Online Commentary

Mar 01, 2022

What the Militarization of Germany Means for Europe

Scholz, Baerbock, security Cabinet Berlin, Ukraine-Krise

The era of German pacifism, passivism, and all pro-Russian Ostpolitik is over. This commentary examines what Germany's move towards an active security policy means for Europe, European NATO strategies and European integration. 


The whole network of influence that Putin had been sewing in Europe for twenty years was torn down by the Ukrainians in three days. As a result, Putin did not condemn Ukraine to Russia, but himself. He wrote himself out of Europe, he wrote himself out of the global economy, he hung himself around the neck of the Chinese. He had a Germany that was friendly, unarmed, funding his budget in exchange for gas and paying only half a NATO contribution. Now he has a Germany that has made a complete turnaround - even an identity turnaround - in its politics. The era of German pacifism, passivism, and all pro-Russian Ostpolitik is over. So beneficial to Russia and securing it from the West for 70 years. Germany's policy pumped up the Kremlin's pride and confidence. Now it offends it greatly. Pride in Russia is no less important than territory. For Putin, fascinated like every Russian czar, that radical change in Germany is a very heavy blow. He put nuclear weapons on standby precisely because of Germany's turn.

Almost overnight, Berlin began to lead the way in four key areas: in the process of imposing sanctions on Russia, in military policy, in independence from gas, and in supplying weapons to Ukraine. It is Germany that today supplies it with the most dangerous one: 500 Stingers and 1,000 anti-tank weapons. For comparison: in the USSR's deadly war in Afghanistan, 2500 Stingers supplied by the Americans over 5 years made the difference. Importantly, these weapons can still be transported to Kyiv, not to mention the entire Ukrainian interiors. With such a rapidly growing number of countries willing to supply Ukraine, the war could last a very long time, even if the Ukrainians only have to defend western Ukraine anymore. Let's note that Poland is becoming a hinterland of such a war, which is a very demanding and dangerous role. A condition for success would have to be a withdrawal from the authoritarianism of PiS, which blocked European funds and cooperation with allies.

Germany's attitude shows that time is already working in Ukraine's favor. And every day brings gigantic economic, geopolitical and financial losses for Russia. On Monday, the ruble is expected to collapse to the price of the paper on which they were printed. As night began, the EU agreed that selected banks would be cut off from SWIFT. As the day began Olaf Scholz announced that he wanted to cut most of Russia's banks off from SWIFT and freeze all the oligarchs' assets. Vladimir Putin's best friend former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would be advised from now on to put a paper bag over his head when he wants to leave the house.

Scholz's decision to move away from raw material dependence on Russia changes everything. Two large gas ports are to be built in Brunsbuttel and Wilhelmshaven. Germany seems to have realized that there is no point in waiting for Moscow to turn off the transfer on its own, or to start using it again to manipulate the politics of Berlin, and thus the entire European Union. Resigning from nuclear plants has put Germany in the absurd role of a country doomed to Moscow's geopolitical verdicts. But now Moscow is associated more with Nazism than with defeating Nazism. Maybe Poland will stop being associated with Russophobia and Ukraine will finally be noticed as a victim of Nazism, which should oblige Germany from the beginning to help the victim rather than stand aside.

Nevertheless, the fundamental change that shows how the entire architecture of global security is being rearranged before our eyes is Germany's leap from a postwar policy of pacifism to an active defense policy. This could be within the idea of "strategic autonomy" in Europe, as Emanuel Macron has proposed, or within NATO, giving the Alliance new energy. After the Pacific shift in U.S. foreign policy, someone will finally fill the vacuum left by their commitment to defend Europe. Either way, for now, the U.S. has to take care of the security of the old world again. But Germany is joining in today. Scholz announced that Germany will defend every inch of NATO land. I don't recall such words from a German politician. You could think it, but somehow it didn't seem right to say it. From now on it is.

Germany has increased its military spending to a level accepted as standard in NATO. If it was possible in Germany, it will be even more possible in Italy, Slovakia and other traditionally pro-Russian countries. 

The scale of Germany's capabilities is best illustrated by the fact that it has declared to spend 100 billion Euros on the Bundeswehr this year, and to reach a level of 2 percent of military spending by 2024. This is a level accepted as standard in NATO. A similar shift is taking place in the policies of many countries in Europe and around the world today. If it was possible in Germany, it will be even more possible in Italy, Slovakia and other traditionally pro-Russian countries.

At the same time, NATO terminated its agreement with Russia not to deploy permanent NATO bases in Eastern Europe, which finally takes Eastern Europe out of the role of a second-tier members of the Alliance. Recall that according to NATO defense plans, it was two German divisions that were supposed to come to our aid first if we were attacked by Russia. Now it will be two divisions, or maybe more, but armed.

In the meantime, the Finns have collected 50,000 votes for a motion to discuss joining NATO. That means parliament will have to deal with it. It would probably do so anyway. The petition was unpopular until the last day before the invasion, then that changed dramatically. If Finland joined NATO, the Alliance's troops would be a stone's throw from St. Petersburg. This would have been another major geopolitical defeat for Russia.

The will of the Hungarians should be interpreted no differently. They have stopped blocking sanctions against Russia, because economically they depend not on Moscow but on Berlin. From there they have the largest investments, and whether Russia will build a nuclear power plant for Hungary is no longer obvious. Besides, Orban also wants to see money from the Reconstruction Fund. So he jumped out of Putin's pocket, he jumped into Scholz's pocket. This is another significant change.

Not a single major Ukrainian city has yet been won by Putin, and he has already lost 20 countries close to him. In the end, his light will be extinguished by the Chinese, who remember well who took the most land from them and who does real business with them. The Chinese do not make lasting alliances, they are loyal only conditionally and until time. They ruthlessly exploit economic advantages. Russia has so far been able to maneuver between China and the West. Now it cannot. Beijing is drinking champagne. Russia is one and a half percent of the world's economy - a pimple on China's. Until yesterday it was a pimple on the West.

Finally, an important caveat. Adam Michnik likes to tell such an anecdote: when the dispute over the war in Iraq was ongoing and Adam criticized German passivity, he was asked by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of May 1968 in Paris: Adam, and are you sure you prefer a Germany that is strong militarily rather than weak? Michnik: I have to admit that I fell silent.

Remember that we just had pro-Russian Trump in the U.S. and Brexit in the U.K., the two home countries of liberal democracy.  In Germany, reasonable and moderate politicians don't always have to govern. What I want to say is that we should now put all our energy into establishing NATO bases in Poland with American soldiers, but above all into the tightest possible European integration, so that both Germany and Poland are intertwined in a network of mutual dependence and can never turn against each other.

Bibliographic data

Sierakowski, Sławomir. “What the Militarization of Germany Means for Europe.” March 2022.