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The Weak Giant by Dieter Stein

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Issue 22, Spring 2022

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The Weak Giant

The bronze statue of Helios (the Colossus of Rhodes) stands above the harbour, while ships pass under his legs. At his feet are people in worship. The statue was destroyed after an earthquake ca. 227 BC. In the foreground, the head of the statue is being cleaned. A man on the front left is holding a sketch of the Colossus on a tablet. This print is part of an album of engravings in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has led to tens of thousands of casualties, destroyed whole cities, and triggered a huge refugee crisis. In Germany, it has also been a shocking wake-up call for politicians, and has shattered a decades-old pacifist mindset which had forgotten the classic adage, Si vis pacem, para bellum: if you want peace, prepare for war.

For many years, Germany has taken a comfortable back seat in world politics, hiding behind the defensive capabilities of others. The largest industrial power in Europe might be an economic giant, but Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have been underfunded and mismanaged for decades, with much of its materiel, including fighter jets, ships, and tanks unfit for purpose, and with the forces suffering from abysmal morale. On the morning of the Russian invasion, the Bundeswehr’s highest-ranking officer, the inspector of the army, Lt. Gen. Alfons Mais, admitted his forces were “naked” and “unable to meet our obligations to our allies.” When asked whether the Bundeswehr would be able to defend Germany, retired Gen. Egon Schramm, who served as the highest ranking German officer in NATO, replied: “Short answer, no.” This is the legacy of sixteen years (2005-2021) of Angela Merkel’s CDU-led governments. On the morning of Russia’s attack, Merkel’s last minister of defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said tearfully: “I’m so angry at ourselves for our historical failure.” She should be.

A change of course on defence has long been overdue—but for many years this was stymied by an angst-ridden, deeply anti-military public mood. A profound change in national mentality has long been needed, but of course this is easier said than done. In the post-1945 bout of soul searching, all traces of the old Prussian militarist spirit vanished completely. West Germany was fundamentally transformed, becoming so liberal and post-national that it even started lecturing other nations on disarmament whilst abandoning the whole concept of nation states by seeking to lose herself into an ever-more integrated EU empire. This is still the predominant mind-set of ‘enlightened,’ ‘progressive’ voters, particularly Green and Social Democratic (SPD) supporters.

Many prominent Germans had been hoping for ‘the end of (German) history’ long before the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989-1990. They chose to opt out of history and the ‘clash of civilisations’ when Islamist attacks such as September 11th hit the West. For years, Russia’s aggressive course under Putin was ignored. We should therefore be highly sceptical of the new SPD chancellor Olaf Scholz’s overnight promises of fundamental change.

Scholz has called the Russian attack on Ukraine a Zeitenwende, a historic turning point. Without warning his left-wing coalition partner, the Greens, or even his own party, he announced €100 billion in extra funding for the armed forces in the form of a Sondervermögen (‘special asset,’ a euphemism for special debt). However, there is some reason to doubt that this money will all be used to improve military capabilities that have been chronically underfunded since 1991, the last year Germany spent the annual 2% of GDP on defence that is expected of NATO partners. The figure for 2020 was a paltry 1.4%, and even that was a major increase on some other years. The small print of the Sondervermögen budget suggests that the funds will be stretched over several years, and some percentage of it may be diverted to non-defence areas, like development aid and environment issues—in a bow to the SPD’s Green coalition partner. Before the war in Ukraine began, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock (Green) mused about “feminist foreign policy”—shorthand in ‘progressive’ circles for disarmament and aid replacing defence policy.

Germany has found herself in an extremely vulnerable position ever since the invasion of Ukraine, because of her huge dependence on energy imported from Russia. More than half of German natural gas needs were supplied by companies like Gazprom, and about a third of her oil and a seventh of her coal comes from the Russian Federation. Angela Merkel and her SPD predecessor Gerhard Schröder have made the country hostage to Russian resources. Berlin now faces a sudden cessation of Russian gas supplies and is desperately looking for replacements.

Robert Habeck, the Green minister of economy and climate, rushed pathetically to Qatar—a country his party has always loathed because of its poor human (and especially LGBT) rights record—and the EU has struck a costly deal with the United States over liquefied natural gas supplies to reduce Russian imports. But these substitutes will be slow to materialise, and will not be available in sufficient quantities for at least two years. A complete halt to Russian gas would trigger a severe recession in Germany, forcing crucial parts of the economy like the chemical and basic material industries, steel production, and manufacturing into a standstill, endangering hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Germany’s reliance on Russian natural gas was a product of Merkel’s ill-advised Energiewende (energy turn) of 2011, when she—following the accident at Fukushima after the tsunami—abruptly decided to speed up the planned abandonment of nuclear energy (Atomausstieg) in an attempt to appease Green voters. With fourteen of seventeen nuclear plants now turned off, the share of nuclear energy in Germany’s electricity supply has fallen from 25% to around 6%, and under the Atomausstieg plan the remaining three nuclear plants will be shut down at the end of this year. Elon Musk rightly called it “crazy that Germany is shutting down nuclear now.” In 2019, Merkel also agreed on a planned phase-out of coal power plants. The resulting energy gap was partly filled with gas power stations (now about 15% of electricity supply).

