The Germans are here in force, as are the French, with high-ranking officials speaking about topics like Russia and Iran. Interestingly, the Brits are notable in their absence. It is probably a sign that the British government is still in transition mode, unable to explain any new policies, unready to stake out new positions. Or they may not be bothered with unofficial events such as these given the privileged access they have. But it is worth noticing nonetheless. The event is both off and on the record, so I can’t share all the (juiciest) details, but a couple of observations are worth sharing:
The US administration seems particularly sensitive to criticism of its Russia policy, with White House official Michael McFaul going to extraordinary lengths to explain the benefits of the new US initiatives. Interestingly, he was clear about his opposition to the re-vamping of the NATO-Russia Council, arguing that the West would do better if it moved beyond institutional structures. Bulgarian scholar Ivan Krastev – one of Europe’s leading students of Putin’s Russia – made the point that in so far that Russia was no longer seen as particularly important in the US, the topic was becoming a free-for-all, with people happy to take opposing and very critical views of the US policy at no real cost.
The conversation then moved on to Iran, where the exchanges were completely off the record. But later the agenda will focus on AfPak policy, where I will speak on a panel with a number of decision-makers. The point I will make is this: the end is nigh for the trans-Atlantic stabilisation mission in Afghanistan; that is, a mission conducted by a multilateral framework in support of stabilisation activities in the south and a state-building agenda in the centre and north. In the reverse of the Bosnian experience, where the US left militarily and EU stayed behind, Europeans will leave Afghanistan earlier and the US will manage a narrower follow-on mission. The key strategic question is managing this transition without forsaking our objectives and without preventing a regional or broader fall-out.
If there are any points on the state and future of trans-Atlantic relations that you would like me to bring up, please do let me know.