Prelude: My French friend with whom I wanted to meet this morning, discussing work over coffee, got sick. Sending him a “Get Well”, and using the time alone with my coffee for a piece I wanted to “put out there”.
There have been many articles and comments in the media about an expectation towards Germany to “lead”. Same on the side of politics. Whether related to States bordering the Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation, or the discussions and reflections in the U.S. media, and elsewhere. Commentators were quick to point to a perceived, or alleged unwillingness or inability on the side of the German Chancellor to make a decisive move. In the most recent case, as we all remember, it is about supplying the Ukraine with German made main battle tanks. Before that, it was about medium sized battle tanks (like the “Marder”), or about armoured vehicles, or about defensive air systems. Of course, there also was the unfortunate communication at the beginning, helping the Ukraine by sending 5000 protective helmets. And yes, there is an embarrassing element in that. In the scheme of things I wanted to quickly write about, the last one is collateral damage, or an anectotal side story. However, even this unfortunate communication by the former Defense Minister of Germany had a positive impact: Waking up to a new reality is not an easy thing to do. Hawkish thinking will have a home-run. Those who cling to an effort thinking about peace as it was before things changed, they will become defensive. Ruptures will loom, and these can be exploited by malicious actors, inside a system (extremists and enemies of the constitutional foundation of a system), inside a framework of collaboration and cooperation, (of course I am talking about the EU and about NATO), and outside (like the Russian Federation, but not only).
Only history will tell us whether we handle things cautiously, or too cautiously. But the principle we follow is that we don’t go it alone.
I am not involved into policymaking and strategies how to handle the situation which includes a War of Aggression against the Ukraine. But I see this principle in every aspect of my own work, and in every aspect of German governance that I can reasonably make conclusions about, on basis of what I see in publicly available information. I believe this is more than anecdotal evidence for that this is a principle of German policy within the context of all things E.U, all things NATO, and all things U.N.
Where I can simply state that I know we do it this way is within the context of our support to an initiative of the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans to come to grips with all aspects related to Small Arms and Light Weapons. I see this “DNA” reflected in everything, how we support ownership, how we support it in close collaboration with the Regional Cooperation Council RCC, together with France in a so-called Franco-German initiative which sits at the roots of this support since 2014 within the “Berlin Process”, and how we do it together with all relevant actors inside the European Union, namely the European Union External Action Service, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Neighborhood, and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Migration & Home Affairs. And on the other side of the equation, how we support our jointness by empowering implementing organisations, be them part of the United Nations family (UNDP and UNODC), be them part of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, be them structures inside NATO.
The above complexity just in order to demonstrate how complex a process in which we don’t go it alone can be. There is, on all levels, a tremendous effort behind the principle of not going it alone. And much of it is almost invisible to the public, hungry for bad news. But without revealing internal stuff, it looks like we are getting assessments confirming the success sitting behind practically applying principles such as real assistance to others, and not to go it alone.
Allow me also to make a brief point on what some commentators refer to as some historic reasons for this German attitude. They talk about the German history of how we came out of our own darkest times, the most shameful parts of German history, the Holocaust. Which, after all, was the horror after the Nazis managed to wrestle control away from the previous system of governance. Nazi Germany was the product of an inside job destroying the Republic of Weimar, including a successful brazen attack on the Weimar Constitution. In my senior police education, I was once asked to write up the similarities and differences of the Weimar Constitution with the “German Grundgesetz”, the basic law we gave ourselves after Word War II, which we kept open through a preamble in which we promised to never give up on re-unification, and which we then carried over into the German constitution, our basic law, of today. Nutshell: The German basic law is founded on a DNA which can already be found in the Constitution of Weimar, including human and citizen’s rights. Part of the post-Holocaust effort in designing a new basic law was to enshrine provisions making it more difficult, or hopefully even impossible, to hollow it out from the inside.
In all this German “DNA” there is reflection of the responsibility that we promised to ourselves, to victims, and to the World at large, to never allow this happening again.
This is a vital part of our own constitutional immune system against the danger stemming from if power goes rogue. This is why we don’t go it alone.
And to see a practical detail about how serious we are in this, look at this German article in the German news “Tagesschau” from today: “Im Holocaust erlebten ukrainische Juden grenzenlose Grausamkeit” is the title of a piece from today. In German language, the German Tagesschau is reflecting on Babyn Jar, located in Kviev. Over the duration of the German Nazi occupation of the Ukraine, this place suffered from the killing of more than 100.000 Jews by the Nazi regime. It peaked with two days during which at least 33.771 human beings were killed by the German Nazis.
With responsibility, humility, and no hesitation the German news report about this during a time of war in the Ukraine, during a time which includes that Germany has, just two days ago, also agreed to enlarge our already large military assistance to the Ukraine by sending own main battle tanks, and allowing other Nations to send their own German-made Leopard-II-tanks, too.
My work over the past 23 years has brought me to places of mass murder, genocide, and any unthinkable crime against humanity. Not bragging here. But making the point that I witnessed so many efforts to come to terms with that own shameful legacy. Some did well. Visit the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, for example, like I did on two occasions. Some struggle. Listen to the different voices on the Srebenica genocide, for example. Some deny, and threaten consequences to anyone who begs to differ from the public line of unaccountability. Look at the situation with the Uyghurs in China, or the Armenian genocide early on during the last century.
Taking collective action in the interest of, and service of, peace does not leave any wiggle room for taking own full responsibility, and requires to not going it alone.
That’s what we do.
The picture was taken by myself in May 2019. I was visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp with beloved American, German, and Egyptian friends.