Chancellor Scholz did not put any pressure on Germany’s ability to act in terms of security and military policy and let almost a year go by with little action. That has to do with the fact that German politics has nested itself in a dangerous thought bubble when it comes to Russia.
The turning point announced by Chancellor Scholz is not progressing. At the end of 2022, the Armed Forces Commissioner Eva Högl complained that neither the structures for faster procurement for the Bundeswehr had been created, nor had sufficient personnel been recruited – 20,000 posts were not filled – and the equipment was worse than before the war.
At that time, Army Inspector General Alfons Mais said: “The Bundeswehr, the army that I am allowed to lead, is more or less empty.” After ten months of war that Russia is waging against Ukraine, the Bundeswehr is in even worse shape.
Högl now complains that the Bundeswehr lacks “personal equipment such as helmets, backpacks, protective vests and small and large equipment – from radios, ammunition to tanks… The Bundeswehr has too little of almost everything.”
This also has to do with the fact that Ukraine, which Germany wanted to support with 5000 helmets at the beginning of the war, has now received weapons and ammunition. At the same time, it is surprising that the Bundeswehr is being equipped so slowly, given that the Chancellor attaches so much importance to this goal.
It is true that it is repeatedly pointed out that Germany is safe because it is protected by its NATO allies. But this is precisely the free-rider mentality in security policy that Germany has long been accused of. At the same time, this negligence does not take sufficient account of Germany’s obligations to NATO.
Why didn’t the Federal Chancellor put more pressure on the security and military ability to act and let almost a year, a quarter of his term in office, pass almost inactively?
An answer can be found when asked how Scholz thinks the war in Ukraine can be ended. In an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” in mid-December 2022, Chancellor Scholz said about the end of the war: “Russia must accept that things cannot go on like this. Putin must end the war, withdraw troops and create the opportunity for mutual understanding.”
The subsequent question: “Do you think it is possible that this will happen in 2023? And what can you do about it?” he answered: “I can’t say today when we’ll get to this point. It is important that, despite the major differences of opinion, we do not let the thread of talks with Russia break. If we don’t talk, Russia will be even less likely to end the war.”
Sufficient criticism has already been written about the phrase that there are “divisions” with Russia. What I found most fitting was that there were differences of opinion as to whether Hawaiian pizza was within the bounds of good taste (unfortunately, I couldn’t agree with the criticism because I couldn’t agree on any differences of opinion, the answer is unequivocally: no).
This is particularly noteworthy given that Chancellor Scholz also spoke of “differences of opinion” during his visit to Moscow prior to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Apparently nothing has changed so seriously in the Chancellor’s thinking with Russia’s attack and the turning point that he wanted to change his vocabulary. And that where he is confronted day in, day out with the observation that language creates reality and that the formulations are therefore of great importance, so that in the meantime doctors or pharmacists should give way. In this respect, the consistency with which he speaks of “disagreements” is a significant indication of what Scholz really thinks.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
Before the formulation quoted above, Scholz pointed out that German support for Ukraine would continue to follow three guidelines, namely, first, to support Ukraine to the best of our ability, second, to prevent NATO from confronting Russia directly, and third, to refrain from Germany going it alone .
What is clear, however, is that Ukraine’s supporters have drawn completely different conclusions from Russia’s war, as became clear only recently when the German government offered Poland Patriot defense systems, Poland suggested that they be supplied to Ukraine, Germany refused and the US announced it will ship Patriot systems to Ukraine.
Even in the federal government there is no uniform line in Ukraine policy, because the FDP and the Greens do not speak to Scholz on this issue as if they were in a joint government. The Greens and the FDP are calling for the Leopard 2 main battle tank to be delivered to Ukraine, while Scholz and the SPD reject this. So what is the goal that the Chancellor is pursuing with the support of Ukraine? The interview cited above is instructive in this regard.
Because Scholz has so far refused to formulate that Russia must lose this war. Apart from the fact that Russia can only be denied land grabs and nobody intends to attack Russia behind its territorial borders, the formulation that Russia must lose the war is intended to point out that Russia’s imperialist intentions can be effectively counteracted from outside should be restricted towards Russia. Scholz’ formula that Russia must not win and Ukraine must not lose has a different twist, because it means that Russia may suffer defeat, but its claims should not be restricted by power. It should see the situation.
Scholz’s answer quoted above also goes in this direction. “Russia must see…” – and in order to gain this insight, you have to talk to each other. Right from the start, Russia has always clearly formulated its goals in the war. They are: the recognition of the annexations, the demilitarization of Ukraine, the liquidation of the elites and their supporters and the eradication of the anti-Russian “Ukrainian” and the demilitarization of the country.
It is therefore not clear at first glance on what basis Scholz would like to speak to the Russian side. Because he calls these goals, which Russia always emphasizes, a dictated peace that must be prevented. But how?
The End of the American Age: Germany and the New World Order
Scholz’ answer is: through discussions that should lead to insight. This is a deeply rooted attitude that has dominated thinking about international politics in Germany for over twenty years. It states that the international order, the norms and rules that shape it, are constructed by the actors in joint speech acts. When actors in discourse express common attitudes, they shape reality.
It would be surprising if Scholz and those around him had not been influenced by this way of thinking, which had a lasting impact on conferences and specialist discussions in Germany. In any case, what he says about ending the war corresponds exactly to this way of thinking. “Russia must see…”. Insight should end the war, not the means of power deployed against Russia.
According to this, it is not the power of weapons and money that shapes reality, but rather the agreements that are made jointly by the actors, it is the convictions that prevail collectively. Democratic governance in international politics, norm entrepreneurs and civil power were the keywords that could not only determine discourse in a bubble originating from the peace movement of the 1980s, but also balance the mental state of uncertainty of some politicians to this day.
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That has nothing to do with reality. With the reality of one’s own world view and the desired expectation of how the world should be, however, a lot. For some who bear responsibility for German politics, this is apparently more formative than the connection to reality. True to the motto “Being upsets consciousness” they have settled in perfectly in their thought bubble and wonder why reality does not live up to their imaginations.
Another example of this view of international relations came early in Scholz’s tenure, when he long refused to name the Nord Steam 2 pipeline. As if she would disappear from the agenda if she remained anonymous.
Scholz’s visit to China was also marked by this, because the most important result, which he has always emphasized since then, was the joint declaration that no nuclear weapons should be used. As if by banishing it with words, the danger was really over.
Of course, it is positive that China and Germany made this statement. The contrast to the sluggishness with which the Bundeswehr has been trained over the past 11 months, namely practically not at all, makes the emphasis on the joint speech appear even more glaring. Because in the questions relevant to power politics, the energy dependency on Russia was reduced, but this was seen less as a security policy than as an economic policy task.
And it is questionable whether this would have happened so quickly without the corresponding pressure from the European allies. The fact that Scholz is already talking about the fact that with a “Russia capable of peace … at some point there can be cooperation again” is correct on the one hand, but due to the lack of a turning point again points in the direction that the Federal Government should take a different view of the threat emanating from Russia valued than is the case in many other European countries.
Edward Lucas put it in a nutshell: The fact that Germany has not drawn any conclusions from Russia’s behavior, and not only since 2022, may give the country a good night’s sleep. This behavior by the largest EU member keeps the other European countries awake. Because they know that the new European security order is currently not being created through insight, but through power and strength.