“We have an unequivocal message for our allies: You can rely on Germany,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz while in Switzerland this May for the World Economic Forum. Never mind that Scholz was phoning Vladimir Putin earlier that same month, hoping to arrange a “negotiated solution” to its invasion of Ukraine without including Ukraine in talks. Scholz was always sure that Putin would weaponize energy flows, he said in October. Never mind that Scholz was a dogged supporter of Nord Stream 2, Germany’s head-first dive into energy dependence on Russia or that Scholz refused to consider scrapping the project in response to Russian aggression until only two days before the invasion of Ukraine. Never mind that Scholz misrepresented Germany’s energy dependence while serving as finance minister for Angela Merkel. Now, Scholz says he hopes we can return to the pre-war “peace order” after an end to the war in Ukraine. Never mind, of course, that that was the order which has now produced hundreds of thousands of dead bodies in Ukraine. Never mind that it was the same order that let Germany inflate its own economy at the expense of the entire continent’s security, at the expense of the lives of the Syrians, Ukrainians, Georgians, the Russians themselves being killed by a terroristic autocracy, a state with which Scholz says Germany formed a “strong partnership” in pre- war times. Perhaps the partnership will make a comeback if Scholz gets his way — he says must “give guarantees” to Russia and readmit it to international security organizations once it begins to negotiate an end to the war it started, the war it is now losing.
Scholz’s irresponsibility is, unfortunately, nothing new for Germany. It bears strong continuity with the foreign policy of Angela Merkel, who masterfully positioned Germany to crowd out the rest of Europe from its export markets, form an addiction to cheap Russian gas no matter the geopolitical and environmental consequences, and fall short of even the most modest defense contribution markers set out for the country, instead placing the burden of its national security on its much poorer neighbors to the east, and on American taxpayers an ocean away.
Germany benefits enormously, and owes its very existence to, a set of incredibly laborious institutions, agreements, norms, and shared interests to which it contributes almost nothing. It is one of the richest states in the world, a state with a history that demands it prove itself as a nation for peace, and the obvious candidate for a real leader for the European Union. German foreign policy in the twenty-first century is to dodge, in every way possible, the responsibilities of this mantle. The world would be better with a responsible German role in foreign affairs — one which could stand up for the common European interest against British hubris, French particularism, and American domination. It could be a serious agent of governance. Instead, Europe’s most populous nation and largest economy is, simply put, a freeloader, and a freeloader which actively works against the collective, and in the long run its own, interest. What must change for Germany to become a more responsible nation is in the hands of the next generation of Germans. We can only hope that they feel real shame and passion at Scholz’s inability to depart from Merkel’s myopia.
John Emmons is from Seattle, Wash.
His majors are Chinese and political science.