Explained: How Russian Ukrainian War Exposed German Foreign Policy Compulsions

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Both Americans and Russians are certainly aware of Germany’s compromised position. It must be borne in mind that, in accordance with the geopolitical thinking of Anglo-American authors (both classical and contemporary), it is an imperative to prevent the development of a Russo-German partnership.

New Delhi (ABC Live): As a result of the Ukraine war, Germany is now caught in a very awkward and uncomfortable position. In the aftermath of said crisis, in which the global correlation of forces is at stake, Berlin’s critical vulnerabilities have been exposed and they are being taken advantage of. First, since Germany has basically outsourced its defense and national security to the nuclear umbrella provided by the US since the Cold War, it cannot autonomously address security challenges in its own neighborhood. Therefore, the Germans have no choice but to follow Washington’s strategic agenda even if that means that some German national interests are being disregarded. In turn, since the Teutonic nation is not self-sufficient in the field of energy, German industry is heavily reliant on the supply of Russian natural gas. Accordingly, Berlin’s foreign policy cannot afford to alienate Moscow whether it likes it or not. It remains to be seen whether these contradictions can be reconciled in the current zeitgeist.

Both Americans and Russians are certainly aware of Germany’s compromised position. It must be borne in mind that, in accordance with the geopolitical thinking of Anglo-American authors (both classical and contemporary), it is an imperative to prevent the development of a Russo-German partnership. The combination of Russian weaponry, manpower, and natural resources plus German wealth and technology has the potential to alter the global balance of power, control the so-called Eurasian ‘heartland,’ and even challenge the might of maritime powers from the area known as the ‘outer crescent.’ Tellingly, a retired high-ranking German senior military officer, Jochen Scholz, has argued that one of the key drivers of US foreign policy toward Europe has been to avoid the emergence of a Berlin-Moscow collaborative axis. Therefore, the instigation of upheaval and geopolitical tensions by the US in Eastern Europe and some states of the post-Soviet space could be understood as a deliberate effort to remove potential bridges that could facilitate the rise of stronger ties between Russia and Germany. If this hypothesis is accurate, then the ongoing Ukraine war gives the Americans a window of opportunity worth harnessing to undermine the prospects of a Russo-German reproachment.

Furthermore, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski ‒ former National Security Advisor during the Carter administration and geopolitical scholar ‒ explained that, since its defeat in World War Two, Germany had been essentially co-opted by the Americans as a junior partner. Indeed, the continuous presence of US forces and strategic military facilities like the Ramstein Air Base is a powerful reminder of Germany’s subordinate status vis-à-vis the US. It is also telling ‒ but not surprising ‒ that, based on the revelations made by Edward Snowden, former Chancellor Angela Merkel was under the direct surveillance of the NSA. Even though this incident deserved to be investigated, nothing could be done about it for political reasons. In other words, German sovereignty is compromised to a certain extent by these asymmetries.

On the other hand, the Russians have correctly identified Germany as the linchpin and engine of the EU. Hence, they have invested a great deal of resources, time and effort in order to pull Germany from the geopolitical orbit of the US. From the Russian perspective, without Germany there can be no meaningful transatlantic consensus and yet Moscow believes that Germany lacks the wherewithal to control much of Europe ‒ with an iron first if necessary ‒ on its own as a regional hegemon. Thus, through the development of infrastructure projects (networks of pipelines) to supply substantial amounts Russian energy to the German consumer market, the Kremlin has made sure that Berlin does not adopt a confrontational attitude toward Russia. Such deliveries are not only a source of hard cash, but also a strategic and political vehicle of influence. Through the threat of disruption, the Kremlin can pull the trigger to wreck the German economy. Thus, the recent drastic reduction in the deliveries supplied by Gazmprom though Nord Stream has been officially attributed to maintenance reasons, but since the alleged technical difficulty of restoring full capacity is being blamed on the implementation of Western sanctions, it is likely an outspoken political demonstration of how energy flows can be weaponized. If the Germans no longer want to be held hostage through their dependence on Russian fossil fuels, they do not have pleasant alternatives in the short term: all they can do is either rely on coal or the revival of nuclear power, or witness the utter collapse of their industrial capabilities. Also, the Russians have realized that, since Germany’s intellectual world is mostly dominated by worldviews anchored to liberal internationalism and even postmodern ideologies, the resulting overall lack of savoir faire in terms of Machiavellian statecraft and a reluctance to engage in fighting is a weakness that be used to strategically outfox the Germans in the ruthless chessboard of realpolitik. Finally, although the behavior of geopolitical forces is mostly determined by impersonal factors, it must be borne in mind that, since his days as a KGB spook in Dresden in the late Cold War, Vladimir Putin himself is deeply aware of the importance of Germany for Russian national interests.

