Difficult Questions Germany and France Must Drive Effort for Credible Deterrent Against Russia. Source: Der Spiegel International

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Martin Knobbe

Difficult Questions Germany and France Must Drive Effort for Credible Deterrent Against Russia

A DER SPIEGEL Editorial By Martin Knobbe

The EU faces difficult questions that need to be debated now rather than later. Europe needs a strong deterrent against Moscow, and that will only be possible if France and Germany team up to advance the debate.

29.04.2022, 15.59

U.S. President Joe Biden in March during a video chat with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

U.S. President Joe Biden in March during a video chat with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Foto: Adam Schultz / AP

In the end, the meeting at the United States airbase in Ramstein, Germany, resembled a ribbon ceremony with praise awarded to the most diligent. Germany is a great friend that is doing everything it can to support Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said. It was not only thanks for the Germans’ proposal to send tanks to Ukraine, but also the polite way of saying: “Finally, you have understood!” The praise followed weeks of criticism in Washington, NATO capitals and Kyiv over perceived German dithering about whether to supply heavy weapon systems to Ukraine to defend itself.

The United States is choreographing the anti-Russia policies in this war. It is setting the pace in arms deliveries, it invited its allies to gather in Germany for a special Ukraine Defensive Consultive Group meeting, and it is providing the necessary deterrence against the nuclear power Russia with its own arsenal of nuclear weapons. Most importantly, the U.S. has formulated the West’s aim in the war: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Austin said. DER SPIEGEL 18/2022

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 18/2022 (April 30th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL. SPIEGEL International

America has a plan, and it has a goal. In Europe, on the other hand, the main concern you hear is that we could somehow be drawn into this war. And instead of new ideas, you just get the assurance that Europe won’t go it alone. Europe has neither a plan nor a goal, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz only seems to take steps when he is pushed to.

Imagine if the U.S. president were still named Donald Trump. He probably would have quit NATO long ago and left it up to others to respond to Putin’s aggression. A shake-up in Europe would have suited him just fine. Putin would have celebrated one success after another because Europe wouldn’t have been able to act as resolutely as the U.S. is right now.

There is no way of predicting how long the U.S. will continue to be willing to play the role of global savior. The next presidential elections will be held in 2024. By then, at the latest, Europe will have to have begun building a strong defense and deterrence regime against the next potential aggression from Vladimir Putin, who could remain in power for a very long time to come.

The timing for that step is favorable: Emmanuel Macron just won a difficult re-election in France, and he can now dedicate himself to a project that is very near and dear to his heart: Europe. Scholz set the right tone with his recent “watershed moment” speech in which he announced major new spending for Germany’s armed forces, but he will now have to follow these words up with actions. And he will have to confront some hard truths, such as the fact that Germany hasn’t done a very good job of fulfilling its NATO obligations or ensuring that it is capable of defending itself.

Diplomacy and toughness are not mutually exclusive; they cross-fertilize each other.

France and Germany were once the collective engine of Europe, and Macron and Scholz should become the drivers of a watershed moment in Europe together with the Eastern European member states, which have been criminally ignored so far – just think, for example, of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would have bypassed Germany’s eastern neighbors to deliver gas directly from Russia. An initial symbol of a break from the past in Europe should be a joint trip by Macron and Scholz to Kyiv.

The Return of Cold War Rules

This war has buried old certainties and created new ones. Those seeking to fight an imperial aggressor like Putin cannot rely on de-escalation, as that will only lead to even more aggression. Instead, only credible deterrence can work. In addition, diplomacy and toughness are not mutually exclusive; they cross-fertilize each other. Warmongers like Putin only agree to offers of peace under extremely intense pressure.

An adage proffered by then Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel in 1967 now applies once again: Negotiations are only successful when there is a secure balance of power in military terms. As bitter as this may be, the rules of the Cold War are now back.

Equipping the Bundeswehr, with heavy equipment is the right thing to do. And Germany’s military has to be integrated into a European defense plan that also addresses the most sensitive issue: nuclear deterrence. Right now, there are 6,000 Russian nuclear warheads to counter 300 French ones. Either France will have to expand its umbrella of protection or Europe will have to develop its own system of nuclear deterrence. That may sound dystopian, but it would be reckless not to at least think about it.

It is hard to have a debate about a new European peace order as long as the war remains undecided. But the discussion must begin if Europe wants to avoid stumbling into the next crisis as unprepared as it was for this one.

This includes the question of how much influence we will grant Russia in the future. For economic and geopolitical reasons, the Americans want to keep it to a minimum. But Europe, whose economy and culture have been closely interwoven with Russia until now, has other interests. In the end, we will also need a reconstruction plan for Ukraine. But will we need one for Russia, too? Or will Europe have to try to force the country to its knees until Putin falls, with all the suffering that would entail for Russia’s population?

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