April 4, 2008

Germany and NATO enlargement

Germany has once again maneuvered itself into a precarious position as obstructer of the spread of peace and prosperity and common sense, a coddler of Russia and an antagonizer of allies. A position unpleasant to have and difficult to defend and hold indeed.

This unfortunate episode began with Chancellor Schröder and his pro-Putin policies and rhetoric, which resulted in the Baltic-Sea-pipeline project and his retirement into Russian payroll; a disaster of yet unforeseeable magnitude for Germany and the EU.

Germany’s eastern neighbors, having suffered under decades of Russian occupation and domination, hold a very different view on how to deal with Russia and, understandably, feel more than a little discomfort when a fellow European state puts its own interests vis-à-vis Russia above a common approach. This has resulted in much disgruntlement.

Germany has once again maneuvered itself into a precarious position as obstructer of the spread of peace and prosperity and common sense, a coddler of Russia and an antagonizer of allies. A position unpleasant to have and difficult to defend and hold indeed.

This unfortunate episode began with Chancellor Schröder and his pro-Putin policies and rhetoric, which resulted in the Baltic-Sea-pipeline project and his retirement into Russian payroll; a disaster of yet unforeseeable magnitude for Germany and the EU.

Germany’s eastern neighbors, having suffered under decades of Russian occupation and domination, hold a very different view on how to deal with Russia and, understandably, feel more than a little discomfort when a fellow European state puts its own interests vis-à-vis Russia above a common approach. This has resulted in much disgruntlement.

Hopes remained in central and eastern Europe that the new conservative government of Angela Merkel would set a different standard and approach Russia with more reservation. One can now say that Chancellor Merkel has not regained what Schröder had lost. On the contrary, with her opposition to accept Ukraine and Georgia into the MAP, she has further strengthened the belief within the eastern EU and NATO that bilateral interests concerning Russia take precedence above anything else.

Are Merkel’s policies really just a continuation of Schröder’s misguided course? Is the position that Germany finds itself in justified? The answer to the first question is clearly no, while the answer to the second is yes.

In order to elaborate on the first question it is necessary to look into NATO and its history since the end of the Cold War. The 1990’s threw NATO into an identity crisis out of which rose a new pseudo-purpose: the quiet export of stability and democracy via the membership promise. As a result the MAP program which came into being during the 90’s to facilitate and accelerate transformation in the Eastern European and Baltic states has become a core competency of NATO.

One has to understand that this is but a sham to belie the blatant lack of cohesion of will and vision within NATO. The years of the Iraq war have deepened fissures between the old members and communication becomes increasingly difficult among them. This problem is exacerbated with every new member.

All that has happened now is merely that the lack of a common vision has surfaced in the realm of NATO enlargement. Here two antagonistic visions have clashed, namely one supporting accelerated enlargement and the other the consolidation of the alliance.

The entire MAP is in reality a pure formality with little to no ideological value. It has been charged and blown up beyond reason during this debate though. That NATO is principally open to Georgia and the Ukraine as well is certain; and so is the fact that its stabilizing and transformational influence is formidable even without accelerated MAP accession.

Germany has decided to resolve the elementary questions about NATO’s purpose and how it should stand towards Russia before going ahead with further enlargement.

Nevertheless, Germany’s current uncomfortable position is a deserved one. For one, it exacerbates problems within the alliance itself by refusing to share the dangers in the Afghan south. It also failed to make the issue of Georgia, Ukraine and NATO’s identity an open and honest discussion, making a negative climax like we have seen possible in the first place. It is also true that policy vis-à-vis Russia is a contentious issue within the governing coalition of Merkel’s CDU and the social democrats (SPD). While Merkel has criticized Putin openly and to his face, Ministries held by SPD functionaries have presented a different rhetoric. They often emphasize Russian concerns, omitting those of Germany’s friends and allies within the EU and NATO. Merkel has also failed to distance herself fully from Schröder by putting an end to the Baltic-Sea-Pipeline project.

Therefore, I conclude that Germany’s policy is not one of coddling Russia beyond sense and reason, but one of focus towards a goal that is imperative for the future of western prosperity and security: consolidating NATO. It has, however, gone about it in a most unsatisfactory way. Antagonizing old allies by refusing to share the burdens in Afghanistan, disenfranchising new ones by continuing the Baltic-Sea-Pipeline project and worsening the “stew” by obstructing a NATO project, if for a good cause, that is important to many European states is narrow-minded and myopic. The fact that coalition politics and public opinion makes anything else difficult on the home-front is no excuse. For ever difficult and hard-to-sell decisions have had to be reached and implemented at great cost in favor of the greater good.

Filed under: BlogTagged with: