by Karl-Jürgen Müller
Do we have to understand the coalition agreement of the new German government and previous statements by the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, elected on 8 December, to mean that there is to be no independent German foreign and security policy in future? That would not be a good thing, especially not for relations with Russia. Because of its history, Germany has a special responsibility for peace in Europe and peaceful relations with Russia. The fact that an SPD chancellor did not take part in the war of aggression against international law by the USA and its “coalition of the willing” against Iraq in 2003 was important and absolutely right – and it was easy to cope with being called “old Europe” by US Neocons. Now new decisions are imminent. Independent German peace policy accents are wanted. And it would be even better if other European governments did the same. Also, in no longer participating in the hybrid warfare that has been going on for years.
After Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, and Gerhard Schröder, Olaf Scholz is the fourth German Chancellor of the SPD. Willy Brandt, Chancellor from 1969 to 1974, was the most prominent advocate and politician of a new German “Ostpolitik” since the mid-1960s: recognition of the borders in Central and Eastern Europe created after 1945, renunciation of violence and intensified relations with the states of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, above all with the Soviet Union itself, with which the first of the treaties with Eastern bloc states was concluded in 1970. Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1971, Brandt formulated the famous sentence ten years later:
“Peace is not everything, but everything is nothing without peace.”
Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor from 1974 to 1982, supported Germany’s new Ostpolitik, but was also – against strong opposition in his own party – one of the initiators of the NATO Double-Track Decision of December 1979: negotiations with the Soviet Union on the withdrawal of Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles from Eastern Europe, but also the threat of the deployment of US medium-range nuclear missiles in the European NATO states, especially in Germany, if the negotiations failed.
Gerhard Schröder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, took part in NATO’s war of aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was against international law, but refused to support the US war against Iraq in 2003, which also violated international law. Instead, together with the then French President Jacques Chirac – who also rejected the Iraq war – he sought closer cooperation with the then Russian President Vladimir Putin, also in questions of international security.
The German SPD and peace politics
Thus, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) has an ambivalent history of its peace and security policy after the Second World War. Repeatedly it has set independent accents, out of the awareness that peace and security in Europe could not be secured by rigidly following the line of US foreign policy. This independence was in Germany’s interest – after all, until the end of the first Cold War, Germany knew very well that in case of a hot war, Germany would be the main theatre of war and that the outcome of such a war would be the total destruction of the country.
Towards a new world order framework
In December 2021, 16 years after the last SPD Chancellor, the newly elected Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office. In these years, the world has changed. The US claim to be able to usher in an “end of history” as the “only world power” after the end of the first Cold War and to permanently shape the world according to its own ideas has been countered by other powers, not only Russia and China. But this transition towards a multipolar world has not yet found a universally accepted new regulatory framework guaranteeing equality, security, and peace for all the states of the world – as was already formulated in the fundamental passages of the United Nations Charter of June 1945.
Security and peace are no longer guaranteed in Europe either. The destruction of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was already associated with bloody wars, the wounds of which still refuse to heal today. Back then, there was no one who could counter the arrogance of NATO power.
This has changed now, but Europe has not yet become safer and more peaceful in result. The most obvious example of this is the situation in Ukraine today. Since 2014, some 15,000 lives have been lost to the war there in eastern Ukraine. The answer to the question of who is responsible for these deaths is complex. What is certain is that the violent coup d’état in Ukraine in the winter of 2013/2014, supported by the NATO states and the EU, and the accompanying discrimination and violence against the Russia-oriented part of the population are a main root of this war. The aim of this coup was to destroy the historically grown ties of the country and its population to Russia.
What can be expected from the new German chancellor?
Thus, the new German government would also have every reason to take the above-quoted sentence of SPD Chancellor Brandt from 1981 serious again, to adopt it, and to once again set its own accents. Will the new government do this?
The question cannot yet be answered with certainty. The new Chancellor’s first major public address, the New Year’s Address on 31 December 2021, did not offer an answer. Most of the speech dealt with COVID-19, followed by remarks on German climate policy and the German minimum wage, and only on the last page of the six-page speech text are there a few words on security and peace. And what is to be read there sounds like stereotypes – as if agreed within NATO and the EU, and as if the issue of security and peace were of no interest to anyone. The new SPD Chancellor wants to “continue to work on the success of the European Union” and his “goal is a sovereign, strong Europe”. This is followed immediately in the next sentence but one: “In addition, transatlantic cooperation is indispensable for security in Europe.” And then: “With a view to Ukraine, we are currently facing new challenges. The inviolability of borders is an important asset – and non-negotiable.”
Heavy accusations against the Russian President …
During the German election campaign, Olaf Scholz had formulated heavy accusations against the Russian President: “Putin is someone who is responsible for the fact that many people in Russia are threatened with their lives.” – And sang the praises of Alexei Nawalny: “[...] this man is very, very courageous.”
