Imperialist Tensions: The Rise of German Imperialism

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No recent event has more dramatically illustrated the world wide sharpening of imperialist tensions than the arrival of 3000 German combat troops in Bosnia. Under the guise of helping to maintain the "peace settlement" for Bosnia imposed by the USA· at Dayton, the German army, like that of its French, British or American rivals, is being sent into the crisis zone in order to defend the imperialist interests of its own national bourgeoisie.

No other event more clearly confirms the rise of German imperialism since its national reunification. For the first: time since World War II, the German bourgeoisie is sending its armed forces abroad with a mandate to wage war. In so doing, it is demonstratively throwing aside the shackles which were imposed on it after its defeat in two world wars. For half a century, the bourgeoisie of the two German states which emerged after 1945 were not granted the right of military intervention abroad in pursuit of their own imperialist interests. Any exception to this general rule imposed by NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east would be decided, not in Bonn or East Berlin, but in Washington or Moscow. In reality, the only involvement of German troops in military action abroad in the entire post-1945 period was that of East Germany in the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the USSR and the Warsaw Pact in 1968.

Today Germany is united and emerging as Europe's leading power. The eastern and western blocs no longer exist. In a world racked, not only by growing military tensions, but by global chaos and the struggle of each against all, German imperialism no longer needs permission in order to back up its foreign policy with force of arms. Today, the German government is able to impose its military presence in the Balkans, whether the other great powers like it or not. This growing capacity underlines above all the decline of the hegemony of the only remaining world superpower, the USA. Since the USA's capacity to lay down the law to the government in Bonn was the lynchpin of its domination over two thirds of the globe after World War II, the very presence of the Bundeswehr in Bosnia today demonstrates to the world the extent to which this American domination has been undermined.

Germany undermines Dayton and challenges the USA

But the participation of Bonn in the NATO IFOR2 mission in Bosnia, where it jointly controls one of the three implementation zones along with France, is a challenge to the USA and the European powers nor only at the global historical level. It is also an indispensable move in the concrete defence of crucial German imperialist interests in the region itself. The most important of these German interests is the long term acquisition of a Mediterranean naval base via the harbours of its historical ally Croatia. It was the Kohl government which triggered off the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the whole chain reaction of bloody conflicts in that country, by aggressively pushing for the independence of Croatia and Slovenia at the beginning of the 1990s. Although Bonn, not least through massive arms supplies to Croatia, was able to achieve this goal, one third of the territory of its Croatian ally remained occupied by Serb forces, practically cutting off the north of the country from the strategic Dalmatian ports in the south. At the beginning of the Balkan wars, Germany was still able to advance strongly through background support for Croatia, without having to engage its own troops. But when war broke out in neighbouring Bosnia, the main European rivals of Germany, especially Britain and France under the disguise of the UN, and then the USA under the umbrella of NATO, proceeded to pursue their interests in the region through a direct military presence. This presence could be all the more effective since Germany itself was militarily and politically not yet prepared to follow suit. It was above all the military engagement of the USA which in the past two years began to weaken the position of Germany. The military victories of Croatia against the pro-British and pro-French Serbs in the Krajina and in Bosnia, which overcame the division of that country linking the Dalmatian ports to the capital Zagreb, were gained thanks to the support, not of Germany but of America. The Dayton agreement, imposed by the US in the wake of its military strikes in Bosnia, thus confirmed the imperious necessity for Germany in turn to defend its interests in the region hrough its own armed forces. The stationing of German sanitary and logistic forces in Croatia last year, outside the battle zone and without a combat mandate, was a first step towards the present "peace- keeping" force in Bosnia itself. Upon their arrival in Bosnia, these German units, heavily armed and equipped with a combat mandate, were openly greeted as allies by the Bosnian Croats, who immediately adopted a more aggressive attitude towards the Bosnian Muslims, making life difficult for the French and Spanish troops in the divided city of Mostar. And the Croatian government in Zagreb rewarded the arrival of the Bundeswehr by deciding to replace the old Boeings of Croatian Airlines with new Airbus planes mainly built in Germany. Justifying this decision, the Croatian foreign ministry declared: "we owe our national independence to America, but our future lies in Europe, on the basis of our friendship to the German and the Bavarian governments."

In reality, the Croatian bourgeois has long and impatiently been awaiting the arrival of German troops, in order to begin shaking off the leadership of the USA. Washington has made Croatia pay dearly for its support. It was the USA, which at the last moment of the war in Bosnia before Dayton, prevented Bosnian and above all Croatian forces from capturing Banja Luca, and thus from banishing Serbs to the east of Bosnia. It was the USA which obliged the Bosnian Croats to ally themselves with the Muslims, in complete contradiction to all the Croatian war aims in Bosnia. For the Croatian bourgeoisie, its main enemy in Bosnia are not the Serbs but the Muslims. Its goal is a division of Bosnia with the Serbs at the expense of the Muslim bourgeoisie. But Croatian interests in Bosnia correspond perfectly with those of Germany: that of securing the access to the Dalmation harbours. Despite their tactical collaboration with the USA against the Serbs in the past two years, these common interests of Bonn and Zagreb oppose those, not only of the pro-Serian western European powers and Russia, but also of the United States itself.

