Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The recent three-day state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow has resulted in a significant strengthening of Russian- Chinese strategic relations. A series of documents got signed between the two state leaders Putin and Xi Jinping, including an expansion of trade relations, especially in the energy sector; but there was also a discussion between Putin and Xi Jinping about China’s peace proposal for the Ukraine conflict, which was favorably received by the Russian side. This however stands in stark contrast to the announcement made by NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, by John Kirby from the US National Security Council and several European leaders, who keep emphasizing that the war in Ukraine will continue for a „long time“- thus making clear that the US, NATO and the Ukraine have no interest at all to end the bloody war and will do everything to escalate the conflict, even if that leads to a nuclear catastrophe.

On this background it is worthwhile to study attentively the „Initiative of the Working Group Common House Europe”, which on February 12th 2023 under the title “To contain and overcome the war in and around Ukraine”, issued an urgent public appeal in Germany, warning of a „nuclear conflict” and catastrophe for humanity, if we let the Ukraine war continue and escalate. As it was the case with previous peace initiatives in Germany, this appeal was interestingly n o t covered by the German main stream press. The appeal got signed by four prominent representatives: Among them the well-known pianist Justus Frantz (also known for his engagement in the Russian /German musical cultural dialogue, like the Schleswig- Holstein Music Festival.) Aside Frantz the appeal got signed by former Inspector General of the German Armed Forces, Gen. a.D. Harald Kujat, who also was Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, as well as former chairman of the NATO- Russia Council. Aside him the other signer was Prof. Dr. Horst Teltschik, former advisor to Chancellor Dr. Helmut Kohl, who together with the German Chancellor and Russian General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, had been one of the main architects in bringing about German reunification, that was based on the concept of a „new security architecture” in Europe. In his function as former Chairman of the prestigious „Munich Security Conference (MSC)“, Dr. Teltschik managed during his term (1999-2008) to  organize fascinating strategic debates, by bringing together strategic as well as security representatives from Russia and the West ,as well as from China  during that period, in order to discuss the main strategic challenges as well as looking for constructive solutions. Another signer was Dr. Bruno Redeker from the board of directors of the well-known „Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker -Gesellschaft Wissen und Verantwortung e.V.“ association.

On war today

The „Initiative Working Group Common House Europa“ -that is  part of the above mentioned C.F. von Weizsäcker Society „Knowlege and Responsibility e.V.“ – is guided by the ideas and concepts of one of the leading German Scientist and Philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1912- 2007),  who- being a pupil of Heisenberg, with his nuclear research as well as studies in the field of Quantum Physics, not only worked in the Max Planck Institute, but given his wide knowledge of Philosophy and Theology,  contributed to an in depth   interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue in German Society. As the website of the C.F. von Weizsäcker association documents, von Weizsäcker is one of the few great thinkers and physicists who brought together the perspectives of natural sciences with philosophy, religion and politics- by looking at the challenges as well as the responsibility of society and citizens in our time.

The text of the „Initiative of the Working Group Common House Europe“ starts  with a quote from C.F. Weizsäcker, who in his reflections about war had stated that  „War is at least as old as advanced civilization.“ This has been documented by the oldest reports of the peoples, the ancient myths as well as by the Old Testament Prophets who in a poetic parable had written  that  „The lion will lie down beside the lamb, and the swords will be reforged into plowshares.“  Yet as von Weizsäcker underlined, the situation today is “fundamentally different from all previous ones”. The reason for this being that „modern technology can transform war into a total catastrophe.(…) In the past, not always the peoples, but still humanity survived the greatest wars that were technically possible at that time. War was a terrible institution, but a possible one. Possible it still is today, but not permanently survivable for it (humanity); it is necessary to overcome it as an institution.”(!)

Under the headline „Time is pressing“, the appeal particularly makes reference to the ongoing war in Ukraine: „War has returned to Europe, with the war over Ukraine for the second time after World War II. This war involves, with others, but still in a dominant way, the two great powers that possess about 90% of all nuclear weapons systems in the world. In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, we still barely escaped, not entirely by accident. John F. Kennedy, President of the United States at the time, knew: ‚Above all, nuclear powers, while defending their own vital interests, must avert that confrontation which presents an adversary with a choice between humiliating retreat or nuclear war. Such a course in the nuclear age would only be evidence of the bankruptcy of our policy-or of a collective death wish for the world.‘“

