Germany: Savior or Victim of Europe?
In his 326 page book “Wege ins Abseits. Wie Deutschland seine Zukunft verspielt” ("How Germany gambles away its Future"), Osning Verlag, BrigGen ret. Dieter Farwick, Senior Vice President of the World Security Network Foundation covers the full range of current and future worldwide political developments, crises and conflicts from a German perspective. His topics range from the competition between superpowers China, India and the U.S., to the uncertain future of NATO; the unsolved “Euro crisis”; the nuclear time bomb Iran; the volatile nuclear power Pakistan; the enduring war in Afghanistan; the fragile North Korea; the “Arabellion” and its consequences; the decline of Russia; the conflict between Israel and Palestine; the problems with energy security; demographic developments; international Islamic terrorism; cyber warfare; the scarcity of “rare earths”; food and potable water; negative climate change, and silent Islamisation in Germany. His conclusion, that the Political Union of Europe was buried at the EU summit in Brussels in December 2011, is very powerful.
All these issues must be seen in the context of our globalized world, in which no single issue can be treated in isolation and separated from the rest. The economic and financial crises that started in 2008 have revealed a worldwide net of mutual dependencies and mutual influences.
In this exclusive interview with WSN, Dieter Farwick focuses on those topics which have a major impact on Germany.
WSN: From an outside perspective Germany appears very strong and competitive. Germany seems to be the only savior of both the Eurozone and Europe. In your book, you paint a bleak picture of the future of Germany and Europe. You see the risk that, at the end of the day, Germany might become the victim. Is this pessimism or realism?
Dieter Farwick: I hear this question quite often. The German government and the majority of our media do what they can to give the German public the impression that Germany travels in safe waters without major challenges. One hundred years ago, the Titanic’s passengers felt the same. The Titanic was regarded as unsinkable; they were wrong. Nowadays, the majority of Germans believe that Germany is unsinkable, too. At a minimum, the government and most media outlets strengthen this misperception. Realism tells a different story. The current positive facts and figures are hiding Germany’s dangerous mixture of severe medium term problems.
WSN: What is going wrong in Germany? What do you blame your government for?
Dieter Farwick: The government is proud of reacting pragmatically and efficiently to immediate problems. But there is no vision of Germany’s future place in a globalized and tightly interwoven world whose center of gravity is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As a consequence, there is no national grand strategy; no concept of ‘smart power’ as developed by Joseph S. Nye in his brilliant book The Future of Power. Germany’s present government does not want to exercise ‘hard power’ as an integral part of smart power. This government wants to celebrate a “culture of restraint” – or soft power. In addition, the government lacks leadership. Chancellor Angela Merkel is not leading her cabinet. Her ministers, from three coalition partners, follow their own agenda.
WSN: That’s a very general assessment. Give us some examples, please.
Dieter Farwick: The most damaging example in foreign affairs was Germany’s abstention in the question of UN Resolution 1973 concerning Libya. It was not the Chancellor, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs who took the decision – siding with Russia and China. He neglected the “responsibility to protect” demanded by the UN. He then worsened his mishandling by saying no to a German military commitment with NATO in Libya. Both decisions were grudgingly accepted by the Chancellor. He should have been sacked on the spot.
WSN: That’s certainly an exception. Do you have another example?
Dieter Farwick: Pressed by the Finance Minister for savings in the defense budget, the then Minister of Defense, Baron zu Guttenberg, abolished the conscript system without careful research. The conscript system was a certificate of quality for the German Armed Forces. Thirty to fifty percent of conscripts stayed voluntarily longer in the German Armed Forces than their initial contracts. They were the reservoir of both non-commissioned officers and the officer corps. Many high ranking generals and officers started their career as conscripts. Without this flow of qualified, young and skilled conscripts, the German Armed Forces will lose specialists and qualified young leaders.
WSN: Are you really arguing that Germany should use conscripts in Afghanistan?