So far, there are ambivalent views toward Russia in Germany. Voices aligned with militant Atlanticism are staunchly hostile to Russia. For instance, policymakers such as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and specialized commentators like Florence Gaub apparently abhor Russia and everything it stands for. In contrast, realists believe that antagonizing Russia is an unwise course of action. For example, last January Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach stated that Russia should be respected as a force to be reckoned with, and that facts on the ground like the takeover of Crimea cannot be undone. The comments were so controversial that he had no choice but to tender his resignation.

Another development that needs to be considered is that China regards Germany as a pivotal state for the completion of its ambitious long-term geoeconomic plans. Thanks to its logistical infrastructure, Germany is positioned as a platform to reach most European markets. Likewise, the advanced profile of the German economy makes it an attractive partner for Beijing. This is the rationale behind the establishment of freight railways as terrestrial corridors that foster economic interconnectedness between China and Europe in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, China is one of Germany’s top trade partners for both exports and imports and Germany is also a full member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a development bank headed by Beijing which represents the largest multilateral institutional project ever launched by the Middle Kingdom. Likewise, considering Germany’s sophisticated know-how and world-class prestige in the domain of finance and banking and China’s interest in fostering the projection of its financial sector and in boosting the process of renminbi internationalization, there are signs of an emerging Sino-German financial co-operation. Officials from the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s Central Bank, have manifested their willingness to add holdings denominated in Chinese yuan to their foreign exchange reserves. Hence, China offers a valuable opportunity for Germany to diversify its partnerships and increase business opportunities for German companies. Notably, China’s foreign policy is not revisionist when it comes to Europe; the spheres of influence of both countries do not overlap and China is too far away to threaten German national security in any meaningful way. Undoubtedly, China is America’s top strategic competitor but it is not in Germany’s national interests to automatically replicate Washington’s rivalries.

Moreover, Germany is experiencing societal problems that pose complex challenges, such as declining birth rates. With a fertility rate of 1.607 per woman in 2022, Germany is already below replacement levels ‒ a reality that encourages reasonable doubts in its viability as a leading power in the long run ‒ and the absorption and assimilation of immigrants has not sailed as smoothly as expected. As a result, Germany is witnessing the simultaneous empowerment of militant Islamism and hard-line nationalist forces. These internal tensions are not going away any time soon. In fact, their strength will likely grow under conditions of economic hardship. In addition, the increasing influence of Turkey as an aspiring great power with an ambitious Neo-Ottoman agenda is something that needs to be taken into account in Berlin. For example, back in 2017 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged Turkish immigrants in Germany to vote in national elections against Merkel and traditional mainstream parties because they allegedly represented “enemies of the Turkish state,” a blatant act of interference that sparked outrage among German politicians. Although the situation did not escalate, such incident demonstrate that ‒through the overt mobilization of diaspora communities ‒ foreign states can at least try to shape German politics in accordance with their preferences.

The Germans are facing a complicated dilemma. They cannot recover their strategic independence from the US because they do not have their own autonomous nuclear deterrent, and they also lack a powerful military. Likewise, getting rid of Russian energy supplies would be problematic and the potential substitutes are imperfect, costly, and partial. Of course, Germany is an industrial powerhouse so, if it wants, it has what it takes to develop a nuclear weapons program, a stronger military, and a more diversified energy infrastructure. However, the Ukraine War and its shockwaves are literally accelerating the course of history and the Germans are running out of time. For instance, the UK is promoting the establishment of a new security alliance of European states that share three common denominators: a fierce opposition to Russia, a strong Altanticist strategic orientation, and a distrustful view of Germany.

Decisions must be made, challenges must be faced, and costs will have to be paid one way or another. Berlin needs to assess its situation and play its cards wisely. If an inertial trajectory prevails, a Weimar-like disaster is conceivable. Now that history is back, Germany can have either the American security guarantee or the comfort of being a wealthy industrialized economy; but it will not be able to enjoy both at the same time anymore. Such convenience can no longer be taken for granted. In fact, the status quo that favored the Germans until recently is gone and existing partnerships will not do the trick. Since overreliance on others can backfire, the Germans will be pretty much on their own now. Therefore, Berlin’s best move would be to assume a much more autarkic, proactive, and assertive role on the world stage in accordance with the full weight of its national power. Otherwise, it will fade into oblivion as its fate is determined by external stakeholders. Being at the mercy of others is obviously dangerous for any rational state, particularly in times of trouble. Hence, the Germans will probably soon experience a rude awakening whose consequences will be felt for generations to come. The clock is ticking.

Source: This Article written by Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco first published on the Geo Political Monitor republished in the interest of spreading fairness in Geopolitical affairs.   

About Author

Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco

Born in Mexico, Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco is an international relations professional who holds a Masters’ Degree in National Security and Strategic Intelligence. He has experience as an analyst, researcher, executive adviser, consultant, professor, lecturer and author of academic papers. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Defence and Security Studies at Massey University, New Zealand. His areas of expertise include geopolitics, security, statecraft, the nature of national power, international rivalries, conflict, hegemony, grand strategy, new arenas of strategic competition and the increasing significance of financial and monetary affairs for geopolitical realities in the 21st century.

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