By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The horrendous war in Ukraine which has prompted already immense suffering and damage among the Ukraine civilian population, marks the end of the old World Order.
On the background of this war we should look at a book that deserves attention.
The book’s intention, as the author underlined, is meant to provoke a major debate (“Streitschrift”) about the premises of Germany’s foreign policy priorities. The author of the book: “National interests. An orientation for German and European policy in times of global changes” (Nationale Interessen –Orientierung für deutsche und europäische Politik in Zeiten globaler Umbrüche) is the 94 year old Klaus von Dohnanyi.
He is an experienced SPD politician – former Minister of education and science in 1972-74 under SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt; former State Secretary for Foreign Affairs under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Genscher; former member of the Federal Parliament as well as Mayor of the city of Hamburg. He comes from a well-known family: His father Hans von Dohnanyi, being in the resistance movement against Hitler, died 1943 in the concentration camp KZ Sachsenhausen, his mother was the sister of another famous German resistance fighter Bonhoeffer. His uncle Ernst von Dohnanyi was a famous Hungarian composer and his brother Christoph von Dohnanyi a well-known conductor. The book was published in the month of February 2022. On March 10th in a TV ZDF discussion with Maybritt Illner, Klaus von Dohnanyi , when asked for his comment about the terrible war in Ukraine commented that he was profoundly shocked about this terrible war and that everything had to be done to stop this awful war, which includes sanctions. But, as he pointed out several times, the most important initiative would have to take place at the “diplomatic level” since he saw no other solution to bring the war to an end, but through direct negotiations with Putin’s Russia.
A look at the main thesis of Dohanyi ’s book, which the author finished writing in November 2021 and which went into print in February of this year (i.e before the outbreak of the war), shows that he locates the origin of the Russia /Ukraine problem in NATO’s enlargement towards the East. At the same time he strongly pleads for a new foreign policy orientation, a renaissance in diplomacy and independence of German and European foreign policy. His main emphasis is, that there can be no peace in Europe without a productive relationship with Russia. On the background of the unfolding war, that was provoked by Putin, this premise sounds almost absurd and adventurous, but the author presents his arguments by referring to many historical periods and archive material, in order to prove, that there is no other option for Germany and Europe but to widen the diplomatic engagement in order to organize peace.
To what extent are European interests compatible with US interests?
Dohnanyi, who has studied in the US and considers himself a friend of the US, is quite critical about the present role of the US political establishment. He emphasizes right from the beginning that “it’s in the vital interest of Germans and Europeans, for the sake of Europe’s security, to have a moderating influence on the dangerous policy of the US in Asia and keep Europe as far as possible out of American conflicts.”
His main argument is that the so called “Community of values” in the name of which the US as well as the EU carry out their present policy, is not an appropriate term for the defense of the vital interest of nation states. “It remains a key task of states, to share in a common work how the world should be shaped. Only ‘nation states’ have the necessary legitimization for national and international actions. They can transfer their rights to the UN or European Union but always keep their democratic responsibility. A Wertegemeinschaft – community of values- (which is particularly preached by the Greenies and the European Commission E.H.) – is not, as the author puts it “a form of government, not a nation, they do not have the legitimization being based on a common political process. There can be of course also common interests, for example in the EU or transatlantic partnership between Europe and the US. But in a community of values there exist also contrary interests.”
Hence his main argument is, that one should openly debate differences of interest within a “community of values”. “We in Germany should learn what it means to act in our own self- interest,” Dohnanyi argues. The aim should be to integrate national interests as far as possible into a system of international cooperation. This must be understood as a warning to the EU Commission or European Parliament. Wherever interests of these institutions are represented “by the EU Commission without taking into account the interests of member states,” Dohnanyi states, “at the end Europe could fail.” He also strongly emphasizes the need to understand the interests and culture of other nations such as China and Russia.
Dohnanyi underlines that among the big powers it’s the US that “dominates with their national interests the decisions of our continent.”(!) In contrast to Russia and China the US is by far the youngest nation among today’s world powers. “Within one generation from 1914 till 1945 the US brought the West of Europe in foreign and security policy terms under their guidance and organized a western orientation in their terms.”
