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Aug 20, 2008 | 22:16 GMT

8 mins read

Germany: Merkel's Choice and the Future of Europe

VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
As countries the world over begin reassessing their relationships with a resurging Russia and a bogged-down United States, Germany in particular has some tough choices to make. While Germany has a place in the European Union and NATO, STRATFOR sources have said that Russia has offered Germany a security agreement — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel knows how vulnerable her country is to Russia.
As countries around the world rethink their positions and ties with the resurgent Russia and the bogged-down United States, one of the countries with the largest dilemma is Germany. Unlike many former Warsaw Pact or Soviet states that were forced to adjust dramatically and quickly to a Russia on the move, Germany's geographic location, ties to Moscow and history as a leader and divider of Europe make it the next state to have to make a tough decision. Berlin will have to decide whether it wants to continue acting like an occupied state and relying on the NATO-Washington security guarantee, or act on its own and make its own security pacts with Moscow. In the past, Germany and Russia traditionally have cooperated when they were not at war with each other — something that makes geopolitical sense but terrifies the rest of Europe. The world changed Aug. 8 as Russia proved its strength when it launched a military campaign in Georgia and the West did not come to Tbilisi's aid. Moscow's muscle-flexing in its former Soviet state forced many countries to reassess their positions immediately by either solidifying their ties to Russia — like Armenia and Belarus — or turning to Washington to guarantee its security — like Poland. Naturally, former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries were the first ones to react; not only are they closer to Russia, they also have the most to gain or lose in the short term. But during the Cold War, one country — Germany — was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This put it in a very different position from most of Europe. During that time, a defeated Germany not only was split and occupied, but also was not allowed to field a meaningful independent foreign or military policy. Instead, all of its energies were harnessed into the European Union and NATO. During the decade following its reunification, Germany has slowly crawled its way back to being a normal state allowed to have an opinion. Today's Germany closely resembles pre-World War II Germany; it is economically and politically strong, unified and unoccupied, which means it can actually decide whether to align with Russia or the West instead of having the choice made for it, as it was in 1949. Moreover, the awakening Germany is one of three major powers left in Europe today (the other two being France and the United Kingdom), and it has been looking to reprise its role as Europe's natural leader. It makes sense for Berlin to claim this title by dint of population, location and economic heft. Of the major European powers, Germany is the one with the difficult decision to make between Russia and NATO. It is a member of the latter, and it makes sense to stick to its current alliances. But Germany never really made the decision to join NATO. Only half of Germany was part of the alliance during the Cold War (as decreed by the United States); after German reunification, East Germany joined NATO when Russia was weak and chaotic. Germany had no choice but to continue its Western alliances after the Cold War. But with Russia regaining strength, Germany stands on the front lines of whatever Moscow has planned. Germany is vulnerable to Russia on many fronts. It has a very deep memory of what it feels like to have the Russians easily march across the northern European plain to German territory, which led to the Soviet occupation of half the country for four decades. Germany and Russia are also currently each other's largest trading partners, and Russia provides more than 60 percent of Germany's natural gas. So Berlin is now reassessing its allegiances to Washington and NATO, which would keep the country locked into the policies it made as an occupied state. Or Germany could act like its own state and create its own security guarantee with Russia — something that would rip NATO apart. Berlin does not have to make a decision right now, but it does need to start mulling its options and the consequences. Rumors are floating around Moscow that a discussion between the Kremlin and Berlin on such a topic is occurring — not that a deadline has been presented, just that a dialogue on the issue is under way. Of course, such a discussion would be tightly guarded until Berlin actually made a decision. On Aug. 15, as the war between Georgia and Russia wound down, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Sochi, but the meeting was highly tense (as shown during their press conference). Germany acted peculiar during the entire Georgian-Russian conflict. When the war began, Berlin issued a fluff statement on "needing to find a solution" between the two states; however, as the war escalated, Merkel fell silent on the issue. Many within the German government released statements in favor of either Russia or Georgia, but it is Merkel who calls the shots in the country — and she was waiting for her meeting with Medvedev before speaking. Merkel is an interesting leader to have in Germany at this stage because she is the first German chancellor born in East Germany. This leads her to be more critical and firm against the Russians, but nonetheless she understands how vulnerable her country is right now. Germany may be an economic powerhouse, but it is still militarily weak, so its security is in the forefront of its mind. STRATFOR sources in Moscow have said that Medvedev has offered Merkel a security pact for their two countries. This offer is completely unconfirmed, and the details are unknown. However, it would make sense for Russia to propose such a pact since Moscow knows that, of all the European countries, Germany is the one to pursue — not only because of the country's vulnerabilities and strong economic ties with Russia but because the two have a history of cozying up to each other. While such an alliance might sound like a stretch in today's U.S.-dominated world, there are two things to consider. First, like Russia, Germany is wary of Washington's strengthening presence in Europe. The United States already has the United Kingdom as its closest ally, France has returned to the NATO fold, and Washington is gaining the allegiance of many Central European states — all of which undercuts Germany's dominance on the continent. This is not to say that Germany is ready to ditch NATO just yet, especially since Berlin has no military heft. However, Berlin must at least be considering how to balance the U.S. presence in Europe. Second, most of the world thought it impossible for Germany and Russia to ally in the 1930s, but the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the treaty of nonaggression between Germany and the Soviet Union) confirmed the two countries' tradition of turning to each other when both are not at war or occupied. This was not the first Russo-German treaty, but actually the third, after the League of the Three Emperors in 1872 and the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922. These two considerations together should cause concern in most of Europe. Since Germany and Russia are the two big powers on the block and want to keep any other power (like the United States) from their region, it would make sense for Berlin and Moscow to want to forge an agreement to divide up the neighborhood — such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had secret protocol dividing the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into either the Nazi or Soviet spheres of influence. Most of those countries have since sided with Washington, but if Germany and Russia make some sort of deal, it will be open season on American influence in Europe. All of this is not to say that Berlin is about to flip on the West. It has time to mull its decision. The point is that Germany is not the solid rock of NATO and the European Union that the West assumes it is. Russia's recent actions mean that history is catching up with the Germans and that a choice will eventually come. Everything depends on Berlin's choice between maintaining its dependence on the United States or flipping the entire balance structure in Europe by striking a deal with Russia. Berlin has been itching to reassert itself as a real and unbound power on the continent once again. However, though it has new economic and political strength, Germany is in many ways more vulnerable than it has been in more than 60 years. Berlin's choice will shape the future of Europe and possibly the world.

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