Following the Russian seizure of three Ukrainian ships and crews in the Kerch Strait, Angela Merkel this week once again urged Vladimir Putin “to de-escalate” through “dialogue.” Of course she did. What else would she have urged, promised, or threatened? If your diplomacy is, like Germany’s, based on no hard power and only the mushiest soft power, “dialogue” - talk - is all you’ve got.
Since 1949, (West) Germany has in effect outsourced its security policy. For actual defense, should it have come to that, it would have relied on the US, via NATO. Curiously, that never prevented Germans from chanting “Ami Go Home” and sanctimoniously lecturing the superpower on morality as only Germans can lecture. But now Donald Trump is in the White House, and America may not ride to the rescue.
Hence the resurgence of talk about a “European army.” Good luck with that. You can cuddle in the drizzle with the French president during World War I commemorations. You can amuse yourself with fancy bureaucratic acronyms such as PESCO (“permanent structured cooperation”). But that sound you hear in the background is the chortling of Putin and his brass.
So what’s left? Mostly denial. Putin has been misunderstood, say his many German apologists, including former chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Putin’s not that bad. OK, he did something bad again, but he won’t go further. OK, he did go further, but we’ll impose sanctions for while. OK, the sanctions didn’t work, let’s drop them.
If the Germans are such good Europeans, why don’t they ask their Baltic or Polish brethren what they think about all this? Having been under the Russian boot (and before that, under the German one), the Central Europeans are agape at German naïveté. You Germans are building a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that could leave us and Ukraine in the cold? You must be crazy!
German self-delusion is worst in denying the nature of the threat. Putin is too smart to go in one overt step to full-blown war. That’s why he wages “hybrid warfare.” He deploys Facebook to spread fake news from America to Europe. He hacks into the West’s servers. He dispatches, not uniformed soldiers, but “little green men” or “separatists.” His denials after the fact are hardly plausible, but they don’t have to be.
Putin’s goals are: To divide the West; to divide the EU (hurrah Brexit!); to divide each Western democracy by strengthening populists; and to turn the former Soviet vassals (e.g. Ukraine) into failed states, so that he can dominate his “sphere of influence.” His unwitting allies are: The naïfs in the West who don’t grasp his cynicism and peddle false equivalence and false symmetry: between the claims of Ukrainians and Russians, say, or between the transgressions of America and Russia.
And standing forlorn in this geopolitical landscape is Germany, forever doomed by its past and mentality to bring the proverbial knife to a gunfight.