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It not only represented a violation of international law that was deeply offensive to a country with a strong legalistic culture. In addition, Russia had shown that it was prepared to disregard its bilateral obligations to Ukraine as well as its commitment to Helsinki principles. She said that unlike in the case of Georgia in , there could be no return to business as usual. She also argued that from the German perspective, the Association Agreement was an invitation to Ukraine to modernise just as Germany and the EU had proposed a modernisation partnership with Russia.

To a country that had so successfully rejected and overcome its totalitarian past and abandoned geopolitical thinking, it was hard for Germans to understand why Russia would not want to follow a similar process, avoiding conflict with its neighbours and focusing national development around strengthening rule of law and democratic institutions. Yet for years, Moscow had signalled that it understood the idea of collective responsibility more as a zero-sum game than an exercise based on common interests.

This was logical, given that its interests were increasingly in conflict with those of the West. As Merkel noted in her address to parliament, Russia was strongly tied into the globalised world. There are strong grounds to believe that President Putin had either not given sufficient thought to the German reaction or simply miscalculated what it would be. It had multiple levers of influence in Germany through business, political relationships, old GDR networks, and a Russian-speaking community comprising an estimated three million people Yet by its behaviour, Russia forced Germany to think and act geopolitically and propose economic sanctions.

We would then sense that … as a threat.

Regional Powers Still Matter!

This would then change not only the relationship of the EU as a whole with Russia. No, that would damage … Russia massively, both economically and politically. For — I cannot say it often enough or with enough emphasis — the clock cannot be turned back. Conflicts of interest in the middle of Europe in the 21st century can only be successfully overcome when we do not resort to the examples of the 19th and 20th centuries. They can only be overcome, when we act with the principles and means of our time, the 21st century.

No official German statement since then has expressed so clearly the depth of the differences between Moscow and Berlin and the extent of the collision of interests and security cultures. In , the Russian system acting on these instincts took them to their logical extreme and undermined the security order that it had been chafing against for several years, but with the exception of Georgia, had not seen fit to challenge openly.

Germany was not alone among its EU partners in sustaining the hope that Georgia was a blip caused by the foolhardiness of the Georgian President and that Russia would continue to respect the inviolability of borders and the impermissibility of using force to solve problems. Yet to sustain this hope required optimism bordering on self-deception.

It was clear after the experience of Georgia that Russia, like any rule breaker that had escaped serious censure, was more rather than less likely to re-commit the offence. This raises questions about the claim by some German officials that Germany was not over-optimistic about Russia and had few illusions about its intentions. It would imply that German policy planners had in fact expected Russia might challenge borders again on its periphery but had not seen the need to deter such a prospect. Despite the obvious imperfections of the Minsk documents, German diplomats can argue with justification that they have at least created a process.

In diplomacy, a process often serves to slow down events and seek compromises as calculations change. At the same time, she held the door open for dialogue to resolve the issue of control of the rebel-held territories in southeastern Ukraine. De facto, though, Germany was in the lead with Berlin assuming a new and uncomfortable level of responsibility.

The End of Borrowed Stability

For a cautious leader such as Angela Merkel, this was a bold policy that carried considerable risk. The German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations Ostausschuss was vocal in its criticism of sanctions but the more influential Federation of German Industry BDI recognised that political interests trumped economic interests and supported the policy. This was probably an allusion to the time taken to reunify Germany. It reflected the fact that crisis management could reduce tensions, but it could not realistically resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on the one hand and between Russia and the West on the other.

This did not prevent tensions within the Grand Coalition from spilling over. As a perceptive German journalist noted a few months later, there were dangers in the SPD harking back to its glory days of Ostpolitik when it had enjoyed its biggest election victories.

German Politics Equals European Politics

Time for a Serious Debate on Russia. To develop a strategy to address the challenges that Russia poses to German interests, Germany must have a serious debate about the nature of the challenge and the means available to address it. The discussion needs to address the strategy that Russia is using and to identify the most effective means of countering it, encouraging Moscow over time to return to a path of reform as the best guarantee of achieving its national security goals.

In other words, persuading future Russian leaders to change Russia rather than try to change the international system to accommodate an unreformed Russia. Germany is well positioned to contribute more to promoting the reform process in Ukraine both in terms of financial support and technical assistance. Successful democratic institution building in Ukraine and sustainable economic improvement could have far-reaching consequences for the development of Russia itself since there is a broad consensus in the Russian political class that Ukrainians are culturally very close to Russians and unsuited to developing a western-style democratic system.

Germans must recognise that Ukraine is the new battleground for the struggle between Russia and Europe over the boundaries of their respective political, social and economic models.

Regional Powers Still Matter! | Fondren Library

As such, Ukraine deserves greater attention in discussion of German interests in the region. There is a still a marked tendency in the political class to think of Ukraine as historically part of Russia and a resistance to engaging with it as an independent country. By its nature, this collision of interests is not going to be resolved by improved confidence-building measures or dialogue.

