exchanged data with the agency. However, he said Switzerland was cooperating with the US in the fight against terrorism.

However, Spain's El Mundo newspaper in October published new documents based on Snowden leaks showing Switzerland as one of 19 countries participating in "Focused Cooperation" with the NSA.

The government on Wednesday again condemned any sort of intelligence activities by a foreign service in Switzerland.

It recalled that alongside Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein it had submitted an initiative to the United Nations Human Rights Council to protect individual privacy. Switzerland also supports a similar resolution presented by Germany and Brazil to the UN General Assembly.

What Links the Threat of a U.S. Default with the Destabilization of Ukraine?

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2014/02/05/what-links-threat-of-a-us-default-with-destabilization-ukraine.html
Nikolai MALISHEVSKI | 05.02.2014 | 00:00


At the Munich Security Conference the Ukrainian opposition and the U.S. essentially agreed on a plan to force Viktor Yanukovich to capitulate. Arseniy Yatsenyuk told of this plan of action, which was worked out with the direct participation of Western representatives, after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU officials. While the «Euromaidan» is shoring up its tents, showing that it is there for the long haul, the State Department has appointed a time by which the regime change operation in Ukraine is to be finished: March 24. That is how the message which appeared on the official site of the U.S. State Department on January 24 could be interpreted:



«Ukraine Travel Alert. The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the potential risks of travel to Ukraine due to the ongoing political unrest and violent clashes between police and protesters. Protest-related violence, particularly in Kyiv, has escalated sharply since January 19, resulting in several deaths and hundreds of injuries.  Protesters have occupied Kyiv’s Independence Square and several government buildings in Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine.  Groups of young men, popularly called “titushky,” have attacked journalists and protesters and committed other random acts of violence in Kyiv and other cities.  U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all protests, demonstrations, and large gatherings.  U.S. citizens whose residences or hotels are located in the vicinity of the protests are cautioned to leave those areas or prepare to remain indoors, possibly for several days, should clashes occur.  This travel alert expires on March 24, 2014».

The start of implementation of the regime change plan most likely will coincide with February 7. Two significant events are to occur on this date: the start of the Olympic Games in Sochi and the deadline on suspension of the cap on the U.S. state debt agreed upon by the President and the Congress.

Today, as six months ago, when the situation in Syria abruptly deteriorated and everyone was expecting the beginning of a military campaign against that country, the masters of the dollar from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government once again face the same self-destructive dilemma: to default and declare America bankrupt or to raise the debt ceiling once again and further toughen austerity measures. On the international arena this dilemma is directly linked with the need to reevaluate the status and role of American currency.

The masters of the dollar are unable to resolve the problem which is making America's life difficult. In recent years they have merely been postponing a solution, making do with initiating cataclysms to distract attention from the dramatic situation with America's currency. Now a new flare-up in the problem has been postponed until February after something similar occurred last autumn amid the dramatic happenings which fastened the entire world's attention to Syria (the drama was instigated by America's allies among the Islamist terrorists who falsified a «chemical attack» in August 2013). A similar refocusing of the world media's attention is occurring today, but this time the role of the main «distraction» is being played by the disturbances and pogroms on the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.



Compare these two illustrations; they are identical. In the illustration framed in red are instructions in Arabic developed by American specialists during the first stage of the «popular protest» in Syria (2011). Framed in yellow are instructions in Ukrainian for Kiev's Maidan activists.

The problem of a U.S. default first became a major issue in 2008, soon after Moscow's statement that Russia is setting a course toward economic integration of Eurasian countries. Then the Americans were able to distract the world's attention by shifting it to the slaughter in South Ossetia started by their Georgian puppets on the day of the opening of the Olympics in Beijing and to what the world media called «the beginning of the global economic crisis».

The default of the «global superpower» and the collapse of the currency system and the dollar will most likely not take place immediately after February 7 either, despite the most acute financial and economic crisis since the time of the Great Depression and the astronomical proportions of the aggregate debt of the United States. The masters of the American currency have initiated a whole series of crises which could give the dollar its next reprieve.

