Sophia Besch – translating security policy

Sophia Besch is a Europe Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Sophia Besch builds bridges between different perspectives on security issues. In Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels, she has become familiar with the accents of security policy used there. Last fall, she moved from the Center for European Reform (CER) in Berlin to Washington to join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

When Besch was studying politics and humanitarian law at the University of Münster, the question of a possible intervention in Libya was on the table: “I found it unsatisfactory that Germany did not take a position”, she says. During her studies for her master’s degree in Paris and London, she studied EU defense strategies and NATO. She is currently in the final stages of her doctorate at Kings College in London on the role of the EU in arms policy.

‘America has taken the lead in Europe on defense issues’

In her research, the 32-year-old observes how German security policy is perceived abroad. The US disciplines the Europeans on arms deliveries for Ukraine, she says. “America has taken the lead in Europe on arms issues”. The fact that Olaf Scholz, after much hesitation, sold the commitment to supply battle tanks for Ukraine as an example of German leadership caused irritation in Washington, she says – the definitions of leadership are different in Berlin and Washington.

“We as Europeans expect America to deal with our specific historical and cultural characteristics”, she elaborates. Europe can no longer rely on its special status with the Americans, she explains. That makes it all the more important for Europe to speak with one voice instead of negotiating individually with the United States. That also applies to procurement, she claims: “I hope we think European in arms matters and don’t cement the fragmentation of past decades”.

Declining support for Ukraine among the American population

Burden-sharing among supporter countries is increasingly criticized in the United States, Besch explains. It was particularly paradoxical that transatlantically minded Republicans were promoting more support at the Munich Security Conference, while Republican voters were increasingly skeptical about support for Ukraine.

Transatlantic relations are coming under increasing pressure, Besch says. She cites three reasons for this: First, the issue of China and the Pacific region is taking up more and more attention. Second, she says, a generational change is imminent, and third, isolationism is advancing. “This administration could be the last true transatlantic administration”, she states. “America wants to withdraw from the world”. That goes for Republicans and Democrats, she adds.

The past year was turbulent, even for her. International media are looking to her for explanations. At the same time, she says, she has realized that despite a great interest in daily news, she still wants to continue focusing on her research projects: “I think it’s important to deepen my expertise and then comment when I really have something to contribute to the debate”. With the stress of the past year, however, she still has time to relax. In Washington, she has discovered comedy clubs for herself. Lukas Homrich


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