Germany’s new leadership has done ‘everything’ in its alliance with the United States, reversing a strategy that had underpinned its success
What was called the “culture of memory” was an essential element of Germany’s post-war foreign policy strategy. Wise leaders were able to gradually restore the country’s importance on the international scene and achieve strategic goals.
Chancellor Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik” is an excellent example of this, based on post-war ideas of repentance and overcoming enmity. The historical reconciliation between Bonn and the USSR became the basis for the future unification of Germany – solving the main task of the country’s political elites after the end of World War II.
However, less gifted politicians regard historical memory as a handicap and a difficulty. For the neighbors, the ambitions of German leadership in Europe bring back painful memories. Indeed, historical documents such as the German Unification Treaty limit the military capabilities of the state – a direct obstacle to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s dream of creating a “the most powerful army in Europe”.
Today, the image of a peace-loving nation re-educating itself after the tragedy of two world wars does not sit well with the active arms shipments to Ukraine.
“This war must end” Scholz recently warned while in kyiv. Meanwhile, his government’s website is regularly updated with information on weapons already delivered and planned for delivery to Ukrainians. This is what one might call a paradox.
Let’s look at some of the rhetoric coming out of Berlin. On June 21, on the eve of Russia’s Day of Remembrance and Pain, Economy Minister Robert Habeck called for the reduction of Russian gas supplies “an attack on Germany.” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “Russia deliberately uses hunger as a weapon.”
By the way, behind the baseless lies lie real historical data – more than four million Soviet citizens died of starvation during the Nazi occupation.
At the G7 summit last month, Scholz called on participants to prepare a new “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine, distorting the meaning of the program that helped Western Europe recover from the horrors of fascism. It feels like a politics of memory is being replaced by a politics of deliberate amnesia.
The “change of time” proclaimed by Scholz at the end of February means one thing so far: Berlin abandons everything before that date. In relations with Russia, even modest past achievements have become the object of censure, and Moscow’s calls for an indivisible European security system are seen as fanciful ideas.
The culture of cancellation trumps the historicism of diplomacy. Berlin’s reluctance to place politics in a historical context demonstrates the absence of self-determined goals and a coherent strategy.
Before the elections, the new Chancellor promised a renewed foreign policy in the spirit of his predecessor and party member Brandt. Previously, Germany’s complex and controversial eastern policy confirmed that the government could strike a delicate balance between values and interests: maintaining allied solidarity in the EU and NATO, but keeping space for dialogue with “opponents of the collective West”. In other words, argue about political and moral issues while developing mutually beneficial business projects.
Scholz’s approach is the opposite of what Willy Brandt and his followers worked on. Berlin has finally reduced its once dynamic and multifaceted Eastern policy to Kyiv’s support alone. In international relations, however, simplification rarely reduces contradictions.
This type of primitivization does not add credibility to German leadership, but it does raise doubts about its competence.
The granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine, actively backed by Berlin, could also prove troublesome. And it’s not just the five other official waitlist members and several potential suitors, who have been waiting or have been waiting for years for this decision, while trying to meet strict EU requirements. In the approach to German foreign policy, showmanship and symbolism are gradually replacing order and coherence.
After all, on a more practical level, everyone recognizes that Ukraine’s real participation in the European Union is impossible and it is not certain that it will ever become tangible.
The unique path that the peoples of Germany and Russia walked together after World War II demanded repentance on the one hand and forgiveness on the other. Now for the sake of “allied solidarity”, Germany is sacrificing the fruits of this laborious common labor.
Indeed, Berlin would probably be ready to turn its back on other countries if its allies demanded it. For example, China – Germany’s biggest trading partner for the past six years – will instantly become an irreconcilable enemy if the US-China standoff escalates.
Could we expect a different reaction from the Germans to the current events? More balanced statements from cabinet members and less aggressive headlines in their internal newspaper, Der Spiegel?
The current reversal is partly the reverse of course that has been the basis of German policy so far. Berlin had systematically reduced the importance of the Bundeswehr after unification, on the basis of the irreversibility of the so-called “end of the story” and, therefore, was utterly unprepared for the radically altered politico-military realities of today. Moreover, very few expected Russia to move from years of exhortations, which could be ignored, to decisive action. The decades-long rejection of Realpolitik in favor of a values-based approach and the desire to place the remaining questions of strategic security under the control of the United States and NATO predetermined Berlin’s reaction to the events current. At the moment, it’s not so much aggression as confusion.
“Solidarity with the allies and the distortion of history is a refuge for a government that planned to devote itself to a green and virtuous foreign policy in 2022, rather than renewing the army and supplying arms to the region in conflict.”
German leaders feel they simply cannot afford not to be on what they think is the “the bright side of the story” as Scholz called it in February. Because otherwise the entire political and ideological base of the cabinet would crumble and raise questions about its adequacy.
“German foreign policy has been on one leg since 1949. We face another challenge: not to pursue a maneuvering policy, but also to stand on the second leg, based on friendship with the West and negotiating every stage with our Western friends, what is called an Eastern policy, Brandt once described. By pulling on the “second leg,” Berlin continues to hold firm on the former. The question is whether it is possible to go far on one leg.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.