These may reduce its intensity, but ultimately for the conflict to end, one side will have to change course. However, the Russian triumphalism of after the annexation of Crimea and its sense that it had the upper hand in the struggle with the West appears to have given way to a discomfiting sense that the struggle could last much longer than it initially expected and inflict higher costs.

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This is not, of course, to say that there is no value in dialogue with the authorities and promoting contacts with Russian society, but there must be a broader guiding focus. Germany knows better than most from history that Russia has had a deeply ambivalent attitude towards Europe from the days of Peter the Great, alternating between the poles of Europeanisation and Pan-Slavism.

There is no reason to believe that Russia will not eventually turn back again to Europe as its traditional source of modernisation. In short, Russia is likely to need western allies and this will make it a different type of player from what it is today. This perspective is important for the purposes of developing a long-term strategy western strategy to manage the challenges and dangers posed by Russia.


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The USSR overspent on defence and brought about the collapse of the country, the Russian Finance Minister recently noted, in a reference to the dangers of unaffordable defence spending. The impact of further digitalisation on government and business is likely to be considerable, leaving Russia further behind its competitors. The respect for Germany in Russia and its achievements put it in a position unlike any other country in Europe. This should provide a basis for Germany to use its soft power to communicate how it overcame its past and built institutions and relationships with its neighbours of an entirely different type that allowed it to prosper.

With their Darwinian view of global affairs, Russians can easily recognise that the talents of a people put Germany back on its feet after the defeat of Nazism. Yet there is little understanding in Russia of the German path of self-transformation and what made it possible. Ukraine is a critical battleground in this struggle and Germany must do more to stabilise the country by promoting reforms, particularly in areas where it has expertise such as energy efficiency, decentralisation and judicial reform.

This is outdated and risks sustaining a raw materials-based economy in Russia with its associated disadvantages, in particular, the disincentives to innovate and diversify, and the vulnerability to fluctuations in demand. This will be essential to developing a confident posture towards Russia beyond the impressive crisis management measures that Berlin adopted in Continued interaction with the Russian scientific community is particularly important.

This was the case in with the Berlin blockade, the offer of unification, the efforts to prevent the FRG from joining NATO in , the Berlin Ultimatum of and the preservation of West Berlin after the building of the Wall in The Berlin Agreement reversed previous Soviet policies and laid the basis for renewed contacts between the FRG and GDR that were later to play such an important role in making unification possible. Evaluating reflexes does not mean abdicating responsibility for the horrors inflicted by great grandfathers on the peoples of the USSR not just Russians.

Rather it requires approaching the task of developing policy towards Russia with a clear, practical and unsentimental understanding of German and European interests, acting with confidence as a country that has overcome its past and become a model European state. Germans cannot perform this task on their own. NATO remains the bedrock of German security policy. History is relevant here. Then as now, the international situation was highly fluid and unpredictable. France had withdrawn from the NATO integrated military structure the previous year, and there were concerns that NATO might cease to exist after in line with Article 13 of the Washington Treaty that provided for member states to leave after the Treaty had been in force for 20 years.

Despite these challenges, NATO retained sufficient purpose and cohesion to deter aggression and resist Soviet pressure to change the balance of power in Europe. This led to a belated attempt by Moscow to modernise the Soviet system that ultimately ended the Cold War. Merkel had apparently hoped that the European Commission would find a reason to block it, but this proved not to be the case. Although the project may still run foul of EU regulations, some observers believe that Merkel does not want to create another source of irritation with Putin.

They think that she would like instead to use her goodwill on the issue to extract a concession from Putin, possibly on Ukraine. Such a policy will come at a cost, in particular, to Ukraine by depriving the country of gas transit revenues and reducing its strategic significance as a transit country. Merkel, cited in B. The concentrated force of a departing protective power, in conjunction with challenges to the existing order launched by emerging powers and destabilising regional developments, encounter an already weakened political anchoring system: the European Union.


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  • Second, the growing impossibility of finding a sustainable as well as effective compromise for bigger problems. To make matters worse, the EU is currently experiencing a development dilemma: even if the member states are willing to take greater integrative steps to solve urgent problems, in-depth integration can hardly be justified without establishing new forms of political legitimation. In the meantime, integration has progressed considerably.

    Interferences in national sovereignty have become more drastic, but not much has changed in terms of the indirect legitimation. The European Parliament was able to strongly expand its competences. However, it never succeeded in filling the legitimation gap of the deeper union, and its legitimacy is not recognised by a large part of non- voters. This is because the European Parliament is not supported by a standardised election, nor seriously accountable to voters, or even constrained by having to keep a government in office.

    Integration to this extent would necessitate a new qualitative ruling foundation for the European Union. Such a new foundation, which would presumably entail pan-European elections without national lists, would take the EU one clear step closer towards statehood. However, politically, this is neither achievable nor even conceivable in the short or long term. Therefore, the issue remains: member states need to muddle through inter-governmentally, always in the hopes that the newest compromise will encounter sufficient support within the population instead of further eroding approval of the EU.

