TCS Daily

Germany's Neo-Gaullism

By Eric R. Staal - February 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Europe's latest diplomatic initiative -- to convince Iran to halt its development of nuclear weapons -- had barely had a chance to succeed and already German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is undermining it.

Since 2002, when Iran was found to be hiding its weapons program from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), European efforts to negotiate an end to Tehran's nuclear program have repeatedly failed. Therefore, it is hard to imagine why Schröder would publicly denounce a pre-emptive strike, the threat of which gives the Europeans the best hope of convincing Iran to accept a diplomatic solution.

Preventing autocratic regimes from going nuclear is never easy and there is no precedent for successful diplomacy in such situations. Iranian President Khameini clearly deems the obdurate pursuit of nuclear weapons to be in his interest. Moreover, timing is of the essence. Once a country builds a nuclear device it reaches a point of no return, from which it becomes nearly impossible for foreign powers to disarm it. With its ability to launch missiles all the way to London and its track-record for supporting terror networks from Iraq to Gaza, the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is certainly alarming. The dreaded post-9/11 crossroads of terrorism and nuclear weapons run straight through Tehran.

Only a credible deterrent can render Iran's $16 million investment in underground facilities worthless and its enrichment of 22 tons of yellow cake uranium futile. However, any suggestion of pre-emption is exactly what Schröder has come out against. Last week the chancellor took multiple opportunities to state his opposition to the use of force against Iran, even while his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, consulted with the new US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in Washington.

Last week in Berlin Schröder reiterated to both the German Bundestag and his party "there must be no military intervention" adding that "this determination should be clear to all our friends." And at the World Economic Forum he took the opportunity to state the obvious: "The last thing we need is another military conflict," as if military strikes were the preferred solution of anybody.

Nor does Schröder face serious criticism at home for his reckless comments. In conservative circles, there is no appetite to challenge the chancellor on the wisdom of his rejection of military strikes. The last time Schröder tapped into pacifist sentiment, he overcame a deficit in public approval and went on to win an election he was poised to lose.

Is Schröder naively overlooking that his rhetoric encourages the mullahs in Tehran to miscalculate? Without the threat of force, Iran can expect to buy the time it needs by drawing out negotiations and banking on European support in a UN Security Council showdown over sanctions. In short, Schröder is provoking a crisis and increasing the likelihood that military strikes will be needed.

Schröder's motives are hard to grasp without understanding the paradigmatic shift in German foreign policy in recent years. During the Cold War, the United States had a reliable ally in West Germany. Successive German governments carefully choreographed the demands of European integration with the priorities of the transatlantic alliance. The traditional Gaullist view, however, is that Europe can only emerge as a power in its own right by extricating itself from the tutelage of the United States. That means derailing the transatlantic locomotive, in order to make room for a more independent Europe that can vie with the United States for international influence.

The red-green coalition in Berlin has led German foreign policy on a Neo-Gaullist detour. Within German policy circles, talk of the need for a European counterweight to balance American hegemony is prevalent, while foreign, economic and domestic policy distinctions between Europe and the United States are accentuated.

The rhetoric is based on two myths about the current transatlantic relationship. The first is that the United States acts unilaterally and in its own interest while a united Europe under Franco-German stewardship would act multilaterally and in the world's interest. The second is that the United States focuses on the use of military force while a peaceful Europe relies the use of diplomacy and the instruments of so-called "soft power." Of course, progress in the war on terror has been made precisely because gargantuan American expenditures to build democracy have dwarfed the military force used to topple odious regimes.

When diplomacy in Iran fails and a pre-emptive strike becomes the last hope to prevent the nightmare of a nuclear-armed Iran, however, the myths will be validated. U.S. military action will divert attention from Europe's failed appeasement of Iran and the American campaign for democratic reform in the Middle East, while the Gaullist argument for a united Europe to stop the American military colossus will gather momentum.

Germany is uniquely in the pivotal geopolitical position of choosing between leading Europe into a new era of transatlantic cooperation, or succumbing to the temptations of Neo-Gaullism. All of this means that despite the best of intentions to repair transatlantic relations, the new Bush Administration may be heading straight into an ideological roadblock.

Eric R. Staal is Press Secretary for Republicans Abroad Germany. Email:


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