President Putin of Russia recently stated that his country’s relationship to the Crimea is as important as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Just look at the map of Europe. Situated on the southern tip of the Ukraine, the Crimea has been a bulwark against Islamic-Turkish naval aggression since it was taken from the Ottomans in the mid-1770’s. This means that the original Crimean annexation is older than the original unification of Germany by nearly one hundred years. What does Germany have to do with it? The answer is, in one short word, everything.
There are two ways for Russia to be invaded from the west: by land through the North European Plain (Germany, Poland and the Ukraine) and by sea from the Turkish Black Sea straits to the Crimean Ukraine. During WWII, only the Northern European Plain was used by the Nazi army as its entry point toward Moscow. Throughout the war, the Black Sea remained outside of German control even though the Crimea was occupied. The Ukraine was then (and remains) as important to Russian security as the West Bank is to Israel (especially the Jordan River Valley). But what if, during WWII, the Black Sea was outside the grasp of the Russian Navy? And what if, today, the Ukraine (including Crimea) was integrated into the NATO alliance system? What would that mean for the security of Russia?
President Putin has been portrayed by the Western media as an aggressor. He has been described as a man whose paranoid fantasies have sparked a generalized European crisis. But this same media (especially now in Europe) has (unforgivably) painted Israel’s 1967 victory — against total Arab aggression — with the same brush. Can NATO and the EU countries be wrong about both the Crimea and the West Bank? The answer is a self-evident yes! On both counts, they are so far off-base that one can only wonder about their true intentions.
In 1967 (ironically), Germany and all of Europe stood up for Israel. Even the Soviet Union, who had backed the Arab side in the war, failed to veto UN Resolution 242. This resolution was drafted by the Security Council under Article Six of the UN constitution. Article Six is crucial to the understanding of the war, because under its auspices Israel’s preemptive air assault against Egypt and Syria was not branded as aggression. On the contrary, all of Europe saw the war as an Israeli act of self-defense. In fact, Israel’s hold on the disputed territory of the West Bank today is legal, according to this resolution, until such time as a negotiated settlement can be reached between itself and the states of the region. Furthermore, Israel’s legitimate security concerns are enshrined within the resolution, while the amount of territory that Israel must relinquish has been left vague and subject to negotiations.
Today’s Russia has no such UN Security Council 242 understanding with NATO and the West. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet Premier Gorbachev was promised by the George H.W. Bush administration that NATO expansion eastward was not (and will not be) contemplated. NATO lied. The European partition of the continent was moved eastward, as all the old states of the Warsaw Pact were absorbed into what can only be described as an American-German axis. US military power supplies the muscle, while Germany’s Ostpolitik (East policy) has now been replaced with a new aggressive and expansionist tilt aimed at isolating Russia and starving her economically. How else could Russia interpret the situation? The March 2014 coup against a democratically instituted neutral government in Kiev was correctly perceived in Moscow as an attempt by the German-led EU to dramatically alter the European balance of power in favor of the West.
Germany claims that it has a “special relationship” with Israel. But with many European countries tilting away from any kind of clear understanding of Israel’s strategic position, could Germany too abandon its long-time commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 242? Instead of Germany being Israel’s strategic champion, it has remained quiet in the face of French, Swedish and British recognition of West Bank Palestinian statehood. But Israel (even under the greatest Western pressure) will never allow Palestinian statehood to be a unilateral matter. In the same way, Russia will never agree to Ukrainian integration into a new US-German partition of Europe. For better or worse, Germany has become the dominant player in Europe. The days when it could hide behind Washington’s skirts are over. Germany will either become a strategic player or face the consequences of NATO’s dying paradigm.
Europe is poised on the edge of a dangerous anarchy. From Athens to Rome to Madrid and even to Paris, Germany is now perceived as the economic “bully” of Europe. Its answer to the economic dilemma of a post-2008 depression (which has gripped the continent now for six years) has been to make its EU partners suffer. But the EU was originally designed to bracket German power and nationalism within a “European Scheme”. This construction is slowly (but surely) unraveling. Right-wing nationalist politics continue to make great strides forward, as the old US-led European political establishment struggles to come up with an economic solution to the EU’s “crisis of demand”. Germany’s answer has been: Follow our model, export your way out of debt. But this can’t be the solution, and everyone in Europe knows it. Who is going to buy the products, if everyone is running a trade surplus? Certainly not the economically weakened, US ex-middle class.
Like the 1930’s, the house of Europe is broken. Russia and its security echelon will not be bullied, but NATO insists it must. The Ukraine is Europe’s open wound, and its potential consequences are far more dangerous than the breakup of the old Yugoslavia. This wound needs to be treated before the infection spreads. Only Germany can lead the continent toward peace. And because it is a front-line state, it doesn’t really have much of a choice. Germany needs to finally confront its strategic demons and lead NATO toward an all-European integrative solution to the present calamity of eastward partition. All of Europe must realize that the isolation of Russia from a vast European security alliance has been a gross political mistake of colossal proportions. Only by integrating Russia into an all-European defensive structure can peace be attained. NATO expansion and/or economic sanctions will cause the situation to either explode or drift. Either way, the prospect of uncontrolled nationalism and miscalculation is certainly on the horizon.
In the Middle East, the world will listen to German explanations of Israel’s vital security hold of the West Bank. Germany needs to challenge the court of world public opinion with an unbiased appraisal as to who was the aggressor in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. Europeans must understand that a Palestinian West Bank state is to Israel what NATO expansion into the Ukraine is to Russia. The Germans must understand that the future of a new global order depends less on the uber-power of the US than it does on the peaceful imperative of international cooperation. The current stalemates on both the European continent and the Middle East will not stand. The prospect of war in conjunction with nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. These lessons should have been learned years ago. But the hubris of NATO’s victory and the reunification of Germany were certainly not followed by wisdom. Must the lessons of the 1930’s be repeated?
As the aggressor nation in WWII, Germany owes the world its best strategic effort at peace. Because there now is a Jewish state in the Middle East (in many respects as the European answer to the Holocaust), 21st century Germany has emerged well placed to apply the full weight of its foreign and military policy to an international, regional and local approach at peacemaking. The old paradigm of partition is as anachronistic on the West Bank as it is at Russia’s doorstep. No one understands this better than Israel and Russia. If Germany continues on its current NATO path, and if it fails to lead the European nations away from unilateral recognition of sole Palestinian control on the West Bank, Germany will fail in its historic destiny. After Hitler, and Berlin’s seventy year slumber, Germany’s new strategic position must be peace. Both the Jews and the Russians, and in fact the whole world, await a new German policy with regard to a new international order. Anything less will be perceived in Moscow and Jerusalem as strategic cowardice leading to a new German tyranny.