Before the stoplight coalition could get to work, Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine changed the political map. A new course must be set. It is no longer a question of distributing the peace dividend, but of establishing and securing peace itself.
Olaf Scholz indicated this with his shocking speech on February 27, 2022, on the “turning point” in German foreign policy. That was not the last word, the debate is just beginning, many questions remain unanswered.
It is not primarily about two percent of the gross domestic product and the 100 billion euros in special assets for armaments, although these huge expenses can strangle a modern social democratic policy from a budgetary point of view.
[Alle aktuellen Entwicklungen im Ukraine-Krieg können Sie hier in unserem Newsblog verfolgen.]
However, three foreign policy perspectives are of central importance: First, how can a credible functional renewal of the Bundeswehr as a defensive defense force look like? Second, how will Germany’s relationship with Russia and Ukraine be? Third, how does the new Ostpolitik fit into the emerging bipolar world order?
Social Democratic rearmament?
The need to modernize the Bundeswehr is hardly discussed. Because otherwise it cannot do justice to its constitutional tasks. Should it be neutral in the cross-party consensus or can the SPD put a social democratic stamp on it? Since social democracy itself has had a strong influence on the basic line of a defensive and democratically rooted army, it is now a question of reformulating this line of state policy under modified conditions.
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Applies, among other things, the out-of-area approach–Shift operations back to the need for territorial defense. But social democratic defense and security policy was never limited to rearmament alone. It was always embedded in a security architecture that took seriously the “potential enemy’s” interests, goals, and threat perceptions. Therefore, we do not fall into Putin’s narrative of threat and aggression.
Neither the aggression as such and certainly not the timing of the aggressive war against Ukraine can be significantly attributed to NATO’s eastward expansion. However, a unilateral perspective policy that does not take into account the subjective perceptions of the other party is built on sand. This also shows the “somnambulism” (Christopher Clark) of the European powers in the First World War.
The need to include the perceptions and action options of all sides in an intelligent analysis of the situation also became clear when, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), John F. Kennedy had complex simulation games of the multiple strategic options of the United States and the Soviet Union go through. The focus of these business games was always the threat and action prospects of the enemy opponent. This applies to acute crises like Cuba then and Ukraine today, as well as long-term avoidance of such crises and wars.
An upgrade of own military strength may be necessary after the Bundeswehr’s misguided acquisition policy, but it is far from enough for a smart enough complex security architecture. Incidentally, it would radically break with social democratic traditions, which still distinguished it from conservative security policy.
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In this sense, the pacifist currents still present in the SPD should function very soon as a discursive corrective against the one-dimensionality of the military force. Sustainable security can be as little assured without credible military preparedness as with it alone. Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt knew this in their own specific way.
Therefore, the relationship of Germany and Europe with Ukraine and Russia will have to be clarified. The statement that Putin is a geopolitically expansive aggressor and tramples on international law is central, but it does not replace the orientation of the action that must be thought from the end. The right of a sovereign Ukraine to self-determination is beyond question. On the contrary, the country does not have the right to join military alliances or economic-political alliances of states. It cannot limit the sovereignty of NATO or the EU to decide only on applications for admission from Ukraine and other countries.
The fickle tactical game in dealing with Ukraine’s NATO application since 2008 shows that there are also different interests, perceptions and strategies in NATO. A temporary moratorium on Ukraine’s application for NATO membership should be clearly formulated today. Anything else would be a continuation of the tactical skirmish that has helped glorify the situation since 2008.
The normative insistence on the sovereignty of small and medium-sized states is correct, but realistically it has to be linked to the interests of the “Great Powers” and alliances. Because even if one counterfactually dismisses spheres of influence politics as a 19th century relic and criticizes it normatively, it exists and has never been abandoned by the great powers, the US, China, and, because of its nuclear weapons, Russia. . . This is demonstrated not only by Putin’s war crimes aggression in Ukraine, but also by the US war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, which was also a lie. Rarely should he have determined to be, certainly not in the power politics of international relations.
A new geopolitical constellation has been emerging for some time. It is thus even more difficult to contain political power through a desirable juridification of international relations. Juridification generally applies to Denmark, Austria, and Germany, but has never applied to Russia, China, and the US. Not when it affects their specific interests in power. This intuition also belongs to the new realism. Even if neoheroism is currently silencing the nuances of public discourse, the traditional social democratic mix of detente, integration, and multilateralism did not become obsolete overnight.
However, after Putin’s aggression, which violated international law, these guidelines must be supported by a greater contribution to the readiness of Germany and Europe to defend itself. Military toughness, arms deliveries to the attacked war party Ukraine, isolation of Russia are necessary today, but the day after tomorrow this can no longer be a sustainable policy.
A democracy that is capable of defending itself externally must combine its credible deterrence with a perspective of political, economic and ecological cooperation. Although at the time of a war of aggression of the “Putin regime” it is painful to think and even less to practice, intelligent politics must not be exhausted in anger, indignation and sanctions. The global tasks that the world community is already facing on major human problems, such as climate and (disarmament) policy, are too great.
Like all of Europe, Germany needs orderly relations with Russia. Here and now, this includes first of all stopping Russia’s expansionist policy, because that is the real cause of the war. Only when this aggressive expansion is stopped and the interests of Ukraine and the West have been duly taken into account, can and should start a new cooperation with Russia. Because the isolation of Russia, the sinking of nuclear power into economic or even political chaos, must be avoided.
More about the Ukrainian war on Tagesspiegel Plus:
The likely outcome would not be the transition to democracy, but the Hobbesian world of civil war of all against all. Sanctions against Putin’s Russia are necessary today. In the long term, they cannot replace economic interdependence, not dependency, and the search for new alliances. Designing security policy in such a way that options other than armed deterrence are used has always been a distinguishing feature of social democratic versus conservative politics. Without the combination of the strength of the military alliance, cooperation and the laborious resumption of political de-escalation initiatives, it will not be possible to establish a viable security architecture in Europe in the medium term.
New world order?
Putin’s war erupted with the end of the unipolar world order, Pax Americana, and an impending geopolitical conflict between the US and the PRC. Therefore, it is also about the strategic repositioning of Germany and Europe in a new world order. China’s geopolitical claims have so far hardly been taken into account. The United States will cease to be the unquestioned protector of Europe. Germany and Europe must coordinate differently and more closely if they do not want to become the plaything of the great powers. However, a common foreign policy must precede a common security policy. There is much work to be done for the EU and the European NATO countries.
Who are the great powers? In addition to the US, China, nuclear-armed Russia, Herfried Münkler also includes India and a Europe that is capable of action. In our opinion, this does not reflect the real geopolitical dynamics. The internal heterogeneity of its strategic worldviews and socially anchored post-heroism do not make Europe an effective “Great Power”. India is as far removed from him economically as it is militarily.
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War and sanctions can push Russia into the arms of China. What would remain would be the bipolar two-camp confrontation with the US and Europe on one side and China and Russia on the other. India somewhere in between. The hot war of the present would then have programmed the cold war of the future.
As difficult as it is to think under the unjust Putin regime, Russia must not be abandoned politically or economically in the medium term. Here you can remember the relevance of the strategic thinking of Egon Bahr and Willy Brandt.
This is a new realism, whose starting point is currently the containment of Russia. Once this is achieved, the conditions for peaceful cooperation beyond the military can be designed based on a mutual analysis of power and threats. Because rearmament alone is not a security policy concept, certainly not for the turn of the century towards a more peaceful future.