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Dumping on Germany: Do US pundits ever consider the cost?

Never do the critics consider history or Berlin's current interests — they just want the 'allies' lockstep behind the U.S. against Russia.

Analysis | Europe

If you’ve found yourself reading the American press in the past week you will likely be worried that Germany has abandoned its decades-long allies in the West and has become a partner of the Russian Federation. What has been Berlin’s sin, you might ask? A cautious approach to the incautious policy of the U.S., UK, and much of the EU that supports increasing troops in eastern Europe, weapons supplied to Ukraine, and greatly intensified economic sanctions on Moscow. 

At a time when there is clearly immense tension in eastern Europe, mostly as a result of the appearance of a threat from Russian troops to Ukraine (not to existing NATO members, whatever they may choose to believe), as well as ongoing and crucial negotiations regarding the security architecture of Europe, it would seem that Berlin is appearing as one of the only rational voices speaking on the matter. As such, it is no surprise that they are being chastised for it.

Germany’s caution concerning conflict with Russia is entirely understandable given their history — most notably the First and Second World Wars, in the latter of which Germany lost more than three million dead on the Eastern Front. Carefree talk before 2014 of backing the Ukrainians in removing the Russian navy from Sevastopol was easier for countries that had not lost tens of thousands of German young men first attacking and then defending the ruins of that city in 1941-42 and 1944. Both Germany and Russia emerged from that experience deeply scarred, and U.S. diplomats need to practice strategic and historical empathy in this regard.

While the U.S. spends much time and energy appearing to support an independent Europe with its own interest, both within the EU and amongst individual countries, when it comes to Russia, if you don’t fall in line there will be unrelenting pressure from Washington for you to change course. 

With regards to the policy in Berlin, it is a rather comprehensible and sensible stance from a German perspective. Germany, like other European countries, relies heavily (though by no means exclusively) on Russia for imports of gas. It also has an important trade relationship with Russia, and large-scale German investments in that country (a significant part of Russia’s food-processing industry is German-owned).The United States imports little energy from Russia and its economic ties to Russia are minimal. It is therefore very easy for the United States to urge economic sacrifices on Germans that Americans will never have to share. On the contrary; if Germany cuts off Russian gas it will have to import American gas, at prices dictated by America. 

If this economic relationship in turn allows Berlin and Moscow to avoid reverting to their historic rivalry which between 1914 and 1945 came close to destroying European civilization, then should it not be welcomed? Moreover, the differences in approach between Germany and the United States have been hugely exaggerated by alarmist thought and commentary in America. Berlin has stated that it is in fact  pursuing a policy of both deterrence and diplomacy towards deescalating the tensions in eastern Europe. This is an approach very similar to that of Washington, minus the needless saber rattling.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently visited Moscow where she made Berlin’s stance on the situation clear in her meetings and joint press conference with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has also been uncompromising in his stance that Germany supports de-escalation and a diplomatic solution,but strongly opposes Russian military action in Ukraine, and will impose new sanctions if Russia escalates the situation there. 

What seems to be the main problem for those who are questioning Germany’s loyalty is the latter’s reluctance to commit to sending arms to Ukraine and to supporting a sanctions package that could cut Russia off from the SWIFT international payment system. 

With regards to the first point, it is well known in German and European history that putting more weapons of war into a situation that is clearly fragile is both unwise and unnecessary. Although it may contribute to a recalculation on Moscow’s part, it will not change the balance of power between the two states to any significant degree. Thus, sending lethal arms will only prolong a potential conflict which we should all be seeking to avoid, especially those who care about the future of Ukraine as it will be the one which suffers most. 

To ban Moscow from SWIFT would have terrible repercussions across the globe, not just in Germany. Washington’s overuse of economic sanctions has first and foremost not achieved the desired results, but also it has contributed to an increased interest amongst countries such as Iran, Russia, and China to develop an alternative system detached from the current U.S. and UK-led one.  Additionally, the willingness of the U.S. to stop Nord Stream 2 makes clear strategic sense in Washington given that the U.S. would be the one to help fill the energy gap that arises from such a scenario. 

In the end, it is very telling how quickly the International Blob will pounce on any ‘ally’ of the collective West who dares question the policy decisions made in Washington. To do so means you are clearly no longer a reliable partner. Unfortunately, this system of unquestioning fealty to the pursuit of reckless policies is becoming the norm, and to question otherwise will certainly lead to consequences.

Berlin, Germany, 2014: Berlin Wall memorial. (Manuel Fuentes Almanzar/Shutterstock)
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