Europe – Island of Pacifism?

This question is no longer discussed only behind closed doors. CDU politician and former environment minister Norbert Röttgen made the following statement in an interview with Der Spiegel: 

SPIEGEL: You write in your book that for Europe it is a matter of “to be or not to be.” A bit pathetic, isn’t it? Röttgen: No, it’s the naked truth. We have outsourced energy to Russia, the growth markets to China, security comes from the USA. At the same time, climate change and migration pose enormous challenges. Now we’re adding war to the mix. What is at stake is safeguarding our European way of life. If we do not defend it, it will not survive (Der Spiegel 21/2022).

Europe owes its world-historical rise to the Industrial Revolution, which, beginning in England towards the end of the eighteenth century, enabled the rise of Germany – and this revolution was based on the exploitation of abundant coal deposits. By the time oil began to play a decisive role in the First World War, the old continent was already in trouble. Much more so in the Second World war. “The war in Europe was decided in the struggle for control of oil supplies in the Caspian Sea area. The German advance to Stalingrad was aimed at seizing these supplies and denying the Soviet Union access” (Ugo Bardi).

After the war, this problem seemed to be solved in an unexpectedly peaceful way. Even if Germany’s own energy sources were to dry up and coal abandoned because of its harmful effect on the environment, an increasingly globalized economy now provided it with all the energy it required: from the Gulf as well as from Africa or Russia, and later even as liquefied gas from the US.

Globalization seemed to be the panacea for scarcity. Germany produced its industrial goods, which were in demand all over the world, and the rest of the world was happy to supply it with raw materials in return. In this way, dependencies grew that were obviously to everyone’s advantage. In the early 1990s, no less a person than Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, was still singing a resounding song of praise for the blessings of globalization – and almost all leading economists were happily singing along with him (some still do so today). After all, the doctrine of sharing labor and resources is perfectly correct: everyone gives what he has or can do, and in return he receives what he lacks or cannot do. Can there be a more beautiful ideal of reciprocity? David Ricardo had already raved about it.

The stumbling block lies in the consequences that arise from the ingrained human need for power. When Robert Reich wrote “The Work of Nations” (possibly with the ambition to surpass Adam Smith’s well-known classic “The Wealth of Nations”), the American world power seemed willing and able to free its citizens from all dirty and routine industrial work by ceding it to the poor Chinese in what was then an underdeveloped country. In the name of his science, a leading economic expert thus opened the floodgates of outsourcing.*1* In quite a short time, U.S. industries were dismantled at home and rebuilt in China. In hindsight, we may say that Robert Reich laid the theoretical groundwork for the U.S. economy to sell both its nation’s work and wealth to China. This happened so quickly, thoroughly and with so much collectively mobilized energy that the Far Eastern country de facto became the world’s first economic power within just three decades.*2*

Americans had invented or developed to industrial maturity almost everything on which modern civilization is based – everything from computers to cell phones and the Internet, but since the beginning of the 21st century they are no longer the guardians of the treasures they had created. Donald Trump was the first to look with disgust and amazement at the Rust Belt in his own country and the many failed livelihoods that had sprung from it. Only then did Americans realize the monumental stupidity they had committed. Seduced by “experts” in the name of an abstract theory that ignores power because it has no place in economic theory, they had surrendered far more than just their industrial production to China – with the erosion of their economic base, their position as a superpower became endangered. Trump’s diagnosis was correct, but his therapy of reviving American industries by imposing import tariffs on Chinese products had little effect. That is because you can dismantle existing industrial plants so to speak overnight; but rebuilding ruins takes time and rarely succeeds.

Germany has only partially outsourced its industries. As Röttgen notes, the outsourcing mainly affects growth markets, the real source of wealth. But while the U.S. outsourced much of its manufacturing industries, Germany has moved into an even deeper dependency by getting most of its energy from Russia. In this case, too, the power factor was completely disregarded, as if this, too, were just some sort of normal business. But Putin has been thinking all along about how to strengthen this dependence on the one hand and how to abuse it all the better for political purposes on the other. That is why the whole of Europe is currently in an even more critical situation than the U.S. Apart from coal, which for environmental reasons should no longer be used and nuclear energy Germany rejects for the same reason, it has no sufficient energy sources to maintain its industries and with them its previous standard of living. This would not be possible even if Europe were to succeed in a massive effort to switch entirely to renewable energies. No matter how much the environmental expert Mojib Latif from Kiel university may insist: “Sustainably manufactured products must be cheaper than competing products that do not respect the demands of sustainability”. In the world we live in for the next decades, this cannot and will not be the case. A state that produces with dirty energy enjoys price advantages all over the world. “China is flooding the markets with dirty products that we simply shouldn’t be buying anymore,” the same expert rightly notes (Der Spiegel 21/2022). But how will Germany get rid of all its export articles, such as its cars in China, if we start such a boycott at home?

