The SPD politician Egon Bahr once said: “International politics is never about democracy, but about the interests of states.” What does the Ukraine war look like from these perspectives?
In his heyday, the Social Democrat Egon Bahr headed the planning staff in Willy Brandt’s Foreign Office. He belonged to the rare species of Realpolitiker.
The mechanics of power fascinated him, he took the rest for political icing. The term “value-oriented foreign policy” would never have crossed his lips.
Unforgotten how he introduced a school class to his understanding of politics with clear words: “International politics is never about democracy or human rights. It is about the interests of states. Remember that no matter what you are told in history class.”
If we examine our current foreign policy relations with Egon Bahr’s x-ray vision, the relationship with the United States of America in particular would have to be reassessed.
A European self-interest would become visible that stands in contrast to the soulful pledges of allegiance of the transatlantic community:
1. USA vs Europe at Big Tech. Regardless of the loss, the data of European Internet users is sucked off by Google, Facebook and Co. and used commercially.
The profits are made in the USA, so that the local tax authorities do not really benefit either. The market capitalization of internet giants tells the story of an American high-tech tech monopoly.
2. The Inflation Reduction Act has little to do with fighting inflation. IRA is the code name for the largest industrial poaching offer that a nation has ever submitted to another economic area.
With incentive premiums in the order of 370 billion US dollars, which corresponds to three times the annual profit of all DAX 40 companies, European industrial companies of the energy-intensive variety are to be tempted to relocate production to the USA. RWE and Siemens have already succumbed to the charm of the high subsidies.
3. A sea, air, and land war against Putin is in America’s interest, but not in Europe’s. For the Americans, the military exchange in Ukraine is a good opportunity to give a push to the Russian autocrat.
Joe Biden said in front of the Warsaw City Palace a month after the war began that it was about a “great battle between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and oppression, between a rules-based order and one ruled by brute force.”
It’s easy for the man to talk: the dispute with Putin, around 5,000 nautical miles from home territory and without the deployment of a single US soldier on the ground, is a best-case scenario for the Americans.
Putin pays with lives, Biden with money. With the stroke of a pen, Putin loses all of his European customers, who now buy their oil and gas from Uncle Sam.
From the American point of view, the economic record of the war so far can be summarized as follows: When cannonballs thunder in Eastern Europe, the cash register rings in America. It even rings twice: once for the armaments industry and then for the energy companies.
4. An economic war against China – keyword decoupling – benefits the Americans and harms the Europeans. The reason: America has the world’s largest domestic market – measured in dollars – and lost its role as the world’s largest exporter decades ago.
Germany and China, on the other hand, have grown into this role, which doesn’t ruin the American economy, but it hurts.
A decoupling would devalue European-Chinese economic relations. Klaus von Dohnanyi wrote in his book “National Interests” in relation to American policy on China: “The United States has a tradition of covering up its power interests with humanitarian arguments and must not deceive us.”
5. Americans’ reputations have been badly damaged in much of the world. Unlike immediately after World War II, being your ally and friend is by no means a pass for an honorable reputation and good business.
The CIA-managed coup in Iran, eliminating a democratically elected government in favor of the Shah of Iran, ended 26 years later in the ayatollahs’ victory.
The Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq and the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan have damaged enthusiasm for the West.
You can’t credibly promote the rule of law, women’s equality and freedom of expression at the point of a machine gun. Indian writer Pankaj Mishra wrote on Bloomberg yesterday:
“There is no sign that the people and governments of the Global South, who are suffering most from the economic fallout from the war, are turning firmly against Putin, or that the majority of the world’s population sees Russia’s attack on Ukraine as qualitatively different from the US -invasion of Iraq. In India, which is said to be allied with the West, more respondents blamed NATO or the US for the war in Ukraine than Russia in a recent poll.”
Conclusion: This high-tension world could use a mediator between the worlds – a mediator, not a dream dancer. Europe, if not defined as a derivative of US interests, would have a lot to offer the world.
Or as Klaus von Dohnanyi writes: “Brussels often treats Europe too lightly.” This laconic remark would have pleased someone like Egon Bahr.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.