Germany: No more ‘Trading State’ and ‘Civilian Power’

Schröder and Putin November 2001 - FAZ
Schröder and Putin November 2001 – With Permission from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Russia’s war against Ukraine has not only annihilated countless human lives and completely destroyed whole cities. It has also unmasked decades-old myths, one of which concerns Germany as a ‘Trading State’ and ‘Civilian Power’.

After the peaceful revolution in East Germany, the successful political process towards unification and the integration of the East into the Federal Republic, German politicians and large segments of the population felt satisfied. The government in Bonn, later Berlin, had managed to peacefully overcome Germany’s post-war division. Its close integration in NATO and European integration as well as its economic strength had clearly facilitated this success. U.S. President Bush Sr. strongly supported unification (against British PM Thatcher’s objections) and France finally accepted it, provided that Germany would agree to a European currency, the Euro. Towards the Soviet Union West Germany used its significant, possibly decisive trump card, its economic strength as a ‘Trading State’. One could even argue that it managed to ‘buy’ the German Democratic Republic from Gorbachev’s virtually bankrupt and disintegrating Union. Germany as a ‘Civilian Power’ rather a military one posed no threat to the Soviet Union.

Already in 1986 a U.S. political scientist, Richard Rosecrance, had written a book about ’The Rise of the Trading State’, discussing Japan’s and West Germany’s post-war successes – becoming rich and influential by focusing on world-wide trade, while militarily relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Later, further expanding this statement, a German professor of International Relations, Hanns W. Maull, wrote about Germany as a ‘Civilian Power’, a new, successful model for the world. This was somehow a modern version of the old German adage (from imperial times before WWI), “The world will recover in the German mould” (“Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen”). It certainly was a very convenient way of justifying Germany’s neglect of the military and of being a virtual free rider in security affairs.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s speech on 27 February 2022 and later statements of Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock were nothing less than ceremonial burials of this way of thinking and a complete turn-around of Germany’s energy and defense policies:

  • Baerbock: Germany would drastically reduce and abolish “as soon as possible” its reliance on Russian energy deliveries (oil, gas, and coal).
  • Scholz: An extra €100 billion to modernize and better equip the German Armed forces. This was after a leading general had publicly stated that the Bundeswehr was not capable of self-defence.

To be fair, Germany’s post-war leading politicians had always been aware of the heavy historical burden, particularly the unspeakable crimes against Europe’s Jewish population, and the Wehrmacht’s brutal war against most of its European neighbours. Having the second largest population in Europe and a strong industrial base, the Federal Republic felt the need to reassure its partners that it would not seek military domination again. Consequently, NATO and European integration became the framework of its international standing.

However, since energy policies had not been part of EU integration, at least until now, Germany felt free and eager to further develop its “special relationship” with Russia in the sphere of economics and energy imports. The “Druzba gas pipeline deal” with the Soviet Union during the 1970’s/80’s, was followed by the governments of Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel pursuing the “Nord Stream 1 and 2” pipelines. This was against strong opposition from the U.S. as well as the Baltic States and Poland, who denounced the first Nord Stream (or Baltic Sea) pipeline as the result of a “Schröder-Putin pact” – a grim reminder of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939. While Nord Stream 1 has contributed to more than 55% of German total gas imports from Russia since 2011, the almost complete Nord Stream 2 project has been stopped, in the very last minute, after Putin invaded Ukraine. Previously Chancellor Scholz and other leading politicians had called that gas pipeline a “mere economic project without political implications”, which turned out to be a complete lie!

Up to the very last moment German politicians had hoped to be able to influence the Russian dictator. Their failure in preventing the invasion of Ukraine was proof of the fact that their ‘Civilian Power’ was helpless against the will to use ‘Military Power’. The result has been a tremendous shock to Germany. The public fears that Russian gas deliveries will stop completely, the business community warns of heavy losses in industrial production and unemployment and the new Minister of Economics, Robert Habeck (from the Green Party), had to fly to Qatar to secure alternative gas supplies. In addition, Germany now has to quickly build facilities for the import of liquid gas, particularly from the U.S.

What an irony: The former co-leader of the Green Party, who had wanted to save the planet by strongly promoting non-fossil sources of energy, now has to shop around for deliveries of alternative gas! And Chancellor Scholz from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), with a strong pacifist tradition and even sentimental sympathies for Russia and its leader, now has to rebuild the German army.

Up to this day, Scholz’s predecessor in the SPD, Gerhard Schröder, has not clearly distanced himself from the war-criminal Putin, but the SPD seems unable to expel him from their party. Former Chancellor Schröder will remain a unique case of a leading Western politician having been engaged from a foreign country and its ex-Secret Service leader to become a highly-paid agent for Gazprom and Lukoil, companies controlled by the Kremlin. Hiring Schröder probably was Putin’s greatest Secret Service coup. Not only Schröder’s personal, but also Germany’s overall reputation will suffer from it heavily.

What a remarkable end of the concepts of ‘Trading State’ and ‘Civilian Power’!


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