How to make the world’s madmen think twice

One friend of mine laughs when he remembers the nuclear “drills” of his childhood, which involved crouching under the desks in his school classroom. Another friend has a vivid memory of a lesson featuring photographs of mushroom clouds. On older buildings in some U.S. cities, one can still see faded yellow-and-black “fallout shelter” signs. Nowadays they look almost quaint, adding character to a street the way an old-fashioned gas lamp would. Continue reading “How to make the world’s madmen think twice”

The case for quitting e-mail

There were a number of odd things about the Hillary Clinton e-mail debate, but to me this was the oddest: the widespread conviction that the secretary of state’s communications — personal or otherwise — would have been “safe” in the hands of the State Department. If we have learned nothing else over the past several years, surely it is that the U.S. government, while still devoted in principle to classifying a ludicrous amount of data, is in practice very, very bad at keeping secrets. Continue reading “The case for quitting e-mail”

Britain retreats


Red double-decker buses still cruise up and down the Strand, the guards stand up straight in front of Buckingham Palace and the queen rides her horse-drawn carriage to the opening session of Parliament every year. But beneath this seemingly immutable surface, Britain is changing with surprising speed. Continue reading “Britain retreats”

The risks of putting Germany front and center in Europe’s crises

It’s either an extraordinary coincidence or an act of fate. Over the past 10 days, two unusually dangerous crises have come to a head in Europe. One concerns Greece, where an unresolved economic disaster could lead to a European and even an international financial crash. The other concerns Ukraine, where a Russian invasion could lead to a European and even an international war. They are very different but in one sense similar: Both hang on the decisions and diplomacy of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Continue reading “The risks of putting Germany front and center in Europe’s crises”

The long view with Russia

In an ordinary year, not all that much happens at the annual Munich security conference. NATO defense ministers murmur earnest platitudes. Experts furrow their brows. But this is not an ordinary year.

This year, the normally staid audience laughed out loud at the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who seemed, at one point, to question the legality of German unification. Some of the room also applauded loudly when Angela Merkel, the German chancellor — just back from an apparently fruitless peace mission to Moscow — restated her view that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Ukraine. But when Malcolm Rifkind, the former British foreign secretary, asked her how she would stop Russia without military force, another part of the audience applauded. Even watching online, the conundrum in the room was clear: Everyone agrees that the Russians were lying, and no one believes Russian promises of a cease-fire. But nobody agrees on what to do about it. Continue reading “The long view with Russia”

Europe has survived terrorist attacks before


In the more than two weeks that have passed since the murder of more than a dozen people in Paris — cartoonists, policemen, customers at a Jewish grocery store — a number of European countries have called for new countermeasures to fight terrorism. The French prime minister announced a whole raft of policies. The British want databases to monitor travel in and out of Europe. At emergency meetings, European officials have discussed what one British paper called a “new era of travel surveillance.”

But before any of these plans is adopted, it’s important first to ask a different question: Did the Charlie Hebdo murders really represent something new? Continue reading “Europe has survived terrorist attacks before”

North Korea’s incomprehensible regime

In the 1990s, a large group of prisoners was released from North Korea’s secret labor camps. These were not criminals, nor were they even political enemies. On the contrary, they were, in the words of a defector, the grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of “landlords, capitalists, collaborators with the Japanese colonial government, and other people with bad family background.” The Soviet Union once arrested the wives and children of political prisoners, and Russia recently sent the brother of a dissident politician to prison. But North Korea kept generations of families living in camps for decades on end. Continue reading “North Korea’s incomprehensible regime”

Taking democracy for granted

Imagine that you are a mother of a very poor family in Udaipur, India, and that you want to have your children immunized. But now imagine — as the economist Esther Duflo once demanded of a TED audience — that because you are very poor, you have an infinite number of small things to do, from fetching water to cooking food from scratch to running a small shop. In order to get your child immunized, you have to walk several kilometers to a health center that turns out to be closed. Would you bother to return again? Probably not. Continue reading “Taking democracy for granted”

Is Germany ready to assume a global role?


Far from the main events — the balloons, the speeches and the 25th-anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Wall — last weekend I joined a panel discussion about the future of Europe, as one does so often in Germany. Asked to say a few words about “threats to the West,” I spoke about the relative weakness of NATO, about the failures of European foreign policy, about Russia’s use of money and disinformation to divide Europe and the United States. Continue reading “Is Germany ready to assume a global role?”