Europe is witnessing its biggest conflict since world war two. The conflict in Ukraine has completely overturned the existing global rules-based order. On Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. Till now, more than 2.6 million people have fled Ukraine.
In Spite of heavy criticism across the globe against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the gross violation of existing international law is still happening from the Russian side. There has been a huge amount of destruction of bridges, roads, public infrastructure, military infrastructure and thousands of Ukrainian civilians have lost their lives.
Things are rapidly changing each day, with sanctions having been imposed on Russia, the assets of the Russian Central bank are frozen. Several Russian billionaires and individuals close to Putin are under sanctions. Travel restrictions imposed, Russian flights are banned. Multinational companies have discontinued their operations in Russia. The food prices have sky-rocketed.
European countries are in the process of changing their Foreign Policy. The best-case example is Germany. Its revolutionary decision to re-arm itself has been a crucial factor. Initially, Germany showed an easy-going response, in which Germany initially rejected giving Ukraine lethal aid. Surprisingly, it delivered 5,000 helmets and a field hospital. It also stopped Estonia from supplying German weapons and arms to Ukraine. Several nations criticized Germany as ‘sitting on the fence’ during the Ukraine crisis.
Germany’s policy shift
However, on Feb. 27, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took a more assertive stance with Russia, in which Germany took back the ban on supplying lethal weapons in conflict areas. Germany delivered weapons and an anti-aircraft defense system to Ukraine. This was a revolutionary policy U-turn taken by Germany decades after the Second World War. In the speech, Chancellor Scholz said, “Germany would need to invest much more in its security in order to protect our freedom and our democracy.” He added that “this war is a turning point.”
Tracing back on Germany’s complex history with the past after 1945, it was only part of peace-keeping missions. Germany has followed the policy of ‘Pacifism’, due to its actions in the Second World War, which led to catastrophic consequences for Europe and led to national humiliation. Since then, Germany has always believed that war and conflict could not settle disputes. It participated only in a couple of global conflict situations after 1945.
Hard Power projection: Important for European security needs
With respect to policy change, Scholz also agreed to cut off Russia from SWIFT and announced that Germany would increase its NATO defense spending. This significant policy shift reflects how this war threatens Germany’s position in Europe and its role globally. An announcement done by Scholz shows Germany’s willingness to become a prominent security actor for Europe and this move will shape the overall European agenda in the future.
The current leadership in Berlin has changed its defense policy depending on the realities. This projection will help Germany have a more significant role in Europe’s security strategy. Strengthening its military forces is important for overall European security.
The approach taken by the German government indicates the termination of the ‘Angela Merkel policy.’ It also ended Germany’s ‘Ostpolitik’ approach, which focused on managing West and East Germany relations.
Scholz will discontinue the previous Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pragmatist approach towards China, which was on geo-economic motives. A strict approach towards China is likely possible due to the kind of treatment given by Beijing to Uyghur Muslims and freedom of speech issues in China. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has kept “common values” an important aspect of foreign policy. Her “value-based” foreign policy will change Germany’s approach towards China. The new German coalition agreement has mentioned China as a “systematic rival.” So, much of Germany’s approach towards China will depend on what China does at home.
Still, there are several areas in German Foreign and Security Policy that need to improve, like proper defense policy allotment, bureaucracy and decision making, if Germany wants to become more capable in terms of defense and security.
The three major unprecedented challenges which Europe faces are Russia’s growing threat to European security, increasing influx of refugees from Ukraine and a massive blow to the European energy market.
It will be important to see how Olaf Scholz handles the current Ukraine crisis, European energy needs and the growing refugee crisis. Scholz is aware of the dire need for strategic autonomy for Europe at this hour. French President Emmanuel Macron has already issued a warning that it is time for European countries to be more independent regarding their defense needs. The job of the Franco-German partnership will be to maintain European Union’s unity, protect European sovereignty and construct a governance architecture that will keep Europe safe.
Debates are going across Europe on whether this conflict could spill over beyond Ukraine. Nevertheless, during this process, Western nations should focus on the global balance of power, maintain rules-based world order and democratic values. How the Russia-Ukraine conflict will play out, whether it could spill over to Europe, is yet to be seen. However, this will have far-reaching implications on Asia and other regions in the future.
[Photo by Finnish Government / Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Nihal Kothavale is a master’s student at Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune, India.