Yet he also sees major weaknesses in the US which has the strongest military power of the world, is scientifically and culturally creative, has the biggest business and a worldwide electronic communication. Dohnanyi locates the weakness of the US in their “hybris” to conceive themselves as an “exceptional nation.” According to the author this is coupled with the misunderstanding that they could lead the entire world on the “American Way of Life.” It goes together with the belief that they have to teach other nations democracy if need be by “military violence.” He refers to Stephen Walt, Professor for International Affairs at Harvard University, who in his book The Hell of good intentions had developed the line that the many wars which the US engaged in, ended in a debacle and failed. They not only meant a tremendous financial drain and a loss of democratic substance. They didn’t leave peace and democracy in most of the cases, but rather chaos, destruction and hardened dictatorships. With it, as Walt stated, went the disastrous US foreign policy (under Clinton, Bush, Obama et cetera).
The attempt to cover up power interests with “humanitarian arguments” has a tradition in the US and should not deceive us, von Dohnanyi warns. “The interests of the US are hard geopolitics, economic and deeply rooted in their self-understanding as ‘exceptional nation’, a unique nation.” Since John Quincy Adams the US is only a defender of itself, von Dohnanyi reports, stating that Adams was foreign minister under President Monroe. And he also formulated the Monroe Doctrine which postulated the fundamental interests of the USA – to keep away the direct or indirect influence of foreign powers in the entire Northern and South American Hemisphere (a purely defensive doctrine.). Under Theodor Roosevelt (1901-1909) the Monroe Doctrine began to extend into the American World power position, i.e. cemented its world political imperial role.
Lessons from World War I
In order to clarify his above stated thesis, von Dohnanyi advises that one should again look at the period before the First World War( 1914-18), since here we see the roots for the significance which the US has today in Europe. “One should understand finally that already since the 19th century there is an imperialist basic line in the US American Foreign Policy”, which Adenauer and De Gaulle understood. According to Dohnanyi, a key figure for the First World War was Theodore Roosevelt – who recognized early the growing importance of the German Reich in respect to the weakening rival Great Britain. Roosevelt placed the US interest on the side of GB and had the idea that “Germany being a single and growing power with its ambitions could clash with us.” According to Dohnanyi, it was “Theodore Roosevelt who together with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge after the beginning of World War I in 1914, for geopolitical reasons was pushing the US into war with Germany. President Wilson was looked at by him as ‘a physically coward demagogue without any principles.’ Wilson saw the war in Europe as a chance in terms of a US foreign policy ‘mission’- to liberate peoples “from the aggressions of autocratic elements.” Dohnanyi underlines that during World War I the US did not intervene for humanitarian reasons but only for geopolitical interests. Great Britain was supposed to be kept and its power to be taken over by the US. (GB was greatly indebted to the US during the war).
He speaks about the contradictory tendencies of US American foreign policy: Theodore Roosevelts imperialism was linked to Wilson’s missionary impulse, and “together, both tendencies became this dangerous mixture which up to this day the US is practicing.” As soon as the war was over by 1918, the US was incapable to shape Europe “and left Germany to the revenge of the victors.”
The geopolitical significance of the Eurasian Heartland
But it wasn’t the last time that the US “mindlessly” left the theater of wars, where they had originally taken responsibility for. Why is it so important to retrace the historical way of the US to today’s hegemonic position in Europe? Dohanyi asks. He reports that since the end of the 19th century, the US wanted to build special relations with GB in order to gain influence on Europe. Hence Brzezinski was right when he stated “Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead on the Eurasian Continent, a policy which has its deep root in the 19th century.” In order to illustrate the significance of the Eurasian Heartland Doctrine, Dohnanyi describes how this doctrine, which still lies at the basis of today’s US geopolitics, came into being.
