Nailed to the Swastika

There used to be a time, starting with Frederick the Great and stretching well into World War II, when the Prussian/German military was universally respected, often admired. Foreigners from all over the world flocked to study it—as, for example, US General Emory Upton (The Armies of Europe and Asia, 1878) and British militry author Wilkinson Spenser, (The Brain of an Army, 1895) did. When Japan started modernizing its army in the 1870s it turned to Germany as a matter of course. In several Latin American countries, notably Chile, German military influence is visible (and audible; they love to perform their exercises to Wagner’s music) right down to the present day.

In part, this admiration was due to Germany’s military performance which, starting in 1866. became almost legendary. In part, it was due to the German military spirit. That spirit in turn was anchored in what, in one of my books, I have called Kriegskultur. Kriegskultur is the concrete expression of everything an army fights for. Often the product of centuries of development, some of it spontaneous, some deliberate, it consists of symbols, ceremonies, traditions, and customs; the uniforms, the marching songs, and so on. Between them they form the corset that holds an army together, so to speak. It is they which turn it from a haphazard gathering of unruly men into a cohesive body capable of fighting and, if necessary, dying for the cause.

That, however, was before 1945. True, the War Criminals’ Trials never formally declared the Wehrmacht to be a criminal organization as they did other Nazi organizations, including the Waffen SS. As the years went by and more information came to light, though, its involvement in war crimes—including widespread looting, the extreme mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war, hostage taking, massacres of civilians, and logistic and administrative support for the extermination of the Jews—became undeniable. This involvement caused German Kriegskultur (military culture), long considered exemplary and widely imitated, to fall under a cloud. More so in Germany, paradoxically, than abroad. To provide just one example, in most other countries models of aircraft, tanks, etc. bearing the swastika can be freely bought and publicly displayed. The same applies to books, magazines, memorabilia etc. Not so in Germany where all of this is verboten and can easily lead to criminal prosecution.

To avoid any association with National Socialism, the Bundeswehr’s bases and casernes were cleansed. Not once but repeatedly as successive ministers of defense sought to leave their impact and make headlines. Statues and paintings and old uniforms, flags and standards and trophies, disappeared as if by magic. So, if certain left-wing critics have their way, will the name of anyone who had served in the Wehrmacht. Take the case of pilot-officer Hans-Joachim Marseille. Marseille, whom no one has ever accused of being involved in war crimes or even of being aware of them, shot down no fewer than 158 enemy aircraft. In 1942, when just 22 years old, he was killed when the engine of his Messerschmidt gave up the ghost. In 1975 he had a Luftwaffe base named after him. Now, if the critics have their way, he will be made into an unperson. Such, such are the rewards for serving the German fatherland.

Perhaps it was inevitable that, as time went on, the cleansing process should stretch backward in time to cover not just the terrible years after 1933 but those before it as well. No one who has visited bases and casernes in many countries, as I have, can fail to notice how utilitarian, how bare, how soul-less, German ones appear in comparison with foreign ones. For example, at the Clausewitz-Caserne in Hamburg, home to the staff college, which I last visited some years ago, one will look in vain for any reference to the commanders who, for good or ill, did so much to make Germany into the country it is. Not to Seeckt. Not to Hindenburg. Not to Ludendorff. Not to Schlieffen. Not to Moltke. Not (which God forbid) to Frederick the Great. Not to any of their subordinates. In the whole of German history, apparently the only conflict to receive the kosher stamp are the Wars of Liberation of 1813-15.

Now minister of defense Ursula von der Leyen has begun yet another round of cleansing. Among the victims is former chancellor and her fellow Social-Democrat Helmut Schmidt. A photograph of him in Wehrmacht uniform—he was a junior officer at the time—is being removed from the Bundeswehr-University which, serving as minister of defense (1969-72), he founded. No doubt it is only a question of time before he too is made into an unperson. As usual, the declared objective is to rid the Bundeswehr from anything that might link soldiers with the past. One must, however, ask where, when, and whether the process will ever stop. Also what the impact on fighting power is going to be; given that, to repeat, an army without a military culture is inconceivable.

Nor is the problem limited to the Bundeswehr alone. By committing the crimes it did in 1933-45, the German people nailed itself to the Swastika. Just as Jesus was nailed to the cross. But Jesus was taken down after only six hours. Not so the German people, which is almost certain to remain where it is as long as human memory lasts. Without respite and without hope of leaving its past behind.

