Germany between Russia and the United States

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General elections in Germany are scheduled for mid-September. Germany also has seen the rise of a right wing populist protest party, the “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD). But although this party seems likely to enter the national parliament, the Bundestag, for the first time, it has little chance, for the moment, of upsetting the plans of the main fractions of the politically and economically still relatively stable German bourgeoisie. The present electoral campaign of Chancellor Merkel reveals a lot about the situation of German capitalism. Her slogan is: stability. Without using the same words, her approach seems to be inspired by that of her post war predecessor, the Christian Democratic Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who once campaigned under the motto:“no experiments”. Under the present circumstances, “no experiments” expresses the self-understanding of Germany as being more or less the only haven of political stability among the major powers of the western world at present. But behind this fixation on stability, there is also a growing alarm. The main source of the consternation of the German ruling class is the United States. We have already mentioned Trump's protectionist threats. There is also his unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and in particular the American offensive against the German car industry started under the Obama administration. But the threat to the interests of German imperialism does not limit itself to economic or environmental issues. It concerns first and foremost the military and so-called security questions. A brief historical recapitulation is necessary here.

Under the Social Democratic led “Red-Green” coalition of Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005), Germany had moved closer to Putin's Russia, pioneering joint energy projects, and joining Moscow (and Paris) in refusing to support George W. Bush's war in Iraq. Schröder’s successor Merkel, like many politicians from the former East Germany (GDR) a staunch “Atlanticist”, changed this orientation, reaffirming the “partnership” with America as the cornerstone of German foreign policy. Under Obama, Washington offered Berlin the role of junior partner of the United States in Europe. Germany was called on to assume a greater share of the work of NATO in Europe, allowing America to concentrate more on the Far East and its main challenger China. In return for this enhanced status, Merkel had to abandon the “special relationship” with Moscow inaugurated by Schröder. But at the same time, Washington reassured Berlin that it was not “abandoning Europe to its fate” by modernising the US military presence in Germany, including at the military level. But under the surface, already during Obama's second term in office, tensions mounted between Berlin and Washington. One moment when this became visible was during the “refugee crisis” of summer 2015. The calls of the German bourgeoisie for US support went almost demonstratively unheeded. What Berlin was asking for was not that the USA take Syrian or other refugees, but that it should intervene politically and even militarily in some way to stabilise the situations in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin. But Washington did nothing of the kind. On the contrary, Obama affirmed repeatedly that the “refugee crisis is the problem of Europe alone”.

But it was above all concerning the policy toward Russia that the relations between Berlin and Washington became increasingly conflictual. Germany under Merkel supported and supports the NATO policy of encirclement of Russia, and hopes as America's junior partner to be one of its main beneficiaries. But it opposed and opposes the American strategy (championed by Hillary Clinton much more than by Barak Obama) of replacing the Putin government in Moscow. Indeed, on this question, the opposition within the European bourgeoisie is growing, even if it does not always express itself openly.[1] After the fall of Schröder's Red-Green coalition, the fraction of the German bourgeoisie with close links to Russia neither disappeared nor became inactive. In particular, with the formation of the Grand Coalition government between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats four years ago, the “friends of Putin” within the SPD returned to power. One can speak of a certain division of labour between the Merkel and Schröder fractions, and it is probably more astute and favourable for German interests, if the friends of Schröder only play the role of junior partner in the government (as is presently the case). But there have also been behind the scenes activities of this fraction. According to the first results of the public investigations about Trump's Russia connections in the United States, the Deutsche Bank played a central role in promoting business and other transactions between Trump and the “Russian Oligarchy”. They prefer to see Putin propped up rather than brought down by “the west”. It is also known that parts of German industry made generous financial contributions to Trump's electoral campaign. And it is an open secret that one of the strongholds of the Schröder-Gabriel[2] fraction in Germany is the province of Lower Saxony and the Volkswagen company which that provincial state partly owns and runs. In this light we can better understand that the court cases against Volkswagen and the Deutsche Bank in the United States are motivated not only economically but above all politically, and why, seven weeks before the national general elections, a power struggle has broken out in Lower Saxony (and in Volkswagen), bringing down the Red-Green coalition in Hanover. Although she does not necessarily share their orientation, Chancellor Merkel has, to a certain extent, tolerated the activities of this other fraction and tried to benefit from their links both to Putin and to Trump. Today however, the anti-Russian hawks in Washington are mounting their pressure not only on the Trump, but also on the Merkel government. Merkel's response to this has been typically two faced. On the one hand, she maintains her contacts with the Trumpists. On the other hand, she maintains a demonstrative distance from the new US leadership in public. There is hardly a country in western Europe where the criticism of the new administration in Washington has been so open and severe, and so much shared by almost the whole political class in Germany. Alongside Erdogan, Trump has eclipsed Putin as the favourite “bad guy” of the German media. We are entitled to conclude that the German bourgeoisie has taken advantage of the political and other bad manners of the Trump people in order to politically distance itself from the United States to a degree which, under other circumstances, would probably have provoked an international scandal. Under these circumstances, the pressure from Washington (augmented by Trump) for the European NATO “partners” - in particular Germany – to increase their military budgets, is in reality more than welcome (even if many of their politicians affirm the opposite in public). Berlin has already begun this augmentation. The plan is to raise military spending from the present 1.2% of German GNP to 2% by 2024 – almost double the present rate. If it were to conform to Trumps's demand of 3% of GNP, Germany would have the biggest military budget of any state in Europe (at least 70 billion Euros annually). Moreover, Germany has recently officially changed its “defence doctrine”. After the end of the Cold War, it was officially declared that Germany and western Europe no longer stand under any direct military threat. Today this doctrine has been revised, stating that “territorial defence” is once again the main goal of the Bundeswehr. With this new doctrine, the German state reacts not only to the recent military counter-offensive of Russia in the Ukraine and Syria, but also to growing fears about the political stability of Russia, and about the chaos which might develop there.  Germany is also profiting from “Brexit” in order to increase the militarisation of the structures of the European Union and a certain independence from NATO (something Britain was able to prevent as long as it was an active EU member). Under the slogans of the “war against terrorism” and the “war against the smuggling of immigrants”, the EU has been declared to be no longer only an economic or political, but also (and even “above all” according to Merkel and Macron) a “security union”.

[1]For instance, at a symposium in Berlin this summer organised by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, it was put forward that the main danger to the stability of Europe is not the Putin regime, but the possible collapse of the Putin regime.

[2]Schröder is officially on the pay roll of the German pipeline project with the Russian Gazprom. Gabriel, who recently came out in favour of a “federal solution“ to the Ukraine conflict not unlike that propagated by Moscow, is Germany's new foreign minister.


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