On 26 January I published an article describing an Open Letter to German Chancellor Scholz issued the day before by a number of retired diplomats, military officers and educators affiliated with a Potsdam think tank. As I noted, the text was very much in the spirit of détente (Entspannungspolitik, in German) that can be traced back in the Socialist Party (SPD) to the early 1970s chancellor Willy Brandt and his ideas man Egon Bahr. However, given the address of the institute it should come as no surprise that a number of the signatories are associated with the leftwing Die Linke party.
Now a colleague in Berlin has alerted me to another Open Letter to Scholz on the same subject issued almost two months earlier, on 5 December 2021. That one, my colleague suggests, was more likely to have drawn the attention of the German leader because of the concentration of security experts and sprinkling of officials from his own SPD among its signatories.
With a view to the visit this week of the German chancellor to Washington, D.C., where he is suspected of being the weak link in the Western alliance as it confronts Russia, it is worthwhile considering what influences there may be on the overall thinking of Mr. Scholz as to the question of dealing with Russia today.
I offer below an edited machine translation of the German text of the Letter put forward by Professor Johannes Varwick, because it indicates both how far and at the same time how limited the imagination of the socialist wing of the German establishment is in seeking solutions to the present impasse over Ukraine and over Russian demands to revise the security architecture of Europe.
The overriding thought here is to tamp down the crisis by setting up conferences and lines of communication with Russia to find mutually acceptable compromises on its demands within a two year period during which all escalatory acts by all parties will be halted.
This is a noble concept, which may yet be implemented. However, it violates the sense of urgency that runs through the Russian demands for several straightforward reasons. The Russian resentment over NATO expansion has been building up ever since 1997 and was embittered by their weak military and economic situation coming out of the turbulent 1990s. They have issued their ultimatum and massed their armed forces at the Ukrainian border precisely in order to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ they see for themselves given their present strategic and tactical superiority over the United States and NATO, which they do not expect to last much beyond two years for a variety of reasons. Moreover, two years is also the time remaining in Vladimir Putin’s term of office and it would be understandable that he will not want to exercise his constitutional right and run again in 2024, meaning this existential question of European security architecture must be resolved in the coming two years not merely debated. Kicking the can down the road is not an option. Regrettably, the German security and political experts seem not to take these Russian considerations into account.
At the same time, the solutions recommended here are worlds apart from the United States and U.K. actions of issuing threats of draconian sanctions, pouring more NATO troops into Eastern Europe and the ‘front line’ Baltic States, and sending vast quantities of munitions to Kiev on dozens of daily flights.
The text and list of signatories:
Out of the Spiral of Escalation! For a new beginning in relations with Russia (5.12.2021)
We are watching with the greatest concern the escalation in relations with Russia, which is intensifying once again. We are threatening to get into a situation where war is within the realm of possibility. No one can profit from this situation, and this is in neither our nor Russia’s interest. Therefore, everything must be done now to break the spiral of escalation. The goal must be to lead Russia and also NATO away from a confrontational course again. What is needed is a credible Russia policy on the part of NATO and the EU that is not naïve or appeasement, but interest-driven and consistent. Now sober Realpolitik is called for.
One thing is certain: Russia’s threatening gestures toward Ukraine and its show of force toward NATO countries in exercises and especially through the activities of its nuclear forces are unacceptable. Nevertheless, indignation and formulaic condemnations do not lead anywhere. A one-sided policy of confrontation and deterrence has not been successful; economic pressure and the tightening of sanctions – as experience in recent years has shown – have not been able to persuade Russia to turn back. On the contrary, Russia sees itself challenged by Western policy and seeks recognition as a great power on a par with the United States and the preservation of its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space through aggressive behavior. This significantly increases the dangers for the Russian economy (exclusion from the SWIFT system) and a destabilization of the security situation, especially in Europe. None of this should be taken as an excuse for the West to stand idly by or to accept the intensification of escalation. NATO should actively approach Russia and work toward de-escalation of the situation. To this end, a meeting without preconditions at the highest level should not be ruled out. In principle, we need a fourfold political approach:
– First, a high-level conference to discuss the goal of revitalizing the European security architecture, based on the continuing validity of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1990 Charter of Paris, and the 1994 Budapest Accord, but without preconditions and in different formats and at different levels.
