Elisabeth Hellenbroich

At a presentation organized by the “German Atlantic Society” in the administrative building of the Bundesbank in Frankfurt (May 11), the America expert and Secretary General of the German group of the Trilateral Commission, Dr. Josef Braml, presented some aspects of his new book that was published at the beginning of this year in the German C.H. Beck Verlag under the title Die Trans-Atlantische IllusionDie neue Weltordnung und wie wir uns darin behaupten können (The Transatlantic Illusion. The New World Order and how we can assert ourselves in it.)  His candid remarks about the American foreign policy directionality were a refreshing counterpoint to the dominant main- stream narrative, since they shattered the “chains of illusion” that are at this moment quite strong among German politicians and several EU representatives.

A key message of his presentation on May 11 was that “the times in which we were able to muddle through in the shadow of the US are over.”  This is especially the case on the background of the actual Russian-Ukrainian war. Burdened with growing domestic tensions and a gigantic “debt bubble”, the US at present is trying to assert itself ruthlessly and with all means against its main rival China as well as against Europe, in order to assert its interests in a new world order, Braml  stated. Whoever believes that the U.S. would represent our (Europe’s) interests -according to Braml- suffers from “transatlantic illusion.” Braml instead illustrated that the US is cold-bloodedly exploiting “Geo-Economics” as a means of exercising power and influence vis- a- vis its allies in order to “enforce” US economic as well as military interests. The US would impose “tributes” on other countries, with which these countries not only should “finance the highly indebted US,” but are forced to accept and support the role of the US as a “military protective power” in a New World Order. For the Europeans (for example for Germany) this implies pressure from the US to buy US armaments. (The question of the purchase of US F-35 and the role of the US as “nuclear protective power” in Germany is one example.)

According to Braml the main strategic focus of the USA is Asia and n o t Europe. In his view there is no difference between President Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump in terms of Trumps “America first” policy.  The main interest is to “contain” China. And the most important lever to realize this is that the US pushes for a new “Global NATO”. (Europe instead should take care of the old NATO.) It is the so called “Quad” group – USA, Japan, India, Australia in the Indo-Pacific and their role as allies of the USA, to defend the US influence against China, which is actually at the center of US strategic interests. (The ASEAN meeting in Washington on 13 May reaffirmed these strategic intentions. E.H.)

Global financial crisis looming

Speaking about the US attempt to impose on its allies the US protective “military” power, Braml pointed also to the “strategic dilemma” which the US is facing: In reference to the 2007/08 global financial crisis, he warned that today we face again the threat of a “renewed systemic crisis in the global financial system.” He pointed to the “inflationary money supply” in the US that is not matched by real goods production.  While in 2007 Central Banks had tried to prevent a “meltdown of the global financial system” by pumping enormous amounts of money into the system, today in view of the highly nervous stock markets, the leading Central Banks are at this point highly concerned about new “geo-economic distortions”, especially in the USA.

One of the main problems of the US, as Braml noted, is that the country lives from “consumption”, which is financed by others (such as for example by China / Japan and Europe as well as the Mideast). Also in the energy sector, the U.S. exerts enormous pressure on Saudi Arabia, in return for US military “protective power” in Saudi Arabia.

While in Europe everything is focused on the Ukraine war, Braml remarked to the audience’s surprise, that in discussions with representatives of the American elite and think tanks, the Ukraine war ranks on place 16 (!), while issues such as gun control, abortion laws and education are of primordial interest.  Furthermore – according to Braml – the US being the largest military power, pursues “Geo-Economics” as power politics. It essentially lives on “credit”, the money from different tribute states (in the sense of Brzezinski’s “Chess Game”, in which the latter wrote about “tributary vassals” of the USA – including, the Chinese government bonds and Japan). The USA imposes “tribute payments” on these countries in return for the “protective” and “military” power of the USA, Braml stated.  The countries are “forced” to buy – in accordance with the US “managed trade”-  US armaments on a large scale. The dollar is kept low thanks to inflation, which reduces the exorbitant US debt and makes US exports cheaper.

In the discussion period Braml characterized the US as a “defective democracy” – opposite to the image of a  “beacon of  hope of the liberal world order” , and added that it should not be excluded that Trump would win the mid- term congressional elections in  autumn.

Why Transatlantic Illusion?