The most «promising» crisis has been created around Ukraine, to whose shores the U.S. is already prepared to send its warships under the pretext of the Sochi Olympics. Thanks to the sensation surrounding the disturbances in Ukraine, key facts which testify to the acuteness of the problems facing Americans remain practically unnoticed in the world media. Such as information about the size of the drop in the real disposable income (RDI) of Americans since 1974 (the change is reflected in the following graph):



These events affect Europe as well. Even pro-American Polish politicians, such as former president of Poland A. Kwasniewski, who represents the European Parliament in Ukraine with regard to the Tymoshenko case, speak of this with alarm. «The situation in Ukraine,» says Kwasniewski, «could get completely out of the control of the authorities and the opposition and have extremely tragic consequences not only for Ukrainians, but for the European Union as well... The fact that innocent people are being killed in Ukraine could cause a wave of migration and economic problems... We truly are in danger of a great tragedy. I think that European diplomats, diplomats from neighboring countries and Poland should be very sensitive to these matters. We could end up in a spiral of events which we will no longer be able to stop..».

Besides the crisis in Ukraine, which is distracting the international public from the upcoming battle for the future of the dollar on Capitol Hill, another three «backup» crises are being prepared in Thailand, Egypt and Syria. On the eve of the Olympics, Damascus is supposed to report on the liquidation of its chemical weapons. The plan adopted in November provides for the weapons to be completely removed from the country by February 5. However, Syria is clearly lagging behind schedule. But both Damascus's fulfillment (disarming before a potential aggressor) and non-fulfillment of its obligations with regard to chemical weapons give Washington a pretext to step up actions against Syria, Russia's last Middle Eastern frontier. It's not for nothing that at the Munich Security Conference the U.S. attempted once again to talk with Syria in the language of ultimatums, and the radical Islamists from the Caucasus Emirate, who are fighting on the side of the Syrian rebels, are already prepared to act in Ukraine after the recent call for their confederates to «go on jihad» both in Syria and in the Northern Caucasus.

Governing the Geostationary Orbit: Orbital Slots and Spectrum Use in an Era of Interference


Guilhem PENENT
Note de l'Ifri, January 2014
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Executive Summary

Outer space, particularly in the telecommunication sector, is benefiting and becoming accessible to more and more actors. But with this trend comes also a reality that is every day more compelling: no meaningful development can be achieved without a clear, stable and predictable interference-free environment for the use and control of all satellites that depend upon ready access to radio frequencies and appropriate geostationary orbital slots to function properly.

The increasing incidence of harmful interference these recent years, including intentional ones implying a deliberate purpose to obstruct reception of specific information against which no technical efficient counter measure exists, is putting in danger this capacity to continue operating safely. Despite itself, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in charge of the rational, equitable, efficient and economical management of the orbit spectrum resource is increasingly becoming a permanent battlefield between opposing interests. And the ability of this specialized agency of the United Nations to remain aloof from broader political issues is now being challenged on a regular basis.

In the face of such a worrying development, the costs of non-action can only be but prohibitively high as noted by Frank Asbeck, Special Adviser for Space and Security Policy to the European External Action Service (EEAS), in the preface to the topic of the book. While paying tribute to efforts that aimed at elevating public awareness concerning the illegal jamming of satellite transmissions, Mr. Asbeck insists on the importance this issue has for the European Union from a human rights as well as space security point of view.

The present book aims at placing the issue of the orbit/frequency governance at the heart of the European political agenda. It is the main outcome of a one half-day workshop on “Orbital Slots and Spectrum Use: a Governance Outlook” held in Paris (France) in April 2013 whose objective was to establish a precise diagnostic of the situation. To this end, both the functioning of the current system of governance and the reasons and processes explaining why the system might be deteriorating were discussed by recognized academics and experts, as well as representatives from space agencies, national and international regulatory entities and satellite fleet operators.
As manifested repeatedly in the contributions contained in this study, at least three main areas of interests require further focus: 1) the need for a large understanding and awareness of the issue of harmful interference with, notably, a better knowledge of the difference between the different types of interference, be they internal to the satellite network or external, deliberate or unintentional; 2) the need to improve the ITU process by giving it some ability to confirm the source and nature of frequency jamming and take informed actions and decisions that would be more compulsory in nature; 3) the need to consider the broader legal regime and the relevance of other instruments.

The study itself is divided into three parts. Following some preliminary comments on the ITU regime and its evolution over the years with regards to the use of radio frequencies and orbits, the first section on “Getting into the Picture: Satellite Communications Today” captures the basic debate on satellite communications from a legal and political point of view. It is opened by three authors focusing on the different contexts surrounding the issue of harmful interference.
While Xavier Pasco identifies the key historical trends behind the transformation of the satellite communications activity from the early days and their consequences on the whole collective governance issue, Tanja Masson-Zwann investigates in details the ITU regime and the space law regime and finds the latter better suited for solving today’s politically-motivated cases of intentional harmful interference. These are also the subject of the next article by Guilhem Penent on the historical debate of whether states should be given the right to interfere deliberately with the flow of information coming across their borders.