Germany increasingly relies on the volatile (and highly subsidised) supply of renewable energies from wind turbines and solar plants, pushing the price of electricity to almost the highest level of all developed countries. No other major industrial country is attempting to abandon both nuclear and coal simultaneously. Energy experts warn that the crucial base load of electricity is harder and harder to maintain, and blackouts cannot be ruled out. Neighbouring countries like France and the UK have announced plans to build new nuclear power plants, and Belgium has decided to postpone the expiry dates of its reactors by ten years. It is only in Greta-Thunberg-besotted Germany that there is no serious debate about reconsidering nuclear.

The country is hostage to recklessly improvident Red-Green ideology. Merkel’s nominally conservative Christian Democrats suffered a devastating electoral defeat in September 2021, such that the party essentially imploded. The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) are too weak—and frankly unwilling—to confront the ‘Green Zeitgeist.’ Only the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) has challenged the Atomausstieg, but the other parties have put them behind a cordon sanitaire and refuse to work with them—just like in 2015, when the AfD called out the terrible mistake of Merkel’s Willkommenskultur during the so-called ‘refugee crisis.’

Notoriously, Merkel’s September 2015 ‘welcome’ signals to all migrants and Germany’s generous welfare benefits triggered a huge influx of more than 1.5 million mostly young males, primarily Islamic irregular migrants from the Middle East and North Africa in 2015-2016. Her open-door policy destabilised the whole continent (encouraging many Britons to vote for Brexit), and Brussels-led plans to resettle the migrants against the wishes of countries like Poland and Hungary made matters even worse. This caused a deep rift between Germany and the Eastern European nations which do not share the post-national notion of open borders and want to decide which immigrants they allow into their countries. In Germany, moralistic arrogance and finger-pointing at their supposedly prejudiced and unenlightened Eastern European neighbours ran riot.

With the war in Ukraine, we are now confronted with a genuine refugee crisis of huge proportions. Countries like Poland and Hungary are providing admirable levels of humanitarian help, and progressive Germans can no longer look down on them. But even now the government, influenced by the left-wing migration lobby and other nongovernmental organisations, is repeating Merkel’s mistakes by refusing to distinguish between genuine refugees and illegal migrants who are taking the opportunity of the Ukraine crisis to slip into Europe via her eastern flank. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) airily dismissed such concerns and stated: “It does not depend on the passport.” Several thousand African and Arab ‘students’ have suddenly arrived from Ukraine, who barely speak English, let alone Ukrainian. There have been police reports of violent riots at refugee hostels between non-European immigrants and large families from Roma communities, all posing as Ukrainian refugees.

There is no honest debate about whom we should help and how to control immigration. In 2015, Germany was compared to a “hippy state led by feelings” by British political scientist Anthony Glees. Now again, there is too much emotional hubris and a total lack of strategic thinking. Germany is still struggling with Merkel’s legacy of uncontrolled mass immigration; integration of the large numbers of uneducated, unskilled migrants from Arab and African countries has not been going well. More than six years after the huge influx, two-thirds of Syrians still live on public benefits, for instance, and violent crime has increased. But the problem runs even deeper.

Even since Turkish immigrants began arriving in the 1960s, Berlin and cities in the industrial Ruhr area have battled with enormous integration challenges, such as the increasingly large proportions of non-German-speaking pupils in the schools. Today, in some classes in the Berlin boroughs of Kreuzberg or Neukölln, up to 90% of students do not speak enough German to get by in life. Well-off Green voters in Central Berlin who claim to desire a multicultural society, and decried integration efforts like mandating students to speak German in schools as ‘forced Germanization,’ hypocritically flee these hotspot districts as soon as they have school-age children.

Thanks to the guilt complex elicited by the crimes of the Nazi regime, many prominent Germans deny that Germany even has—or should have—a distinctive national identity. The former integration minister Aydan Özoğuz (SPD) mused openly that she does not know if there is a “distinctive German culture.” It goes without saying that a country that is unsure of its own moral worth, cultural distinctiveness, or even existence will find it infinitely harder to integrate immigrants and foreigners than a more self-confident nation. It is clearly a recipe for failure.

Like other Western countries, Germany has been infected by the virus of ‘wokeism’ which makes Western nations repudiate their history and indulge in endless self-flagellation about real and imagined historical wrongdoings, colonialism, white supremacy, and the ‘discriminatory’ nature of the traditional family. Two weeks before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Oliver Dowden, the chair of the UK Conservative Party, rightly warned in a speech in Washington that the Western preoccupation with ‘woke’ culture wars weakens them internally and undermines Western democracies in the face of threats from authoritarian and dictatorial regimes like Russia and China. Germany is so preoccupied with these culture wars that she is effectively absent from the world stage—a deeply dangerous state of affairs that undermines the whole Western alliance.

For the first time in many decades, German politicians must learn to think, rather than feel—and to assert Germany’s vital national interests. They must immediately stop seeing the EU as an Ersatz-Vaterland, and instead respect the fact that most other Europeans wish to retain their unique cultures, national identities, and right to democratic self-determination. They need to wake up from deadly delusions and regain a clear-eyed conservative sense of realism. Almost a century after the war, it is time for the prostrate German giant finally to stand tall and become a grown-up country, able to look a dangerous world in the face.

Dieter Stein is founder and editor-in-chief of Junge Freiheit, Germany’s largest conservative weekly, based in Berlin.

This review appears in the Spring 2022 edition of The European Conservative, Number 22: 26-28.