In order to illustrate his thesis, he refers to April 1904, when the British geographer Halford J. Mackinder gave a speech at the Royal Geographic Society “The Geographical Pivot of History”. “His theses have remained politically very influential up to this day. Mackinder sees a permanent threat of Europe from the East and concluded that therefore it was important to geopolitically dominate in the future this ‘heartland’ which is attacked by peoples from the East.(…) Hence in 1904 Mackinder writes that the ‘land’ therefore becomes more important than the ‘sea power’” and that for the “balance of power Russia is the pivot.” The major concern of England at the time was, according to Dohnanyi, “that a world dominating power could come into being if Germany would ally with Russia. Therefore the West needed as deterrence against the eastern land power ‘bridgeheads’ on the Eurasian continent. Until today, Dohnanyi writes, “influential US American politicians explicitly refer to Mackinder, also the geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, who like Mackinder looks at Europe as a ‘bridgehead’, the bridgehead of the US American World power.” And he quotes from Brzezinski’s book The grand chessboard: “In the first line, Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead on the Eurasian continent. America’s geostrategic interest in Europe is enormous. From their standpoint the most dangerous scenario would be a great coalition between China, Russia and Iran, because of complementary grievances.”
The conclusion which Dohnanyi draws from this historical review is that “Europe should finally admit: We Europeans are objects of US-American geopolitical interest and we were never truly allies, because we never had the right to speak.”
Russia as neighbor of Europe
“The relations of Germany and the EU to Russia are dominated by the US… In a way which is not comparable with any other country in the world,” Dohnayi states. This goes back to the geopolitical interests of the US to have Europe as a bridgehead. The negative valuation of Russia in the US has a tradition of 150 years. The idea of the “evil Empire” always dominated the policy of the US, olny with some interruption during the wars against Germany. Why is there this Russophobia? Dohnanyi’s explanation:
1. Russia is geographically among the three big powers, the biggest and closest to us Europeans. It stretches over 11 time zones, from Far Asia till the borders of Lithuania, but it has numerically a smaller population than China, the US and the EU. Russia economically is less important than the US, China and the EU. Russia has an excellent science structure, but its strength is in the area of raw materials, especially in energy end raw materials. Russia not only is neighbor of Europe but also a European nation. Russia’s foreign policy interests are determined by historical experience. The country had again and again to deter attacks form Western Europe, with millions of victims (it was ivìnvaded by King Adolf XII, Napoleon and Hitler). After the Cold War there was the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990 which deeply shattered the self-consciousness of the victorious World War II power. If one analyses Putin’s speeches, according to Dohnanyi, one sees that after the failed reform attempts under Gorbachev and Jelzin, and the degrading collapse at the end of the Cold War, that Rusia looks for its lost pride and for its way back on the world stage. Putin broke the international law with the annexation of Crimea, but also the US at the end of Cold War didn’t respect international law in the Mideast (e.g. the Iraq war being in violation of the International Law of UN Charta).
“The policy of the US, since their entry into the First World War was directed towards a geopolitical dominance of the ‘heartland’ and in the sense of Halford Mackinder continued consequently after the end of the Cold War”. Already after fall of the Wall, when Gorbachev and later Jelzin tried to found a partnership with the USA, the US only “reacted as victors of the Cold War and let the contradictions between the US and Russia fully break out into the open.”
Gorbachev ended the Cold War. Why was it not possible to develop a constructive relation after 1990? The central aspect was always Russia’s reaction to NATO’s extension to former Warsaw Pact states.
NATO Extension to the East
It is important that Dohnanyi writes about this question of “NATO’s extension to the East”, because this issue is very controversially discussed. As Dohnanyi recalls, on the basis of historical archives and books, it is true that there never was a “written” statement in terms of agreements between Gorbachev and James Baker (US Foreign State Secretary). Yet he also states that these were extremely turbulent times in which “Gorbachev had to rely on the word from foreign State Secretary James Baker. (…) The latter one had explicitly given him the assurance from H.W. Bush.” US Ambassador Michael McFaul in Moscow (2012-2015) confirmed in the book From Cold War to Hot Peace this thesis: “NATO expansion nourished within the Russian elite the insecurity about America’s long term intentions in respect to Russia.” He also quotes from former US Ambassador Jack F. Matlock (1987-91), who criticized President Clinton, since he had made concession to Gorbachev, who had received the clear commitment that Germany once reunified would stay in NATO and that the border of NATO would not be further expanded eastward.” (!)