The core of the “transatlantic illusions” which the Europeans are suffering from, as the book by Josef Braml reveals in detail, is, that they don’t realize with what incredible obsession the US is trying to maintain its “unilateral” world order and impose this on its allies.  “In the struggle for spheres of technological and economic influence, the U.S. can increase pressure on dependent third countries. And threaten them with the withdrawal of their military and security protection, giving them the choice of doing business with either America or China,” Braml writes. “This can go so far that economic weapons such as the U.S. dollar and secondary sanctions” are brought into play, in order to force European states to “surrender their economic interests concerning China.”  Both developments, the serious domestic problems of the world power USA and its ruthless foreign policy orientation, should make the responsible people in Germany and Europe reflect more seriously, he advises.

In the chapter The American Patient – The United States and the liberal world order Braml, in reference to the US role after World War I and II, identifies a major problem of the US: It is the US “special sense of mission with quasi-religious zeal against external enemies.”  Americans have interpreted wars in a “manichean” way, as a radical juxtaposition of a “good and an evil world principle”- in the context of which the US considers itself as almost a “chosen nation, based on US exceptionalism” (…) “Throughout its history, U.S. foreign policy has oscillated between these poles of isolation from the world and the missionary drive to improve the world.”

This characteristic feature of the US is often pure “hypocrisy.” The US have “exaggerated their moral claim”, that should be a rod with which the US itself as world power should be measured. “Washington all too often merely invokes noble values to conceal its ‘interest-driven power politics’.”  When necessary, these values and “communities of values” are pragmatically subordinated “to economic and security interests.”

Braml notes a “discrepancy between democratic rhetoric and cynical as well as mostly short-sighted ‘power politics’ on the part of the USA.” (He refers to several historical examples, such as the CIA instigated coups in Latin America, the Iraq war 2003, that was based on false allegations, leaving behind an entire region being destabilized, with hundreds of thousands of people that lost their lives and even more losing their homes, by adding that forced regime changes have been a tradition in America’s foreign policy.)

He notes that despite failures in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the U.S. is deeply divided and its moral leadership power has broken down. While Trump called for the defense of the “right of the stronger” the new US President Biden considers alliances primarily as a “useful tool” to increase America’s power and share burdens. Nevertheless, the “American patient” is prevented from performing its world order function, i.e. providing global public goods such as security, free trade, functioning financial markets, and a stable reserve currency,” as prerequisite for other countries to accept the supremacy of the USA as a liberal hegemon and follow its lead.

China being the main strategic rival of the U.S.

China, Braml emphasizes, is building with the “Silk Road initiative” a position of supremacy. It is trying to build connections with West Asia, Africa, Europe and with neighbors of the region. Moreover, despite pressure from the USA, China has won European partners, (UK, France and Germany) for their Asian Development Bank (AIIB). Braml notes that China is no longer prepared to give its “foreign exchange reserves” to the same extent as before in order to finance the USA national budget, which in turn uses a large part of the money to arm the world power USA militarily and in terms of security policy against China: “The USA is now willing to use any means to contain the rise of China or even to push it back.  Economics is used as a weapon. (…) With China’s rise, the Asia-Pacific region has become the focus of American security and economic interests. In any case, Washington wants to prevent a potential rival from challenging U.S. naval or air sovereignty in the Eurasian region, and to prevent U.S. economic activities or deny U.S. access to resources.”

He points out that in the beginning of 2021, a ten-page document was released to the public, in which U.S. security agencies outlined their Indo-Pacific strategic framework… “China’s policy has led to the reactivation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – a previously informal arrangement established to counter growing Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”(Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, The White House, March 03, 2021)

In respect to Russia – Braml underlined in his book, that Russia’s geographic location is covering an area of 17 million square kilometers and spanning nine time zones.  Russia is not only the world’s largest country in terms of surface area, but also possesses the world’s largest reserves of raw materials. In addition to metal ores, uranium, it has fossil fuels, oil, natural gas and coal, 6.1% of the world’s oil reserves, but 19.1% of the world’s gas reserves (ahead of Iran 16.1%, Qatar 12.4% and the USA 6.5%) – the dominant player in natural gas markets. Oil and natural gas still account for more than half of the value of Russia’s total merchandise exports today.  He describes at length how Russia shares national borders with 14 countries; after 1945 Russia, which lost 30 million people in the 2nd World war, created a Cordon Sanitaire, a protection belt based on European Soviet republics and satellite states. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was for Putin the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. “Russia under Putin relies on strong military power,” he noted. Expenditures increased from 25 billion dollars in 2008 to 50 billion in 2017. In 2008 and 2014 (Crimea) Russia demonstrated strength and asserted supremacy CSTO (Treaty on Collective Security).  Russia wants to limit the scope of external actors, especially the U.S., in its “sphere of influence.”  Russia sees the armament of eastern member states as a threat. (This includes the NATO battlegroups in the Baltics and NATO Spring Maneuver 2021 ‘Defender Europe 2021’). In April 2021 Putin warned the West not to “cross red lines”. He modernized nuclear arsenal, hypersonic missile “Dagger” and nuclear Poseidon torpedoes. 150,000 troops on Ukrainian borders were amassed as a signal to West in May 2021. April 2021 also 20 Russian warships were on maneuvers in the Black Sea. 50 fighter planes were sent to Crimea. With deployment of troops in late 2021, as a signal, Putin went to extremes.