That, I well know, is highly unfair to a great many Germans born before 1927 and to all of those who were born after that date. Including my friends, of whom I am very fond indeed. Nevertheless, being a Jew and an Israeli several of whose family members perished during the Holocaust, in all honesty I cannot see how it can be solved.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Alice Schwarzer is probably not a name that means a lot to many of my readers. Now seventy-three years old, for good or bad she is the doyenne of German feminism, a movement she helped found back in the 1970s. In spreading her message, her main instrument has been her bimonthly (formerly, monthly), Emma. In 2012 it was said to have a circulation of 60,000.

Personally I am convinced that feminism is one of the worst things that has ever happened to women and, through them, to half of humanity. By some research, all it has ever done is to make women unhappier than they were some decades ago. That is why I never expected to have common ground with her; yet reading a recent interview with her in Der Spiegel, the leading German news magazine, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with her on many points.

So here are some highlights, translated word by word.

Der Spiegel (DS): Ms. Schwarzer, Angela Merkel has now been ruling Germany for eleven years. Some weeks ago Theresa May became British prime minister, and Hillary Clinton may become the first female president of the United States. Will women’s rule make the world into a better place?

AS: It will surely be different. That is because women have a different history and live in a different world from that of men. So the experience they bring with them is also different… Now as ever, women are judged by different standards. When a woman wants to make her way to the top she is called ice-cold and a careerist. Not so men who, trying to do the same, are praised for being competitive and assertive.

DS: The platform of the SPD [Social Democratic Party] says that “whoever wants a humane society, must overcome the male element.” Isn’t that a little naive?

AS: No. It is simply the right of women to claim half of all power for themselves. Full stop. I never entertained the illusion that women would run the world in a way that is more just, or more moral, than that of men….

DS: Taking your idea to its logical conclusion, do you think that one day we might have a female Hitler?

AS: History doesn’t know too many monsters like Hitler. But yes: if more female rulers appear, some of them may abuse their power.

DS: Could one regard the rise of right-wing populist female politicians such as [France’s] Marie Le Pen and [Germany’s] Frauke Petry as some kind of normalization?

AS: Yes. Some women are left wing, others right wing. Some are fair, others mean, cunning and foolish….

DS: Do you believe that female politicians are obliged to support feminism?

AS: Not at all. I hope they do, but I do not expect them to….

DS: Many American feminists were angry with Hillary Clinton because she did not leave her husband when it turned out that had been cheating on her.

AS: For decades on end, no woman in the world has been attacked and humiliated as Hillary was. For me, the miracle is that she has retained her sanity… When the Monika Lewinsky affair broke people said: She may be intelligent, yes, and Bill can talk to her about politics. But he does not desire her. That was unfair and offensive…

DS: Your biographer Bascha Mika wrote that what you are really after is power. Do you see that as a compliment?

AS:… What interests me is independence. And the ability to do what I can to improve the way things are…

DS: What have women accused you of?

AS: Of being too strong and too dominant. Of not having cried often enough. And then there were political problems. I have always stood for a non-biological kind of feminism… I never knew what to do with women who appealed to their so-called femininity, exalted motherhood, and turned those qualities into the center of their existence. I also came under attack by left-wing women who saw feminism merely as part of the class struggle. Right now this part of the story seems to be repeating itself…

DS: What do you mean?

AS: Many so called Internet-feminists are terrified of being called racists. Doing so, they even justify the burka, this shroud that covers women’s bodies…

DS: You say that violence is the key to masculinity. However, there also exist other kinds of men; such as fathers who take time off to be with their children.

AS: … Unfortunately, women have always been fascinated by Dunkle Liebhaber [Dark Lovers, the mysterious, often rough if not violent, stranger who supposedly turns up out of nowhere and takes women by storm, MvC]. High time for them to get rid of that image, damn it!

DS: British prime minister May has no offspring, Merkel has no offspring…

AS: And Alice Schwartz has no offspring.

DS: Is that the price of power?

AS: If I had a child Emma then could not exist. There were times when I spent nights at my desk. And when I consider Merkel’s life, my God…

DS: You say that women have been told a lie?

AS: Yes. They are told that they can do everything—motherhood, career, no problem. But that is not true. Not even when a woman gets herself a good partner with whom she can share the housework…

DS: Why don’t women demand more sharing of their men?

AS: Because women are afraid men won’t love them. That is the main problem of those female shitheads: They want to be loved, never mind the price. It makes them unfree and opportunistic.

