Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht,
Dann bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht
Ich kann nicht mehr die Augen schließen,
Und meine heißen Tränen fließen.
—From Nachtgedanken by Heinrich Heine, 1844
In his poem Nachtgedanken (“Night Thoughts”), written in 1844, the Jewish German writer Heinrich Heine yearned for unity and modernity in his fragmented, feudal-ruled homeland. “If I think of Germany at night, it robs me of my sleep”, he wrote in the first two lines of one of the country’s best-known poems.
I feel similarly about Germany right now.
First as a language student and then as a young foreign correspondent, I spent some of my formative years in what was then West Germany.… Seguir leyendo »
The less you know about the old Cold War, the more you’ll be tempted to feel nostalgia—or shivers down your spine. One narrative glorifies the decadeslong conflict as a time of crystalline moral clarity—a Manichean struggle between good and evil, pursued with exemplary collective purpose and discipline. It ended in triumph with the collapse of communism: the disintegration first of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and then of the Soviet Union itself. Never mind that the East-West struggle played out very differently for many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where it was an era of proxy wars fueled by ruthless superpower competition.… Seguir leyendo »
It would have been wiser to wait. That was the unmistakable message from Washington to Brussels last month as the EU neared agreement on its new investment agreement with China. Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, dryly said that “early consultations” would be welcome. Matt Pottinger, an able Mandarin-speaking official in the present administration, was blunter, saying that the US was “perplexed and stunned” by the deal, signed in principle on December 30.
But in Brussels people are fed up with years of hasty, unilateral American decision-making. Their deal, they note, is similar to the “phase one” market access agreement struck by the Trump administration with China last January.… Seguir leyendo »
Giving evidence to select committees restores my faith in parliamentary democracy. The questions are well informed; partisan allegiances undetectable; the mood, usually, of high seriousness.
This month I lowered the tone. The digital, culture, media and sport committee, chaired by Damian Collins, is investigating fake news, so I started my evidence by showing how easy it is to impersonate people and organisations on the internet. A few days earlier, I had set up a Gmail account in the name email@example.com. Then I used that email to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts in his name. For good measure I also started setting up a website (damian-collins-mp.org.uk)… Seguir leyendo »
Gerontocracy means entrenched privilege, hypocrisy and misrule. That is our smug conclusion from Zimbabwe, where a rightly reviled 93-year-old dictator has been dislodged by a 75-year-old, Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose “Crocodile” nickname barely encompasses his decades-long record of ruthlessness. What should be one of Africa’s most prosperous countries has been ruined by Robert Mugabe’s clique of brutal, incompetent crooks, united chiefly by their history as guerrilla fighters in the 1970s.
The pattern is familiar. Revolutionaries become arch-conservatives as they get older. In 1924 the average age of the Soviet Politburo was 42. By the time Leonid Brezhnev died, it was 69. It was the same story in China, giving rise to the joke that the country’s political system consisted of 80-year-olds summoning meetings of 70-year-olds to decide which 60-year-olds should retire.… Seguir leyendo »
The three most important initials in the world of information are C, I and A. Not for the Central Intelligence Agency, whose abilities in both collecting and managing information are both legendary and overrated, but for confidentiality, integrity and availability.
We spend a lot of time worrying, quite rightly, about the first of these. Our medical data, financial records and log-in credentials are all vulnerable to theft and exploitation, chiefly by criminals. We need to be thriftier in providing immutable personal data (you will never get another mother’s maiden name, fingerprint or date of birth). And we should hold custodians of our details to much higher standards, especially in encrypting databases properly, and notifying us promptly when things go wrong.… Seguir leyendo »
Rules don't apply to Russia. But Russia applies rules to other people. That, put crudely, is the Kremlin's outlook on life, exemplified by the latest bombshell from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). In a sense, it's no surprise.
Russia has, since 1991, been at the center of an investigation into fraud involving IMF money, defaulted on its debt, flouted international human rights law in its wars in Chechnya, launched a cyberattack on Estonia, provoked a war in Georgia, annexed Crimea, and brazenly lied over the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014.
WADA's report adds weight to its exposé this summer of Russian doping, which resulted in Olympic bans on scores of Russian athletes.… Seguir leyendo »
Arcane and irrelevant: that is how nuclear weaponry and arms control seem to anyone aged under 45. Only those who remember the early 1980s fully grasp the danger — accidents, miscalculation — that hair-trigger nuclear weapons create.
The waking nightmare ended in December 1987 when both sides agreed, under the catchphrase “trust but verify”, to get rid of their land-based mid-range nuclear missiles. Under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, Ronald Reagan’s administration withdrew the cruise and Pershing missiles it had deployed in Britain and other countries; Mikhail Gorbachev’s Politburo did the same with the SS-20 missiles that had started the European arms race in the first place.… Seguir leyendo »
So many critics of the Putin regime have died in mysterious circumstances that the apparent suicide of Alexander Shchetinin, a Russian journalist based in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, makes barely a ripple. Ukrainian police (not renowned for their investigative nous) have found no signs of foul play; Mr Shchetinin, who had declared the Russian leader his “personal foe”, was said to be depressed — and had complained that émigré critics of the Kremlin were being driven to despair.
But clearer clues of trouble abound. Right now, Russia is conducting its largest military exercise for decades, alarming our spies and analysts. It pursues a gruesome proxy war in Syria, exposing the helplessness of western diplomacy.… Seguir leyendo »
Tragedy and chaos, both imposed from outside and self-inflicted, feature all too often in Poland’s history. They are exemplified by Saturday’s plane crash. President Lech Kaczynski’s apparently reckless insistence on landing on an unsuitable foggy airport cost the lives of some of Poland’s most distinguished military and academic figures. The echo of the original Katyn massacre, in which the Polish prewar elite — lawyers, doctors, teachers, public servants, all serving as reserve officers — perished at Russian hands is unbearably poignant.
Yet the Poland that is now so convulsed in grief has another side to it. Never in its history has Poland been so prosperous or so secure.… Seguir leyendo »
On Russia, at least, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg think alike. Belatedly and perhaps emptily, all three party leaders have condemned the invasion of Georgia and demanded a tough response. Yet a different and even odder alliance is taking shape on the other side. Its members include such unlikely figures as Andrew Murray of Stop the War Coalition, David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, and historian Correlli Barnett, as well as anonymous but influential City bankers and lawyers.
The Kremlin's most constant allies are the old pro-Soviet left: people such as Bob Wareing, the veteran leftwing MP for Liverpool, West Derby.… Seguir leyendo »
Sixty years ago the Berlin Airlift highlighted the menace of Stalin's Kremlin. Forty years ago Soviet tanks crushed both the Prague Spring and any remaining illusions about the Kremlin's grip on the captive nations. Twenty years ago we began dropping our guard, as totalitarianism withered under Mikhail Gorbachev. Now it is time to acknowledge the inconvenient truth. Russia is back: rich, powerful and hostile. Partnership is giving way to rivalry, with increasingly threatening overtones. The new Cold War has begun - but just as in the 1940s, we are alarmingly slow to notice it.
The loudest alarm signal is Russia's predictable yet mystifying presidential election on March 2.… Seguir leyendo »