Dieter Farwick: Certainly not. But you can educate and train young former conscripts over a shorter time to become well trained, combat ready fighters, in an experienced combat team with a high level of cultural awareness. The German Armed Forces lost this opportunity because of a single politician who persuaded, without substance, the government, the parliament and the coalition parties. He combined this decision with a reduction of the German Armed Forces from 250,000 to 185,000. The Armed Forces must now do more with less – less money and less people.
WSN: Why can’t Germany spend more money on defense, stability and security? The USA has to reduce its forces in Europe in order to improve their military clout in the Asia-Pacific region – their new, main political effort. Can NATO and EU fulfill their military missions with less? Do they have the necessary assets?
Dieter Farwick: The politico-military operation Unified Protector, against the Gaddafi regime in Libya, offers some important lessons. The first important lesson is political: only 10 out of 28 NATO nations took part. The majority was either not willing or not able to join. It was a ‘coalition of the willing’ who fought, supported by some non-NATO members like Qatar and Sweden. Without strategic support from the US, the European countries would not have been able to bring this operation to a positive end. After several weeks the UK and France even had to ask the US for supplies of precision munitions.
At its present strength, and certainly after the predicted further reductions of European armed forces, NATO and the EU will not be able to conduct even a limited military operation like Libya.
This problem of insufficient resources has been exacerbated by the Euro crisis, in reality a crisis both of most European countries – especially in the South – that have suffered under high indebtedness, and a crisis of most European banks, who had accumulated toxic loans from weak European countries.
WSN: Does this mean that these Euro crises have had a direct impact on Europe’s willingness and capability to make up for the reduction of American forces in Europe? Is there a way out?
Dieter Farwick: For the next few decades, rich European countries like Germany and France will have to spend trillions of Euros to help the poor countries back on track. At present, austerity measures dominate, but they do not cure sick countries. They must regain their economic competitiveness through lower wages and – hopefully – with their own currency.
There will be no resources left for defense, security and stability. The main aims and objectives are to safeguard the Euro currency. However, the risks are greater than the opportunity to save it. I firmly believe that the Euro and the Eurozone will not survive the next three years in their present form. The vision of a European Political Union was destroyed at the EU summit on December 9, 2011 in Brussels. There is a need for statesmen who can develop a new vision for Europe to regain its political power and influence in world politics.
WSN: With NATO forces downgraded: what do you think about a threat from Russia?
Dieter Farwick: I do not see a threat to Central Europe by Russia’s conventional forces. In his fascinating book The Reform of Russia’s conventional forces the British expert Roger McDermott paints a realistic but dark picture of the Russian conventional forces. Their armament and equipment lags years behind the Western forces. Their personnel are poorly trained and seriously demotivated. The military-industrial complex is corrupt and inefficient.
The only threat might come from Russia’s nuclear weapons, which are obviously still operational and target Western assets. This threat might become real if Russia faces a regime collapse.
The dominant problem for Russia is the political future of the Putin regime. Russia faces a severe demographic problem: she loses one million people per year. The population is aging and graying, many of them with chronic diseases. The social and the health systems are not able to cope with the growing tensions.
Russia is an energy power. Her economic power rests upon gas and oil. But oil production has already passed its peak. The production of oil is getting more difficult and more expensive. Russia has missed the opportunity to prepare her economy for post-oil times. With declining oil revenues, Russia will have huge problems.
The parliamentary elections on December 5, 2011, as well as the presidential elections on March 4, 2012, clearly showed that Putin has lost a lot of his previous popularity. Many people – especially from the middle classes and the young - are afraid that another six or twelve years under Putin might be a trip back into the Breshnev era, in which stagnation and decline prevailed. Russia’s opposition forces lack a charismatic leader like the imprisoned Michail Chodorkowski who is willing and able to combine the various opposing groups and orchestrate their activities. There is little hope that the Putin System will open the door to more transparency and cooperation with the middle classes and the young, not to mention democracy.
