The reasons for German “reluctance” in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis

Putin Meets German Chancellor Scholtz. Fot. vk.com

After the Cold War, a united and stronger Germany assumed greater responsibilities in international affairs, but despite the new opportunities, German foreign and security policy became complicated and multifaceted due to domestic and international pressures. Being a “Zivilmacht” (“civilian power”) became a strong identity for Germany, and the German political elite made it a priority to act as a civil power in international affairs, with the goal of maintaining that identity despite strong international pressure, including from important partners. As a result, one of Germany’s key elements of foreign and security policy is to have a civilizing influence on violent and competitive international affairs.

Normality is also a key feature of German foreign and security policy; this country behaves as a “normal” actor in international affairs, is hesitant to use military force and achieve global leadership; as a result, Germany has been largely inactive in many international crises, but in 2014, when the Russian Federation annexed the Crimea, Germany defied “tradition” by crossing its own red line and has for the first time taken the lead on a major international crisis.

The impact of historical roots on the modern foundations of German politics

The terrible experience of the Nazi period and World War II turned the German public and political elite against bloody conflicts. For this reason, Germany avoided active military involvement in major international crises such as the disastrous Balkan war, the Iraq war, and the Libyan crisis. Germany’s declared role as a civilian and normal power, do not just exist in strategic documents and official speeches; they have a real impact on foreign and security policymaking. In general, the German political parties, particularly the Social Democrats and the Green Party, are known for their pacifism. “Never again war, never again Auschwitz,” is a phrase that has become ingrained in the minds of Germany’s top foreign policy decision-makers.

“Germany has a longstanding policy of restraint when it comes to military conflict of all sorts and weapons export is seen as fuelling conflict rather than reducing conflict…this longstanding policy says that Germany does not export arms into conflict zones” says Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff from the German Marshall Fund. In a number of instances, Germany has violated this principle. The situation in Ukraine, on the other hand, is different; it touches on the painful German wounds: the Nazis killed millions of people in Ukraine and Russia.

The prominent scholar Maull wrote that Germany and Japan became a new type of international power, on the one hand, these countries support multilateralism and working with other countries in order to achieve their foreign and security goals, but on the other hand, they reject the use of force and an autonomous security policy and focus on the economic growth instead.

The leaders of the West have done their best in the past to make Germany more active and assertive in world politics, but despite these efforts, Germany does not appear to be planning to reject its own path and continues to oppose any military involvement in any kind of conflict. According to annual polls, the majority of Germans believe that diplomatic negotiation is the best way to resolve conflict. German troops are almost never involved in anything other than peacekeeping missions. It is also worth noting Angela Merkel was heavily chastised and blamed for “betraying” the country’s traditions by sending troops to Afghanistan despite the fact that their mission was strictly limited.

The Ukrainian crisis: the challenge of the Scholz cabinet

When Olaf Scholz was elected as Germany’s chancellor, he may have imagined that the covid-19 pandemic would be the biggest challenge his cabinet would face, however, the Ukrainian crisis appears to be a greater challenge. As every previous chancellor, he is under intense pressure from the allies to pursue a more active and assertive foreign policy. As a new leader, he must also demonstrate his leadership abilities. It is also obvious that Berlin should not have liked the bilateral talks between Washington and Moscow over Europe without Germany. When Angela Merkel was the chancellor, she was the main figure in talks with Russia over Ukraine; however, it appears that the role of France’s president is now bigger.

Sending the weapons to Ukraine is not only against the traditional principle of German politics, but will be also a demonstration that Scholz’s coalition (Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats) lied to its voters. These parties promised their supporters that they would pursue a values-based foreign policy and impose stricter restrictions on arms exports than the previous government. To put it another way, if Olaf Scholz decides to pursue a more aggressive policy toward Russia, it will be welcomed by international partners, but it will likely anger the pacifist public and the coalition partners. On the other hand, if the German chancellor decides to stick with traditional politics, he will be chastised by international partners and even the main opposition party. The CDU leader Friedrich Merz has already emphasized Olaf Scholz’s leadership weaknesses.

Another point worth mentioning is that Ukraine is not Libya or Afghanistan. Ukraine is Europe’s largest country, and it is constantly threatened by Russia’s militaristic policies. As a result, Germany will find it more difficult to adhere to its principles without exception. If Russia succeeds in overthrowing the democratically elected Ukrainian government and installing its puppet in Kyiv, the Euro-Atlantic security architecture and the status quo will be severely harmed. Protecting the Euro-Atlantic security architecture is one of Germany’s top foreign and security priorities, because without it, Germany will lose its economic power and then the leading role in the European Union. It should be also highlighted that, for the economic reasons, simply blocking the Nord Stream 2 is also a very sensitive issue for Germany. The chancellor commented on this project and said that this is a “private sector project” and “apolitical”.

Germany’s chosen way to deal with the Russian-Ukrainian crisis: financial aid and de-escalation efforts.

As far as I am concerned, the new government recognizes the importance and the need of a new, modified approach to the Ukrainian crisis, however, they remain convinced that simply sending weapons to Ukraine will not solve the crisis. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, a Green politician who was the main target of Russian propaganda during the elections, claims that Germany is a financial donor to Ukraine, believing that this is more effective than sending troops or weapons. The chancellor also pointed out this issue and said that in the recent years, Germany was one of the largest donors of Ukraine, giving a two-billion-euro aid package to help stabilize the economy. It should be emphasized that in this difficult situation, in the face of a new wave of Russian aggression and psychological terror, the troubled Ukrainian economy suffers greatly. For this reason, the international partners should provide Ukrainian with further financial support, as the chancellor Scholz promised, Germany will increase its financial assistance.

To deal with this crisis, Olaf Scholz chose a dialogue-based approach. It should be noted that Olaf Scholz does not have as close ties to Putin as Angela Merkel did, but due to past experiences, Germany’s relationship with Russia is unlike that of many other Western countries that can be used positively to step forward to avoid conflict escalation. It is difficult to predict the outcome of German diplomacy because everything is ahead, and Olaf Scholz’s future diplomatic meetings in Kyiv on February 14 and Moscow on February 15 will put a new chancellor’s diplomatic skills to the test.

Lasha Gamjashvili

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Autorius: Voras Online