– Secondly, as long as this conference is in session – and a period of at least two years would be realistic – there should be no military escalation on either side. The renunciation of the stationing of additional troops and the construction of infrastructure on both sides of the Russian Federation’s border with its western neighbors should be agreed upon, as should complete mutual transparency in military maneuvers. In addition, specialized dialogues at the military level must be revitalized in order to pursue risk minimization.
– Third, the NATO-Russia dialogue should be revived at the political and military levels without conditions. This includes a new approach to European arms control. Following the discontinuation of agreements essential for Europe’s security (INF Treaty, CFE Treaty, Open Skies Treaty), it is urgent, in view of Russian troop concentrations on the border with Ukraine, to agree on targeted measures to create more transparency, to promote trust by strengthening contacts at the political and military levels, and to stabilize regional conflict situations
Fourth, despite the current situation, consideration should be given to more far-reaching offers of economic cooperation. The decline in the importance of fossil fuels, on whose exports the Russian economy is heavily dependent, poses the risk of growing economic risks for Russia, which in turn could cause political instability. Economic cooperation could make an important contribution to European stability and could also be an incentive for Russia to return to a cooperative policy toward the West. Consequently, win-win situations must be created that overcome the current deadlock. This includes recognition of the security interests of both sides. With this in mind, a freeze should be agreed on questions of future membership in NATO, the EU and the CSTO for the duration of the conference. This would not mean a renunciation of the demand for fundamental standards agreed upon in the OSCE. This may not be easy for many, nor does it conform to pure doctrine. But any alternative is clearly worse. Germany has a key role to play here. Germany should refrain from anything that might weaken its firm anchoring in the transatlantic alliance, should work for de-escalation, and should press for agreements that preclude the use of military means in Europe beyond alliance defense. This should not be misunderstood as an invitation to Russia to change the territorial status quo in Europe, but there is no military solution to the Ukraine crisis that does not lead to uncontrollable escalation.
Ambassador (ret.) Ulrich Brandenburg, German Ambassador to NATO (2007-2010) and to Russia (2010-2014); Prof. Dr. Michael Brzoska, Director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (2006-2016); Brigadier General (ret.) Helmut Ganser, Head of Military Policy Division at the German NATO Mission in Brussels (2004-2008); Prof. Dr. Jörn Happel, Helmut Schmidt University of the Bundeswehr Hamburg; Ambassador (ret.) Hans-Dieter Heumann, President of the Federal Academy for Security Policy (2011-2015); Ambassador (ret.) Hellmut Hoffmann, Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament (2009-2013); Ambassador (ret.). D. Heiner Horsten, Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the OSCE in Vienna (2008-2012); Brigadier General (ret.) Hans Hübner, Commander of the Center for Verification Tasks of the German Armed Forces (1999-2003); Prof. Dr. HeinzGerhard Justenhoven, Director of the Institute for Theology and Peace; Stephan Klaus, Spokesman of the Young SPD; Lt. Gen. (ret.). D. Dr. Ulf von Krause, Commander of the Armed Forces Support Command of the Bundeswehr (2001-2005); Ambassador (ret.) Rüdiger Lüdeking, Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the OSCE in Vienna (2012-2015); Prof. Dr. Gerhard Mangott, University of Innsbruck; Gen. (ret.). Klaus Naumann, Inspector General of the German Armed Forces (1991-1996) and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee (1996-1999); Prof. em. Dr. August Pradetto, Helmut Schmidt University of the German Armed Forces Hamburg; Roger Näbig, Conflict and Security Blog; Prof. Dr. Götz Neuneck, Deputy Scientific Director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (2009-2019); Jessica Nies, spokesperson of the Young SPD; Colonel (ret.) Harry Preetz, National Chairman Area I of the Society for Security Policy; Colonel (ret.) Wolfgang Richter, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Senior Military Advisor at the German OSCE Representation (2005-2009); Colonel (ret.). D. Richard Rohde, Bonn Section Chief of the Society for Security Policy; Ambassador (ret.) Dr. Johannes Seidt, Chief Inspector of the Federal Foreign Office 2014 to 2017; Brigadier General (ret.) Reiner Schwalb, Defense Attaché at the German Embassy Moscow (2011-2018); Prof. Dr. Michael Staack, HelmutSchmidt-University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg; Brigadier General (ret.). D. Armin Staigis, Vice President of the Federal Academy for Security Policy (2013-1015); Prof. Dr. Johannes Varwick, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg; Dr. Wolfgang Zellner, Deputy Scientific Director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (2009-2019).
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022