To which I, Martin van Creveld, would say: Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Germany: Holding Down the Lid

As some readers know, my wife and I spend part of each summer in Potsdam. On the face of it the city has remained what it used to be. The relaxed atmosphere on the most important throughway, the Brandenburger Strasse with its eighteenth-century, two-story, houses; the beautiful flat countryside, fit for walking; the even more beautiful lakes, ideal for swimming; and the superabundance of cultural facilities both in Potsdam itself and in neighboring Berlin.

Yet under the surface Potsdam, and with it Germany as a whole, seems posed for the greatest challenge since at least re-unification back in 1989 and possibly even since the end of World War II back in 1945. How to best explain what has been going on? Perhaps by referring to the position of Frau Angela Merkel, the long-time chancellor who has now been in charge of the country’s destiny for eleven years. Two years ago she was on top. Both in Germany and abroad, many saw her both as the best chancellor Germany had ever had and as the most successful woman in the world; by contrast, her opponents seemed to be bleating in the wilderness. I myself was able to witness this, watching the spontaneous applause with which she was received when, in her typical unassuming way, she attended a Bundeswehr ceremony in Berlin.

No longer. Perhaps in Germany more than abroad, Frau Merkel is now the topic of fierce debates, not seldom accompanied by the kind of language we have come to expect of Donald Trump and his ilk. By some polls, no fewer than two thirds of voters want to get rid of her. The reason? The way she has dealt with the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing into the country. In particular the words, “wir schaffen das” (we shall make it, i.e. successfully “integrate” the newcomers) have become by far the most famous ones she has ever uttered. Unless something truly dramatic happens, they are likely to be remembered as her legacy.

Frau Merkel grew up in the former East Germany. Such being the case, she at first seemed a strange choice for dealing with Germany’s past; that past which her native country had always firmly refused to confront but which, in both Germanies, simply does not want to go away. Both abroad and, except for the usual lunatic fringe, in Germany itself, her ability to create the impression that she not only understood but cared was one of the main reasons why people admired her as much as they did. Perhaps the fact that her father was a Protestant clergyman helped.

In come the refugees. From Albania, from Libya, from Syria, from Iraq, even from places as far away as Afghanistan. They do not speak the language. They have no education. They have no skills—in Germany, a country in which skills are acquired by means of lengthy and carefully organized apprenticeships, that counts as one of the worst sins of all. They have nothing and have to be supported, economically, at a cost that sometimes makes Germans who are on welfare or simply pay their taxes green with envy and resentment.

Some refugees resolutely refuse to “integrate,” insisting on retaining their own culture in respect of food, clothing, and the treatment of women and homosexuals. Contrary to what one sees on the media, which likes to present veiled women and innocent children being carried by their parents, the great majority are unattached young men; that fact, as well as sheer poverty, explains why they commit far more crimes than their numbers would warrant. Including some which can only be described as terrorism, and including some which their perpetrators themselves describe as such. I am told that, in the Rhineland, there are entire prisons inhabited exclusively by immigrants.

Some other EU countries, notably those of Eastern Europe, have resolutely challenged Brussels and refused to accept Muslim immigrants. Others, though subtler, also do what they can to put all kinds of obstacles in their way and, where possible, get rid of them. However, partly because it is a central pillar of the EU—which, without German support, would quickly far apart—and partly because of its own past, Germany cannot do the same.

Unfair? Yes. After all, a quick calculation shows that even the grandparents of young Germans under 25 cannot have participated in Nazi crimes in any meaningful way. The same goes for the parents of anyone under sixty years or so. To have been eighteen, the age at which, back in 1945, people were drafted into the Wehrmacht or Waffen SS, one must be at least 89 today. That only applies to less than one percent of the population.

So the sons, the grandsons, and in some cases even the great-grandsons are paying for their ancestors’ sins. One and all, they have been nailed to the swastika from which nothing and no one can liberate them. No wonder the “extreme” right, in the form of newspapers such as the Junge Freiheit and parties such as AfD (Alternative fuer Deutschland, An Alternative for Germany, which, incidentally, is led by a woman) is flourishing). Let me emphasize: neither the Junge Freiheit nor the AfD are in any sense Nazis. To the contrary, well aware that their opponents are doing whatever they can to describe them as such they do whatever they can to stay away from any such accusations. The Junge Freiheit, for example, is conservative. Knowing them well, as I do, I sometimes feel they would like to turn the clock back to 1871 if not before.

