What DOES RAISON d’ETAT MEAN
Raison d’Etat” (a French word) is the political principle by virtue of which the interest of the State, conceived as a superior concern emanating from the general interest, may require derogation from certain legal or moral rules, particularly in exceptional circumstances. Giving rise to a wide variety of practices, this notion is related in particular to the concept of national sovereignty, in that its main purpose is to ensure the preservation and continuity of the State.
Is this a reason we don’t want to explain anything to our citizens? Is it a choice made by those in power that must remain hidden? Is it military secrecy, which is invoked when a government does not want to give an explanation? Most of the time, it’s all of the above. The Dreyfuss affair was its paradigm. But there is an exception.
It is not a secret; it is not hidden. It’s unique in the world. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent anywhere else on the planet.
The German definition
On October 7, 2023, immediately after the horrific massacre that became public knowledge, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared that “the security of the State of Israel is the raison d’état of Germany”. In doing so, he echoed the words of his predecessor, Chancellor Angela Merkel. On March 18, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, she told the Knesset; “As far as the Holocaust is concerned, Germany’s historical responsibility is part of my country’s raison d’état; this means that Israel’s security is never negotiable for me as German Chancellor”. This is in itself a unique statement, even if Washington’s ally stands by Israel but not without some tension.
Chancellor SCHOLZ, in a government statement to the Bundestag on the situation in Israel, confirmed: “At the moment, there is only one place for Germany, and that is on Israel’s side.” He added: “This is what we mean when we say ‘Israel’s security is the German raison d’état”.
We know of no other example where a state so clearly and strongly proclaims the survival of another state as its own raison d’état.
Make no mistake, this is a political, BUT not a legal, term. The raison d’être of one state, Germany, places Israel’s security above ANYTHING ELSE. This raison d’état, to understand its meaning properly, is based above all on history . It was the Shoah that shaped relations between the two countries. Germany is not alone to stress Israel’s right to exist. The United States has clearly stated that Israël has the right to defend itself in the event of an attack. This is still a long way to go for the 193 members of the UN.
It should be remembered that Germany, after the United States, is the second largest contributor of aid to the Palestinians, and, like Washington, is in favor of a two-state solution. Currently this aid has been suspended.
The new scandal involving the vast majority of Palestinian employees, members of Hamas, has led to the suspension of many contributions to UNWRA. Incidentally, France has not had to suspend its aid for the time being, as it has already paid what it had planned and nothing more in the first half of 2024, It’s a waiting game.
The EU’s request an audit of UNWRA is just a window-dressing, as the situation has been known for years. Collusion does exist. Since a commission can definitely not be created to bury the scandal, the UE is asking for an audit. It will be lost in the sands of UNWRA. The complicity between Hamas and the organization exists since years and nothing will change.
Did you say raison d’Etat ? Yes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean military aid. It should be pointed out, however, that Germany supplies Israel with military equipment (notably submarines). A major ammunition contract is currently underway. There is no legal obligation for Germany to intervene militarily should the situation deteriorate. But, according to German experts themselves, the federal government = without declaring it openly = would be ready to go very far, if the question were to arise in existential terms.
In practice, the concept of Raison d’Etat is a burning issue for the federal government and parliament, especially since they are a three-party coalition.
Pros and cons
Generally “Reason of state always puts self-interest before values”, declared the Managing Director of Germany’s Max Plank Institute for the History and Theory of Law. In fact, what is meant by this is that protecting the state of Israel could be a “German value” that could undermine Germany’s higher interests. Angela Merkel’s statement in 2008 reduced the tension. It was an attempt to reformulate a legal position in political form, for the purposes of international politics. In this sense, it has the great merit of clarifying the German position and, in fact, simplifying it, even though this notion is so unique that it remains a singular case that cannot be compared with anything else, in the same way as the Shoah, which claimed six million victims.
According to legal experts, this configuration ultimately allows the leader of a state to declare that he has nothing to divulge if he asserts that it is in the interest of the state. With this theory, the Chancellor was able to close the heated controversy on this raison d’état. Some critics may argue the opposite, arguing that if the state can split up and isolate certain principles, this can impact and weaken other commitments, thereby undermining democracy. Here, we can see the extent to which the federal government has had to face up to multiple oppositions, in spite the fact that freedom of expression is enshrined in the Basic Law (which acts as a constitution). Pro-Palestinian demonstrations were banned, while other forms of expression were curtailed, such as statements endorsing criminal acts or fomenting unrest. It’s a tricky business for the German government, both domestically and internationally.
Berlin’s concept is unique, including in the European Union. Israel certainly finds some support there, but it is swindling, as the military operation in Gaza continues. It is worth remembering that Germany intervened at the Hague Criminal Court in support of Israel. The same cannot be said of the majority of countries which remained watching. Some might criticize Germany for supporting a “genocidal country”, for those who retain this formulation from the International Criminal Court. Germany position has to be valued for the political courage it implies. It’s so much easier to follow the pack and howl with the wolves.
The debate is now open as to who the victims are. For some, Berlin does not seem to differentiate between civilian and military victims (they pretend to ignore the fact that the majority of Hamas members are purposely dressed as civilians). Germany could be legally implicated and accused of complicity, some argue.
Very recently, Minister Robert HABECK used the keyword ISRAEL RAISON D’ETAT in a high-profile speech on Israel and anti-Semitism. This exceptional position on the part of Germany has caused it to lose much of its aura and credibility in the Arab world, which is only interested in the Israeli reaction. The lattr becomes – for this part of the opinion – the starting point and qualifies Israel as the aggressor, scrapping the October 7 pogrom, as do many non-Arab media.
Finally, to conclude the question of raison d’Etat, it’s worth noting that the current coalition agreement between the SPD, the Greens and the FDP includes the concept of ISRAEL, RAISON D’ETAT in its government contract. There’s no better way to put it in a democracy, especially to all the well-meaning preachers and advisers.