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What in the World?

Germany needs to send aid to Ukraine but it’s complicated

Nov 08, 2022


Germans, like most Europeans, believe that Putin won’t stop if he wins the war in Ukraine. The Russian president will likely keep pushing west, into NATO territory, meaning World War III would be close behind. So the coalition partners to the party in power in Germany, the Social Democrats, want to supply the Ukrainians with whatever weaponry they can to ensure Russia doesn’t win. The Social Democrats are stalling though, hoping there’s still hope for a diplomatic solution, and forming an alliance with China in the meantime. But time is running out and because of the complicated, historical foundation for the German parliamentary system, finding a solution won’t be easy.

Excerpted from Peter’s Nov. 8 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Why is the German system so stable…because they didn’t create it. The British, French and Americans did. No foreign strategic policy = no military = no war. A fool-proof plan…right? Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine has started to poke holes in this system.

Those same policies that once prevented knee-jerk elections and war, are now enabling Olaf Scholz to manipulate the bureaucratic tools and stall any German aid entering Ukraine.

The rest of Europe understands that they are facing military, strategic, environmental and economic crises…all at the same time. Diplomacy and economic integration have been great tools for Germany in the past, but that won’t cut it anymore.

Hey everyone, Peter Zion here coming to you from Colorado. Today I want to talk a little bit about what’s going on in Germany domestically and in terms of with foreign policy. 

Now, one of the first things to remember about the German system is they did not create it, which is one of the reasons why it’s so stable. After a series of wars that culminated into the world wars that dragged the Americans into European affairs for two significant conflicts, there  was a joint committee put together by the French, the British and the Americans to write the German Basic Law, which is basically their constitution. And in it, it has a bicameral system, so there’s the Bundestag, as well as the Bundesrat, one that represents the states of the Bundesrat, one that represents people in the general election, that’s the Bundestag, but you vote for a party rather than a person. And that encourages the parties to be relatively broad in their ideology. 

In addition to needing a majority of the party seats in the Bundestag and ratification by the Bundesrat, in order to get a government formed, there’s something called a “vote of constructive no confidence.” Now, in most parliamentary systems, whether it’s France or the United Kingdom, or wherever else, if a majority of the people in the parliament say that this government is done, the government is done. 

But in Germany, you can’t trigger new elections, you have to come up with a different governing coalition. So you have to convince the parties that make up the seats in the Bundestag to form a new alignment. And the idea was that Germany had had a series of political whiplash moments that had led to the rise of the Nazi party. So if by making it constitutionally impossible for you just to have a knee jerk election, the idea would be that the Germans would tend towards moderation and tends towards working with one another and by extension, working with the Western allies as well to prevent any sort of a rebound such as World War II.

This is becoming very relevant in the German system right now, because the current coalition is becoming incredibly unstable. So you’ve got Olaf Schultz, who is the Chancellor, who was the head of the Social Democrats, which is a center of leftist party, and he is allied with two parties. One is the Free Democrats. So if you can imagine a libertarian business-oriented party, that would be it, and the Greens, who are just what they sound like. Now, the issue for the disputes is over foreign and strategic policy, which is kind of ironic, because Germany has not had a foreign and strategic policy of note since World War II. It was something that was expressly banned, basically, by general agreement of the Western allies that if Germany didn’t have a foreign policy, then it couldn’t have a strategic policy, it couldn’t have a functional military, and therefore there could never be another war. So anytime that the Germans have had a policy, someone else has steered it. 

Well, we’re now in a situation where Europe is facing a military and a strategic and an environmental and an economic crisis all at the same time because of the Ukraine war. And navigating that is going to require some leadership and leadership means that some people are not going to like what’s being done. And that’s definitely the case of what’s going on in Germany today. 