The second section, entitled “Increasing Harmful Interference, a Rationale for Action?,” gets to the heart of the topic and highlights the different definitional issues at stake, while laying at the same time the foundations of an informed conversation between some of the main concerned actors. In particular, it establishes the relevant issue areas for harmful interference in respect to satellite communications and draws attention to some recent initiatives proposed to better enforce existing provisions at the ITU.

In a welcome move, the two first contributions, by Claire Jolly and the European Satellite Operator’s Association (ESOA), explore the complexity of satellite signals interferences by analyzing and discussing both the context, different types and possible sources, and the difficult but vital question of the assessment of the intent in the “harm.” Although unintentional interference is the most frequent and must not be overlooked, intentional or targeted interference, including pirate transmissions, is on the rise and raises special and unique challenges for which the ITU is not necessarily well equipped.

The main reason, as recalled by Philippe Achilleas, is that intentional interference hovers at the interface between telecommunications law, defined as the law of networks, and freedom of expression, presented as the law of content. Though victims of such practices can choose to act by means of the mechanisms related to human rights, should they bring the case before the ITU, they will witness several initiatives taking form to improve the efficiency of current mechanisms of dispute resolution. According to Laurence Ravillon, these efforts involve both the downstream recourse to more formal dispute resolution methods, and the upstream implementation of an independent monitoring system.

What has been lacking until now is a genuine perspective coming from the main actors, including the relevant regulatory body having jurisdiction over satellite interferences and the three larger fixed satellite service operators. ITU’s response to the increasing number of cases of harmful interference is thus discussed by Yvon Henri of the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) in the context notably of the last World Radiocommunication Conference. As for the fleet operators, Paris-based Eutelsat naturally places emphasis on deliberate jamming for which it has suffered greatly since 2009 in its home territory of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Like its slightly larger Luxembourg neighbor, Intelsat, SES concern is much more focused on unintentional interference and current initiatives created to mitigate its effect as in the case of the Satellite Data Association (SDA).

One issue that has started to draw the worried attention of the entire space community has been the growing interference between terrestrial networks and satellite signals. In a useful attempt to effectively explore the hidden dimensions of the issue, Alain Austruy suggests several avenues for reflection with regards to the allocation and coordination in the frequency bands below 6 GHz within the European context.

The third and final section helps put the topic into perspective by offering three opinions on “Satellite Communications and Space Governance in the Coming Years,” three steps toward a better understanding of ITU’s role. Victor Strelets, one of the twelve members of the Radio Regulations Board (RRB) of the ITU, provides a defense of the current international regulatory framework and its merits, including its adaptability. Sergio Marchisio acts as a bridge by reminding us that the ITU regime is not self-contained, but should be interpreted in close connection with the general principles of space law and international law. Gérard Brachet takes this opportunity to discuss a series of converging international initiatives for the safety and sustainability of space activities, all relevant to harmful interference.

Finally, the conclusion outlines the essence of the different issues discussed in the book and attempts to make explicit the different logics behind harmful interference in space telecommunications on the basis of a power-oriented approach.
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Unmanned Air Systems: The Future of Air & Sea Power?


 

Paul ROGERS

Focus stratégique, No. 49, January 2014
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Since their early use for primitive ISR and combined operations, UAS have developed into increasingly multipurpose instruments performing a wide array of missions (from limited strike operations, search and monitoring to time-sensitive targeting) and offering new maneuver options to the armed forces. These improvements in range, speed, endurance, situational awareness and payload, achieved through adaptive use of new information technologies, were catalyzed by the Afghanistan and Iraq testing grounds that proved critical in breaking institutional resistance.  Yet for all their contribution to the shaping of a quick learning curve, these developments have occurred in permissive airspace. After tracing back the history of UAS development, this paper argues that the US can overcome the different challenges to UAS brought by contested and denied airspace, as traditional power threats constrain force projection through A2AD strategies. To increase their force multiplier potential, the US will likely improve UAS capabilities in stealth, evasiveness, maneuverability and automation, strengthening both air and sea power.

