If Olaf Scholz’s plans were to come true (their destiny lies largely on who will be in power in America), then “lone” Poland may find itself deeply isolated. If these plans do not come to life, if the Americans want to build a new alliance in Central Europe – then we will find ourselves between Russia and Germany, which promotes “multipolarity”
One can look at Germany’s attitude toward the war in Ukraine as the aftermath of the long-standing pro-Russian policies of the SPD in power today. One can see it as an electoral constraint of a government dependent on the ambivalent feelings of the German left-wing electorate toward NATO. In essence, however, it is part of a long-term national strategy, and not only dictated by the past, but also by recognizing the future. This is well illustrated by an article that Chancellor Olaf Scholz published in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Given the importance of this fundamental declaration – it is surprising that it elicits so little commentary and discussion in our country. And yet it represents, as the Chancellor professes, “an expression of the new state of mind of German society” and a clearly formulated vision of Germany’s new global role. The title, “Global Zeitenwende1, or how to avoid a new Cold War in the era of multipolarity,” is already symbolic in itself.
In the article addressed primarily to the political elite of the United States, Scholz uses – to describe the historical breakthrough – a German concept (and yet one not used in popular culture). This is as much a discreet as it is a clear sign that the Germans want to speak their mind, they want to be listened to, for a new era to restore their country and culture to its rightful place in the world. Only a few issues can be more vital for Poland than this one.
Writing about a pivotal moment in history, Scholz does not stop at Ukraine. Yes, he treats the war as a key symptom of a new era, and in this context assures that the Federal Republic will be guided by solidarity established by NATO. However, he makes it clear from the outset that this will not be a faithless solidarity: “Germany today must become one of the key factors in European security […], but a balanced and strong transatlantic partnership also requires that Germany and Europe play an active role.” This is because one cannot succumb to a “fatalistic vision of an inevitable re-division of the world into competing blocs.” The most important issue for the chancellor, then, is how Germany and Europe can “become an independent actor in an increasingly multipolar world.” He doesn’t hesitate to talk about “multipolarity,” although until now this has been a euphemism, hiding the anti-Americanism of Russia and China. As you can see – the clash between the West and Russia is, from the perspective of German politics, a dramatic but temporary crisis, the consequences of which should not be perpetuated. This conclusion from the German Chancellor’s article should not be ignored by the Polish public.
DIALECTICS AND GEOPOLITICS
The struggle for global democracy is also to be transitional and relative. Olaf Scholz’s article makes the lofty declaration that, “respect for freedoms and fundamental rights can never be an ‘internal affair’ of individual states, because every UN member state has pledged to respect them.” Moments later, however, it becomes clear that the fight for democracy is meant to help its advocates, not hinder their politics. For it is necessary to return to more classical principles, assuming that security is a condition for the exercise of freedom and that it is more important than the forms we give it. “”n a multipolar world,” writes the German chancellor, “dialogue and cooperation should expand beyond the democratic comfort zone. The new national security strategy of the United States rightly recognizes the need to cooperate with ‘states that, although they do not embrace democratic institutions, nevertheless recognize and support the international rules-based order.’ The democracies of the world must work together with these states to defend and preserve a world order that combines power with principles and that resists revisionist acts such as Russia’s aggressive war. This effort requires pragmatism and a certain humility.”
Scholz’s realism is not dangerous. Indeed, politics is first and foremost to protect life, one can fight to change it for the better, but not at the expense of the very lives of nations and people. What is dangerous is that Scholz realism is nakedly forceful, because it is completely arbitrary. Within its framework, one can regard Communist China as, “a state which, although does not adopt democratic institutions, nevertheless recognizes and supports the international rules-based order,” and Poland or Hungary as “states which, although adopt democratic institutions,” disorganize the “order” supported by Germany.
AN ORDERLY EUROPE
For the ambitious plans, born of the “new state of mind of German society,” require order. If “Germany and Europe” (Scholz is very fond of this formula) are to become a strong partner of America in the “multipolar world” – then they need a strong mandate. The German chancellor declares that they will have one, because in the European Union, “tactics of selfish obstruction of decision-making processes must be eliminated, eliminating the possibility of vetoes by individual states opposed to certain actions. Since the European Union has expanded and is a geopolitical entity, rapid decision-making is becoming a condition for its success.”
The European Union, precisely because it has “expanded,” must “eliminate” national sovereignties, that is, the rights of “individual states.” This is a condition for “Germany and Europe” to be able to talk to the United States on an equal footing about a “multipolar world.”
This perspective has always existed in German politics. Norbert Lammert, chairman of the Bundestag, once told me that the CDU majority believed that the European Union should first be “reformed” and then “enlarged,” in short, that accession conditions should have been dictated even more categorically to Central European governments. Unfortunately, as Lammert recalled, Chancellor Kohl decided otherwise…
GERMANY AND RUSSIA
To the United States, therefore, Chancellor Scholz is offering conditional cooperation. With U.S. interests threatened on at least three fronts – in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia – the Americans can have an important, supportive partner in Europe. Germany can strengthen its military credibility and maintain diplomatic solidarity with America. But within the framework of a “multipolar world,” in which they will retain their own assessment of the possibility of cooperation and compromise with the peace-keeping antagonists of the United States.
This, of course, includes China (President Xi Jinping is one of the positive protagonists of this article), as well as Russia. Indeed, the Scholz Declaration contains a message of importance to Moscow. Scholz reminds us that his “country has been united thanks to foresighted policies and the support of partners from both the West and the East,” and writes that it is “the experience of division that makes [Germany] particularly aware of the risks of a new Cold War.” The chancellor’s article makes it clear that it things could go back to the way they were if Russia (even if not a perfect democracy) “nevertheless recognizes and supports an international rules-based order.”
TIME FOR POLISH ZEITENWENDE
Declarations are only written records of intentions, then life subjects them to censorship. However, it is worth knowing where Germany is headed. For example, that they can restore Russia’s international credibility, since they see the current war primarily as a crisis that violates half a century of Ostpolitik, through which they believe they achieved national unity. And that the dogma of German policy is to rule out a return to “blocs” (Scholz uses this post-Soviet language) and a resumption of the Cold War, that is, simply treating the Russian threat as a structural and strategic challenge.
Such a German policy is completely at odds with our vision of the West standing in solidarity against the threat from the East. Germany recognizes that it has to be this way today, but does not want it to always be this way.
If Scholz’s plans come true (which is primarily dependent on who will be in charge in America), “lone” Poland could find itself in deep isolation. If they do not come true, if the Americans want to build a new alliance in Central Europe – then we will find ourselves between Russia and the multipolarity-promoting Germany as well as the countries that support them. They, too, will want to influence Ukraine, and Ukraine’s post-war strategy will be of its own making, not of our own national choice.
One thing is certain. In the time to come, in addition to preserving the potential of our economic development as well as enhancing our military capabilities, we must strengthen our national identity, and what is worth noting, jointly with other Central European countries, based on our common universal foundations. This is a prerequisite for the starting Zeitenwende to survive. It is worth reflecting on what Olaf Scholz writes. We, too, must speak our mind and strive to find those who agree with us. Only in this manner will we be able to effectively protect and preserve – in terms of our country and our culture – the rightful place of Poland globally in the new era.
1 literally meaning “turning point”
This article was published in February 2023 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.