For a long time, a war in the middle of Europe seemed unthinkable. But with Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, the unthinkable has become a bloody reality – and has been for more than a year. Politics and business are faced with epochal challenges.
After a few faster titles and updates to older works, the “Zeitenwende” is now making its way onto the book market. Almost all publishers publish titles on the subject of war and peace – albeit with very strong differences in level. The Handelsblatt explains why two titles by prominent authors are disappointing and presents two recommendable analyses.
The long-serving author Alexander Kluge, for example, presents a “War Primer 2023” that leaves the reader completely unclear as to what he was thinking – apart from his childhood memories of the Second World War. In Kluge’s sometimes esoteric reflections on the eternal “demon” war, not only the differences between attacker and defender become blurred.
The whole thing is also underlaid with a murmuring, mythical undertone that is difficult to interpret: “It may be premature for the trees to capitulate in the face of human nature.”
For Kluge, the course of war resembles tectonic earth movements. Findings on the classification of the current Russian aggression are non-existent – the Ukraine war hardly flashes.
In dangerous territory
And Ch. Links Verlag has managed the feat with the promising title “Why we wage wars. And How We Can End Them” to launch a book that doesn’t mention a single word about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Instead, Canadian author and game theorist Christopher Blattman ventures into dangerous territory. He insinuates, for example, that those primarily responsible for the outbreak of the First World War, Germany and Austria, only started a “preventive war” in 1914 in view of the Russian threat.
In doing so, he himself falls behind the thesis, warmed up again by Christopher Clark in 2012, that the rival powers went to war like “sleepwalkers” at the time. Blattman’s book, which not least relies on the Security Council, which has been paralyzed for years, as a peace-building institution, seems to have fallen out of time.
The opposite applies to Rüdiger von Fritsch’s treatise Welt im Umbruch. What comes after the war?”. Even Manuel Macron’s return flight from Beijing, on which he demanded in April that Europe must distance itself from America in the interest of its sovereignty and not allow itself to be drawn into a possible armed conflict between the USA and China over Taiwan, still made it between the covers of the book .
The French President’s assessment seems illusory, however, because with such a military constellation we would probably be on the brink of a third world war.
While Macron is hoping for China’s mediating role in the Russia-Ukraine war, Fritsch expects Beijing will “continue to do everything it can to stay away from the conflict, possibly hoping for a ceasefire as a result of a war of attrition.”
At the same time, the author, who was German ambassador in Moscow from 2014 to 2019, pleads not to be intimidated by Putin’s nuclear threats, also with a view to China’s warning of a nuclear escalation of the war: “Russia’s president is not acting irrationally, he just thinks and acts in a different logic than us. And by that logic, if he engaged in a nuclear confrontation, he would be jeopardizing the power and greatness of Russia he craved.”
However, the finding only applies with one important caveat: If the Ukrainian armed forces actually prepare to recapture Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014, Fritsch believes that could actually prompt Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine – after all, a recapture would be Moscow’s geostrategic position considerably weakened in the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
In addition, as far as Crimea – “for most Russians, ancient Russian territory, dream destination for Soviet summer vacationers and place of fond memories of Komsomol camps” – belongs to Russia, Putin knows that his people are in agreement.
“That could also determine his calculations, especially if it became apparent that he was in danger of losing support in the country.” The author does not write it explicitly, but the subtext suggests: with all due understanding for the Ukrainian demand for the restoration of territorial Given the integrity of the country, a re-Ukrainization of Crimea as part of ceasefire or peace negotiations seems unlikely.
Fritsch is concerned with converting the currently dangerous confrontation, as in the days of the Cold War, into an orderly confrontation. Where Blattman contented himself with cheap recommendations such as “You should set reasonable goals” or “You should be patient” in his “Ten Commandments for Small-Step Peace Policy”, Fritsch makes concrete proposals for action.
Since all major arms control treaties between Washington and Moscow have been suspended, he proposes starting at this point in the search for a solution to the Ukraine war and, as a confidence-building measure, reaching a new agreement on medium-range missiles in Europe – especially since contacts between Russian security experts and their NATO counterparts have not broken off after February 24, 2022.
In talks about arms control and disarmament, “that framework could emerge in which Russia and Ukraine are willing and interested in engaging in negotiations to end the war.”
Precisely in view of Russia’s misjudgment that it would be possible to defeat Ukraine in a blitzkrieg, such negotiations gave the Kremlin the opportunity on the “home front” to emphasize that, from the outset, it had only been concerned with restoring its security, which was threatened by NATO.
Negotiations yes or no?
Fritsch is clearly in favor of negotiations with Moscow. Stefanie Babst, author of another book worth reading, categorically rejects exactly such a course. Babst is a political advisor and for many years head of NATO’s Strategic Foresight Team.
In view of the Russian war crimes in Ukraine, she writes in her book “Seeden Auges. Courage for a strategic change of course”, the “return to some kind of political arrangement with Moscow is neither morally acceptable nor strategically sensible”.
The strategic demarcation line runs “between an aggressive, expansionist and authoritarian Putin regime and our liberal-democratic model of order”. In Babst’s view, it would have been desirable if NATO had signaled to Putin before the start of the war that it would consider a no-fly zone if he actually attacked Ukraine.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so the West now has to equip Kiev with all the necessary weapons so that Ukraine can reconquer the areas occupied by Russia, including Crimea.
“We won’t win the war with him by sitting out, ducking away, small talk or even trying to ‘appease’ Russian President Putin,” explains the author. Babst advises the West, analogous to US foreign policy after 1945, to first curb Moscow’s thirst for power and then to pursue a “roll-back Putinism” strategy.
From a historical perspective, however, this recommendation falls short. Because it was precisely the anti-communist containment and roll-back policy of the USA that drove states like Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union. The doctrine then reached its devastating climax with the domino theory and the Vietnam War.
As short-sighted and prolonging the war as Babst’s demand that the West should not be to negotiate with Putin and his clique may seem, her analysis of Germany’s failed policy on Russia before the “turn of the era” is just as accurate and in-depth.
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She rightly criticizes the fact that this policy over the past few decades was primarily due to economic interests, with the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations playing a central role.
That in 2005, of all people, a red-green federal government approved the construction of the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline was strange. From Babst’s point of view, the fact that the grand coalition then launched the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in 2015, a year after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the armed destabilization of eastern Ukraine, can only be described as “strategically culpable”.
In her NATO function she had already emphasized in 2013 that Russia was “no longer a reliable strategic partner,” especially with a view to its expansionist efforts in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and demanded that NATO “arm itself for a confrontational course with Russia”. But this postulate fell on deaf ears in the NATO bureaucracy. In this respect, it is not surprising that Babst’s book speaks of the frustration of the unheard early warning woman.
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