Russia-Ukraine War And Its Fallout Leave Germany At A Crossroads

by Sagorika Sinha and Jai Menon - Jul 17, 2022 03:46 PM +05:30 IST
Russia-Ukraine War And Its Fallout Leave Germany At A CrossroadsGerman Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at G7 (GermanForeignOffice/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • It is surprising that Germany has embarked on what seems to be a path of suicidal subservience to external interests at such a turning point in its existence. But it has a choice to make sooner rather than later.

Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay, who became the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General 70 years ago in 1952 after the Second World War, was reluctant to take up the role. He said the alliance was created to “Keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

Keeping the Germans down has always been part of the post-war security calculus, though this truth has been told progressively less in the last half century. Germany has been exemplary in defeat. Germans are highly aware of their Nazi past and virtually all are regretful and reflexively apologetic.

Today’s Germany is modern-minded, generally humanist, with largely liberal views socially, and relatively conservative economic perspectives. There is an understanding that life must be based on environmentally sustainable principles, ecological in personal orientation, and that it comes in every hue of the rainbow.

Despite their technical prowess, Germany has only been viewed so far with awe, not fear. It is thus surprising that Germany has embarked on what seems to be a path of suicidal subservience to external interests at such a turning point in its existence.

That Germany does not do things in half-measure may be part of the problem. Their environmental consciousness over the last couple of decades has been unusually passionate, not pragmatic, and related politics have worryingly confused personal beliefs and inclinations with strategic state interest.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the energy sector. The country began abandoning traditional fuels, including nuclear, a while ago. It has reconfigured its economy to be dependent on gas, mainly supplied from Russia.

Former chancellor Angela Merkel’s energy policy, once hailed as the only way forward towards a greener future for Germany, was only decried previously for not being oriented enough towards the incorporation of alternate renewable fuels.

Today, the problem transcends renewables and highlights fault lines in Germany’s geopolitical strategy. Merkel’s origins in Communist Germany are being brought up again. In attempts to portray her as unreasonably aligned with Putin’s Russia, what cannot be missed is the fact that Russian gas to Europe was indeed an economically beneficial arrangement for Germany until NATO expansionism brought out the volatility of the situation.

It is probably not a coincidence that less than three months after Merkel left office, the Ukraine crisis exploded. Geography is history.

As German homes are forced to be without heating even before winter arrives, the current political alliance still refuses to review the folly of complete nuclear shutdown despite nuclear being one of the cleanest sources of energy. It is safe to say that, in such a political environment, the German people were not prepared for war on their doorstep.

Naturally, with the Green Party in the ruling coalition, fossil fuels and nuclear energy are anathema. In spite of extreme economic downturns, Germany’s quickest means to separate themselves from Russian dependency remains unviable according to German politicians and, through decades of media conditioning, to the general public.

If there is a fault, it is here: Berlin should have seen this coming. Now, the country’s energy sector looks to be on the verge of collapse, possibly bringing down German industry with it. The role of the United State (US) in all this has not been adequately “partnerly.”

Nord Stream 2 would have continued to offer stability to Germany for the longer term, while the US could continue to provide military security to the country. A stable Germany means a much more stable Europe. If the sanctions were not imposed due to the US proxy war in Ukraine, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the ongoing arrangement.

However, with the US’s attempt to ambitiously fulfill Germany’s energy requirements in addition to its military ones, it is only Germany that stands to lose. For one, the US simply does not have enough reserves to offer Germany, while, on the other hand, it would be extremely expensive for Germany to switch to American gas.

As a consequence, Nord Stream 2 is finished as things stand. Nord Stream 1 is hobbled and unlikely to be up for a while. At the same time, Russia continues to gain. The ruble is at its highest in decades. All of Europe is paying a higher price, literally, for Russian gas, which they have not been able to wean themselves off in a hurry. They have been pushed towards higher crude-derivatives imports from China that are heavily dependent on Russian fuel anyway. Chemical-based imports from China are up six-fold from last year, while overall imports have risen by almost 53 per cent.

What Comes Next?

Germany is at a critical crossroads and must make a choice. These will be the possible outcomes:

  1. German strategic policy will continue to be guided (directly and indirectly) by the US and its local representative, Britain. This option ensures the subservience of Germany to Anglosphere decisions for the foreseeable future, for less than optimal results. It will also mark the end of the post-war German trading story. Halting exports to Russia, with energy and economic viability-related issues leading to manufacturing deficits, will play a role in the trade downfall.

  2. Germany will chart its own European course. This will mean, ultimately, public disagreement with the Anglosphere (UK, US mainly) over the future of the Eurasian landmass. This will also mean the end of NATO as currently configured. Key European Union (EU) states — France, Italy, Spain, and possibly the Netherlands — will need to work in tandem with Germany to chart a new course. A European Security Council with a contemporary mandate will become necessary. If it does not, we can expect the slow disintegration of the EU. This is a likely scenario in the longer term once the region has navigated the fraught domestic political churn in individual countries.

  3. Germany withdraws from NATO, dilutes its role within the EU, and charts a course on its own. Despite seeming unlikely at this time, this would only mean a return to pre-World War dynamics on the European mainland without the extreme nationalism. This is not something that anyone wants, least of all the German people. It is, however, something that can happen if a way is not found to accommodate the reality that German energy requirements are best met with Russian supplies.

The only decision by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that seems to have taken the latter two outcomes into account is the dramatic increase in the defence budget. It is the clearest sign so far that Berlin recognises that things cannot continue as they are. The last century has seen Germany come out far ahead of their wartime experiences based on the idea of a united Europe.

On the energy front, should they choose to shift back to the status quo ante of a military guarantee via NATO, and to Russian gas, Germany’s anti-nuclear stance might be of less import. It still remains hypocritical in light of their coal plant reactivation. As German citizens are laid off from their jobs, they also pay exorbitant amounts for their heating bills.

In time, the German public will begin to ask questions more loudly. What is wrong with having energy security provided by Russian supplies at more convenient costs while military security is provided by the US via NATO? Does such a situation not create a vested interest in European stability on both sides, necessary to keep the continent at peace?

After all, Russia did not block supplies despite the ongoing war when it could have done so soon after sanctions were imposed. If it had, German industry would already have been on life support. On the other hand, US actions leading up to, and after the sanctions were imposed, seem to suggest a callous disregard for German national interest.

While discontent brews, Germany may need to decide sooner rather than later if the penalties are worth it. Imposed through American will, is it worth the empty signalling for Germany while Russia feels little impact?

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