Political lessons from Ukraine: Part 2

More direction on economic reform does not necessarily make things clearer on the political side.

We’ve just had the remarkable saga of Germany’s Chancellor Scholz doing his best to stop Ukraine getting a timely supply of German-built Leopard tanks. 

Even his Green party foreign minister was moved to remind him that “We are fighting a war against Russia” (diplomats have since been at some pains to explain that this does not mean that Germany is a formal party to the conflict).

Conspiracy theorists may mumble darkly about the time in his youth when Scholz tripped over to communist East Germany to plan how to frustrate the defence and foreign policy of his party colleague, then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Indeed – but there’s really no need for conspiracies.

Politically, Scholz would seem to be in tune with “the half of the population whose position on support for Ukraine ranges from the sceptical to the outright hostile”.

And to be fair, the Chancellor does appear to have a preference for freezing the conflict on just about any terms and returning to the German policy of trading and negotiating as usual.

The Carnegie Endowment has a nice piece (here) on German and Ukrainian views of the world (in general) and Russia (in particular). It contrasts the Ukrainian focus on state integrity and security with a German preference for a Ukrainian buffer state as part of a managed and profitable relationship with Russia.

Which now looks rather like a policy of appeasement.

This can work well in the short run, but it does make it harder to know when a line has been crossed. 

A few people might feel that the invasion has crossed the line.  With German foot-dragging now looking like selfishness, based on narrow and perhaps short-sighted interests. 

It is starting to look like a failure to support enthusiastically a long list of principles, including democracy, freedom, the UN charter, international treaties and even the interests of the European Union and the wider West.

It also misses the opportunity to support more actively the more democratic devolutionary and globalising faction in the great post-USSR civil war over the imperialist faction. Then again, Scholz and his supporters might say that’s just the point.

One can understand American frustration at bearing the lion’s share of the burden for Europe’s security, and then having to chivvy allies into providing their modest portions (although President Biden has not expressed this as directly as his predecessor did).

Even so, the US side may well be enjoying some schadenfreude at the German reaction to yet another demonstration of US power – and its indispensability.

Where would we be without America to play the responsible adult? And from a script originally drafted with input from the Orange man?

Well, it’s possible that without the US backstopping, German policy might  have to be different. OK – but one struggles to believe that Germany would have been better prepared to act decisively.

A difficult lesson for any country which prides itself on a distinctive and independent foreign policy, without a great deal of hard and practical thinking.

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