September 25, 2008

German Policy in the Light of the Georgian Crisis

In relation to the recent recession that has hit the EU, but left Germany less affected than others, an economic analyst has noted that the Germans don’t “party” as hard as the British or the Americans, but their “hangovers” are not as bad either. Anyone who has observed German security policy evolution, or any policy development for that matter, can testify that this more cautious approach to economic policy is evident in the security realm as well. There is little in the way of leaps and bounds to it. In fact, only one word can be applied to the process: incremental. Every foot along the way is placed just so, in a tedious, even pedantic fashion. Often enough this has served Germany well for it was, and still is, one of the most prosperous and secure states in the world.

25.09.2008, Julian Tupay
Diplomaatia
In relation to the recent recession that has hit the EU, but left Germany less affected than others, an economic analyst has noted that the Germans don’t “party” as hard as the British or the Americans, but their “hangovers” are not as bad either. Anyone who has observed German security policy evolution, or any policy development for that matter, can testify that this more cautious approach to economic policy is evident in the security realm as well. There is little in the way of leaps and bounds to it. In fact, only one word can be applied to the process: incremental. Every foot along the way is placed just so, in a tedious, even pedantic fashion. Often enough this has served Germany well for it was, and still is, one of the most prosperous and secure states in the world.
Now, Germany’s caution has caused a major hangover. The recent Russian invasion of Georgia, however, will in fact be more like a migraine. Can it be that Germany’s engagement of Russia, all the dialogue, the economic cooperation and the incessant efforts to “put on a good face” have proved to be ineffective, even counterproductive? Can the strategy of Ostpolitik, which has served Germany so well during the Cold War, have failed here? Russia’s recent behavior seems to answer these questions with a resounding “Yes!”
The first failure of German policy that comes to mind, when exploring the reasons behind the Georgian crisis, is Germany’s opposition to the MAP accession of Georgia and Ukraine during the NATO summit in Bucharest. However, in most cases, it is futile to find causality by dwelling on the counterfactual or to seek easy answers for a question so complex. The one ascertainable fact here is that Moscow was not sufficiently deterred by potential consequences. That means that the Kremlin does not believe that the West has the will or the means to escalate this situation to a point where it hurts Russia. This image is further strengthened by Russia’s announcements that it will recall its bid for WTO membership and halt cooperation with NATO. Moscow is sending a clear message: we are willing to take this quite far and you have neither the perseverance nor the leverage necessary to pursue your interests against ours!
So, to put it into the Cold War terminology, the Georgian crisis is the result of a failure of deterrence. This can be attributed to several factors. First, the EU is militarily weak and often of two, or more, minds when it comes to vital policy areas, such as security or energy. Second, the US is exclusively preoccupied with the Middle East, which takes the Americans, at least militarily, out of the equation.
German policy failed utterly in providing effective deterrence. Germany, however, never sought to deter Russia. Germany’s explicit aim was to tie Russia into a special partnership of common interests and values, in which interdependence would cause an irreversible rapprochement. Therefore, Germany’s failure was one of soft power. Berlin simply failed to recognize the nature of the beast we are dealing with and hence applied an inappropriate solution to the problem.
The Russian invasion has certainly been a wake-up call for German policy makers. And sure enough, the rhetoric heard from both Angela Merkel and the Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier in the aftermath of the crisis has gained a previously unknown level of intensity. In Tallinn on Tuesday, August 26, Merkel said that “the crisis in Georgia has not only changed the Caucasus, but global politics”. Hence one would expect that at the extraordinary meeting of EU leaders on Monday, September 1, Germany will push for penal measures concerning Russia. Though I do not doubt that Merkel and even Steinmeier are more than upset about the turn of events, their previous behavior, factual constraints as well as their rhetoric about keeping “channels of communication open” and empowering the “political process” lead me to believe that there is no point to expect tough immediate action.
I predict this for two reasons. The first one is the pro-Russian sentiments among the German establishment, especially within Steinmeier’s SPD. Russia has many friends there, and the idea of Germany’s equidistance from the US and Russia has even more. The second reason is the fact that Germany has vested business interests in Russia. German companies have already heavily invested in Russian infrastructure and their lobby is not without influence in Germany. In addition, Germany is 40% dependent on Russian natural energy resources. This circumstance puts further constraints on Germany’s freedom of action because a smooth relationship facilitates such an economic interdependence more effectively.
Russia’s behavior will nonetheless shift German policy. While there has always been a paradigmatic discrepancy between the SPD and the CDU with regard to Russia, Merkel was previously unwilling to challenge Steinmeier on the subject for fear of harming the grand coalition. Steinmeier, who himself is bound by the sentiments within his party, which he has to cater for if he wants to become the SPD’s next Chancellor candidate, could ill afford to compromise on the issue. Merkel adopted Steinmeier’s approach simply because, to her mind, there were other, more pressing matters to challenge the coalition partner over.
All this has changed now. The Chancellor has made Russia policy her concern and one will soon notice the difference. Due to the constraints of economic interests, energy dependence, lacking capabilities and paradigmatic diversity within the coalition, progress will be incremental. But the nature of the beast has now been recognized and that is an irreversible step in the right direction. The EU summit will not probably yield more than harsh criticism, a temporary halt to the PCA negotiations, or raised visa restrictions for Russian citizens, but the belief that Russia can be treated as an entity of equal values, principles and interests will disappear from German policy for the time being.

Filed under: Blog