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German foreign policy intelligence: ISIS’ rise to power and the Russian actions in Ukraine in 2013/2014

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The international environment in which German and European foreign policy is made has become more competitive, hostile, complex and uncertain. These trends can, among others, be attributed to changes in the global order connected to structural changes in the distribution of power, the impact of new technologies, and societal changes within and outside of Europe. 

The surprises that German political leaders experienced in the early 2010s were partly symptoms of these underlying changes, but also linked to shortcomings such as limited political receptivity to expert forecasts and warnings. In this briefing paper, Christoph Meyer, Eva Michaels, Aviva Guttmann and Ana Albulescu analyse two key events: ISIS’ rise to power in Iraq and Syria and an escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, both in 2013-2014. They consider the impact of these two cases, and analyse strengths and weaknesses in how Germany anticipated and handled them.

Through this paper, they aim to answer these four key questions:

  1. What was the degree, level and spread of surprise in these two cases? 
  2. To what extent is the surprise “condonable” given mitigating factors? 
  3. What were the main underlying reasons for analysts or decision-makers to be surprised? 
  4. What overall lessons can Germany still learn from these two cases?