Since their early use for primitive ISR and combined operations, UAS have developed into increasingly multipurpose instruments performing a wide array of missions (from limited strike operations, search and monitoring to time-sensitive targeting) and offering new maneuver options to the armed forces. These improvements in range, speed, endurance, situational awareness and payload, achieved through adaptive use of new information technologies, were catalyzed by the Afghanistan and Iraq testing grounds that proved critical in breaking institutional resistance.  Yet for all their contribution to the shaping of a quick learning curve, these developments have occurred in permissive airspace. After tracing back the history of UAS development, this paper argues that the US can overcome the different challenges to UAS brought by contested and denied airspace, as traditional power threats constrain force projection through A2AD strategies. To increase their force multiplier potential, the US will likely improve UAS capabilities in stealth, evasiveness, maneuverability and automation, strengthening both air and sea power.

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India-US ties face new test over Devyani's legal war



Chidanand Rajghatta,TNN | Feb 3, 2014, 03.32 AM IST

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-US-ties-face-new-test-over-Devyanis-legal-war/articleshow/29789835.cms
READ MORE Washington|US Attorney Preet Bharara|Khobragade episode|Indian diplomat|Immunity
India-US ties face new test over Devyani's legal war
The State Department last week legally backed the insistence of its law-enforcement brigade that Devyani Khobragade did not enjoy diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest, and therefore US authorities were not wrong in arresting and detaining her.

WASHINGTON: Any expectation that New Delhi and Washington would tide over and quickly heal from the so-called Khobragade episode involving immunity relating to an Indian diplomat's alleged criminal infractions are being laid to rest. The two sides are in for a long, ugly, bruising battle, some of it already being played out in a New York courtroom.

The State Department last week legally backed the insistence of its law-enforcement brigade that Devyani Khobragade did not enjoy diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest, and therefore US authorities were not wrong in arresting and detaining her. More to the point, Washington's legal interpretation gave a green light to US Attorney Preet Bharara to continue pursuing the case, with the observation that Khobragade does not presently enjoy immunity from prosecution for the crimes charged in the indictment.

''The Department of State concludes that Devyani did not enjoy immunity from arrest or detention at the time of her arrest in this case, and she does not presently enjoy immunity from prosecution for the crimes charged in the indictment,'' the January 29 declaration signed by Attorney-Advisor in the Office of the Legal Advisor of the Department of State Stephen Kerr said.

Bharara's office promptly submitted the declaration to the court as part of eight supporting documents aimed at showing that Devyani is not immune from prosecution and that the indictment against her should not be dismissed. The motion came in response to a request made by Devyani's lawyer Daniel Arshack on January 14 that asked the court to dismiss the indictment and terminate any ''open'' arrest warrants or requests for her extradition. Arshack now has time till February 7 to file his reply to the government's motion.

''The US Attorney is again wrong on the facts and the law. The court will decide these issues.'' Arshack said, soon after Bharara's deputies Kristy Greenberg and Amanda Kramer filed a 22-page memorandum on Friday.

While some diplomats maintained that the to-and-fro was part of the legal skirmish that was only to be expected, others saw dark forebodings over the State Department's legal sanction to proceed with the case despite efforts to defuse the situation on the diplomatic front.

Riding on the State Department legal advisor's declaration, Bharara said the US government has ''unequivocally concluded'' that Devyani did not employ her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard in her capacity as Deputy Consul General and so does not enjoy immunity from prosecution for the ''crimes'' for which she was arrested in December.

''The acts giving rise to the charges in the indictment were not performed in Devyani's exercise of her functions as a member of the mission both because they were performed well before her assignment to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN and because the hiring of Richard was not an official act,'' Bharara said, quoting the declaration.

Moreover, he maintained, Khobragade's attempts through her motion ''to concoct a theory of immunity out of a UNGA 'Blue Card' that she purportedly had for a brief Indian delegation visit to the UN that ended close to three months before her arrest...fails both factually and legally...''

The State Department's legalistic position, enabling what some Indian interlocutors see as Bharara's provocative language (which in effect accused the Government of India of ''concocting'' immunity for Khobragade), when New Delhi insists she had immunity all along, has caused much heartburn in diplomatic circles with talk of blowback.

While some mandarins cautioned that one should not conflate strategic ties with day-to-day bureaucratic and legal battles, others suggested that it was inevitable that the spat on the law-and-order side would spill over to the strategic turf.

Even former US diplomats who have served previously in India are surprised that the political wing in the State Department has allowed legal and security personnel to call the shots. One former US diplomat said it was inconceivable that this could have happened without the sanction of the highest level at the State Department (Secretary of State John Kerry) and the U.S ambassador to New Delhi (Nancy Powell).

