In the space of just a few days, some of the holiest houses in German politics have been toppled.
Until a few days ago, and always with reference to ‘our history’, the Scholz government, like Merkel’s before it, held on to a very small defense budget. Shipments of weapons to conflict zones, including to Ukraine, were thwarted, even if they contained only one German screw: it did not align with Germany’s self-image of the peace dove. And like the Merkel administration, and before that the Schröder government, the new cabinet also sticks to Nord Stream 2. Germany’s massive purchases of Russian gas are seen as a diplomatic ‘bridge’ to Russia.
In less than a week, these pillars of Germany’s foreign and security policy were obsolete. On Tuesday, Scholz put a temporary route through Nord Stream 2. On Saturday, Germany announced that it would deliver 1,000 anti-tank guns and 500 missiles to Ukraine. And on Sunday, Scholz gave a speech at a special session in the Bundestag, announcing that Germany would next meet NATO’s 2 percent requirement.
In addition, Scholz wanted a modern high . BundeswehrFor this, 100 billion euros will be spent in this year’s budget, and in the future it should be constitutionally determined that at least 2 percent of GDP be invested in defense. Part of that investment will go towards armed drones and new planes that can also carry US nuclear weapons. Russian gas should be replaced with liquefied natural gas, especially shale gas from the US – the Greens have so far found that more unpleasant than ‘regular’ gas from Russia.
In his speech, Olaf Scholz called February 24, the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine, a “Zeitenwende“Putin’s war is a cut-off point, also for our foreign policy,” said Scholz.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Green), who until recently also did not want to supply weapons to Ukraine, said a moment later: “If our world is different, then our politics should be different too.”
The German touch was essential to the unity of Europe and the West. In France, President Macron has been arguing for a stronger European defense for some time, now he will be supported in this by Scholz. With its geographical proximity to Russia, and still feeling close to the former GDR countries, Germany has long seen itself as Russia’s preferred interlocutor. Scholz no longer wants to occupy this extraordinary position. “We will defend every square meter of Confederate territory like ours,” Scholz said.
Eastern European countries in particular have viewed the German exchange rate half-heartedly with suspicion in recent years. The Baltic states are openly threatened by Russia. Scholz promised on Sunday that more German troops would be stationed in Lithuania and that anti-aircraft missiles would be transferred to Eastern Europe.
Germany has lagged behind its European counterparts for a long time in recent weeks; Britain and France had supplied weapons to Ukraine, Germany had thwarted these supplies. Also by excluding Russian banks from SWIFT, Germany took a few days longer than the US, UK and France, and Germany also backed it on Saturday. Now Germany is stepping up and allowing the EU to act as a unit against Russia.
In Germany, defense spending has been cut for years. The top general of the German army, Alfons Mais, sounded the alarm earlier this week, writing that the army he led was more or less empty-handed. After the annexation of Crimea, Mais wrote, lessons should have been learned, but he was not heard at the time.
The radical change is of course more remarkable because it is being carried out by the social democrat Scholz. The German Social Democrats in particular generally saw themselves as a peace party with special ties to Russia. This sentiment is fed by nostalgic references to Ostpolitik of SPD member Willy Brandt in the 1970s.
SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder also has a special relationship with Putin. So special, that shortly after becoming chancellor, he began working for Nord Stream NV and indirectly for the Russian gas company Gazprom. Schröder is now also a member of the supervisory board of the Russian oil company Rosneft; functions that Schröder has maintained even in recent days.
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of February 28, 2022
“Hipster-friendly creator. Music guru. Proud student. Bacon buff. Avid web lover. Social media specialist. Gamer.”