September 14, 2013

Germany's Bismarck temptation and secret pacts with Russia

By Last updated: September 13th, 2013

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Germany's euro break-up party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has unveiled its foreign policy. It is pure Bismarck.

"Germany and Europe have no interest in a further weakening of Russia," said Alexander Gauland, AfD's foreign affairs chief. "Germany's relations with Russia should be managed with meticulous care."

What they say is no longer an academic question. The party is rising fast in the polls and may break through the 5pc barrier to take seats in the Bundestag, scrambling a close election.

AfD openly evokes the "Rückversicherungsvertrag", the secret "Reinsurance Treaty" between the Kaiser's Germany and Tsarist Russia in 1887. (As reported by Die Welt)

The terms were that the Germany would remain neutral if Russia were attacked by the Austro-Hungarian empire over disputes in the Balkans.

In return, Russia would remain neutral if Germany were attacked by a revanchist France determined to take back Alsace-Lorraine. It was Otto von Bismarck's guarantee – later dropped by the Kaiser Wilhelm II – that Germany would not have to fight a war on two fronts.

Dr Gauland, a former state secretary for the Christian Democrats, said it is time to accommodate Kremlin "sensitivities" and treat the wounded Russian bear with more caution. He explicitly proposed that "elements of Bismarck's reinsurance policy towards Russia should be maintained.

"The Germans sometimes forget that Russia played a positive role at key moments of German history, saving Prussia from destruction. It happened in 1763, 1806/1807, 1813, in Bismarck's unification of the Reich in 1866/1870, and in German reunification in 1990/1991."

To cite German reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union as an example of Russian friendship is eccentric. But he goes further, saying Poland should not have been let into Nato and that Russia's loss of "Holy Kiev" was an unthinkable injury comparable to the loss of Aachen or Cologne for Germany. That sent shivers down my spine. Let us hope that AfD is not inviting Russia to retake Ukraine, as it retook northern Georgia in 2008.

[Addendum: I have just spoken to Dr Gauland after writing this blog. He was charming and assured me that there is no question of handing Ukraine back to Russia, or ever again allowing German and Russian spheres of influence in Poland.

"The right of self-determination of the Ukrainian people must be upheld. All I am saying is that we must try to understand what makes Russia tick, and why it reacts to things. That is the essence of Bismarck's policy," he said.

He also said he was a "great friend" of the United Kingdom. "It would be a catastrophe if Britain left the EU because it would be taken over by the French bureaucracy. I really hope this does not happen."]

The party said Germany should cast off its post-war guilt complex. "We Germans tend to look back at the Hitler years and view the pursuit of the national interest as something bad. This is not an outlook shared by our friends and neighbours, or by other players on the world stage."

Personally, I have long argued that Germany should do exactly that, acting confidently as a full and respected member of the free world. The country has a vibrant democracy. It has exemplary institutions, and the only supreme court in Europe that seems too willing to defend the rights of all EU citizens.

My assumption was that Germans would be splendid ally, and friend of Britain, as it might have been in the 20th century in other circumstances. However, I am surprised at where this is taking us. It is reminder to Euro-sceptics (like me) that you should be careful what you wish for, that once you uncork all this tribalism and nationalist nostalgia bubbling away beneath the surface, the outpouring could take ominous directions. We may swap the EU Leviathan, for a dangerous and fragmented Europe.

Needless to say, I blame the EU elites for pushing matters to a point where these sorts of rebellions are springing up across the EU. Had they not ratcheted up their encroachments with one treaty after another, and had they not disregarded the French and Dutch "No" votes to the European Constitution, and then the Irish "No" to Nice in the only country allowed a vote, and had they not launched the deflationary death trap of monetary union, these revolts would not be happening. But they are happening, and we have to be rigorously honest about the risks.

AfD pays lip-service to the Nato alliance, insisting that it wishes to retain the US as the anchor of the Western security system, even it as it talks of finding a middle way between the US and Russia. This is eyewash. You cannot pick and choose, opting in and out of western security as takes your fancy. The whole order will unravel if key countries behave in this fashion.

A cynic would say that Mr Gauland is merely articulating openly what is already the foreign Ostpolitik of Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel. The country refused to back its French and British allies in the UN Security Council over Libya; it refused to join France, Britain, Spain, and Italy in signing the G20 accord denouncing the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria.
It curries favour with Russia and China at the expense of EU partners on one issue after another, undercutting the European Commission when its own trade interests are at stake. It is a "semi-detached" member of the European Union already, more so than Britain these days in foreign policy.

AfD's main plank, of course, is German withdrawal from the euro, and it is making waves in the final days of the campaign. It has jumped from 2pc to 3pc, and now suddenly 4pc, within striking distance of the Bundestag.

As with Ukip, the Dansk Folkeparti, or Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, or Marine Le Pen's Front National, the polls understate true support because people disguise their intentions. The great unknown is how many.

If AfD breaks through – and if it does so at the expense of the Mrs Merkel's Free Democrat allies (FDP) – the outcome could be dramatic. The dullest election of modern times is starting to catch fire.

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