German media, Russia and the “anti missile shield” – PR and politics

by Dr Heinz Loquai, retired Brigadier General, Meckenheim, first published 7 May 2007

cc. Heinz Loquai was Brigadier General of the German “Bundeswehr” until his retirement. During his engagements with the German Defence Ministry, with NATO institutions and finally as a German representative at the OSCE in Vienna he was closely familiar with NATO politics. In two of his books he submitted NATO’s war on Yugoslavia in 1999, which had violated international law, a profound criticism. This war was not the last breach of international law, it was only a first sinister climax. In fact it is going on up to these very days and one must fear the worst.
The article below deals with the way German leading media “processed” in a popagandistic way the new missile defence sytem and the Russian reactions to it. They have become the exension of US war policy. And that’s why it is best to call out to them as well: “You can walk out!”
At first there was an awkward silence when at the Munich Conference for Security Policy [in the year 2007] Russia’s President Wladimir Putin had completed his inaugural speech to this select circle. Putin had set out his position to the most important issues of foreign policy to the point, and unmistakably criticised US substance and style of politics. US Senator John McCain spoke of the most aggressive speech ever delivered by a Russian president since the end of the “Cold War”. Eckart von Klaeden, foreign policy spokesman of the CDU/CSU, judged Putin’s speech as an “undisguised claim to a super power”. With this statement von Klaeden showed once and for all his insufficient powers of political discrimination. […]

Raising anti-Russian reflexes in order to divert from factual problems

In the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” Stefan Kornelius, head of the foreign policy province of this newspaper attacks Putin, “who had decided not to be nice”. (12 February 2007). The speech had been an attack to “throw the USA and the West off their guard”, he claimed and Putin, he went on, who had “sufficient experience – as had the American Secretary of Defence Gates – from his service to the Soviet Intelligence Service in the art of grimacing and playacting“. Putin, who “had grinned sneeringly“ had “pushed the others into the defensive”.
Berthold Kohler, co-editor of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” knew for certain that Putin “had tried to denounce the Americans as the source of all evil in the world and drive a wedge between the members of the Atlantic Alliance” (12 February 2007). Even two months later Nikolaus Busse is still looking back on Putin’s speech: President Putin, he writes, can have some glasses of Krim champagne to celebrate his success. “With only one speech he incited more unrest and embarrassment in the western alliance than all Soviet tank divisions were able to in former times. So easy it is to divide the NATO” (“Frankfurter allgemeine Zeitung” of 10 April 2007). Die Zeit presents the Russian president as a “yobbo in his oil delirium” shortly after the Munich Conference (15 February 2007).
The commentaries in leading German newspapers confirm what Putin said in his Munich speech about the “Cold War”: “And just as any war the Cold War as well leaves behind some ammunition still live” to use an image here. I am talking about the ideological clichés, the measuring with two different measuring rods and other characteristic aspects that are typical of the square way of thinking during the Cold War.” The anti Russian reflexes of German media  focus on the person of the Russian President in such a spiteful language that is rather typical for a not so very cold war.
A rather small part of Putin’s Munich speech was devoted to the intended expansion of certain “elements of the anti missile defence system onto Europe“. Putin asked: “Who needs a new step towards something that would surely lead to a new arms race under the given conditions? I gravely doubt that the Europeans themselves have need of such a thing.“ It is in this context that Putin assessed the “NATO expansion” as a “serious provocation”, “which will reduce mutual trust.” But already before the Munich Security Conference the plans of the US government to install elements of an American anti missile defence system in Poland and Tschechia were prominent on the German political and media agenda. […] The connection with the political debate about the Iranian nuclear programme is evident.

