Former German Foreign Minister (1998–2005) and Green Party leader Joschka Fischer published a column on July 23 that, perhaps inadvertently, well summarizes the confused strategic worldview of the traditional German political parties, which is steadily diverging from the interests of the United States.
Fischer, like more than 95 percent of other Germans who have an opinion on these things, recognizes the monstrous wickedness of the Nazi regime, and accepts the fact that it had to be destroyed and Germany had to be unconditionally and overwhelmingly defeated in World War II, ultimately for its own good as much as for the sake of any other country. He acknowledges that only the military guarantee of the United States kept Stalin and his successors out of Western Europe.
Fischer glosses over that the French tried to veto German entry into NATO and even Winston Churchill’s Great Britain, heavily burdened as its leader was with the desperate struggles with a belligerent Germany in both World Wars, was unenthused about welcoming Germany to NATO. President Dwight Eisenhower forced his allies to accept Germany in NATO, recognizing the need to bind it as an ally to the West as the most important country in Europe, and to assist in the maturation of Germany’s political judgment by tying it to such close and strong allies.
I have long believed that the greatest single act of statesmanship since World War II was when Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first chancellor, declined Stalin’s offer of German reunification in exchange for neutrality in the Cold War, and he carried West German public opinion with him. Eisenhower’s sponsorship of Germany as a respectable and civilized ally was close behind.
Fischer’s version of what followed, and here he speaks for a wide swath of German opinion, is the following: “A degree of political distrust on the part of the U.S. persisted, but German ‘trans-Atlanticists’ refused to see it. From their perspective, the alliance had supplanted all previous antipathy and that was that. They were wrong. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. pursued a multi-pronged strategy, both deterring the Soviet Union and maintaining control over Germany, in recognition of its vital position at the heart of Europe. … In terms of raw interests in political economy, significant differences remained.
“Since the mid-1950s, for example, the transatlantic perspective competed with a more distinctively European one and with German Chancellor Willie Brandt’s Ostpolitik in the 1970s—which coincided with the nascent détente between the U.S. and the Soviet Union—the protector and the ward’s diverging interests became even more obvious.”
It was at this time that Germany, in particular, began to claim her right to coast altogether on the American military budget, claiming some kind of offsetting parity between greater American “burden-sharing” and greater European and specifically German “risk-sharing,” as if the United States were responsible for Germany being in the center of Europe and it was America’s duty to make up for Germany’s proximity to Russia with an immense defensive umbrella.
In the great subsequent debates over the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Western Europe, the German left took the position that in the event of hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union in Europe, intermediate-range missiles would confine the damage to Europe, and while they didn’t explicitly state this, their preference was that the Americans and the Russians should settle any such problems by an exchange of ICBM’s over the heads of the Europeans.
The United States could have the high honor of guaranteeing the military safety of Western Europe from the Soviet Union, but if necessary would have to exercise that privilege in the direct exchange of hydrogen-warhead intercontinental missiles with Russia and not with any incrementalism of the use of less destructive weapons in Western Europe.
Deterring Soviet Occupation
The alliance managed through all this, but the Germans, including Fischer, were frequently hearing the forest murmurs. Fischer did graciously acknowledge that as the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Russians, the British, and the French were all opposed to the reunification of Germany but the Americans were steadfastly in favor and never wavered. The United States was the only Atlantic country that had no fear of a united Germany.
Fischer’s perspective is widely held, but it’s essentially nonsense. Franklin D. Roosevelt (who knew Germany well and spoke German) and Stalin both realized that World War II would be won by whoever occupied Germany. He was always confident that once the Western allies got across the Rhine, the Germans would fight savagely in the East but surrender fairly quickly in the West in order to be occupied by the Western Allies who accepted the Geneva Convention, and would be civilized occupiers.
The prearranged zones of occupation, which Roosevelt opposed but both Stalin and Churchill approved in order to assure themselves of large zones, were superseded by the secret Tehran Conference agreement to move both the eastern and western borders of Poland 200 miles to the west. Most of Russia’s German zone fell in Poland and 12 million Germans preceded the Red Army west in order to avoid Russian occupation. The result was that the Western allies held more than 75 percent of the German population. Germany accepted the leadership of the United States as the only force that could deter Soviet occupation.
Post Soviet Union
After the Soviet Union disintegrated, Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982–1998), remained thoroughly loyal to the Western alliance. His successor, Gerhard Schroeder (1998–2005), accepted material inducements from the Russians and began the reduction of German military capability. In the long regime of Angela Merkel (2005–), Germany continued to be courted by Russia.
China became her greatest trading partner and under pressure from the left, Merkel shut down the ambitious German nuclear power program and has transformed Germany into a virtual energy satellite of Russian natural gas. Its defense sector has dwindled to an absurdly low position for a country that was for most of 75 years the most militaristic in the world.
Fischer declares that the Trump presidency “did more serious damage to U.S.-German relations than anything else since World War II,” and “the question for president Joe Biden is whether the U.S. can regain its allies trust.”
As usual in comments of this kind, no time is wasted explaining what was “wrong” with Trump’s policy toward Germany. He was critical of the anemic German defense commitment, effectively leaving the United States to defend Germany altogether, and intervened to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream Pipeline which, Trump alleged with some reason, made the concept of defending Germany from Russia incongruous. Merkel has refused to do anything to show any recognition of the Chinese threat to the West.
The real question is whether, if Germany continues to make no effort on defense and to ease China’s way into full penetration of the European Union commercially, the interests of the United States are best served in close collaboration with Russia, if it ceased to irritate America and most of its former republics and shifted gradually into a modified containment alliance opposite China with India, Japan, the United States, and other countries.
We are in an interregnum now; Merkel is on her way out, Biden’s administration is immobilized but what is coming soon is a choice far more profound than Fischer realizes: If Germany is gulled by China, a profound rapprochement between the United States and Russia could result in Russia being a more worthwhile ally than Germany. The ability of Germany to fumble into such a position should not be underestimated.
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He’s the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” which has been republished in updated form. Please follow Conrad Black with Bill Bennett and Victor Davis Hanson on their podcast Scholars and Sense.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.