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October 23, 2021

Germany: Unfair criticism?

If many experts in international affairs focus today on the various hotspots of the globe, such as the situation in the East China Sea, expressing their concern for a possible unforeseen sliding toward a war between China and Japan – could such a conflict remain isolated? – others concentrate on other matters than the immediate danger of a military clash between big powers. Since the systemic decline of the USA, about to be overtaken by China, in terms of GDP, 2 or 3 years from now – and where some analysts even identify benefits of the new second position of America -, to the discussion over the role played by the generosity of the wealthiest people (such as Bill Gates) aimed at eradicating global poverty, the list of matters under debate is very long.
One of these matters is a study, of particular interest precisely because it refers to the foreign policy options of the main power of Europe, called “the reluctant hegemon” by the British press in 2013, namely Germany.

The document will soon be published in the German magazine of international relations (‘Internationale Politik’) by Dr. Michael Inacker. The author collaborated as a senior editor with the prestigious German daily ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ and other international publications, while also holding important positions with major German corporations (Daimler, Metro). Bearing the title “Germany, Comfortable Alone” – according to the German text made available by a laborious New York-based association focused on the topics of Germany’s relations with the USA (‘American Institute for Contemporary German Studies’-AICGS, led by Dr J.  Jackson), this study portrays in unforgiving light the current foreign policy of Berlin.
At the beginning, the author mentions the predictability that characterised the German foreign policy after the Second World War: its ties with the West, transatlantic solidarity, European integration, as well as the Ostpolitik launched in 1967 as an anchor meant to solve the German problem. Today, however, the international situation of Germany is odd compared to those years, even if ‘all roads in Europe lead to Berlin.’ According to the author, Germany threatens to become “a lonely country.” Three changes could be noticed – the action as a “power for peace” gradually assumed by Berlin, with emphasis on its allies. The second consisted in “ignoring the geopolitics,” an expression of a German way of behaviour in the international arena. Finally, the third, which came in full force now, questioning the role of the military instrument in international politics (although a realistic perspective had been announced with this regard in the early ‘90s). Summed up, the behavioural – philosophic modifications, we could say – shaped what the author names the “German unreliability”. Or, in today’s conditions, such ‘unreliability’ of a power with Germany’s potential could push its allies into not only questioning the significance and importance/weight of the German ally, but also reinventing some older thinking paradigms or even reformulating traditional alliances, such as the French-English one, which evokes the “Entente Cordiale”. From the recent German tradition, Inacker says, defined by the active participation in the international concert, Berlin’s foreign policy tends to become a ‘solo.’
How does Inacker see manifest this tendency of ‘lone rider’ in the international arena assumed by Berlin? To answer the question, he divides the dossiers of foreign policy based on the big actors or regions that should grant attention to the politics of a European state that plays the role of the continent’s “reluctant hegemon.” The first compartment refers, as it is easily to expect, to the USA, and the title identified by the author is significant: “A fragile friendship relation with the USA.” The fragility of this relation is not given only by the opposition of the German chancellor to the Iraq invasion in 2003, when anti-American protests that sparked from kindergarten to the press gradually changed the climate existing until then toward the USA in the public opinion, even if especially, probably, at the left of the political spectrum or in the conservative bourgeois circles. But certain signs show that even the elite of business circles, under various motives, begins doubting the American azimuth. The second compartment under analysis has an equally evocative title: “Gap between Paris and Berlin”. This is not related only to, for instance, the rumours about the disbanding of the joint French-German military brigade, with the French arguing – with a reason – that it has not met the purposes for the last 20 years since it was founded, but also the opposition of Berlin to some initiatives taken by Paris for the construction of a continental defence industry. Concomitantly, in the context of the crisis of the euro zone and of the measures taken for sanitising it, the role of ‘reluctant hegemon” obviously played by Berlin led to increasing aversion among the states in difficulty, unhappy with the treatment they were subjected to (Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, etc.). An example of – say – arrogance or disdain given by the author in this context is the under-representation of Germany at the enthroning of the new monarch of the Netherlands, in April 2013, one of the few supporters of Berlin’s policies aimed at managing the crisis of the euro zone.
The titles of the other compartments approached by the author, where Berlin has a deficit, define exactly the foreign policy trends of this capital and are subject to severe criticism. The relation with the giant at the east of the European continent, a big power that, although weakened, is essential in solving many international problems – “Non-relationship with Russia”; toward the huge Asian continent, home of the most dynamic emergent economies and the hub of global politics in the 21st Century – “No Asia Strategy”; the absence of a firm direction toward the continents that strongly affirm themselves in the new context of globalisation and where Germany, as ‘reluctant hegemon’ in Europe, is called to define an adequate strategic position – “ No Partnership with Continents on the Move”. These acts of negligence aside, there are also manifesting various philosophies relative to enforcing the security, which only strengthen Germany’s state of isolation. Here the author refers to the debate on the role of armed forces, going on in Germany today, along with the powerful affirming of a position in favour of the ‘soft power’ in the international arena, also to considering certain systems of armaments – such as drones – as morally reprehensible and is presented in a mirror with the different stance of other important powers on this issue (all in all, why ruling out, in the first place, the use of force in Syria against the Assad regime? – wonders the author).
As ‘conclusions,’ Inacker does not shy away from affirming that each of the compartments mentioned as lacking a horizon in the foreign policy of Germany are critical only if taken together, and not separately. “The sum of the foreign policy trends, however, alienated Germany from the circle of his former partners, the stability of its alliance – framework being questioned”. These tendencies create perplexity and unrest among allies and partners. “As lonely as now, Germany has not been around for a long time.” – concludes the study. Is Michael Inacker too harsh in his analysis?

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