… but also signals that do not want to stand in the way of de-escalation
But the Swiss website infosperber also wrote on 24 December 2021: “From Berlin rumour has it that Olaf Scholz is no longer so happy about how he described Russia here.” Indeed, there are also other news from Germany than those mentioned above. For example, the “Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung” of 14 December 2021 said that the new German government had spoken out against arms deliveries to Ukraine. The newspaper “Bild” reported on 4 January that Olaf Scholz did not want to leave relations with Russia to his Green Foreign Minister, but to make them a “top priority” and was looking for a “qualitative new beginning” in these relations.
However, one must also add that the reality content of such reports is difficult to verify for outsiders and that party politics, speculation and rumours accompany the political business and are very quickly charged by the media.
In any case, the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” was right when it wrote on 12 December 2021: “The new chancellor is already burdened with the responsibility of preventing a new war in Eastern Europe in his first days in office.” The question is how.
Former Inspector General of the Bundeswehr makes constructive proposals
Harald Kujat, former Inspector General of the German Armed Forces (2000-2002) and then Chairman of the NATO Military Committee until 2005 and thus the highest-ranking NATO general, expressed his views on the current situation in Eastern Europe and possible steps towards de-escalation in an interview with Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten on 24 December 2021. Harald Kujat cannot be regarded as a mouthpiece for the Russian government. You notice that too in the interview. Nevertheless, he said:
“A joint effort to reconcile interests is the only way out of a years-long impasse, at the end of which stands a conflict that nobody wants. NATO, including the United States, should show more understanding of the Russian-Ukrainian history and respect Russia's security interests, as long as they do not endanger one’s own security and international stability. In order to resolve disagreements, the rules and procedures agreed in the NATO-Russia Basic Treaty should be applied. NATO should declare that for the foreseeable future it does not intend either membership for Ukraine or the stationing of NATO troops in Ukraine.”
For a neutral Ukraine
“Ukraine should commit to initiate shortly the overdue constitutional reform – as agreed in the Minsk Agreement – and to grant greater autonomy to the Russian minority within the framework of a federal state. Furthermore, Ukraine should state that it intends to become neither an outpost of NATO nor of Russia, but sees itself as a bridge between the two. It should declare a consolidated neutrality, like Finland, as its goal [...].
Russia should declare that it does not intend to attack Ukraine or otherwise violate its territorial integrity. Russia should commit not to deploy regular troops in eastern Ukraine and to stop supporting the separatists as soon as the Ukrainian constitutional reform with the ensuing structural and constitutional reforms is implemented.
NATO and Russia should declare that they will resume the cooperation to which they committed themselves in the Basic Treaty and renew their intention to ‘develop a strong, stable and lasting partnership based on common interest, reciprocity and transparency’.”
Germany’s Basic Law commands an active peace policy
Whether all this can ultimately be agreed by treaty is completely open at the moment. But it is a constructive proposal. In the end, there may be other arrangements all parties can live well with. But what else remains except the search for a consensual solution? A further escalation of the conflict, more and more Western sanctions and, in the worst case, even war?
It would be downright fatal if the current government in Ukraine were to be supported by Germany (or others) in escalating the war against the population in the Donbas, many of whom are also Russian citizens.
Also, the new German government cannot and must not hide behind anyone, be they called EU, NATO or USA. The new German government is also bound by the German Basic Law. It must actively bring this to life. This Basic Law is a constitution of peace. The preamble already states that the German people, “conscious of their responsibility before God and man, [are] inspired by the determination to promote world peace”. Article 25 stipulates that the “general rules of international law [...] shall be an integral part of federal law”. “They shall take precedence over the laws and directly create rights and duties for the inhabitants of the federal territory.” And Article 26 stipulates: “Acts tending to and undertaken with intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for a war of aggression, shall be unconstitutional. They shall be criminalised.”
This certainly corresponds to the will of the majority of Germans. It is the task of every German government to translate this into concrete policy. •
“After the end of the Cold War, American leaders betrayed the explicit and implicit promises that they made to the Russian leaders. America had promised Russia that, after the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, America would not expand NATO eastward to threaten.
What geopolitical calculations played out in American minds as they made this fatal decision to expand NATO? Did they believe that since Russia was weak and struggling in the 1990s (with an imploding economy and a financial crisis that brought great suffering to the Russian people) America could once and for all time eliminate Russia as a potential competitor? Since most Americans are openhearted and generous by nature, it seems hard to believe that America had a sinister plot to permanently eliminate Russia as a geopolitical competitor. Nonetheless, America’s disregard for Russia’s interests in the 1990s and 2000s looks to have been the result of a concerted plan. Regardless of whether there was a “conscious” American plan to weaken Russia after the end of the Cold War, it would be useful for Americans and Russians to have a frank discussion face-to-face of their respective perceptions of what happened. All the difficult episodes that bedevilled relations between the two countries should be surfaced: the expansion of NATO, the American sponsorship of colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, the invasion of Iraq, the interventions in Libya and Syria.”
From: Kishore Mahbubani. Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy,
2020 Hachette Book Group, New York, p. 201f
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