Book Review: Dieter Farwick, Wege ins Abseits: Wie Deutschland seine Zukunft verspielt
If there is one thing that can be said about this book it is that the reader will not have to worry about going to sleep reading it. It is an exceptionally hard-hitting, provocative work one that in contrast to most others raises not one but a whole series of issues that demand the attention of leaders in Germany and the rest of Europe. By extension it is also one that senior decision makers in the US should read.
To say that Farwick’s view of the future of Germany and Europe is bleak would be an understatement. Farwick argues that Germany has little worthy of the name leadership – Angela Merkel is not a leader. Rather, he sees her as a pragmatic politician who makes deals to get by, even if it means allowing her coalition partners to set the agenda. What Germany desperately needs, in Farwick’s mind is a plan, an agenda that makes it clear where Germany is going. On the other hand, he maintains that even if Germany had such a plan, it would do little good unless it had a strong, democratic leader.
Germany’s is reflected in the European continent’s current economic malaise. Some in Germany have the idea that Germany can continue to bail out other countries on the continent. Fawick is not convinced. Indeed, he believes that the German leadership has underestimated the depth of the problems in the EU. All that bailing out these countries will do is stall their move toward competitiveness – which is the only way to return them the market place of economic competition. The latter has disappeared from much of the continent. The social welfare state now reigns supreme. Indeed, if I had to come up with one word that describes the world Farwick sees facing Germany it is stagnation (interestingly the term used to describe Russia under Gorbachev and Yeltsin - Zastoi). Equally important, he uses this term not only in an economic sphere. Given its demographic and economic problems, it is only a matter of time until Germany loses out to countries like India, China and the US. Competition appears to have become a “bad” word in Germany.
As evidence of Germany’s failure to hold its own in the international arena, Farwick cites Germany’s abstention on UN Resolution 1973 dealing with Libya. Most upsetting to him, it was not the Chancellor, but the foreign minister who made that fate full decision. Even worse, it was the foreign minister who decided not to include a German military contingent as part of NATO forces that toppled Ghadaffi. While countries like Denmark, Canada, the UK and France played key roles in the air war against Ghadaffi, German forces were no where to be found. Rather than going along with such a decision, Fawick maintains that Merkel should have fired her foreign minister – Guido Westerwelle (FDP) on the spot.
If there is anyone who is qualified to speak about military matters it is Farwick who spent most of his lifetime in uniform. Indeed, in this writer’s opinion, one of his most important comments concerns the late, unlamented defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s decision to end conscription. While there was certainly considerable pressure to get rid of it, Farwick notes something that many outside observers did not realize – most of the Bundeswehr’s professional soldiers, including many officers and a number of generals – first served as conscripts. While many who served in that status could not wait to get out of uniform, many others decided that military life was not the end of the world – but that option is now gone!
Another problem well known to military specialists that Farwick highlights is the sad shape the European NATO countries now find themselves in. While some may have been taken in by the fact that NATO forces were commanded by a Canadian Army general, and while the planes were from European powers, the planes soon ran out of precision weapons and had to ask the US for help. The European NATO countries were also dependent on the US for strategic support in areas such as intelligence and logistics.
This already gloomy situation is made worse by the German leadership’s infatuation with European unity. The bottom line is very simple. Regardless of how strong Merkel pretends to be, Germany will continue to help bail out Europe’s weaker partners for decades to come – even though that will not solve their problems. That will put unbearable pressure on the German economy. As far as the military sector is concerned, Germany’s military budget will pay the price.
So what does that mean for Germany? Is there any hope of reversing the course Germany now finds itself on? Farwick is pessimistic. Many readers will object to Farwick’s comments. It is important to keep in mind, that this very well argued book is – not to be ignored. Indeed, this very readable book demands a response from voters across the political spectrum who support the coalition’s current policies. In fact, its importance goes far beyond Germany and given its implications for the US and the rest of Europe, it should be translated into English and French at a minimum.