Donnerstag, Dezember 09, 2004

Schroeder and German Hubris

The chuzpah of Schroeder, Germany's chancellor, is impressive. Here he demands a veto right for Germany in an expanded UN security council.

Now, there's been talk going on about expanding the security council for quite a while, underscoring the fact that there are a number of pretty bright people who don't understand at all what the security council is about.

The Germans want in. They want to taste command, to taste power. They want people to listen to them as if they really actually meant anything on the world stage. But they have so obviously failed to walk the walk that it's pathetic. Schroeder declared Germany to be a country whose foreign policy would be dominated by a radical pacifism in order to be re-elected: he was re-elected and has been an absolutely t e r r i b l e chancellor of Germany. He had a policy of "hands-off" while the economy was tanking and unemployment increasing. He has no policies that anyone can make any sense of, instead reacting to whatever comes up. The popularity of the SPD is at all-time-lows.

But the really, really sad thing is that right now there's no alternative to him: the conservative German parties (CDU/CSU, FDP) are so incredibly clueless that they couldn't, right now, get Jesus in his second coming elected mayor of Munich, let alone chancellor. They've lost the idea of political parties: get elected.

But I'm meandering (has to do with being rather light-headed from coughing up half my lungs a few minutes ago...).

What is the role of the security council? It's where the big boys meet to thrash things out and to make wonky speeches, right? Wrong. The security council is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Now this is the key point. The security council is ultimately made up of those powers who back then were the players: China, Soviets, France, the UK and the US. What makes these guys so special, why are they the ones to make the decisions?

Simple. They're the ones that hold the power of nuclear weapons and hence the responsibility to ensure that conflicts never get so out of hand that people start to want to use them. There are other countries holding nukes as well, but they aren't the big playes (except regionally: that is why Pakistand and India have nukes to begin with...).

Responsibility without power is a heavy burden. But you can't start telling nuclear powers what they may and may not do in terms of international security unless you are in their shoes.

We all might not like the nuclear genie, but it's there. The possession of nuclear weapons means that you can destroy countries, kill millions, poison vast spreads of countryside. Shucks, put a nice sheath of cobalt on a couple, toss 'em up into the stratosphere, and there's no hiding from the fallout: nukes are doomsday weapons, the wrath of God focussed on a small point in time and space.

There is a great satisfaction in saying things like "nuke 'em 'til they glow" or "turn country x into a glass parking lot": the point is that only two weapons have been used, and that to end a war, not to pursue one.

It's a question hence not merely of power, but more fundamentally of responsibility. While there are plenty of people who think the US is irresponsible, how many times has the US - or China, or Russia, or the French or the Brits - initiated fusion points outside of testing? None.

Because they know what happens: Hermann Kahn called it thinking the unthinkable. The whole balance of terror, strategic calculus (when missile x can take out a missile silo with hardness y with a success rate of 82%, how many x missiles does it take to ensure 100% destruction of 3,000 missile silos with hardness y? Hardness 2y?), correlation of forces (great favorite of the Soviets and WarPact, that one), strategic balance, etc existed to try to understand what the implications were.

At the end of the day, the implications were that nuclear war was too costly for anyone to really consider it as anything but the last thing that one could do. If that.

The point here is that Germany is talking the talk, but is patently, given the radical pacifism of Schroeder, incapable of walking the walk.

Sure, people want Germany to play a greater role in world politics: but that is because it isn't playing much of a role at all. German foreign policy, as far as I am concerned, is being made in Paris and will turn out have been a very costly and foolish policy.

You see, the charter of the security council states is clear (Article 24): the members of the security council are charged with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. No one else.

Germany's current foreign policy has two parts: passive member of any organization and active measures to sell German goods overseas (the latter is perfectly legitimate, but is somewhat tainted due to the possibility of political/corporate collusion to close markets). I can't remember any successful German initiatives in the area of international security since the end of the Cold War.

None. The end of the Cold War for Germany was a dream come true: the peace dividend of not having to maintain an army to fight the WarPact, the chance to enjoy unification. So the Bundeswehr, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe were all slowly starved of funds, with increasingly antiquated equipment and increasingly outmoded tactics.

If Germany wants to share in the power, it has to share in the responsibilities as well. Such responsibilities mean not merely some peace-keepers - and indeed there were some German troops in the taking of Afghanistan, but you wouldn't know that in Germany - but rather an active participation in international affairs. The Germans defer to the French here: it's the way of the new Europe.

Damn, I'm off the topic again and am too bushed to do a serious re-edit.

Why should a country that refuses to walk the walk be given a voice on the security council?

The security concil almost died because of Iraq. You had all those resolutions demanding action and insisting on results, and Iraq weaseled its way through them. Then you had 1441 which was the final ultimatum, and what happened? France weaseled. France stated simply, even before debate, that they would under no circumstances condone military action, and that despite Resolution 1441 which explicitly warned of "serious consequences", which any foreign policy wonk knows means exactly that.

The decision of the US to depose the ruler of Iraq saved the Security Council from irrelevance and saved the UN from meaninglessness. Iraq, with the support of its covert friends in France, Russia and elsewhere - we know now who they were due to the ongoing scandals about the Oil For Food program - was about to get away with defying the UN.

Defying the people who are responsible for international security. If they had gotten away with it, the UN would have properly lost credibility: France and Russia would have more international clout with clients than the UN would have.

But what does losing credibility mean for those responsible? It means that at some point, you have to re-establish credibility: that can only be done by walking the walk. The US is at this point nothing but credible in enforcing UN resolutions. The US and its allies have walked the walk.

Germany with a vote on the UN security council? It's just another way of weakening the security council and making the UN meaningless.

The best part of the story above is the last line: Schroeder praises the "untadelige" Kofi Annan. German readers - like I got any - might well agree that this is a hard one to translate: it means someone without any fault, nay, someone who is so immaculate that there is nothing to criticize.

Guess Schroeder doesn't get out much.


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