Has western Europe, and maybe even the United States under the Democratic administration, lost the appetite for war as a solution in the world of politics, just like diplomacy; or is it true that war finishes what diplomacy cannot and vice versa, as some used to believe?
After firmly facing Western expansion toward Eastern Europe and Moscow’s front yard, the iron-hearted Russian President Vladimir Putin, an expert on the West’s appetite for war, is currently putting this Western inclination to test in the Ukrainian battlefield.
Russia is backing its loyalists in Donbas on the western Ukraine front, while Washington and other western European capital cities accuse Russia of threatening a country that has joined the western front.
The central player in this heated game, though, is Germany, which has become ‘addicted’ to Russian gas supplied via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and its ‘ready to go’ offshoot Nord Stream 2. However, beyond the need of Germany and Europe for Russian gas lies Germany’s chief political ‘doctrine’ about war today.
Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new liberal chancellor, heads a coalition government that comprises Socialist Democrats, Greens, and Free Democrats, all of whom share an anti-war ideology that advocates for a green, liberal agenda.
Annalena Baerbock, Scholz’s Foreign Minister and a Green Party politician, responded to the increasing Western pleads for Germany to provide real military support to Kyiv’s government by saying that Germany is an economic donor for Ukraine, which is much more effective than delivering weapons, she believed.
This chiefly German and general European reluctance is sometimes attributed to the marks that previous wars, especially WWII, have left on Europeans’ collective memory.
These memories remain vivid. Josep Borrell, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has recently described the Ukraine crisis as ‘the most dangerous for Europe since the Cold War.’
In a moving report, BBC highlights one feature of these distressing memories that perhaps explains Germany’s disinclination to send arms to Ukraine. At the Seelow Heights east of Berlin, “as farmers plough, their blades disturb human bones, weapons; the fragments of one of the most brutal battles of World War Two.” In the spring of 1945, the Soviet Red Army and Germany’s Nazi forces clashed in “a muddy, chaotic bloodbath” on one of Berlin’s gates. These were the final days of the Third Reich, yet nearly 30,000 soldiers were killed in that battle. The report cites Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff from the German Marshall Fund as saying: "To export arms into the bloodlands that Germany helped to create […] is an anathema in the German political debate."
However, it may also be an abomination in the other direction. Inaction could bring forth just as much destruction and loss as war does, if not more. At least in war, there’s the possibility of victory and changing the equation, surely while paying the usual losses. But in inaction and cowardice, losses are doubled.
Has the West lost its war resolve despite all its mighty military power?
This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.