Dohnanyi emphasizes in his book, that even though it remains undisputable, that Baker had received the explicit order from President Bush “To push for a quick German unification (…) and to assure the SU, that NATO would not be expanded further East,” as William Burns (former US ambassador in Moskow, today CIA director) had stated then, it was “finally Bush who did not recognize the chances for a new beginning with Russia and frivolously turned the end of the Cold War into a new start of tensions with Russia”. With his rebuffing reaction to Baker’s verbal agreements with Gorbachev, President Bush committed a fatal mistake for Europe. But Bush had ordered his foreign State Secretary, Baker, to assure Gorbachev that NATO would not extend beyond the German border! When Baker got the agreement from Gorbachev, Bush rather followed the advice of Brent Scowcroft, his security advisor in the White House and in Camp David (24. February 1990): he took back his assurances given to Baker by stating: “To hell with it. We have won, not they: We can’t allow the Soviets to get victory from the claws of failure and in the last minute transform defeat into victory.” (!)
In Dohnanyis view “this one single sentence (from Bush) today illustrates the US attitude as the biggest missed chance for an enduring peace in Europe and for the possibility to have Russia today in the global discussion as a partner on the side of the West and not of China.”
No peace for Europe?
The external security of Europe today de facto bases itself on NATO, i.e. the defense strategy of the USA, Dohnanyi states. Whatever Europe may contribute materially at the end, the US will keep all decisions in its hand. He adamantly emphasizes that “Not Europe counts in case of a Russian attack, only the security of the USA! We want in the first place the integrity of Europe and not the eventual victory of a world power.” And Kissinger clearly had stated that in Europe the US would always act out of geopolitical military interest, no matter whether the European states agree with this and how much they have contributed to the protection. He particularly points to Biden’s nuclear strategy that was discussed in February 2021 in the “Texas National Security Review”, which confirmed that nuclear weapons are only the last resort. “For our concept of defense against conventional attack there is only ‘flexible response’ and that means: War on the European soil till its destruction.” Dohnanyi concludes that this essentially means “Europe, in case of a Russian attack, according to US and NATO strategy would become the sole theater of war, without any direct risk for the Homeland USA. Germany as possible central basis of supplies would be immediately exposed to missile attacks. Has NATO or the Federal German Government ever explained what its defense strategy means for the country?”
Hence Dohnanyi argues that “a continuous security in Europe can only exist with, and not against Russia! Also NATO has again and again confirmed this. Only diplomacy and cooperation with Russia can create Security for Europe. But why does NATO not engage in a detente policy towards Russia? Why does the West not discuss about the true reasons of today’s tensions with Russia?” NATO must have diplomacy and Europe must find its own way to deter dangers for our continent. There should be a much more open cooperation with Russia in science, innovation, technology and economy. If Germany is for trade and cooperation with Russia, this is an essential basis of future peace in Europe. “The fact that the West limits itself to inefficient punishing action against Russia by sanctions, appears as a dangerous strategic mistake of European peace policy.”
Dohnanyi strongly criticizes the demand that Ukraine should become a member of NATO, by stating that this contains very dangerous risks in the relations between the West and Russia. This issue was apparently significant for the annexation of the Crimea 2014. He refers to Brzezinski, who already in an interview in 2015 with Die Welt (June 30) stated, that “we should watch out that the Cold War does not develop into a hot war, and develop compromise formula (…) According to my opinion the best compromise formula would be that Ukraine orients along the status quo. It would be allowed to closely orient to the EU and at the same time Russia would obtain the assurance that Ukraine does not become a member of NATO. It would have like Finland a special security status.”
Dohnanyi points out that NATO however on June 14th 2021 made a decision at the North Atlantic Council on the level of state and government heads in Brussels, stating “We confirm the decision taken at our summit 2008 in Bucharest, that the Ukraine will become member of the Alliance.”
The book ends with a strong plea for the defense of a “Europe of the nations”, an alliance of fatherlands and the advice that Germany and France together should push ahead diplomatic dialogue with Russia. The EU and its Commission, instead of engaging in small regulation debates and financial sanctions against member states such as Poland and Hungary, should really defend European sovereignty, while trying to build economic relations with China and Russia.
Dohnany has launched a series of provocative questions in the midst of the present highly agitated debate in Germany. But these questions which should be answered and not cast aside, might become relevant for the shaping of a New World order and a New Security Architecture.