The West on the wrong pathExcerpts from:
Gabor Steingart | who is the publisher of Germany’s leading financial newspaper Handelsblatt.
We interrupt our own train of thought: “History is not repeating itself!” But can we be so sure about that these days? In view of the war events in the Crimean and eastern Ukraine, the heads of states and governments of the West suddenly have no more questions and all the answers. The US Congress is openly discussing arming Ukraine. The former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recommends arming the citizens there for house-to-house and street combat. The German Chancellor, as it is her habit, is much less clear but no less ominous: “We are ready to take severe measures.
German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the field of vision of a sniper scope.
Every mistake starts with a mistake in thinking. And we are making this mistake if we believe that only the other party profits from our economic relationship and thus will suffer when this relationship stops. If economic ties were maintained for mutual profit, then severing them will lead to mutual loss. Punishment and self-punishment are the same thing in this case.
Even the idea that economic pressure and political isolation would bring Russia to its knees was not really thought all the way through. Even if we could succeed: what good would Russia be on its knees? How can you want to live together in the European house with a humiliated people whose elected leadership is treated like a pariah and whose citizens you might have to support in the coming winter.
Of course, the current situation requires a strong stance, but more than anything a strong stance against ourselves. Germans have neither wanted nor caused these realities, but they are now our realities. Just consider what Willy Brandt had to listen to when his fate as mayor of Berlin placed him in the shadow of the wall. What sanctions and punishments were suggested to him. But he decided to forgo this festival of outrage. He never turned the screw of retribution.
When he was awarded the Noble Prize for Peace he shed light on what went on around him in the hectic days when the wall was built: “There is still another aspect – that of impotence disguised by verbalism: taking a stand on legal positions which cannot become a reality and planning counter-measures for contingencies that always differ from the one at hand. At critical times we were left to our own devices; the verbalists had nothing to offer.“
Brandt and Bahr have never reached for the tool of economic sanctions. They knew why: there are no recorded cases in which countries under sanctions apologized for their behavior and were obedient ever after. On the contrary: collective movements start in support of the sanctioned, as is the case today in Russia. The country was hardly ever more unified behind their president than now. This could almost lead you to think that the rabble-rousers of the West are on the payroll of the Russian secret service.
If the West had judged the then US government which marched into Iraq without a resolution by the UN and without proof of the existence of “WMDs“ by the same standards as today Putin, then George W. Bush would have immediately been banned from entering the EU. The foreign investments of Warren Buffett should have been frozen, the export of vehicles of the brands GM, Ford, and Chrysler banned.
One more comment about the tone of the debate. The annexation of the Crimean was in violation of international law. The support of separatists in eastern Ukraine also does not mesh with our ideas of the state sovereignty. The boundaries of states are inviolable.
But every act requires context. And the German context is that we are a society on probation which may not act as if violations of international law started with the events in the Crimean.
Germany has waged war against its eastern neighbor twice in the past 100 years. The German soul, which we generally claim to be on the romantic side, showed its cruel side.
Of course, we who came later can continue to proclaim our outrage against the ruthless Putin and appeal to international law against him, but the way things are this outrage should come with a slight blush of embarrassment. Or to use the words of Willy Brandt: “Claims to absolutes threaten man.“
In the end, even the men who had succumbed to war fever in 1914 had to realize this. After the end of the war, the penitent issued a second call, this time to understanding between nations: “The civilized world became a war camp and battle field. It is time that a great tide of love replaces the devastating wave of hatred.“
The American tendency to verbal and then also military escalation, the isolation, demonization, and attacking of enemies has not proven effective. The last successful major military action the US conducted was the Normandy landing. Everything else – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – was a clear failure. Moving NATO units towards the Polish border and thinking about arming Ukraine is a continuation of a lack of diplomacy by the military means.
This policy of running your head against the wall – and doing so exactly where the wall is the thickest – just gives you a head ache and not much else. And this considering that the wall has a huge door in the relationship of Europe to Russia. And the key to this door is labeled “reconciliation of interests“.
The first step is what Brandt called “compassion“, i.e. the ability to see the world through the eyes of the others. We should stop accusing the 143 million Russian that they look at the world differently than John McCain.
What is needed is help in modernizing the country, no sanctions which will further decrease the dearth of wealth and damage the bond of relationships. Economic relationships are also relationships. International cooperation is akin to tenderness between nations because everyone feels better afterwards.
It is well-known that Russia is an energy super-power and at the same time a developing industrial nation. The policy of reconciliation and mutual interests should attack here. Development aid in return for territorial guarantees; Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even had the right words to describe this: modernization partnership. He just has to dust it off and use it as an aspirational word. Russia should be integrated, not isolated. Small steps in that direction are better than the great nonsense of exclusionary politics.
We should try to avoid the detour via the battle fields in the 21st century. History does not have to repeat itself. Maybe we can find a shortcut.