And how does Frau Merkel respond to the problem? By denying that there is any. So far she and the establishment she heads, consisting of the moderately right wing CDU and the moderately left wing SPD, have been able to hold down the lid on their people’s growing resentment. But for how long? And what happens then? As Hamlet might have said, those are the questions.

The Things that did Not Happen

v0_masterSeventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so—in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so—people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.

* In 1945, much of Europe—and not just Europe—was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos. With unemployment, cold—the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century—and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.

In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.

* During the first years after 1945 many people worried about a possible revival of Prussian-German militarism and aggression. It was that fear which, in September 1944, led US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau to propose the plan named after him. Had it been adopted, it would have deprived Germany of many of its territories which would have gone to its various neighbors not only in the east, as actually happened, but in the west as well. The rest would have been divided into several separate states. That accomplished, “all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action” was to be dismantled. That even included the mines, which were to be “thoroughly wrecked.” Since both Roosevelt and Churchill at some points supported various versions of the plan, the chances of its being turned into reality looked pretty good.

In the event, Germany was dismembered and lost large tracts of land that had been part of it for centuries past. It was also partitioned, though not along the lines Morgenthau had proposed. Both the Soviets and the West, but the former in particular, dismantled parts of the German industrial plant that fell into their hands. However, Germany never came close to being a “primarily agricultural and pastoral country.” For example, by the end of 1945 Volkswagen, thanks to a British order for 20,000 vehicles, was back in business. In 1950 the firm celebrated the production of the 100,000th Beetle; the rest is history.

Furthermore, the reconstruction of German industry did not lead to the much-feared revival of Prussian-German militarism. Let alone of National Socialism and “revanchism.” Instead, Germany was turned into a federal democracy with human-rights guarantees as strong as those of any other democratic country. With the slogan “nie wieder krieg” (no more war) on almost everyone’s lips, by the time of the 1976 election-campaign, which I happened to witness, the country was being touted as “the most successful society in Europe.”

The Wiedervereinigung (re-unification) of 1989-90 gave rise to some renewed fears among Germany’s neighbors. It was to counter those fears that Prof. Michael Wolfson, a German-Israeli teaching at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, penned his best-seller, Keine Angst vor Deutschland (No Fear of Germany). He turned out to be right. Not only has there been no revival of National Socialism and militarism, but at no time since 1945 has Germany posed the slightest danger to any of its neighbors. By now, with Putin doing what he is doing in the Ukraine, some people would argue that its unwillingness and inability to do so are precisely the problem.

* Above all, there has been no World War III. The objective of World War I, at least according to President Wilson, had been to put an end to war. In 1945, its miserable failure to do so had long become a matter of record. Everybody and his neighbor expected another world war—this time, one waged between the US and the Soviet Union and fought, if that is the word, with the aid of nuclear weapons. As a friend of mine, a retired Bundeswehr colonel whose grandfather and father were killed in 1914-18 and 1939-45 respectively, put it to me: “When I joined the Bundeswehr I did not expect to live.”

Only during the 1960s did fear of another “total” war, as the phrase went, slowly begin to wane away. As late as 1968, American planners claimed to be preparing for “two and a half wars;” a major one in Europe, another major one in the Pacific, and a smaller one somewhere else. Since then they have gradually lowered their sights. So much so that, by now, the most they can hope for is the ability to wage two small wars, such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, simultaneously. Even that is becoming a little doubtful. Rather than go through world wars III and IV, as all historical precedents seemed to suggest would happen, humanity has entered into the so-called “long peace.” As a result, and in spite of the terrible things that are going on in quite some places, the chances of the average person of dying in war are now the lowest they have ever been.

The factors that have brought along the long peace have been hotly debated. Personally I believe that ninety percent or more or the credit belongs to nuclear weapons and the fear they inspire. To be sure, the weapons in question could not prevent all forms of war. There have been plenty of those, and quite a few are ongoing even at this moment. They did, however, prevent its most important and most deadly forms, namely those waged by important states against each other.

Other factors that contributed to the largely peaceful, and by all previous standards unbelievably prosperous, nature of the post-1945 decades have been the relatively benign nature of the American Empire; the rise, side by side with that empire, of numerous international institutions that are daily entwining more states in their coils; and the restraint and sagacity shown by at least some governments—as, for example, when Mikhail Gorbachev ensured that the USSR would the only empire in history to fall apart without major bloodshed. Most important still, success was grounded the hard work of billions of ordinary people who tried to do the best for themselves and their families; and who often succeeded in doing just that.

