Not far from Kyiv, in a village called Muzychi, lives visual artist Alevtina Kakhidze. She decided to stay in her home country, despite several offers from friends and family to leave. Since the outbreak of the war, her diary entries blatantly reflect the horrors happening in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine led to a massive and rapid shift in German foreign policy, essentially a negation of the central tenets of post-war thinking. How do you explain what happened?
Well, it was a policy designed for a world of rational and happy traders that had no answer to other kinds of actors. And it has always been a free ride that depended on other nations, the US, maybe France, to guarantee German external security. From the outside, this policy has been deemed to be untenable for quite a while, but as we have seen in the last campaign, there is no politically relevant interest in foreign policy in Germany. This is the main reason why could we pull this through for such a long time.
What will be the lasting consequences of this shift – is this also a new period in German national politics?
Yes, because everything is on the table and it is so obviously connected: defense, energy, trade, climate. For me, this is also a moment of clarity. We cannot isolate or immunize our use of energy or our fight against climate change from the political challenges to liberal democratic constitutionalism we see around us. But this is definitely more of a European moment, one that urges its biggest and slowest member, Germany, to face its own contradictions. The problem is that we do not have much time. Climate change is looming, as is the reelection of a Republican President.
What is the role of the Greens in all of this, with Annalena Baerbock as foreign minister, the representative of a younger generation, putting forth a different view of Germany’s role in the world?
As usual in these coalitions the small parties are the more active ones, but I am not so sure if there is a generational change. Moral claims have always been an engine for Green politics, and we must not forget that in the dramatic shift that was announced by Scholz, the liberal finance minister was the more relevant actor. Scholz called the shots, Lindner agreed to finance it, then the Greens were informed.
Germany is free to reinvent itself as a country that is neither militaristic nor completely ignorant in military affairs.
Olaf Scholz is the man with the “bazooka” – if you dare to look a few years ahead, what will be his legacy?
This is too early to tell. He seems to be hesitant and reactive, but decisive, if necessary. This is a successful scheme we have seen with many chancellors.
Is it up to, arguably, the left parties to lead these kinds of fundamental changes towards a more militarized foreign policy – like Joschka Fischer in the 1990s did during the Balkan wars?
Yes, this parallel comes to mind. It is also remarkable that the Christian Democrats (contrary to their own claims) are not interested in defense policy. Everybody talks about Schröder, but it is Merkel's policy that is reversed at this moment. And the parties of the left, which are explicitly not as interested in defense, have by some mysterious accident once again had no choice but to become active.
The question of militarization reaches deep into German history – and guilt: how will this war shape Germany’s identity in the years and decades to come?
I think that the militaristic German tradition has completely vanished from German society. We are free to reinvent ourselves as a country that is neither militaristic nor completely ignorant in military affairs. It would be nice, for instance, to have more intellectuals in the military (which is by the way also a Prussian tradition) as we see it in the US.
Germany's reluctance to export weapons to Ukraine never had a legal basis. We exported them to authoritarian states like Egypt and Saudi-Arabia.
A number of fundamental shifts and interventions have happened over the last ten days, in both domestic and international policy. Which ones were the most problematic legally from your point of view?
Our reluctance to export weapons to Ukraine never had a legal basis. We exported them to authoritarian states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is perfectly fine to support with arms a country which defends against an illegal attack. In a very German twist, the legal problems are rather on the side of the budget. The 100 billion Euro boost has to be built around the so called "Schuldenbremse," a (to my mind absurd) constitutional clause that limits the deficit.
Follow up question: a city like Munich fired its famous conductor Gergiev due to his close relationship with Putin. Would you agree with such a move from a constitutional standpoint?
Here is a problem. From a free speech perspective there is obviously no duty to criticize Russia, not even for someone in a public role. There are special circumstances in this case (Munich is the partner city of Kyiv, the Gergiev appearance in Syria), but still a more nuanced debate about free speech in war times is necessary.
Is there something NATO could do now to support Ukraine, aside from getting actively involved in fighting against Russia?
NATO connects and organizes its member states. So it can coordinate military support without directly involving its members in the war.
Christoph Möllers is Professor of Public Law and Legal Philosophy at the Humboldt University of Berlin and Programme Director of “The Future of Democracy” at THE NEW INSTITUTE.