The German Balkan Offensive

We are presently witnessing a German counter-offensive in ex-Yugoslavia and the Balkans aimed at reversing the German losses through the Dayton process, and at profiting from the American difficulties in the Middle East to extend German influence in south-eastern Europe and central Asia. The arrival of German troops in Bosnia, far from being an isolated "peace-keeping" event, is part of an extremely aggressive imperialist expansion towards the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Caucasus. The central pivot of this policy is the collaboration with Turkey. The defeat of Russian imperialism in Chechnya, and the weakening of its position in the whole of the Caucasus, is not least the fruit of this German-Turkish collaboration. Today, Germany is strongly supporting the rapprochement policy of the Erbakan government in Ankara towards Iran, another traditional German ally. And it has clearly taken the side of Turkey in its conflict with Greece. Foreign Minister Kinkel told the press December 7 in Bonn: "Turkey is for Germany the key country for our relations to the Islamic world ... How can you blame Turkey for orienting itself more strongly towards its Islamic neighbours, since Turkey hasn't gained even a penny from the customs union with the EU due to the blocking policy of Greece?" It is in response to this German-Turkish alignment that Russia could promise to deliver rockets to the Greek Cypriots, without encountering strong disapproval from Washington. Here, there is a massive build-up of arms and tensions at the junction between Europe and Asia.

At the same time, the great powers, and particularly Germany are destabilising the internal policies of all the countries of the Balkans. In Turkey, Bonn is supporting the "islamist" prime minister Erbakan in his bitter power struggle against the pro-American wing of the military, despite the danger of an army putsch or a civil war. Recently, a German court officially accused the family of Erbakan's rival, foreign minister Ciller, of playing a key role in the international drugs trade. In Serbia, Germany alongside America has backed the "democratic" opposition, including the violently anti-German Draskovic and Djinjic, purely for the sake of destabilising the Milosevic regime. In Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, Germany and other great powers are involved in the often bloody power struggles. But the most spectacular example of this destabilisation policy is Austria, which until recently called itself the "island of tranquillity". Austria was the only country which recognised the independence of Croatia and Slovenia at the same moment as Bonn. Most fractions of the Austrian bourgeoisie are more or less pro-German. But this does not satisfy the German bourgeoisie. Since Austria is the German gateway to the Balkans, Bonn has been attempting to transform Austria into a quasi-German colony, buying up its banks and industry, pushing the Austrian army to buy German weaponry, and supporting the Austrian Christian Democratic foreign minister Schussel, who allegedly consults Helmut Kohl before every major foreign policy decision. This has provoked a series of coalition crises in Vienna, and resistance among the Social Democrats, the classical party of the Austrian bourgeoisie, leading to the replacement of the "conciliator" Vranitsky by a new prime minister, Viktor Klima, a more outright opponent of a German "take over".

What is at stake strategically in these conflicts?

With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, much of the old strategic parallelogram between the western powers which preceded and accompanied the two world wars of this century re-emerged. The reawakened "historical" goals of modem German imperialism include the domination of Austria and Hungary as gateways to the Balkans, and of Turkey as the gateway to Asia and the Middle East, but also the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the support of Croatia to open German access to the Mediterranean. Already before and during World War I, the famous geo-strategists of the "All German Club" formulated the foreign policy maxims which today, after the collapse of the post-1945 world order, again govern its foreign policy. Ernst Jaeckh wrote in 1916. "Germany is encircled with already established and increasingly hostile peoples. To the west France, perpetuating in vengeful enmity; Russia opposing us in the orient; to the north England, with its world-wide opposition. Only to the south-west, behind our Austrian and Hungarian allies, for whom already Bismarck decided against Russia, is the road open towards peoples not yet having completed their state formation, and not yet hostile to us. This means the neighbouring world region of central Europe down to the Mediterranean and towards the Indian Ocean. The land route via Mitteleuropa thus becomes our detour to oversees". And Jaeckh adds that "Germany and Turkey are the cornerstones around which Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria can be brought together" .

In the same year Friedrich Naumann, another famous theoretician of German imperialism, wrote. "Germany must throw its whole weight behind securing this route, upon which depends its link to Turkey. We have experienced in war the damage which can be caused when the Serbs acquire part of this route. This was the reason for Mackensen's army crossing the Danube. Everything which lies on the Bagdad railway line, lies on the route Hamburg-Suer, which we cannot permit to be blocked by anyone. What is the good of the Bagdad or the Anatolian railway, if we cannot use them without English permission?"

In the same sense, Paul Rohrbach, whom Rosa Luxemburg referred to as a "fully open and honest semi-official spokesman of German Imperialism" constantly repeated the "need to eliminate the Serbian lock separating central Europe from the Orient".[1]
If the Balkans were the point of departure of the First and one of the main battlegrounds of the Second World War, today this region is once again being plunged into barbarism by the rise of German imperialism and the efforts of its big power rivals to oppose it.

