Difficult but Not Impossible: Making Germany Great Again

by October 24, 2018 0 comments


Although making Germany great again will be difficult as it is still haunted by the past, the entire motion is a great initiative. However, to achieve results, Germany needs to pull itself together.

Twenty eight years after the German reunification — east Germany (formerly German Democratic Republic) became a part of the Federal Republic of Germany on October 3 — Germans are better off, economically, and more prosperous. But politically, Germany, the engine of growth in Europe, is still haunted by its past and unable to feel its influence and clout. Reason: Flux in domestic politics, where mainstream parties are being eclipsed by single issue parties like the new Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Greens. That’s what one discovered last week in Berlin while interacting with politicians, security analysts and bureaucrats.

Is Germany abdicating its leadership of Europe and responsibility in shaping contours of world order and Western values to France which is politically and militarily more compact with an independent nuclear deterrent? James Bindenagel and Philip Ackerman of the University of Bonn write that Germany is coping with its past, Cold War et al, still devoid of strategic culture, passive, timid and with a guilt conscience. But morally uncompromising. It needs a national strategy…

How is India seen in Germany? Its red Rajasthan sandstone embassy in central Berlin, a novelty a decade ago, has lost its aura and charm. Considered a middle power in the class of Japan, South Korea and Australia, India is also seen as a rising power; though all eyes are trained on China. Germany is India’s biggest economic partner in Europe and sixth largest at the global level. India-German development cooperation operates at different levels — cleaning the Ganga, cleaning India, wildlife protection, metro projects in Lucknow, Bhubaneswar, Kochi, Bengaluru and much more.

Two issues dominate the German discourse: Re-energising Germany and keeping Europe together. Berlin seeks to establish an alliance of multilateralists to prevent unilateralist behaviour. We were told that Indians do not realise that European Union (EU) countries have ceded some of their sovereignty to Brussels. This shared sovereignty is under stress due to US President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recall of the Ottoman Empire, uncertain Brexit, China’s blistering rise and worldwide surge of nationalism. “We are a trading nation. Now China is setting the rules of trade,” said one official interlocutor, adding “two-thirds of our cargo containers pass through the Indian Ocean”.

Germany’s revived interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) mirrors EU’s new maritime security strategy and action plan. This renewed interest in the IOR is marked by plans to strengthen a decaying German Navy with new Frigates. Berlin has also put some money in the Indian-Ocean Rim Association, headquartered in Mauritius. It also supported the recent statement by Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) must become the foundational pillar of IOR to prevent a repeat of fait accompli in the South China Sea.

Afghanistan, with which India’s security is inextricably woven, has become a peripheral issue in Germany. With 1,300 troops located at Mazar-i-Sharif, the recurring phrase one heard is: “Time is running out. Germans are not interested but politicians are, to demonstrate solidarity with Nato and the fragile Transatlantic Partnership.” Germany does not want Afghanistan to become another Syria. It will continue providing development aid and maintain its security forces.

A top politician commented that former US President Barack Obama made a big mistake by pulling out US troops from Afghanistan. Our conversations were held in the background of recent bloody and disorderly parliamentary elections last weekend, which were delayed for three years but miraculously held. China is very sensitive about its image in Europe. It has divided the wealthy North and low growth countries in South over the development of infrastructure. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) resonates in smaller countries, like Montenegro, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Greece and Czech Republic. They show their loyalty to China by differing from Germany and the EU in their stance on BRI.

Like India, Germany and EU have questioned issues of transparency, debt entrapment, sovereignty and implementation while not endorsing the BRI. Smaller countries have signed Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreements with China, and Czech Republic has called itself the unsinkable aircraft carrier for China. This has shown the fault lines in Europe and absence of consensus in foreign policy in Brussels. China has succeeded in extending its string of pearls from South Asia to parts of Europe.

Brussels has come out with a connectivity document as riposte to BRI, like Trump greenlighted last month a new $60 billion United States International Development Finance Corporation to bankroll projects in Asia and Africa. But there is no money on the table, though the European Investment Bank is worth Euro 90 billion. Meanwhile, China is buying up companies in Europe.

German elections in Bavaria and Hessen later this year have/will reveal chinks in the vision of the mainstream parties — the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the ruling grand coalition in sharp decline. Last Friday, October 19, visiting the Willy Brandt Haus, the citadel of the SPD in Berlin, we heard charged debates on the future of the party and the grand coalition.

Questions of leadership, internal restructuring and possible alternative to the present coalition are likely to be resolved by next year if the AfD is to be contained and rolled back on immigration and hyper-nationalism. One million Syrian refugees are in Germany along with millions of Turks, Russians and Italians as guest workers. Germans are being encouraged and incentivised to produce children.

Making Germany great again is not kosher as it conflicts with the past. But making Europe great again is fine. As the writers from University of Bonn have noted: German public aversion to militarism has not changed. Sixty seven per cent support the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) but only 40 per cent would want to defend a Nato ally if attacked by Russia.

Inward-looking Germans have forgotten how during the 1971 India-Pakistan war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, Chancellor Brandt — Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) not being a member of the UN, an ally of the US and embedded in the Cold War, still punched above its weight in its mediation between the three countries. A secret agreement between the FRG and India for the latter not recognising the GDR before it had first, contained the quid pro quo of the FRG becoming the first Western country to recognise Bangladesh on February 4, 1972. Further, Brandt was able to persuade Dacca not to insist on war trials of 195 Pakistani prisoners of wars (PoWs), paving the way for the release of 300,000 Bangladeshis in Pakistan.

Germany proved it could rise to the occasion if its domestic politics was stable. For their own good and for Europe, Germany has to pull together to become great again.

(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)

Writer: Ashok K Mehta

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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