The Ukrainian people are suffering, it is heartbreaking; people fight, one can only admire their courage. Availability and solidarity are overwhelming. Indignation and empathy: however strong these feelings are, they can guide political action, not replace it.
Yes, Putin’s war kills, breaks international law and seeks to destroy the European order that was developed by the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Chancellor Olaf Scholz made this impressive in his government statement on the 24th. February. One of his predecessors, Helmut Schmidt, warned in September 2014 (after the occupation of Crimea): no one wants war, “but we must fear the growing likelihood that it will be”.
As if under a spotlight, it becomes clear: Germany (and Europe) have damaged the foundations of a secure state and a secure economic force. In Germany, 2011 was a pivotal year. After the disaster at the Japanese nuclear power plant in Fukushima, it was decided to phase out the use of nuclear energy. In the same year the conscription was suspended.
“Change through trade” is a false guiding principle
First of all, the security of energy supply: Europe imports around 60% of the energy it needs. Germany is no exception, but a leader. Europe and Germany have always imported energy and raw materials: nothing will change that as long as we want to remain a successful industrialized country with well-paid jobs. Wind turbines, cars, cars, batteries: we import the necessary raw materials. Where solar cells are installed, around 80% are located in China. We source titanium, chromium, molybdenum, cobalt, copper, zinc, coltan, rare earths and much more from many parts of the world, even very far away.
This also includes Libya, Iraq, Colombia, Brazil; Australia, Nigeria, Congo, South Africa, China, Kazakhstan – the list is actually longer, countries like Qatar or the Emirates should soon be among them. A “who’s who” when it comes to the rule of law and human rights, social or ecological standards is only very limited. However, the international division of labor creates prosperity and security for all. Security of supply, freedom of trade routes, diversification of sources: all this requires international cooperation, based on international rules.
“Change through trade” – this is a catchy wording, but as a guiding principle it was always wrong. Those who reduce the necessary dense network of economic, scientific, cultural exchanges, those who reduce the development of understanding, those who reduce the respect for history, different cultures and civilizations to the import or export of goods, squander practically all the starting points for a peaceful dialogue, including coexistence. Ultimately, this also damages the goals of greater rule of law, freedom and democracy. You can’t just export it as a machine; we can be proud of what we have achieved today as a result of long political and social struggles; but not smug or arrogant.
We don’t have enough electricity for the future
Let’s continue the “energy” example a bit: if we want to generate electricity from renewable sources, using wind, sun or biomass; if at the same time we want to make our economy largely free of fossils; when we (finally) digitize consistently, then pour the clean wine. We will need huge amounts of electricity for this, at least four times as much as today. This is a gigantic task. The territory of Germany with its natural conditions is not enough for this. We don’t have the space, nor do we have enough sun or wind. The next few years will show whether we have the stamina, foresight and a sense of reality that we need.
With our current “power plant park” of wind turbines, we “harvest” about 25 percent of installed capacity; We produce electricity from the sun, which is around 10-12% of the installed capacity. This does not contradict their further expansion, on the contrary – but speaks for a sober assessment of technical possibilities and political needs. This includes having storage facilities and being able to transport electricity reliably and economically from where it is generated to the consumer at any time – we are a long way from this when comparing the power lines that will be needed in the future, their timing. of design and construction with the objectives that we have set ourselves politically.
We need a trans-European electricity network
The agreement between the coalition parties drew a conclusion: one could “ideally” phase out coal-fired power generation by 2030; to do this, gas power plants should be built that can then also run on “green hydrogen”. The simple truth is: The more electricity we produce from the wind or the sun, the more storage, efficient power plants and smart grids can act quickly when needed.
Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement show that if we are to reach the 1.5 degrees target, we would have to recover 730 gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, an enormous amount. The technologies are there; For example, reports from the Federal Institute for Materials Research, Research at the Ruhr University of Bochum, some systems and a wide range of scientific publications prove this. Here, Germany and Europe (again) have the opportunity to be the world’s technology leaders in securing the foundations of life.
We need new energy partnerships
Therefore, we should rethink our “central park”. The most modern coal-fired power plant in the world is located in Hamburg. It is stopped and demolition could start this year. This would not just mean that a rapidly controllable (i.e. flexible enough) power plant would disappear; Germany would also deprive itself of a technology that other countries that cannot (at least not so quickly) do without fossil energy – or that want, as France or Belgium are demonstrating by continuing to use nuclear energy – urgently need. . At least a lot would be gained if the idea of trans-European networks for the transport of electricity or gas, which is more than a decade old, were finally implemented with energy.
We need new energy partnerships, in Europe and with countries like those in the Middle East or North Africa. Aramco from Saudi Arabia or the Emirates are not only building new cities, but also huge parks where “green hydrogen” is produced using solar and geothermal energy (a topic neglected in Germany). Energy partnerships with these states, as now agreed by Economy Minister Habeck, were unthinkable just a few weeks ago. North African countries could also share with us environmentally friendly energy production and industrial value creation, or even create jobs and reduce migratory pressure. These considerations by the former Minister of Economic Cooperation, Gerd Müller, still represent a forward-looking contribution to global security.
The conscription was suspended in 2011
But what about our security? After German unity, we took the peace dividend and saw our freedom assured, “surrounded” by friends. The “2 + 4 Treaty” provided for a maximum limit for the German armed forces of 370,000 soldiers. Today the Bundeswehr is less than half that size. In 2011, the conscription was suspended; spending fell to a minimum of 1.1 per cent of total economic output. The result is a decrease in equipment efficiency, a lack of availability of weapon systems and a decrease in interoperability in Europe and NATO. In doing so, Germany had negligently weakened the pillars of common security.
It was and is an ideology that all of this was garnished with claims that only the “professionals” would meet the requirements and that the defense capability would be better and cheaper as a result. All of this was led (surprisingly enough) by the Union, which provided the Chancellor, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Defense. Added to this is the conceptual confusion: in 2010 a Bundeswehr with 250,000 members, 50,000 conscripts and 75,000 civilian employees was planned; In 2011, all of this was thrown overboard. At that time, there should be one person in the civil service for every four soldiers. Today there are approximately 184,000 soldiers and approximately 82,000 civilian employees.
Safety precautions are always long-term
More serious: the capabilities of the Bundeswehr should derive from the crisis response. This catastrophically wrong approach has not sparked a broad political debate, quite the contrary. It remains true: the constitutional mandate of the Bundeswehr is the security of Germany and its allies; the skills required for this can (!) also be used in crisis response and international peacekeeping missions. That consensus is returning – and this is of paramount importance. The women and men on duty deserve it, despite everything they do exceptionally in peacekeeping missions and even in Germany when needed.
Safety precautions are always long-term or not suitable. Security policy can only be long-term if there is a basic strategic and political consensus. Equally important will be creating security for the guarantors of our security. This requires a consensus (perhaps even institutionally established) that transcends electoral periods and party lines. The formation of a special fund offers an opportunity for this. It must not be wasted on ritualized debates that only repeat old patterns of thought.
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This text appeared in the weekend edition of the Berliner Zeitung – every Saturday at the kiosk or here as a subscription.