Have a happy anniversary, Europe. Have a happy anniversary, world.

Geopolitics and Today’s Foreign- and Security Policy – a German View


Erich Vad*


We all know: 100 years ago the First World War and 75 years ago the Second World War started. The lessons of both wars show us the importance of an early reconciliation of interests, a balance of power, and ongoing communication between the strategic players. Another lesson is that appeasement has its limits. Against totalitarian world views, appeasement has never been successful.

But what do these lessons mean with regard to current security questions? What do they teach us as we are being challenged by the Islamic threat and fundamentalism and movements like the Hamas, the Hizbolla in the near east, Boko Haram in Africa, Al Qaeda worldwide, and the reckless actions of the so called “Islamic State” Movement?

And what do these lessons mean with regard to the current Russian attempt to change the European order by annexing the Crimea and destabilizing the eastern Ukraine?

The world wars brought fundamental changes. They ended the German desire to achieve a hegemonic position in and over Europe as well as the Japanese attempt to extend their power and gain predominance over East Asia. Wold War II also terminated the worldwide supremacy of the British Empire and the dominant geostrategic position of Europe as a whole. The European era, which had shaped and characterised the world since the beginning of the early modern age, was finally over. A new geopolitical reality, a new “Nomos of the Earth” – as Carl Schmitt once puts it – was established by the victors in the Second World War, i.e. the USA and the former Soviet Union.

During the Cold War these strategic players divided Europe into two spheres of influence. The United States saw Western Europe primarily as its strategic bridgehead to Eurasia. Its leaders built up NATO and established close economic ties across the Atlantic. This enabled Western Europe to enjoy freedom, democracy, wealth and the rule of law and human rights. By contrast, Eastern Europe suffered under the strong and brutal rule of Communism.

In the end, it was the policies of Ronald Reagan which broke the geostrategic supremacy of the Soviet Union in Europe. Coming to power, Mikhail Gorbachv quickly understood that the USSR could never win the arms race and that only cooperation wih the west and political freedom for the Soviet sattelites could help Russia overcome the disastrous economic situation.

As we know, his opponents held a very different view. So does Vladimir Putin. They see the world in geopolitical categories which we Europeans thought had been overcome. It is Putin’s geopolitical aim to create a great power capable of competing with the US, the EU and China. The Russians’ problem is that all they have is their military; they do not have so-called “soft power” comparable to that of the rest. A modern world-power cannot simply threaten and intimidate its neighbors. It must also be attractive and innovative for other nations to accept it as a leading nation.

Reminding the world that NATO has already taken over the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, the Russians have made it clear that they will never accept a further extension of NATO (and the EU) eastwards. Also that, for specific economic, industrial and strategic reasons, they will only accept a neutral Ukraine. Accordingly the task is to weigh the justified desire and the right of sovereign states to freely select the alliances they wish to join on one hand and the preservation of geopolitical and strategic stability – in this case affirming the Russian sphere of interest in its neigbourhood – on the other.

It is not just Russia which understands the world primarily in geostrategic terms. The US, too, has long been aware of them. So far the emergence of the virtual world, important as it is, has made little difference in this respect. Ever since 1823, the basic Charter underlying US Foreign and Security Policy in Latin America has been the Monroe Doctrine. Both in the 19th and in the 20th century the Doctrine led to innumerable interventions, some of them involving the large-sale use of force, in many places around the world. Not only is geopolitical thought just as familiar to the US as to Russia, but its principles have remained unchanged. Neither developments in transport, nor in information processing, nor in money-flows, nor in military technology, have changed those principles one whit.

The violent reclamation of land, which Carl Schmitt once described as the “radical title,” seems to be back. With hindsight, one could argue that it has never gone away and that it was only the losers in the 20th-century’s geopolitical shifts who saw, or rather were forced to see, the world in more idealistic terms. Nowhere was this more true than in Germany. However, the victors continued to see the world in geopolitical terms. The same applied to other emerging countries such as China, Brazil and India which want to become global players.

Why should the Russian approach to their nearest neighbourhood and geostrategic sphere of interests differ from the US American one worldwide or the Chinese one in the South China Sea? How would the US act if, instead of an American fleet manoeuvring in the Black Sea, a Russian one did the same in the Caribbean? This does not mean that the Russian actions against Ukraine and the Crimea were right and legal. But considering that Russia is, and will continue to be, a world power with nuclear weapons, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a country with enormous resources, they are understandable.