The power factor is ignored in economic science, which is why experts like Robert Reich regularly mislead entire countries. Let’s look at Ukraine. After its independence at the beginning of the 1990s, it acted economically quite correctly when it skillfully maneuvered between Europe and Russia so as to obtain the most favorable offer from each side. Likewise, Germany behaved in an economically correct way when it procured the oil and gas it needed from those countries where it was cheapest. Only a year ago, no state was blamed for doing what made sense economically. But economic activity and power cannot be separated in the long run. We cannot demand military protection from one power – the United States – and provide the other power – Russia – with foreign currency through gas and oil deals, which it then uses to build up armaments that threaten the US.

Ukraine has learned in the hardest way that no state can maneuver between the fronts with impunity. In an article of February 15, 2015 (Was hat Washington mit Europa vor?), I had already prophetically foreseen the consequences. “In view of the pressure coming from the victorious Republicans, the American president /Obama/ will probably soon have to give up his opposition to arms deliveries to Ukraine. Once that happens, the small-scale war on the European Union’s doorstep will turn into a hot one, in which Russia will undoubtedly have the better cards due to its geographic proximity.”

In the meantime, not only Germany but all of Europe is in a similar situation as Ukraine, namely between the fronts of the great powers. Both Russia and the US can cut off our gas supply at any time. To be sure, China, too, has few raw materials of its own, but compared to Germany, it dominates the growth markets and has been rapidly rearming, both conventionally and nuclear. It therefore has much less to worry about than Europe.

What are the conclusions to be drawn from this situation? First, one that we certainly do not want to draw, namely a return to coal or other dirty energies that irretrievably destroy the environment.

Norbert Röttgen has hinted at a second conclusion – now being stated in no uncertain terms in EU committies. Europe must not continue to be militarily dependent; it must be able to defend itself if necessary. Since convincing deterrence in our time is only possible with nuclear weapons, such a demand inevitably means that the whole of Europe – and not just France – must have its nuclear “force de frappe”. The French have long accepted their small nuclear power (which is not really taken seriously by Russia and the United States). German pacifists, on the other hand, react in a frightened, indignant and resolutely hostile manner. In a world already filled to the brim with weapons of mass destruction, each additional nuclear warhead only increases the likelihood of a nuclear holocaust. Europe should form a nuclear-weapon-free island instead of following the North Koreans and Iranians.

This is an evident and convincing argument, but only if we acknowledge its consequences. Those who follow the Christian commandment to turn the right cheek after a slap on the left must expect to end up as slaves, because as a rule individuals and peoples who could not or would not defend themselves have suffered precisely this fate. Shortly after gaining state independence, Ukraine offered both cheeks in the Christian way by signing the so-called Budapest Memorandum on December 5, 1994. In the memorandum, Ukraine renounced its entire nuclear arsenal, in return for which the United States, Great Britain and Russia agreed to respect Ukraine’s “existing borders”. The country thus voluntarily rendered itself defenseless. From the point of view of convinced pacifists this was the only right thing to do, from the point of view of Ukrainians living today it was an unforgivable mistake. Russia has shown the world that it respects treaty obligations less than the paper they are written on. Instead of protecting Ukraine’s “existing borders,” it first annexed Crimea and would now prefer to conquer the entire country. Far from guaranteeing Ukraine’s security after it renounced nuclear weapons, Russia now murders its citizend and reduces its cities to rubble.

Should Europe decide to become a nuclear power like Russia, China and the U.S., this will definitely mean even greater danger, even greater risk for humanity as a whole – this is what our great technological progress and our inability to control it have done to us. Conversely, if Europe persists in being an island of defenselessness and pacifism (at least in comparison with nuclear-armed states like Russia, China and the US), it must be prepared and even willing to accept the same fate as Ukraine. In my view, the credibility of German pacifists depends, on whether or not they are willing to commit themselves to this consequence and accept it without reservation.

Let me conclude with a more hopeful note. Immanuel Kant was right. There will be no end to this insoluble dilemma unless the disastrous arms race of mankind against itself is ended by a supranational authority accepted by all. Then the power factor too will finally cease to play a role in the equally murderous economic race.

1 1 More realistically, we may of course argue that the U.S. economy does what it wants anyway. But it feels doubly comfortable and secure when it also receives the blessing of science – ex cattedra so to speak.

2 In conscious opposition to Robert Reich, I warned against outsourcing in my most successful book (Die Arbeitslose Gesellschaft, S. Fischer, 4th ed. 1999). In order to fend it off, the German economy would have had to give up about a quarter of its exports (in the meantime, it is much more). This was not only against the spirit of the times, but above all against profit. Meinhard Miegel wrote to me at the time: “Mr. Jenner, try to persuade German industry to reduce its profits.