The appeal further warned that (…) „In the days of the Cold War, there was a pronounced awareness of the permanent danger of nuclear war. Today, this awareness seems to have largely faded, overlaid and shaped by global fields of tension and crisis such as the energy and world food crisis, demographic change and the overexploitation of natural resources, climate change, terrorism, and migration.  But the danger of nuclear war has not diminished as a result. On the contrary, it has been seriously exacerbated by the constant further development of modern technology: by the further development of nuclear weapons systems themselves, by artificial intelligence and the algorithmization of decision-making processes, and by the development of chemical and biological weapons. Finally, by those defense systems through which the ‚balance of terror‘ threatens to lose its functionality. The new East-West conflict, at the center of which is the rivalry between the USA and China for the position of the “sole world power” (Zbigniew Brzeziński), is also associated with a new quality of the danger of a nuclear war. With conflicts in the background in and around India (Kashmir), with further trouble spots such as those of the Middle East, Taiwan, the South China Sea and – last but not least – the likewise unresolved Kosovo issue in Europe.“

Danger of nuclear conflict

Given the danger of nuclear conflict one should consider the fact that (…) „the secured nuclear second-strike capability has presumably contributed essentially to avoiding another ‘Great War’ – so far. But this ‘balance of terror’ is highly unstable. Not only because of the possible escalation of local conflicts at any time and the constant development of nuclear weapons systems and technologies. But also by their proliferation and by military doctrines that do not really exclude first use. Finally, by human error and human delusion.”

According to the appeal „this includes the fact that Ukraine, for all its independent goals, is ultimately also fighting for the geostrategic interests of the United States in its rivalry with the other two great powers, Russia and China. Ukraine will have to consider to what extent these challenges or may challenge its own vital interests. Europe, on the other hand, will have to consider whether it wants to risk the use of nuclear weapons on its territory to do so. Never before has mankind been so close to an Armageddon as today, has the thread of the nuclear sword of Damocles been so thin over our heads as today, has the awareness of the danger been so little present as today. And the Cuban crisis teaches: one mistake is enough!“

The document clearly demands that „Today wars must no longer be waged under the conditions of modern technology. And if they are waged, they must be brought to an end in such a way that this end does not produce another Versailles, does not become the birthplace of follow-up wars.“

Not the Ukraine alone, but Russia as well

The appeal strongly emphasizes that Russia should not be „given the choice of a humiliating withdrawal or nuclear war. Contrary to a strong stream of published opinions, the Common House of Europe does not need Ukraine alone, but Russia as well. Otherwise, Europe will remain, in Hubert Seipel’s (journalist) words, “where we already stood after the First World War – in the trenches.(…) Under the sword of nuclear Damocles, the whole picture must include paving the way for a peace of understanding that will contain the war over Ukraine in the perspective of Ukraine’s and Russia’s security interests, overcome the war within the framework of international law in a peace of reconciliation, and – in a comprehensive pan-European security architecture – also resolve the question of “guilt and atonement.”

The document refers to Mikhail Gorbachev, who by 2015 had already urgently warned: “We stand at a crossroads in the relationship between America and Russia. The trust we have so painstakingly built is at stake.”  According to the authors of the appeal „Today, that trust is gambled away, largely, with the consequence of a ‘cultural system where there is no longer right and wrong for man and history’ (Maurice Merleau-Ponty). And that is where we are today, caught in the crossfire of traditional and new social media, of information and disinformation, where the instrumentalized history becomes coercion.“

“In order for us to get away once again, the working group is promoting an initiative, which first and foremost, in the short term considers ‘confidence-building measures‘, the appeal emphasizes. (…)  “This means:  mutual trust which, in its deep bonds, as distinct from intellectual truth-telling, is the prerequisite and basis for the viable success of any negotiations and agreements – be it in the form of an understanding not fixed in writing, be it in the form of explicitly formulated treaties, in agreements such as the CSCE Helsinki Final Act of 1975 or the NATO-Russia Founding Act for the Improvement of Cooperation between the NATO States and Russia – the viability of which in turn develops and helps to shape the deep bonds of mutual trust, which in the medium term, following Henry Kissinger, takes care to modernize the ‘Westphalian system’ and adapt it to the ‘new realities’, whereby  “each state recognized as a ‚subject of international law‘ could – in idea at least – preserve its own culture, politics, religion, and internal structures, and be protected by the system against outside interference.“(…)

The Genius of the Westphalian System

Today’s situation necessitates a „balancing act: neither to lose the genius of the Westphalian system, nor ( …) lose the compass of universally felt values.” As far as Europe is concerned, the policy that produced the „Charter of Paris“ which laid the ground for  a “peace and security order from Vancouver to Vladivostok” and led to the reunification of Germany, can serve as a model, the authors of the appeal suggest.

The appeal ends with an epilogue: „War in which two nuclear powers are involved has returned to Europe and with that the danger, that modern technology could transform the war in Ukraine into a total catastrophe. Now as before, what matters is, there will be ‚no security without America,‘ but that also means There will be ‚no security without Russia.‘ And also  ‚no security without China.‘“


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