, ,

In an interview given to ‘Internationale Politik’, the journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations, the former Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl criticizes the German government (led by Angela Merkel of his own party) for failing to be a reliable partner to its European neighbors and the United States.

The interview was met with big response, not least against the background of
(a) the ongoing discussion as to the scope of European common economic policy, and
(b) the Libyan uprising which appears finally to be approaching a successful conclusion but which Germany refused to back in March of this year despite the UN resolution.

Particularly in view of Germany’s past but also considering its size as well as political and economic weight within the EU and globally, “we have a particular responsibility,” says Kohl. Furthermore, “Europe is the best option—also for Germany.” Without Germany, Kohl appears to suggest, the EU is likely to fail—as an integration project but also with respect to global foreign policy. On the other hand, without the EU Germany runs the risk of gambling away the trust of its partners. Yet, without this trust, the recovery after the end of World War II but also German reunification would have been impossible.

According to Hans Kundnani, editorial director of the Council of Foreign Relations, Germany is shifting towards a unilateralism which is problematic in more than one respect. In an article for ‘Prospect Magazine’ last year, and a more recent one for ‘The Washington Quarterly’, Kundnani argues that Germany now defines its national interests differently than in the past. The turning point in this regard was marked by Gerhard Schröder, who ironically is thus closer to Angela Merkel than Helmut Kohl.

Germany has moved away from being a ‘civilian power’ and is instead on a good way to becoming a ‘geo-economic power’.

A ‘civilian power’ is one that “uses multilateral institutions and economic cooperation to achieve its foreign-policy goals, avoids the use of military force except in limited circumstances and in a multilateral context, and thus helps to ‘civilize’ international relations by strengthening international norms” (Kundnani 2011, p.32, following Duchene and H.W. Maull).

By contrast, a ‘geo-economic power’ (a term originally coined by Luttwak in 1990) is one that defines its national and foreign policy interests in economic terms, tries to impose its preferences and policies on other states and is less interested in cooperation—in other words, it applies “the methods of commerce within the logic of conflict.” (p.41)

The current (big) problem of the European Union is that it is stalling, but the reason for that, Kohl and Kundnani agree, lies less with the difficulties reconciling the national interests of 27 Member States, and more with the ever-increasing propensity of Germany to engage in zero-sum competition.

For example, instead of accepting a moderate increase in inflation, which could harm the global competitiveness of its exports, Germany has insisted on austerity throughout the eurozone, even though this undermines the ability of states on the periphery to grow and threatens the overall cohesion of the European Union.” (p.41).

Guess which other country is behaving like a geo-economic power (and worse given its military strength)?