    By , this dilemma will have intensified dramatically. This could lead to the EU becoming paralysed in intergovernmental problem solving. Such a paralysis is also more likely to drive up the price of pro-European action through the exacerbated domestic policy situation in which nationalist parties, strengthened by fears of globalisation, identity crises, hatred of the elites and established parties, as well as concerns about economic regression. Overcoming the north-south divide in the EU on the topic of the euro and the east-west divide on the topic of migration and the constitutional state seems hopeless at the moment.

    Another factor that will come into play in addition to the major restructuring of global politics is the fundamental upheaval of the global economy. The Third Industrial Revolution, triggered by the victory march of information technology and the Internet, and elevated into new dimensions through the interplay of big data, artificial intelligence, quantum computers, and blockchain technology, might present the most important challenge to the order in which Germany and Europe fared so well in the past seventy years.

    The First Industrial Revolution brought mechanisation. Great Britain was its pioneer and founded its global empire on its utilisation of it.

    The Second Industrial Revolution introduced industrial mass production and the associated new organisational and management techniques. The Third Industrial Revolution is that of digitalisation, in which the United States and China are battling for the leading position. US companies are currently dominating the markets, but the innovative power of the huge Chinese market is growing quickly, and the Chinese leadership, in close cooperation with the state-affiliated industry, can test the feasibility of new technologies as quickly as possible and apply them without regard for individual civil liberties or the restrictions of a constitutional state.

    If the mere industrialisation of China and Asia has led to the currently observable global shift in power since the late s, how massive will the changes be if China wins the technological race with the US? US companies are currently dominating the markets, but the innovative power of the huge Chinese market is growing quickly. Although Europe might not be considered as lagging behind completely, it is too undynamic, too sceptical of technology, and too resistant to change to succeed in ascending to the global premier league.

    Should Europe fail to keep up, this would not only have consequences for its economic strength, but also for its position of power in the future global order. By , it will have become clear whether Europe will merely receive orders, or help shape global conditions. Based on current perspectives, the future does not look bright. Passivity in foreign policy and a lack of self-exposure no longer constitute German virtues.

    European integration is not irreversible, but rather requires constant and massive financial and political investments.

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    Europe has not arrived at the stage of eternal peace yet. Globalisation has not yet inspired Russia and China to convert to the Western political model. The nation state is not dead and buried; it is alive and kicking. Becoming rich as the export world champion, but contributing little to maintaining the global order, is no longer an option. Maintaining an operational army is not such a terrible idea after all.

    By , Germany will need to bear a foreign policy load unprecedented in the history of the Federal Republic. A new global order is emerging, and Germany will play a crucial role in determining whether the European part of this order follows the principles of a free, democratic, and open society, aligns itself with its own, homemade European illiberalism, or turns towards the authoritarian regulatory concepts of Russia and China. To become rich as the export world champion, but contribute little to maintaining the global order, is no longer an option for Germany.

    The ambition must be to maintain a stable, peaceful, prospering, and free Europe, even without the protective power of America if necessary. Historically, Europe has been rather inadequate in stabilising and pacifying inherently unstable political structures. Now, it must master a task it has never mastered before, all of this in the face of resistant forces. In its coalition agreement, the parties of the current Federal Government have hinted that they suspect what Germany may lack as a bearer of this immense task.

    The only concrete measure they come up with is to increase the funding of those institutions that are at least partly responsible for the hitherto lack of strategic competence — but at least the defect is acknowledged. Strategic competence is a result of enabling citizens and decision-makers to think in the categories of order, interests, power, law, and responsibility on a large scale and in the long term.

    It emerges if the formulation of wishes and goals is preceded by a sober and realistic assessment of the situation, as well as of available funds and instruments. Furthermore, it only develops if this realistic assessment is then communicated to citizens and voters to be debated. It arises when decision-makers are willing to take representative democracy seriously and lead it where it is needed — even if this is unpopular — and are ready to conclusively explain the necessity of their actions to the sovereign. For paltry reasons and out of hubris, the one-time strategic opportunity of TTIP was wasted.

    But all too often the country shows that it is not up to the new duty it must perform in Europe. The one-time strategic opportunity of TTIP was wasted for paltry reasons and out of hubris. We do not recognise the necessity of defence expenditure amounting to two per cent of the gross domestic product, even though it represents the cheap option, not the expensive one.

    With the euro currency, Germany fails to realise the scope of the task at hand as well as its responsibility to pay because it also benefits the most. For a long time, the plight of EU member countries who could no longer shoulder the burden of receiving refugees on their own was ignored on a legalistic rationale — until it was too late, and Germany became a supplicant itself. The strategic necessity of integrating Turkey into the EU was not recognised due to a lack of foresight, a resentment against the Turks, and a solely inwardly looking perspective on the integration project.