WSN: Let’s come back to your country – Germany, which is seen by many observers as the only strong European country able to save Europe. In your book you give a pessimistic view of Germany’s future. What is wrong?
Dieter Farwick: Like other European governments, the German government underestimated the quality and depth of the Euro crisis. They believed they could solve the problem by simply providing cash for Greece.
They did not realize that the crises in the PIGS countries - Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – ran much deeper than previously. Exorbitant indebtedness, high unemployment and fading competitiveness on world and European markets created a negative downward spiral. From May 2010 onwards we were in a process of permanent financial aids to Greece – without visible progress.
Another mistake: Our government linked the fate of the Euro with the fate of the Eurozone and Europe. How can a currency, implemented twelve years ago, decide the fate of a 2000 year old Europe? In the 20th century, Europe and the world coped with two terrifying world wars. Germany had its Wirtschaftswunder. All these successes were achieved without the Euro. The political signs point to a European fiscal pact, which obviously goes against the German constitution. The majority of German people are against Europe being split into four groups. They still want a unified Europe as it was originally planned: a Europe based upon solidarity, solidity and subsidiarity, not a Europe governed by bureaucrats in Brussels lacking democratic legitimacy. The European nation states should retain as much national sovereignty as possible and give Europe what is needed for positive synergetic effects.
In saving the Euro by almost any means necessary, Germany runs the risk of being overburdened, eventually becoming the victim.
In addition to the Euro crises, Germany has to cope with its own high indebtedness, a negative demographic development; with the integration and education of millions of immigrants; with a silent Islamic revolution caused by the different birth rates; as well as the threat of international Islamic terrorism combined with home-grown terrorism. The German Armed Forces are committed with about 7,000 – 8,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and in the Kosovo.
WSN: Could you elaborate on the issue of energy security?
Dieter Farwick: As a highly developed country with a high-end economy, Germany is highly dependent on a steady influx of affordable raw materials and open routes of transport to export its sophisticated products like Mercedes and Porsche cars to distant market places in Asia and Latin America. As far as energy supply is concerned, Germany needs a prudent and affordable energy mix.
The decision – caused by the Fukushima incident – to give up nuclear power by 2022 – was taken overhastily. Neither the big companies nor the power grid, from the sea in the North to the production sites in the South, are prepared for this rapid change. Germany’s previous attempt to decrease its dependence on foreign suppliers has been reversed. Our dependence has been increased, especially on Russia, as well as energy costs, which will hit the economy and private households. The prices for gasoline hit a record high – bad news for commuters. Even in the mild winter of 2011/2012 there were numerous power cuts.
WSN: What is your final prognosis for Germany over the next five years?
Dieter Farwick: Germany and Europe stand at strategic crossroads. If they move towards fiscal union, they will fall into a deep trap and the subsequent recovery will take decades; meanwhile the outside world will not take any time out in their way ahead. Germany and Europe will fall behind and lose sight of the major powers China, India and the US, even perhaps emerging powers like Indonesia and Brazil too. To the benefit of the Western world, the US will remain an indispensable world power.
With its high indebtedness, Germany lives – like many European countries – off the back of future generations. Because of the efficiencies of German entrepreneurs and its skilled workforce, Germany currently still has comparative advantages.
But if Germany must provide more financial aid, in hard currency, not loans and credits, it risks gambling its future away. Who will save the savior? Nobody. Not even China can help. Finally, there will be no more resources to cope with growing internal problems, for example the consequences of the demographic decline combined with its heavy repercussions for the social and health systems triggering social unrest.
Germany and Europe can still choose a different way ahead. It will take courage to confess and correct several former errors. But it is not too late to form a better and stronger Europe – one that includes the UK. There are hard decisions ahead. They have to be taken without delay. The price might be to let weak countries leave the Eurozone temporarily, to allow them to go back to their national currency so they regain their competiveness on European and world markets. That would not be a catwalk moment for Europe. But at the end of the day, it will be better than the current indefinite horror without end.