Some hawks in Washington today, such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brezezinki, understand this very well. For them any powerful nation which intends to control Eurasia always presents a potential challenge to the US. In this respect little has changed from the first half of the 20th century when first Germany and then the Soviet Union represented the principal danger. Today their place has been taken by Russia and China; as to Western Europe, it is a strategic bridgehead and America’s closest ally.

But the European geopolitical perspective has to be different: for us Russia remains a powerful neighbour. A friendly relationship with it remains essential to our security and well-being. This does not mean that the Russians should be allowed to do whatever they want—their actions in the East Ukraine and in the Crimea are clearly unacceptable.

To deal with Russia we Europeans must do more than continue economic sanctions or show-the-flag operations. What we need is a double-track strategy. We must continue a straightforward dialogue with the Russians in order to convince them that they are not on the right track. On the other hand we must strenghten our defence posture and the deterrence capabilities of NATO, primarily in the east-European member states.

A successful defense of Eastern Europe against a conventional attack coming from the east is only feasable by using nuclear weapons, probably at a very early stage of the conflict. However, such an attack is unlikely. Most probably the Russians would not send tanks as they did in earlier their history. Instead they would use so-called hybrid methods of warfare: a combination of cyberattacks, destabilizing measures, secret service operations, and irregular fighters. A high probability exists that Russian aggression, if and when it comes, would strongly resemble the approach used in the Ukraine. The Russian minorities, for example in the Baltic States, could be very useful for them.

Ultimately we should not accept a division of the Ukraine. On the other hand, we should not kid ourselves that incorporating that country into the EU and NATO is still an option. One could even argue that Putin has deserved a NATO Order of Merit for strengthening the inner cohesion of the Alliance and motivating us to build up our deterrence, and spend more on defense.

The Russians have taught us Europeans a useful lesson concerning the true conditions and dangers of our international system. They taught us that peaceful dialogue, diplomatic interchange and permanent communications are not the only principles of international politics as many Germans believe.

The same applies to other critical hot spots of security worldwide. Take the South China Sea with its huge oil and gas resources and the straits where 80 % of world-wide oil deliveries have to pass. Here global players such as the US, as well as regional ones such as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India wrestle with each other in an attempt to look after their geostrategic interests. In this dynamic economic region, the Indian and American interests are being challenged. The present situation shows very clearly that the political and economic sovereignty of the involved nations can only be sustained by military readiness and modern defense capabilities in the air, at sea, and on land.

The same is true in regard to the great challenge Islamic fundamentalism, especially the so-called Islamic State, poses to Western Civilization. In both Syria and northern Iraq, these warriors cannot be beaten by political or diplomatic measures alone. The delivery of weapons and airpower, on their own, are unlikely to do the job either. They don’t want to “engage” with us; that is why we have to respond to them in ways they can and will understand.  

Even in Europe we cannot survive without the political will and modern military capacities to defend ourselves. Not pacifism and antimilitarism and the typical German goodness, but the old Roman principle, “si vis pacem, para bellum,” continues to be valid.

Clausewitz wrote that it is not the aggressor who starts a war. Instead it is the defender. The former wants to occupy us without resorting to violence; the latter does not agree, resists, and by doing so the starts the war. Long after Clausewitz wrote, Lenin was deeply amused by this insight of the Prussian master.  

Geopolitics cannot be impartial or neutral. Instead they must be directed by interests. The latter in turn depend on each country’s perspective and are often embedded in a political ideology which, as in the case of the old colonial world, follows a historically-determined path. However, idealism and the way the adversaries of geopolitical thinking see the world, is also largely determined by historical experiences and ideology.

Today Germany, which in 1945 was defeated by a powerful worldwide coalition, has again turned into an influential economic and financial world power and is able to play a leading role in Europe. But this may no longer be the case in the future, because the German elites do not have the will and defense technologies and capabilities to prevail in the long-term and on a sustainable basis. Most of them have forgotten how to think in geopolitical terms such as strategic spheres of influence and national interests. That is why they cannot formulate a national strategy. This is the real challenge facing Germany, and indeed Europe, today: can they develop the political will and the necessesary means and capabilities to safeguard their freedom and way of life? We must define what keeps us together and which values and strategic interests guide and drive us. If we don`t, we will lose the future and our freedom.


* Dr. Brigadier General (ret.) Erich Vad is Angela Merkel’s former military adviser.