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The end of the Western Alliance? Angela Merkel’s colossal Munich blunder

President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As The Duran has written previously, US President Trump’s visit to NATO was a strained and unhappy affair, with European leaders made distinctly unhappy by Donald Trump’s transactional view of the alliance, as shown by his constant calls for its European members to increase their defence spending and his failure to reaffirm the US’s unequivocal commitment to come to Europe’s ‘defence’.

As I have explained previously, this need to talk of the US coming to Europe’s ‘defence’ does not stem from any real fear in Europe of attack by Russia.  Rather it reaffirms to the European members of NATO that they are part of a common geopolitical and ideological enterprise with the US.  By contrast Donald Trump’s constant harping about money makes NATO look too much like the gigantic protection racket which it really is.

One European leader was obviously particularly nettled by Trump’s comments, and very unwisely she has let her anger boil over.  That leader was Angela Merkel, who during an election meeting in Munich made these extraordinarily incendiary comments

The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.  We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands. Of course we need to have friendly relations with the US and with the UK, and with other neighbours, including Russia…. But we have to fight for our own future ourselves

Undoubtedly Merkel made these words in part as an electoral pitch to the German people.  During the election she has been trying to represent herself as a force for stability in a world which following Brexit and Trump’s election victory many in Germany think is going badly wrong.

However what Merkel’s words say – even if that is not her intention – is that there is a world beyond NATO, which by definition is not therefore indispensable for the future of Europe.

In modern Western political language that is rank heresy, and it is astonishing to see such a politically orthodox politician as Merkel say it.

It is a particularly incendiary comment to make at a time when the whole rationale for NATO’s very existence is once again being questioned, with people in countries like Slovakia seriously thinking that they might leave.

It will also be seen as deeply disloyal in the US, even by some people who dislike and oppose Donald Trump.  At a time when more and more people in the US are questioning the US’s commitment to NATO, and when there is a US President who has even spoken of NATO as ‘obsolete’, it is a very foolish thing to say.

Beyond this there is the question of the sort of Europe Merkel has in mind should NATO be wound up and should the US withdraw from Europe, as her words imply that it might.

Merkel’s words appear to bracket the US, Britain and Russia together as outsiders to Europe.  Though she speaks of ‘Europe’ wanting “good relations” with all three of them, the words actually look as if she thinks of them as hostile, and imagines a future for Europe without them.

A Europe from which the US, Britain and Russia are excluded would leave Germany as the ‘guardian’ of Europe, leading and no doubt ‘protecting’ the other European states from the outside powers, first and foremost Russia.

That would make Europe look even more like a German sphere of influence than it already is.

Given recent history that is a prospect which is bound to make many Europeans feel uncomfortable and unhappy.

Would Poland for example really feel happy about being subordinated to Germany in a German Europe?  Would France?  What about Italy and Spain, both big European countries with unhappy memories of German involvement in their domestic politics (see here and here), and both of which have good relations with Russia?  Would they really prefer to subordinate themselves to Germany in a German Europe as part of some sort of crusade against Russia?  Would that also not conjure up some uncomfortable memories?

The fact that Merkel’s comments were made in a beer tent in Munich makes them in light of recent history look even more insensitive and foolish.

However what makes Merkel’s comments particularly crass is that there is actually no substance behind them.

There is simply no possibility of Germany replacing the US as Europe’s hegemon in a clash with Russia.  Germany may be a wealthy country with a large economy, but it is simply no match for the US in economic or geopolitical terms.  By way of example, German sanctions on the US of the sort the US and Germany have imposed on Russia would hardly impact on the US economy, and might not even be noticed there at all.  The same sanctions imposed by the US on Germany would plunge the German economy into utter crisis.

Nor despite occasional claims to the contrary is Germany truly a match for Russia.  I discussed the Russian economy and compared it to those of other European states in an article for Sputnik, and I reiterate here what I said in that article about comparisons of the economies of Germany and Russia

Most people accept the conventional measure of Russia’s GDP based on US dollars is wrong. The IMF and the World Bank prefer to estimate Russia’s GDP on the basis of purchasing power parity.  On that basis Russia has the world’s fifth biggest economy, roughly the size of Germany’s.

Even that estimate in my opinion is wrong.  It is not that the statistics are wrong.  It is that what is being compared are sets of statistics rather than two totally different economies.

I know Germany well.  I can confidently say that Russia’s economy operates on a far bigger scale.  It is physically impossible for Germany to do many of the things Russia does without effort.  Conversely there is nothing Germany does that Russia cannot do if it commits itself to doing it.

The only economies that can match or surpass Russia’s in technology and depth of resources — and can do all the things Russia does — are those of China and the US.

India, Germany and Japan can also do some of the things Russia does, but not all of them.

No other states come close.

Should NATO ever be wound up, and should the US ever withdraw from Europe, Russia not Germany would become the strongest power in Europe.

That does not mean that Russia would proceed to “dominate” Europe.  Russia has neither the power nor any inclination to do such a thing.

What it would however mean is that the political system in Europe would have to be rearranged to take into account Russian interests.  That would make for a more peaceful and stable Europe, one finally free of Great Power competition, than any Europe we have ever had previously, or than the Europe we have now.  It is a prospect to welcome, not fear.

In the short term none of this of course is going to happen.  Despite Donald Trump’s thinly disguised skepticism about NATO, the US is not withdrawing from Europe, and NATO is not about to be wound up.

Merkel’s weird claims and alarmist talk in Munich may however have brought that day just a little closer.

What do you think?

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