German-American rivalry in Eastern Europe

Although the United States and Germany, via their Bosnian and Croatian pawns in Yugoslavia, recently made a tactical alliance to push back the Serbs, and although Washington and Bonn have worked together to limit the development of chaos in Russia, they have become the main rivals in the fight for domination of Eastern Europe. Since the collapse of the USSR, Russian imperialism has rapidly lost even the last remnants of its previous influence over the former Warsaw Pact countries. Although the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union are justified by the western bourgeois media with the need to protect Eastern Europe from a possible Russian aggression, in reality they are part of the race between Germany via the EU and the US via NATO to replace the Muscovite with their own imperialist domination. During the first half of the 1990s Germany was able to build up a more or less strong influence in all ex-Warsaw Pact countries except the Czech Republic. At the centre of this German expansion was its alliance with Poland, which has a strong military component. In fact, under the guise of helping to seal off the Polish eastern frontier from illegal migrants heading for Germany, Bonn has begun to equip and even finance important parts of the Polish military apparatus. Indeed the Polish government has warmly greeted the deployment of German troops in Bosnia, and has promised to participate with the Bundeswehr in future operations abroad. The fact that a country like Poland allies itself with the economic giant Germany rather than the US military superpower reveals how little Warsaw fears a Russian military invasion. In reality, the Polish bourgeoisie, far from being on the defensive, hopes to share the spoils of the German expansion at the expense of Russia.

It's precisely because the US lost so much ground to Germany in Eastern Europe over recent years, that it is now pressing so impatiently for the eastern expansion of NATO. But in doing this, it is jeopardising its privileged relations with Russia, which are so important for Washington precisely because the exhausted Russian bear is the only other country to possess a gigantic nuclear arsenal. Presently, German diplomacy is doing all in its power to widen the Russian-American breach, by offering a series of concessions to Moscow at Washington's expense. One of these proposed concessions was that no NATO (i.e. U.S.) troops or nuclear weapons should be stationed in the new NATO member countries. The German defence minister Ruhe even proposed including the territory of ex-East Germany in this category. This would amount to creating, for the first time since 1945, a no-go area for American troops in the German Federal Republic: a possible first step to making U.S. forces eventually leave altogether. One understands the rage of the political establishment in Washington, which has started producing human rights reports placing Germany on the same level as Iran or North Korea because of its treatment of the American Scientology sect.

The rise of Germany and the crisis of French European policy

The rise of Germany as the new dominant European power is still only at its beginnings. But already today, German imperialism is benefiting from the global calling in question of American leadership, in the absence of a common enemy such as the defunct USSR. And although Germany is still far too weak, in relation to the USA, to be able to constitute an imperialist bloc of its own, its rise is already seriously menacing the interests of its main European rivals, including France. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, France initially sought an alliance with Germany against America. But the strengthening of its eastern neighbour, and above all Bonn's drive towards the Mediterranean with the Yugoslav wars, led France to move away from Germany and closer to Britain. In recent months however, Bonn and Paris have again moved closer. The most striking example: their military collaboration in Bosnia. A renewal of the Franco-German alliance?

There are several reasons for the recent distancing between Paris and London, one being the punishment handed out by the United States especially to Britain. But from the French point of view, the alliance with Britain has failed in one of its most important goals: preventing the rise of Germany. German troops in the Balkans, and the German entente with Poland, traditionally an ally of France, are the best proofs of this. In response, France is not realigning itself with Germany, but changing its tactics in combatting it. The new tactic, that of embracing ones enemy in order to hold it back, is demonstrated in Bosnia, where the German forces, if they cannot be excluded, are at least under French leadership. This tactic may work for a time, since Germany is not yet able to play a more independent military role. But in the long term it is also doomed to failure.

Sharpening of military tensions

This whole development reveals the bloody logic of militarism in this century, in the decadent phase of capitalism. Through the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Germany, thanks to its economic and political strength, and its geographical situation, became Europe's leading power almost overnight. But even such a power can only effectively defend its interests if it is able to enforce them militarily. Since capitalism can no longer conquer sufficient markets for a real expansion of the system, each imperialist power can only assert itself at the expense of others. In this framework, which in this century has already led to two world wars, it is brute force which in the final instance decides the status of bourgeois states. The events in Yugoslavia have confirmed this lesson. Unless it has its troops in the region, German imperialism will lose out there, despite all its other strengths. It is this compulsion of a declining system which today is heating up military tensions around the world, dictating the militarist course of the German and all other bourgeois states.

But this bloody course, with all the impoverishment and suffering it imposes on the working class, and the light it will shed on the reality of the system, will in the long term sharpen the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat. At the historic level, the development of German imperialist expansions can be a considerable factor in the return of the German proletariat to the head of the revolutionary class struggle of the international proletariat.


[1] All the quotations from the geostrategists of the "Alldeutsche Verein" have been taken from the documentation "Europastrategien des deutschen Kapitals 1900-1945".



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