A More Assertive German Foreign Policy


Geopolitical Weekly
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2014
Stratfor
By George Friedman and Marc Lanthemann

The Ukrainian crisis is important in itself, but the behavior it has elicited from Germany is perhaps more important. Berlin directly challenged Ukraine's elected president for refusing to tighten relations with the European Union and for mistreating Ukrainians who protested his decision. In challenging President Viktor Yanukovich, Berlin also challenged Russia, a reflection of Germany's recent brazen foreign policy.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has pursued a relatively tame foreign policy. But over the past week, Berlin appeared to have acknowledged the need for a fairly dramatic change. German leaders, including the chancellor, the president, the foreign minister and the defense minister, have called for a new framework that contravenes the restraint Germany has practiced for so long. They want Germany to assume a greater international role by becoming more involved outside its borders politically and militarily.

For Berlin, the announcement of this high-level strategic shift comes amid a maelstrom of geopolitical currents. As the de facto leader of the European Union, Germany has to contend with and correct the slow failure of the European project. It has to adjust to the U.S. policy of global disengagement, and it must manage a complex, necessary and dangerous relationship with Russia. A meek foreign policy is not well suited to confront the situation in which Germany now finds itself. If Germany doesn't act, then who will? And if someone else does, will it be in Germany's interest? The latter is perhaps the more intriguing question.

Setting Boundaries

Such a reconfiguration shows that Germany has its own national interests that may differ from those of its alliance partners. For most countries, this would seem self-evident. But for Germany, it is a radical position, given its experience in World War II. It has refrained from asserting a strong foreign policy and from promoting its national interest lest it revive fears of German aggression and German nationalism. The Germans may have decided that this position is no longer tenable -- and that promoting their national interests does not carry the risk it once did.

The timing of the announcement, as Ukraine's strategic position between Russia and Europe continues to make headlines, was not coincidental. While the timing benefited Germany, it would be a mistake to ascribe too much importance to Ukraine itself, particularly from the German perspective. That is not to say Ukraine should be discounted entirely. As a borderland between the European Peninsula and Russia, its future potentially matters to Germany -- if not now then perhaps in the future, when unexpected regional realities might show themselves.

Ukraine is an indispensable borderland for Russia, but it has little value for any modern power that has no designs against Russia. It is one of the gateways into the heart of Russia. A hostile power occupying Ukraine would threaten Russian national security. But the reverse is not true: Ukraine is not a primary route from Russia into Europe (World War II is a notable exception) because the Carpathian Mountains discourage invasion. So unless the Germans are planning a new war with Russia -- and they aren't -- Ukraine matters little to Europe or the Germans.

The same is true in the economic realm. Ukraine is important to Russia, particularly for transporting energy to Europe. But outside of energy transport, Ukraine is not that important to Europe. Indeed, for all that has been said about Ukraine's relationship to the European Union, it has never been clear why the bloc has made it such a contentious issue. The European Union is tottering under the weight of Southern Europe's enormously high unemployment rate, Eastern Europe's uncertainty about the value of being part of Europe's banking system and currency union, and a growing policy rift between France and Germany. The chances that the Europeans would add Ukraine to an organization that already boasts Greece, Cyprus and other crippled economies are so slim that considerations to the contrary would be irrational. The fact that Ukraine is not getting into the bloc makes German policy even harder to fathom.

Of course, some European countries have more of an interest in Ukraine than others, particularly those formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. For Poland and the Baltic states, Russia remains the major geopolitical foe in a way that Western Europe cannot fully comprehend. These relatively small and new members cannot compel the EU heavyweights to commit to a plan of action that would go too far in provoking Russia, but they can still push their peers to take a more measured action.

During the Orange Revolution, U.S.-led Western powers openly funded opposition groups in the former Soviet states, threatening Russia's strategic interests to the point that it had to eventually invade Georgia to show the consequences of Western meddling. Over the past month, Germany has been behaving similarly, albeit to a smaller degree: opening partisan ties and giving relatively low-cost financial and rhetorical support to opposition groups that can irritate Russia without actually causing an immediate break with Moscow.

For the past decade, Germany could not afford to alienate Russia, which Berlin thought could be the answers to some of Germany's problems. It could reliably supply relatively cheap energy, it was a potential source of low-cost labor, and it was a potential destination market for German exporters looking for alternatives to stagnating EU markets.

