A few weeks ago the cover of the Spiegel showed Chancellor Angela Merkel in combat fatigues with the headline: “German weapons for the world”. The story (available in English online) was about the so-called Merkel doctrine – an implicit policy of staying out of difficult and unpopular Western interventions such as the one in Libya last year while selling arms to other countries, in particular in the Middle East, to enable them take greater “responsibility” for security. The Federal Republic has traditionally had a comparatively restrictive arms-export policy and in particular rejected the sale of arms by German companies to undemocratic governments or countries in “conflict regions”. But under Merkel, according to the Spiegel story, the German defence industry – which employs 80,000 people – is booming as the government increasingly approves the sale of weapons to undemocratic regimes in areas of actual or potential conflict.
There are multiple ways of looking at the euro crisis. Northern Europeans in general and Germans in particular tend to look at it as a crisis caused by fiscal indiscipline by southern European countries in general and Greece in particular, who didn’t stick to the rules. Others, particularly in France, look at it above all as a crisis caused by unregulated financial capitalism, which created banks that were too big to fail and therefore had to be bailed out by governments. Others still, particularly in the UK, look at it above all as crisis caused by the flawed architecture of the euro itself – a common currency without a common treasury – which meant it could never work. But if you take an even longer view, it’s also possible to see the euro crisis as the unforseen consequence of German reunification.
At the end of a comment piece I wrote last month for the Guardian website I talked about Germany’s “economic narcissism”. A lot of the comments on the piece focused on my use of the phrase, so I thought I’d try to explain in more detail what exactly I meant. By using the term, I wasn’t simply trying to say that Germany was responding to the euro crisis in a selfish way. It seems to me that, in the end, whether you think Germany is pursuing its own economic interests or the long-term interests of Europe as a whole depends to a large extent on the economic theory in which you believe. By using the term “economic narcissism” what I had in mind was something related but slightly different: the way the debate in Germany about the euro crisis is so inward-looking.
In a piece about Germany as a geo-economic power that I recently wrote for Internationale Politik, a German foreign-policy journal, I argued that Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel might in future weaken. It seems to me that the relationship is all that remains of the foreign policy based on the idea of Auschwitz as Germany’s raison d’état that Joschka Fischer sought to develop (a theme of my book, Utopia or Auschwitz). Although Chancellor Angela Merkel is personally committed to the Jewish state, I think she is under increasing pressure from an anti-Israeli public opinion and from Germany’s economic interests with the Arab world. I also wonder whether a dramatic event – such as an Israeli military strike on Iran – could be a tipping point that creates a rupture between Germany and Israel in the way that the Iraq war did between Germany and the US.
I’ve always been fascinated by Walter Rathenau, the German foreign minister who was assassinated by anti-Semitic nationalists in Berlin in 1922. The son of Emil Rathenau, the founder of the groundbreaking Berlin-based electrical company AEG, he had run the German ministry of war’s crucial raw materials department during World War I and created what some see as the first planned economy. However, after the war, he and other leading Jewish figures were blamed by the right for the German defeat as part of the so-called Dolchstoßlegende – the myth of a “stab in the back”. In particular, as foreign minister, Rathenau became fatally associated with the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In a sense, his assassination symbolises the beginning of the end of the dream of Jewish assimilation in Germany.
I’ve been fascinated by Horst Mahler – who, it has just emerged, may have been a Stasi informant in the 1960s – since I wrote a profile of him for The Times in 2003. The son of a Nazi, he became a socialist lawyer in the 1960s and represented leaders of the West German student movement such as Rudi Dutschke. After its collapse, he founded the Red Army Faction (RAF), the West German left-wing terrorist group, and spent the whole of the 1970s in prison until he was released with the help of another young left-wing lawyer named Gerhard Schröder. Just after Schröder became Germany’s Social Democrat chancellor in 1998, Mahler became a neo-Nazi and represented the far-right NPD. He is now in prison serving a seven-year sentence for denying the Holocaust – a criminal offence in Germany. But what, if anything, does his strange political journey tell us?
I’m currently working on an academic paper on the concept of “normality” in debates about German foreign policy since reunification. In that context, I’ve been reading a lot about Egon Bahr, who I argue played a crucial role in the late 1990s and early 2000s in redefining “normality” in terms of a foreign policy based on sovereignty and the pursuit of national interests. As Chancellor Willy Brandt’s foreign-policy adviser in the early 1970s, Bahr was the architect of West Germany’s Ostpolitik, a policy that dovetailed with the Nixon’s administration policy of detente towards the Soviet Union. Now in his eighties, he is a kind of éminence grise of German strategy and in particular the guru of German foreign-policy realism. In that sense, it seems to me that Bahr can be thought of Germany’s Henry Kissinger.
I’m very interested in the influence of German ideas and in particular German nationalism on early political Zionism. In previous posts, I’ve written about how the Utopia that Theodor Herzl imagined in his novel Altneuland was in some ways a very German one and how Max Nordau’s ideas were strikingly similar to those of German nationalists. I’ve just finished reading Amos Elon’s excellent biography of Herzl (1975), which (in contrast to Alex Bein’s earlier biography) emphasises how thoroughly German Herzl was in his ideas and aspirations. But the really interesting thing that emerges is how Herzl’s affinity for German culture influenced the political strategy that he followed in order to try to realise his dream of a Jewish state. It seems that Herzl saw it not just as a solution to the “Jewish question” but also as an outpost of German influence in the Orient.
While reading Romain Hayes’s new book on Indian independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose’s time in Nazi Germany (which I am reviewing for the Times Literary Supplement), I was struck by a quote from Hitler in one of the footnotes. In September 1941 – three months after Operation Barbarossa had begun and five months after Bose had arrived in Berlin – Hitler told his generals that “our role in Russia will be analogous to that of England in India … The Russian space is our India. Like the English, we shall rule this empire with a handful of men”. This idea of Russia as “a Germanic India” (Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship) reminded me of Bismarck’s famous “map of Africa” quote. In 1888, when Eugen Wolf, a proponent of a German empire in Africa, showed him a map of the continent, Bismarck is supposed to have replied: “My map of Africa lies in Europe”.
It has long been clear that Curveball – the Iraqi defector who provided much of the basis for the US government’s claims about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 – was a liar. But he has now finally admitted that he made up his claims about mobile bioweapons laboratories, which US Secretary of State Colin Powell used as a justification of invading Iraq in his famous presentation at the United Nations Security Council in February 2003. Curveball, whose real name is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, had until now refused to speak to the press. But in an interview with the Guardian earlier this month in Karlsruhe in Germany, where he now lives, he said that he lied in order to help topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. “I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy”, he said. Obviously, this was a huge cock-up with disastrous consequences. The question is: whose fault was it?