Germany swims or sinks with NATO

The veil has come off the western narrative — this war was never about Ukraine. The enemy image of Russia has become the cornerstone of NATO’s very existence and function.

5 mins read
German Chancellor Scholz (L) and US President Biden at the White House, Feb. 9, 2024

There couldn’t be a better metaphor than what a Chinese analyst used to characterise the NATO while commenting on its secretary general Jens Stoltenberg’s recent remark that the West does not seek war with Russia but should still “prepare ourselves for a confrontation that could last decades.”

The Chinese commentator compared Stoltenberg to an in-charge of a firm of undertakers, “a store owner of coffin and casket, which makes no money in peacetime. As an undertaker, NATO needs conflict, bloodshed for earnings. So it spreads fear and panic in order to ensure its member countries continue to contribute military funding.”

Stoltenberg’s remark appeared in an interview with German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag on Feb. 10, soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s famous interview with Tucker Carlson where the Kremlin signalled that Russia did not refuse and is not refusing negotiations to end the war in Ukraine. Stoltenberg spoke for the Pentagon, no doubt. 

Moscow, having reached  an unassailable position in the war, is not interested in a full-scale war to realise its objectives, as eventually, the West will have to co-exist with Russia. Putin’s interview with Carlson was timed carefully — with hardly a fortnight left for the war to enter its third year. 

Putin’s “message” that Russia is open to dialogue caught Washington off guard. For one thing, the bandwidth of the Biden Administration is dominated by the Israel-Palestine crisis. On the other hand, the two-year anniversary of the war is marked by a signal battlefield victory by Russian forces in the strategic eastern town of Avdiivka, a gateway to Donetsk city, and effectively on the front line ever since 2014 when the conflict in Donbass started.

All attempts by Russian troops to liquidate the big Ukrainian base in Avdiivka threatening Donetsk city had failed so far. Avdiivka is key to Russia’s aim of securing full control of the two eastern Donbass provinces — Donetsk and Luhansk. Its capture not only boosts the Russian morale but also consolidates Donetsk as a major Russian logistics hub for further westerly operations in the direction of the Dniepr river.

In political terms, it underscores that all along the almost 1000-km frontline, Russian forces are presently advancing. The Ukrainian military suffered a rout in Avdiivka. 

Biden’s re-election bid will be bumpy if such distressing news keeps appearing from Ukraine highlighting the gravity of his foreign policy disaster, as NATO stares at another humiliating defeat after Afghanistan. Donald Trump is relentlessly challenging Biden on the issue of Russia-Ukraine and on NATO. Contrary to earlier prognosis, the US election has turned into one of the most influencing factors in the Ukraine conflict. 

The path in the US Congress towards a military aid package for Ukraine is uncertain. The main obstacle was all along the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority. Apart from the Republican Speaker of the House being not in any hurry to table the bill passed by the Senate, the Congress is also about to shift back towards domestic fiscal policies, so that the foreign aid bill might simply fall down the list of priorities in the legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, the hearing in the Supreme Court on Trump’s candidacy signals that the talk that he might be debarred from running for the presidency is only wishful thinking. That means, if Trump maintains his lead in the South Carolina primaries on 24th  February, the Republican race will be essentially over and he will be the party’s presumptive candidate. Trump has also widened his lead over Joe Biden in the polls.

The flow of finance to Ukraine is already ebbing and there is a pall of gloom among Ukraine’s cheerleaders in Europe after having discovered finally that Kiev is not winning the war. The West’s proxy war without a clearly set war goal means that there is no exit strategy, either.

A Trump victory would badly expose the European partners. Plugging the funding gap by Europe is going to be highly problematic. The US has so far committed €71.4 billion, more than half of it in the form of military aid. Number two is Germany with €21 billion, followed by the UK with €13.3 billion. Norway comes fourth. The paradox is, while the three largest European donors are all NATO members, it is only Germany who is a member of the European Union.

And Germany is not big enough to fill the gap left by the US on its own. But the biggest obstacle to a common European response is the lack of common ground between France and Germany. The special Franco-German relationship has largely become a historical artefact. The two EU giants are pursuing incompatible economic strategies — on fiscal policy and nuclear energy — and their economies are diverging, and so is their politics and defence strategies. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has reoriented German defence co-operation away from France and towards the US. The power struggle between the EU’s two biggest powers that had its origins in the lack of chemistry between French president Emmanuel Macron and Scholz has turned into an antagonism manifesting as two different visions of the world. 

Macron’s concept of “strategic autonomy”, which calls for Europe not to rely on outside powers in vital areas that could give them political leverage, is rubbing against Germany’s historical reliance on American military umbrella (which France does not require.) 

After a meeting with Biden at the White House in Washington on February 9, Scholz said, “Let’s not beat about the bush: support from the United States is indispensable if Ukraine is to be capable of defending itself.” Scholz strongly advocated stepping up military aid to Ukraine, emphasising an imperative need to send out a “very clear signal” to Putin. 

As he put it, “We need to show that he (Putin) can’t count on our support waning.” Scholz added: “The support we provide will be on a big enough scale and it will last long enough.” By hyping up the war-like atmosphere, Germany seeks to maintain the relevance and financial stability of NATO through the conflict in Ukraine. 

Biden responded to Scholz purring like a cat showing pleasure. Biden will next host Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk for a meeting in Washington on March 12. The US is re-energising its coalition with Germany and Poland for the next phase of Ukraine war. France stands outside looking in, while Britain lies in coma. 

Simply put, while Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s delusion is that he can win this war, NATO’s delusion is that it will do whatever it takes. But the undertaker’s money is running out and further business depends on prolonging the war. 

The veil has come off the western narrative — this war was never about Ukraine. The enemy image of Russia has become the cornerstone of NATO’s very existence and function.

Certainly, taking orders from an undertaker is not in Germany’s interests. The noted German editor Wolfgang Münchau wrote recently about “a general disorientation in Germany that accompanies the geopolitical and social change” manifesting in the faltering economy, the de-industrialisation that is happening and the absence of a post-industrial strategy for the country as such. 

Clearly, European interests lie in shouldering own defence and making peace with Russia so as to focus attention on the economy. Germans themselves are conflicted over this war. Scholz is not a man of charisma or of big ideas, Münchau noted, and German public no longer trusts him. But then, there is also “the deeper problem: it is not really Scholz. It is that Germany has become a lot harder to run.”  

M. K. Bhadrakumar

M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat by profession. Roughly half of the 3 decades of his diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. He writes mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

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