For decades, burdened by its history, Germany refused to face the harsh realities of foreign policy. Now, suddenly spurred by the Ukraine crisis, the German government is ready to once again show strength — long-awaited good news, for all.
BERLIN — Germany has changed fundamentally over the past week. It has arrived at the reality that it had so stubbornly — and with convenient idealism — refused to face. That is remarkable. Spectacular, actually.
The reality in which we live is being acknowledged. There was the pointed, unequivocal government statement by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who promised to increase Germany's military profile and supply weaponry to the Ukrainian military. He pledged to spend $113 billion this year alone to modernize the country's underfunded army. (Unlike Angela Merkel, Scholz actually wants to go through with NATO's target to spend 2% of the country's GDP on defense.) Opposition leader Friedrich Merz also gave a dignified and wise speech supporting the government unconditionally. Their statements echo the wishes of the German people as over 100,000 protesters marched in Berlin for Ukraine's freedom.
This is good news, especially for those who had feared that the country was making itself comfortable as a federal clown republic.
This is the second rearmament in the country's history — the first one took place on Nov. 12, 1955, when the Bundeswehr, the armed forces, were established to defend West Germany — and it will leave deep marks on the identity of Germany's pacifist idealism.
It is a commitment to self-defense and strength, the basic prerequisite of which is defense capability.
Germany must be strong, Europe too, the West as a whole
Germany's environment and economy minister, Robert Habeck, announced that extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants is no longer a taboo, and finance minister Christian Lindner understands the country's security as an existential investment in freedom — despite austerity budgeting. The foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, is also finding clear words in support of Ukraine, which deserves the respect and recognition even of those who did not vote for her party.
Germans are realizing that peace and freedom cannot be taken for granted. There are real foreign policy threats on our doorstep. It is not a matter of driving society into a newly aroused enthusiasm for conflict. Instead, it is a new exercise in self-awareness to not sit comfortably in the face of national sensitivities.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a press conference on the Russian attack on Ukraine
The West must be strong
Germany must be strong, Europe too, the West as a whole. They can find inspiration in a figure like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who stands for a civil, empathetic form of self-defense and an elegant heroism. His family history encapsulates the entire misery of the 20th century and from it, Zelensky draws on an energy for an awakening, for change, for the struggle for a freedom that breaks the authoritarian and totalitarian will to destroy.
Part of our strength — especially in a risky economic war — also comes from a strong economy, innovative companies and a strategy for Germany to make itself independent of states for which human rights clearly mean nothing.
Switzerland's "neutrality" allowed Russian oligarchs to bring their blood money to safety.
Alongside Russia, China must come under the spotlight. Its dealings with the opposition in Hong Kong or the Uyghurs may be geographically farther away, but the Taiwanese see with concern how China is cozying up to Russia.
Moreover, the West should look around its own ranks to see who is playing what game. Switzerland, for example. Its neutrality is no neutrality at all: it allowed Russian oligarchs to bring their blood money to safety.
It's a decisive time. We're starting afresh now. It's a chance to let go of old and cherished illusions and accept the demanding seriousness of a tricky reality. Our country has shown that this is possible. Other countries are faster, but we could be there for the long haul.
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