The Ukraine Crisis Threatens Germany Especially

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Op-Ed Die Zeit
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is an attack on the very order that underpins Germany’s freedom, security, and prosperity. Alarm bells should be ringing in Berlin.
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The Ukraine crisis, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently remarked in the German parliament, really is a conflict between two worlds. On the one hand are the “postmodern” politics of the twenty-first century, the world of negotiations, compromises, and treaties. On the other hand is the world of classical power politics, whose rules are clearly paramount for Moscow. For Germany, there is more at stake here than for many other nations. German security, German freedom, and German prosperity are tied to the precondition of postmodern politics. In a world of pure power politics, Germany would be at a major disadvantage.

Germans abandoned power politics in 1945. Germany’s total defeat was the moment at which the country abandoned everything that it had upheld for years: thinking in terms of war, conquest, and destruction. The new Germany was to be a better Germany, purged of militarism and aggression. The country’s internal disposition had its external equivalent: a geopolitical environment in which the United States assumed foreign and security policy on behalf of a defeated Germany. West Germany was founded as a socioeconomic entity under a U.S. security umbrella. Only with great reluctance would the country yield to calls for rearmament.

Today, Germany is the paradigmatic postmodern state. It has transformed its considerable economic potential not into military strength, as great powers do, but into prosperity and the construction of the EU. The EU itself is also a postmodern entity: a mesh of treaties and institutions whose strength lies not in the availability of battalions―hard power―but in the willingness of its members to recognize the EU’s legal order. Conflicts are dealt with through communication, and diverging interests are evened out through compromise. In the short term, that is often arduous, but in the long term, it has been very successful.

As a postmodern state, Germany has created this congenial environment together with its European partners. Unlike countries such as France, however, Germany very much depends on such a postmodern environment. Germany can prosper only when the logic of power politics is superseded on the international stage by the logic of international and transnational cooperation. And only to the degree that strength is exercised in terms of economic power, and not capacity and readiness for war, is Germany an influential player on the world stage.

By contrast, in a Hobbesian world in which states permanently eye each other with the aim of finding their opponents’ weaknesses and then scrupulously exploiting them, a world in which stronger states subjugate weaker ones, Germany in its specific disposition would have a hard time. Germany needs a circle of friends that keep the country at arm’s length from the conflicts of this world. It needs the fabric of international law, treaties, and secure borders. And it needs a protector that stands ready in case of emergencies to deploy nuclear weapons to deter attackers.

Yet Germany’s most important partners, the United States, France, and Britain, have only one foot in the postmodern world of treaties and economic cooperation. At the same time, they have retained the defining attributes of traditional great powers: nuclear weapons and effective, tried-and-tested armies. If push came to shove, they could defend themselves alone. Germany could not. Germany needs a world order in which basic principles are respected by all key players.

It is in Germany’s eminent interest to strengthen and promote the existing postmodern world order. The more the principles of international law are respected and the more decisively international law and integrated economies trump classical power politics, the safer Germany is. But whenever the principle of “might makes right” prevails, Germany is on the losing side.

It is therefore in Germany’s interest to react especially sensitively to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea by military means and the current threat of force along Russia’s border with Ukraine are massive attacks on the principles of international law as enshrined in the UN Charter. The attack on Ukraine is an attack on the very order that underpins Germany’s freedom, security, and prosperity. If international relations really are falling back into the logic of military aggression and territorial expansion, then alarm bells should be ringing in Germany.

Europe is at a crossroads. Either it will succeed in beating back the attack on the basic principles of Europe’s peaceful order and thus breathe new life into these principles. Or we are moving toward a logic akin to the one that prevailed in the decades before 1945: a world in which military strength determines nations’ fate in their battle for survival. In such a world, Germany would face the choice of either becoming a classical power again, as between 1871 and 1945, or letting itself be pushed around by other powers, essentially losing sovereignty and autonomy.

This article was originally published in German in Die Zeit.

End of document

Comments (7)

  • NeoconsOutofUSGovernment
    1 Recommend
    How can you breathe new life into a world destroyed by nukes because some stupid American neocons thought they needed to uphold "principles" and go to war with Russia after they conducted an ill-advised coup in Russia's underbelly? This is nobody's business except those who took power in Kiev who aren't American.
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    • Carl, Tired American. replies...
      Do you really think that EU had nothing to do with it? Wasn't most of Europe the under belly of the USSR, Russia, back yard? Mistake are always made, some on purpose, others well lets just say that good intentions. Well you know the rest. But stinking you head in the ground and denying that Russia did not invade Ukraine is denying reality. It's not just Europe involved with this mess, its the future of nuclear proliferation throughout the world. The Budapest memorandum security guarantees given to Ukraine for giving up their Nuclear Arms. Much more is at stake, then meet the eye.. Yes Russia has security concerns, and it needs to be addressed. But blaming everything that the United States does, or doesn't do, does not answer the Question, what can we do now. Europe worries about alliances will bring them into war. But in Truth it has been Europe that has gotten the United States in Trouble, War Many times. So from a different prospective, here we are again getting involved with European War. It wasn't the United States, that offered Ukraine into U.S. economic sphere of influence, it was EU. Nato membership sure to follow.
  • Westj
    It's not such a stark choice: the third way is to let Russia expand & divide Ukraine then carry on as before. The EU and Germany always opt for the status quo in the face of aggression... And where business is threatened. That's why Putin has calculated he'll achieve precisely that: an annexed East Ukraine. And I for one bet he will be allowed to.
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  • dem
    But do German industrialists play another game? In WW2, they backed hitler to secure economic opportunity at home and abroad. Do they now use a foreign leader and his corrupt oligarchical system to secure resources for their domestic market, while also securing an economic advantage in those territories in which their friend Mr Putin holds sway?
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  • Jim
    It seems that the "post-modern" paradigm is an illusion. If Germany is dependant on others to provide for it's security. I agree though that alarms should be sounding. Shame on the US, France and Britain for not coming to Ukraine's aid more forcefully.
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    • Carl, Tired American replies...
      Why is it only up to United States, France and Britain, to stand up? Isn't all our responsibilities? Why must it be that some stand up, and others do not?
  • Philemon
    The battle looming in the Ukraine is not only one of a clash of arms. Many Ukrainians realize that events in their country represent a struggle for its social and moral soul as well. Transparency International in 2013 gave Russia 127th place on its Corruption Perception Index, rating it as corrupt as Pakistan, Mali, and Madagascar. The Russian Interior Minister, Vladimir Kolokoitsev, said that in 2013 the average bribe in Russia had increased to US $4,000.

    If the research of Luke Harding in the Guardian on December 21, 2007 is correct, Mr. Putin is now the richest man in Europe, and exemplifies a state of corruption which his protégée, Mr. Yanukovich, merely emulated.

    Is this a malignant evil which we would wish upon the Ukraine and, ultimately, Europe?
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