German services: Helping to make a bogeyman out of Iran

On 5 December 2006 Dr Hans Rühle raised his voice in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. Who is Dr Hans Rühle? In the 80ies he was head of the planning staff of the Federal Ministry of Defence. In this function he had excellent connections to the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst = German Intelligence Service) as well as to the CIA and to the US Defence Ministry. In the Defence Ministry CDU member Rühle looked after US interests; he did so very efficiently in this fine-meshed German-American network. Now Rühle is co-working on the composition of the bogeyman Iran. His conclusion: Iran might have the possibility to obtain sufficient weapons-grade plutonium within less than two years in order to build 40 to 50 atomic bombs.
[…] The propagandistic assault is directed against the “rogue state” Iran in order to legitimise the American anti missile program in view of the many critics of this program in Germany […] and of course it is useful for the composition of the bogeyman image of Iran. By combining “Iranian long range missiles” and “atomic bombs” he creates such a serious threat that in the end not only an American anti missile shield in Europe but a preventive attack on Iran might be justified as well.
Again in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” Michael Rühle, head of the planning staff of the political department of the NATO, speaks of a “renaissance” of the “almost forgotten” “anti missile shield” of the USA (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, 9 February 2007). Nikolaus Busse explains to the readers of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, what Washington‘s intention really is, namely “defence against rogue states” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, 22 February 2007). A few weeks later Busse blames the German political class for not asking the “pivotal question”: “Does not Germany need an anti missile defence as well?” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, 10 April 2007). Needless to say that this is merely a rhetoric question for Busse.
Also “Die Zeit” proved to be a forum for a, however, controversial debate about the American anti missile shield. As one would have expected, co-editor Josef Joffe presented himself as the advocate of the American project. Under the headline “Taken in by Putin” Joffe writes that the SPD (German Social Democratic Party) considered the US anti missile plans an affront against Russia: “Technique and range of these weapons prove the opposite” (29 March 2007). Has nobody in the editorial offices realised so far that the issue here is certainly not the “technique and range” of weapons but a very fundamental political dispute? Did nobody ever raise the question how the USA would react if Russia wanted to install anti missile rockets in Mexico or Cuba? What is the USA’s intention if they now push a new round of NATO expansion in direction of Georgia and the Ukraine?
In this context we should take note of a contribution of the “Norddeutscher Rundfunk” with the following conclusion: Retired Airforce Brigade General Dr Hermann Hagena said that everything points to the fact that “an anti missile defence system is the most expensive and at the same time the most insecure defence” against a threat by Iranian atomic missiles. But what is this program supposed to serve, really?

NATO as a diplomatic procedure placebo

For the last five years NATO has been dealing with a missile supported defence system for the alliance. The introduction of such a system is basically settled. A so-called feasibility study is supposed to test how this basic agreement can be transformed into a program. This NATO-project must be distinguished from the US national project to install a “National Missile Defence” in Poland and Tschechia for the protection of American strategic facilities (for example the extensive radar facilities in Great Britain and Greenland). The protection of Europe by this defence system is not the main objective but an subordinate objective serving the legitimising of its installation. It is the much more advanced US project, not the NATO plan that has become the topic of political debate and controversial discussion.
Germany is now trying to adopt a mediator position. At first some cautious criticism of Washington’s style was to be heard from the foreign affairs office. The German Government took some effort to place the project under the NATO’s roof. The argument ran that in this case the necessary consultations with Russia could be made up for within the NATO-Russia Council. Chancellor Merkel’s original sound: “We prefer […] a solution within the framework of the NATO and also an open dialogue with Russia on the matter.” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, 14 March 2007). Does this preference, however, open up real chances for a solution of the political conflicts?
Hardly so. For the USA have made it clear several times in the past, that they will grant nobody a say in the decision that concerns US national security. A say in the debate all right but no say in the decision! Russia will not accept this, since it is already dissatisfied with the dummy consultations in the NATO-Russia Council. And neither the Poles or –Tschechs, obsequious vassals of the USA seem eager to assemble under the NATO roof, since both countries expect to gain national prestige and material advantages by their direct co-operation and special relationship with the USA.
It cannot be ruled out that the USA will – finally agree to a debate within the NATO. That way they might supply the German Government with an argument for them to use in home politics. The coalition government could then point to “consultations” with the allies and claim this as a success of the German effort to find a solution. However, this NATO-ization of the project would be nothing but a diplomatic procedure placebo.
Under the NATO roof the USA can even count on greater consent, especially from the countries of the “new” Europe with their anti Russian attitude. The conflicts within the alliance would be whitewashed by formal compromises. Certain imminent rifts within the EU, in particular with respect to a common foreign and security policy will not worry Washington much, since its two bilateral European partners Poland and Tschechia that it has chosen will resist a strengthening of the EU. Neither will American politics bother much about Russia’s state of affairs, since they are already planning a new round of NATO expansion towards Georgia and the Ukraine. That way the Nato would expand to former Soviet republics and would cross a red political line. But such “lines” don’t mean a limit for the “only super power” when it comes to fencing in potential political rivals. Last not least this is shown by Washington’s policy of national anti missile defence.     •