Even if Braml does not mention the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war, he does note in his book as well as in his presentation in Frankfurt that sooner or later, some diplomatic agreement should be found with Russia. “As understandable as the need is to finally show uncompromising toughness towards Russia, it is the wrong answer when peace and security are at stake. Vladimir Putin is rightly viewed critically by many in this country (…) Europe’s interest is to establish a stable regional peace order that excludes the use of force and coercion between states and creates forums in which conflicting interests can be resolved through negotiation (…). Everyone should be aware that in a war with Russia, Europe would be the battleground (…) It needs a combination of a policy of strength and a policy of an outstretched hand.” In essence, this means, Braml writes, “what Helmut Kohl and Horst Teltschik successfully practiced in the second half of the 1980s, building on the NATO ‘double decision’ and the new Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr.(….) But it also means looking for new ways of resolving the security dilemma and creating new trust. This involves initiatives for a ‘new security architecture’ in which the interests of all parties are respected, security with each other, not against each other.” A further step could be the revival of the CFE process, Braml suggests. But he also admits that Europe is not in a position to pursue an independent Russia policy. At present, only Washington can provide the guarantees that Russia needs.

US and European security interests’ gap

In the chapter Equal Interests? Braml examines the gap of strategic interests between the US and Europe: “European observers have only just begun to realize that the American security industry now threatens not only American democracy but also the basic liberal orders of the societies and economies of friendly countries that are part of the ‘Western community of values’ so often referred to in speeches.”  He sees a great danger in the “military-industrial complex” of the USA and emphasizes at one point, that Eisenhower was right in 1961 when he stated:  ‘We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex,’ because ‘the possibility exists and will remain that this misplaced power will rise up. We must never allow the weight of this connection to jeopardize our freedoms or democratic procedures.’ Eisenhower also opposed future massive military spending, financed on credit.” Braml refers to the U.S. military budget of $778 billion (!) that remains “by far the most expensive highly armed military in the world. Just under 40% of global military spending goes to the account of the U.S. , China and Russia with 252 billion (13%) and 62 billion (3%) respectively rather modest.”

He notes that the well-known US Diplomat George Kennan 1987 in his book The Pathology of Power had warned that if the SU would go down, the American military- industrial- complex will do everything to remain. Again and again there is the search for the “external enemy” and hence the “Manichean trap” remains.  In the past 15 years, according to Braml, there have been over 100 countries that have invested in their security, by buying weapons from the US, thus supporting the business of the US defense industry. The U.S. accounts for 32- 37% of the world’s total exports. This means they export almost twice as many weapons as Russia – which is the second largest exporter with 20% of the world market (France 8% and Germany 6%, China 5%). The US also saw an 80% increase in Europe in 2016-20, which was mainly due to the sale of fighter jets to the Europeans.

“Thanks to their consumption and investment renunciations and their willingness to invest in the deep markets of the U.S., the Europeans contribute to enabling the U.S. to live, operate and arm on credit (…). As long as the U.S. lives beyond its means, it will need other countries with strong production and export capabilities and will continue to force them to give their foreign exchange reserves generated from export transactions to the U.S. as loans to finance its debts. In addition, Washington wants the Europeans to spend even more money on American armaments and thus remain militarily and technologically dependent. This logic of interests becomes particularly clear, when it comes to the replacement of German Tornado fighter jets, which Washington deliberately links to the power issue of so-called nuclear sharing.”

Braml concludes his books with a strong plea for a “European” solution, more sovereignty and “a fundamental and courageous deal with France,” a deep integration of the defense policy of the two leading states (France has 300 nuclear weapons). He even goes as far as to say, that according to the French Security Expert François Heisbourg, the “French government would be ready for a French-German nuclear arrangement, should the new German government take courage to do so (…) Together, France and Germany could form the core of an independent European security and defense policy and become the motor for a development towards a geopolitically capable EU with its own Grand Strategy to assert its interests in the new world order.”


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