Crisis in Europe: Germany Has A New Role?

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Bundestag Berlin – This picture was taken from my phone in 2015

Principally, the crisis in Europe seems like more out of the hands. The European Institution is still trying to formulate the long-term solution for the Europe’s Refugees Crisis since 2015, and compromises the  EU internal politics. Let’s put the rise of Ultra-Nasioanlist or Far Right-Wing behind. On the of that, within two months — since June until this July 2016, Europe have additional tremendous challenges and “unfortunate events”. Terror in Nice, a failed coup in Turkey, the escalation war in Ukraine, Munich shooting and Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union are all signs of a Europe in need of leadership more than ever. Yet where will that leadership come from?

Traditionally, it’s been the United States in the stage alongside with the United Kingdom that has provided the strategic foundation to the transatlantic relationship. But in regard to the British decision to leave the EU and by the same token the signs of instability of American domestic issues has brought a hypothetical statement: Who would be the ship captain of Europe? Is it possible for Germany to provide the continent’s anchor to help maintain transatlantic stability and strength?

Besides the recent unfortunate event in Munich, we certainly can assume that Germany’s position is once again the “great power” on the European continent. It is not a status either Germany’s neighbors or most Germans feel entirely comfortable with. German citizens and politicians had become strategically comfortable during the Cold War wrapped in the blanket of the American-led alliance (NATO). Since that time, Germans have rested most often inside the cocoon of the “European Project.”

The combination of the EU’s own institutional weaknesses and serial crises, where the key events that involved Germany directly, such as; Greek bailouts, refugees, the Russian-Ukraine’s dispute, have pushed Germany into important position. Angela Merkel has taken the lead in ways unprecedented for a German Chancellor. As Americans might sympathize, as a response to this leadership, some German allies see “arrogance,” “unilateralism” and worse. Europeans have long memories, and Germany’s size, weight, and geostrategic position can make lesser powers in the neighborhood easily jittery. But it is hard to get out of the facts. With London leaving, within the councils of the EU catapults the German voice in Europe will now become unavoidably bigger.

Again, how will Germany respond to the new role? Will it be spooked by a new role and additional responsibility? Germany’s outgoing president, the highly respected former East German dissident Joachim Gauck, has attempted to move his country along this new agenda. Gauck argues that Germany should play a more overtly active role internationally, and not instinctively saying ‘no’ to the use of the military in all cases, for example.

The German president stand firms that his country overcome inhibitions linked to its past in order to accept more responsibility for Germany and European security in the future is a view reiterated by the German defense ministry with the publication of a new government-approved “white paper” on German security policy. Part of this responsibility to involve in universalize the definition of rights in Europe and elsewhere, the very principles that define Germany’s own democracy.

However, it does not happen overnight. A recent poll indicates that a majority of Germans would not support sending the German military to defend Poland or the Baltic States if invaded by Russia. And while Chancellor Merkel has led the way within Europe on sanctions against Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea, her coalition partners in the Social Democratic Party as well as some members of her own party has advocated a softer line.

German foreign policy has been generally characterized by caution. In a recent piece in Foreign Affairs on Germany’s “New Global Role,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier writes, “Some politicians, such as the former Polish foreign minister Radowław  Sikorski have described Germany as Europe’s “indispensable nation.” Germany has not aspired to this status. But circumstances have forced it into a central role.” However, one would be hard pressed to read Steinmeier and see anything that resembles a clear or coherent roadmap for Germany’s new course.

In this manner, there are three ways to push Germany sensibly ahead.

First, there is NATO. It is striking that Steinmeier do not mention of the transatlantic military alliance in an article about Germany’s new foreign policy. The evolving projection of German foreign policy power will need multilateral cover in order to be obvious to others in Europe. For decades, the Germans have understood this about the European Community. It is time Berlin fully grasps the same lesson about NATO. Germany inside NATO is a safer idea to other Europeans than the idea of Germany untethered. In addition, it is NATO that will provide the indispensable organizational, infrastructural, and technological framework for European defense going forward.

The EU has myriad problems; it has deep deficiencies and structural limitations in foreign and defense policy. It cannot substitute for NATO on the security front. Moreover, given the scale of the security problems facing Europe, German leadership exercised outside of NATO and, hence, absent the US contribution would be a “bridge too far” for Berlin. However, as the current presidential campaign has made clear, to maintain that vital American role, Germans will need to spend more on defense, learn to articulate a strategic vision, and actually be prepared, when necessary, to use its military decisively.

Second, there is Russia, where this is short of a puzzle game for the Germans. Serious foreign policy requires a mixture of carrots and sticks, a sober and clear view of one’s own interests and values, and an accurate assessment of the aims of adversaries. It also involves resolving dilemmas. Much of the German political establishment finds it difficult, including large parts of the county’s influential businesses and banking community is to view Vladimir Putin’s Russia as threat and opponent. This has in part to do with short-term commercial interests. But Germany’s general culture of strategic reticence tends to confuse diplomacy and dialogue for ends, rather than means. Putin’s expansionist foreign policy must be deterred and contained, and on this, Germany must lead. It would be hardly in German or European interests to sit slowly by why Moscow further weakens and divides the continent.

As the last point, there is Syria. Refugee flows have turned the EU upside down. Germany alone has taken in more than 1.1 minion refugees since 2015. The challenge of integrating such large numbers of people from Syria and other Middle-Eastern countries are in itself daunting. The EU has negotiated a deal with Turkey to regulate future flows. But everyone knows that such deals with the current Turkish leadership are inherently unreliable. The recent coup attempt underscores this point. As addition note that Turkish President Erdogan flies not to Brussels or Berlin, but rather to Moscow to confer with Vladimir Putin after the failed coup.

More refugees will come from the Middle East and Northern Africa. Germany needs to lead an effort, if not to stabilise a country like Syria, but at least to create safe havens so that the displaced and homeless have a decent and secure option for protection and shelter. A couple of months ago, Germany proposed such an option, but faced opposition from a Obama administration determined for its part to keep American ground troops as far as possible from harm’s way. Let Germany lead the European effort to persuade the Americans, much like the Americans had done with the Europeans to develop support for action in the Balkan region in the 1990s. But that means a willingness to take the lead materially and diplomatically.

As uncomfortable as it might be for Germans, there is no turning the clock back. Britain is leaving the EU, and the United States, no matter who the next president is, will increasingly find itself stretched to handle multiple global security issues. Threats to Europe from the East and the South will not be decreased. The need for German leadership is inevitable. Both Europe and the U.S. depend on this.

Regardless of the “unfortunate events” domestically, will the Germans accept their new role?

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