Diplomatically, Moscow could have become a close ally and strategic partner as erstwhile allies appeared to be growing increasingly hostile to Germany. Relations with the United States were tense ever since Berlin refused to participate in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's support for EU-wide austerity measures strained Germany's ties with Southern Europe and France.

But the reality was otherwise. There is a fit between Germany and Russia, but it is at best an imperfect one. Russia never industrialized or modernized as Germany and many others had hoped as it reaped the profits of high commodity prices. Under President Vladimir Putin, Moscow became increasingly autocratic and went on the political and economic offensive in Central and Eastern Europe.

This conflicts with Germany's strategic goals. Berlin's core imperative is to preserve its economic power, which is highly dependent on exports. The European economic crisis has caused consumption to falter in the European Union, leading Berlin to search for export markets further afield. While it has had some success in China and the United States for certain industries, it has not been able to shed its overwhelming dependence on European markets as a general destination for its goods. Thus, Germany's only possible course of action is preserving and eventually reinvigorating the free trade zone in Europe.

Russia's resurgence in Central Europe has concerned EU members in that region. On the surface, the Germans were prepared to live with that resurgence even though it appeared to threaten to unravel the bloc. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are indispensable components of the German industrial supply chain and a source of relatively cheap skilled labor. That they should remain in the German sphere of influence is a non-negotiable position for Berlin.

These issues are not new, but until now Germany had been constrained in how it could establish firm boundaries with Moscow. Berlin believed its dependence on Russian energy was a vulnerability that Russia could exploit if it chose to. In addition, it was concerned about Russia's ability to wrest Central Europe from EU control. In a worst-case scenario, Germany would end up with a fragmented Europe, a distant United States and a hostile Russia.

The fact that Germany actively supported opposition groups in Ukraine, particularly in the absence of a pressing strategic imperative to do so, is a sign that something has changed in Berlin's calculus toward Russia. It seems as though the German government has determined that Russia is facing major challenges at home; that its position in Europe is weaker than it appears; that the risk of energy cutoffs are minimal; and that there are no long-term economic benefits to an economic relationship with Russia that goes beyond energy trade. That last point cannot be overstated. Russia is poised to remain the most important supplier of energy to Europe, and while the dependency runs both ways -- Europe is Russia's largest customer -- Germany will make sure the flow of energy continues unimpeded.

With the United States increasingly depending on a balance of power approach to its foreign policy, relying more heavily on regional actors to manage threats, the long-term U.S. security guarantees that had been the hallmark of European defense since 1945 can no longer be counted on in Berlin. As NATO continues to fray and the challenges posed by an increasingly volatile Russia loom, Germany seems to be taking the first step back into establishing a new national and regional security framework.

A New Element

Germany's talk of a new, more assertive foreign policy that relies more heavily on its military is, however, not solely linked to concerns over Russia or the United States. Germany has accepted that its only option is to rally Europe but as the past six years have shown, it has had limited success on the economic front. The European Union is an economic entity, but economics has turned from being the binding element to being a centrifugal force. Either something new must be introduced into the European experiment, or it might come undone.

Berlin believes that holding the European Union together requires adding another dimension that it heretofore has withheld in its dealing with the bloc: military-political relations. Standing up to a weakening Russia will appeal to Central European nations, and taking a more active role overseas would endear Berlin to Paris. Germany's allusions that it would expand its international military operations, particularly in Africa, is a clear nod to France, which has consistently expressed its desire for a deeper military and political partnership with Germany.

Notably, the drive to bring Germany closer to France in the short term could create tensions between them in the long term. Last week's summit between British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande was a reminder that France and the United Kingdom may have extremely different views regarding the European Union but still see each other as a military partner and, more important, as a counterweight to Germany.

Of course, Germany is in no position to take military action. It is in a position to posit the possibility in some vague way, thereby generating political forces that can temporarily hold things together. Berlin needs to buy time, particularly in Central Europe, where Hungary has embarked on an independent course and is being watched carefully by others. With the United States unwilling to become involved, Germany either becomes the counterweight or lives with the consequences.

At first, Germany's actions seemed confusing and uncharacteristic. But they become more sensible when you consider that that Berlin is looking for other tools to hold the European Union together as it re-evaluates Russia. So far, Germany's announcement has been met positively, mainly outside Germany, but the tension that a stronger and more assertive Berlin exerts on the European continent and the global stage are sure to come to the fore again. For now, however, Merkel has no choice.

Read more: A More Assertive German Foreign Policy | Stratfor
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