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No nukes, no intervention, no bailouts

May 31, 2011

Beginning with its reluctance to finance bailouts of its less financially responsible EU brethren and accelerating with the German refusal to participate in the Libya intervention so favored by Germany’s western neighbors, there was plenty of scorn from Americans and European idealists. The German retreat from nuclear power is only likely to accelerate this animus. After all, Germany’s abandonment of the atom will enrich Russia and just reflects more small-minded populism on the part of Merkel.

Has Germany really stopped thinking big? Or is it just thinking differently? However short-sighted “Merkelism” and its populist dimension may be, Merkel has managed to please the German population on key issues, even if her CDU is not necessarily rewarded in every election. More frightening for some analysts is the prospect that these German populist reflexes are really reflective of a genuinely different conception of German national interests. It’s not Germany failing to lead so much as Germany failing to go along with what’s supposedly best for the rest of Europe. Germany’s eastern neighbors might benefit from increased energy sales to Germany, but they will also suffer as Russia cashes in on Germany’s increased energy demand from abroad. Meanwhile, Germany’s lack of interest in Libya does not reflect a failure to lead so much as a siding with several other major powers, such as Russia, China, and India, rather than other states in NATO or the EU.

However problematic the nuclear decision is, it is misleading to predict, as some have, the revival of a rogue Germany. Rather, Germany’s differing course reflects normal divisions between Germany and some of its neighbors. The fear of Russo-German relations tightening is understandable on the part of the Eastern Europeans, but it Germany’s willingness to take the line of certain non-European great powers, or align with them more closely on certain issues than France and Britain, should not make anybody fear a new Molotov-Ribbentropp pact or an abandonment of Europe. Instead, Germany is diversifying its options from an EU that has far more faults than German reluctance and finding common cause with other rising powers. Though some in Europe may fear a German-Russian Rapallo moment as the death of Europe, it is more the reflection of a natural split within the European powers. Browbeating Germany into denying the EU’s inability to divorce itself of military dependence on the US, energy dependence on fossil fuels and Russia, or the decrepitude of some EU members’ financial systems, is utter folly.

Merkel’s visit to Europe is emblematic of Germany’s common cause with certain non-European powers on some issues. India, like Germany, seeks security council reform. Neither country is interested in supporting Western military interventionism when their own interests are not at stake. Additionally, India’s energy industry, along with other countries looking for nuclear expertise, will be a natural destination for future ranks of German nuclear specialists. In any case, if the future of Europe really rests on Germany “leading” by not stepping out of line, then the EU is less prepared for the future than I already feared.

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