The Three Blunders of German Geopolitics

It is tempting to note that over the past 120 years, Germany has made three enormous geopolitical blunders that have caused considerable damage to Europe, with war the logical conclusion: Pan-Germanism, which made the German elites believe that they could build an empire that would dominate Europe; Nazism, which made them believe that an empire based on race could dominate the world; most recently, a taste for peace and prosperity that made them sacrifice their army, and this policy of energy cooperation with Russia that led to forget that economic interdependence does not make for diplomacy; it is a double-edged sword that weakens you more than it constrains the aggressive, militarized power that you want to bring back to reason.

These three situations are obviously very different, and the category ‘elites’ does not cover the same sociological realities in 1913, 1939 or today. Moreover, the obvious difference is that in the first two cases it was Germany itself that threatened the peace, not, as today, a power outside Western Europe in a structure of relations where Germany is only one aspect of the ongoing crisis. The fact nevertheless remains that in all three cases, the policy adopted is the result of the same style of error, in the understanding of the fault lines, of the power relationships and of the dynamics that will end up sweeping the project away. It also remains that in the first two cases, this policy caused the war, and that it has now weakened Europe and its democracies in the face of a warmongering adversary, irreducible to its values. Where would Ukraine be without the military aid of the United States and Great Britain1 and a few others (among which France pales in comparison, but for reasons that are less a matter of pure and simple blunder than of illusion about its analytical and persuasive capacities)?

Germany’s ruling elites will not be able to say that the geopolitical nonsense that was the NordStream 2 pipeline was hard to imagine before 24 February 2022. Even President Trump had denounced it, following Poland and Ukraine. The US Congress had passed sanctions without adopting the incisive policies that are being implemented, rightly or wrongly, against Cuba or Iran. Nor can they say that the mediocrity of German military budgets, that 2% of GDP promised in 2006 but never really achieved, had not been pointed out, and denounced in clear terms. Donald Trump made strong remarks on this point, but he did so with the idea that the US should stop paying so much, and become isolationist!

It was up to Europe’s foreign minister, Josep Borell, to say so, without targeting Germany by name, but behind the polite reference to Europe, it is Germany that is primarily targeted: it was calamitous to decouple the sources of prosperity from those of security, and to preserve access to cheap Russian gas at all costs instead of opposing the actions of the Russian authorities, imagining that they would therefore be persuaded not to go too far and would be more open to compromise. This ill-fated policy was conceived in, and promoted by Germany.

How can we explain this talent for monumental blunders to the detriment of Europe? Perhaps first of all because these elites, despite their functional diversity, are always too culturally and politically homogeneous, which does not allow for real confrontation of ideas and leads to follow the spontaneous inclination of the group, without any counterbalance; and they derive from this an excessive self-confidence, tainted with good conscience and a feeling of superiority. (Only the debates within the ruling class count here, not those on the margins of society).

In 1913, the imperial, aristocratic and military elite had deluded itself about its ability to stand up to the rest of Europe and even the United States on two fronts (three in fact), United States it recklessly provoked in 1917. Its political and moral ascendancy over the whole of German society deprived it of the counterbalances that would have made it possible to measure the risks of a generalized military confrontation. The same mistake was made in 1939 by the Nazi elite, that is difficult to characterize socially but which was rightly judged to be criminal in 1945, and which also, in the name of race and after some successes, managed to gain ascendancy over the whole of society, including the elite of the imperial period. The dominant subgroup imposes its values and the rest of the elites and then, all the society follow without much questioning.

Today, in the light of the war in Ukraine, we can see that “Corporate Germania”, which could also be called the “pacifist-industrial complex”, has imposed its mercantilist logic on a society that sought above all material prosperity, without the political and moral brakes that should have been in place. All the governing parties in Germany followed, and made the same mistake on Russia and the situation in Ukraine – even the highly respectable Jürgen Habermas, whose debate with Timothy Snyder in April and June 2022 in the columns of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and then the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is to be recalled. The preponderance of economic interests in Germany will have cost the Ukrainians and the whole of Europe dearly. This third blunder in 120 years is not as serious as the previous ones, one may object. Maybe not! In any case, like the first two, it obliges the United States to intervene in catastrophe, without which a cynical and brutal power would have imposed its will on the Europe of democracies2.

Nicolas Tisler

Translated from French


1It is interesting to note that the oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin have been infiltrating British high society since the 1980s, but this has not deterred Britain from taking the positions it has.
2France has not been short on collective mistakes over the last hundred years: in the 1930s, the trust placed by the whole of society in incompetent military elites; the blindness in 1945 when a calm and peaceful decolonization should have been organized; Rwanda in the 90’s
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