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Caught off guard? Evaluating how external experts in Germany warned about Russia’s war on Ukraine

This article by Eva Michaels explores how external expertise can support intelligence production and crisis decision-making by discussing the case of Germany's response to Russia's war on Ukrainian.

Eva Michaels
04 April 2024
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This article contributes to discussions of how Germany anticipated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It sheds light on the role of external experts for German knowledge production in crisis situations, which has barely been studied, and explores how two groups of external experts, namely those producing knowledge for German research institutes as well as individual academics, warned about a Russian attack on Ukraine between November 2021 and February 2022.

Based on a systematic reconstruction of publicly available warnings, the author finds that both groups of experts provided a steady flow of timely, accurate and convincing warnings. Furthermore, the findings suggest that external experts are especially well positioned to uncover structural vulnerabilities that threatening actors can exploit, discuss politically inconvenient trends, and offer actionable warnings. These results add to discussions of how external expertise can support intelligence assessments and crisis decision-making.  

Overall, Michaels argues that intelligence production and anticipatory foreign policymaking in Germany could clearly benefit from a stronger inclusion of external expertise. It would be valuable for intelligence producers and consumers to widen the pool of experts to those who challenge conventional wisdom, notice weak signals, report politically inconvenient developments, and offer advice on how Berlin can better prepare itself for crises. 

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