So there’s two big issues on the German docket. The first one is the Ukraine war. The Germans, like most of the Europeans, like most of Americans, realize that if the Russians win in Ukraine, that’s not the end of it. They just keep advancing west until they get to where they feel more secure. And that means conquering all or part of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and maybe even in Finland. And since most of those countries are NATO members, there will be a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. And since we now know that the Russian military is not all of that, that will probably be nukes in play. So arming the Ukrainians to prevent that Russian advance is not a, it’s not a “nice to have.” It’s an issue about the strategic survival of the entirety of each individual member of the NATO alliance. And that has sunk in, in most parts of Europe and most parts of the United States, with the exception of a Putin wing of the Republican Party, of course.

And to that end, the coalition partners to the Social Democrats, so the Free Democrats and the Greens, want to provide the Ukrainians with any weapon system that they can prove that they can use, which is more or less the position of the Alliance as a whole. But the Social Democrats have a tradition going back 60 years believing that diplomacy and economic integration can forestall the need for any sort of military confrontation. And you know, you gotta respect the idealism, but in its current time, that is a questionable issue, because the Russians certainly don’t feel that way. 

So the Greens and the Free Democrats are looking for a much stronger position from Germany, particularly on weapons transfers, because they see this literally, accurately, as an issue of national survival. You know, leave aside the war crimes and the human rights and the energy security, they see this is about survival. But the Social Democrats of who Olaf Schultz, the Chancellor is a member, sees it a different way. And so he’s been dragging his feet and providing bureaucratic obstacles at every possible opportunity to prevent high-scale weapon transfers to go, particularly Leopard tanks.

The second big issue is with China. The Germans, because of the Social Democrats, have always sought to have a constructive, political and economic relationship with countries that are rivals, thinking that you could bring them around in time. Now, obviously, in the case of Russia, that has imploded and the Social Democrats, just like everyone else in Germany, have walked away from decades of investment. They have by far been the number one investor in the Russian space for quite some time. The question is now what? The entirety of the German economic model is based on metabolizing cheap, reliable Russian energy and with that gone, the Germans need a fundamentally new way to power their economy. And Olaf Schultz, a Social Democrat, going by this old strategy that Congress makes friends, is turning to the Chinese. So as the rest of the West is starting to identify that Chinese is a genocidal state that is devolved into a one-man dictatorship that makes the Kim dynasty in North Korea look positively egalitarian, Olaf Schultz up and went to China to say a his “hi, how are yas” to the Chinese Premier Xi and even offered him congratulations on his appointment for a third term, which was basically crowning himself Emperor for life. 

From the Social Democratic point of view, they need an alternative economic pole, China can perhaps replace Russia. And from the SDP point of view, they still haven’t gotten past the idea that commerce makes friends.

Now, the Free Democrats oppose this, the Greens oppose this. And just to put another bit of cayenne pepper in the ointment, Schultz overruled both of his coalition partners in the days leading up to that summit, when he basically allowed the Chinese commerce giant [?] to purchase a significant portion of the [?].

Now, if the Free Democrats, if the Greens, are not happy with this situation, to the point that they want to overthrow their own government, they can’t just go into the Bundestag and say we oppose this government and have a vote of no confidence. No, no, no. 

They first have to enter coalition negotiations with another party, most notably, the Christian Democrats who have ruled the country for the bulk of the last 15 years. So it is public, it is obvious, it would give Schultz a chance to change his mind or the Social Democrats a chance to have a party congress themselves to see what they’re willing to budge on. But before you get too excited either way, number one, this is not a quick solution. And number two, because the Greens and the Free Democrats would have to enter into a coalition, there’s no guarantee that they would get the flexibility and the power that they would want on the backside. Right now, they control the Foreign Ministry and the Economics Ministry. These are like the two things that they care most about. There’s no way to guarantee they would get that. Remember, foreign policy is a subset of all of the policies that a government has to care about. And so the Free Dems and the Greens would be taking a big risk if they wanted to go this way. But the option is on the table and is starting to be discussed in Berlin. All right, that’s it for me. Until next time.


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