After President Obama's Visit to Europe: U.S. Relations with the EU, NATO, and Russia

May 11, 2009

Distinguished German statesman Karsten Voigt discusses the German political mindset, which grew out of its situation after World War II; Obama's popularity in Germany; and U.S.-German relations in the context of the EU, NATO, and Russia.


DAVID SPEEDIE: Good evening and welcome to Carnegie Council. I'm David Speedie, Director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement, under whose auspices our speaker comes to us this evening.
Karsten Voigt is an old friend. I will not go into a lengthy introduction. You do have a bio here that describes a quite extraordinary career, especially in U.S.-German relations.

I will just say, on a personal note, that we met, I guess, probably 20 years ago, Karsten, at a rather remarkable program, called the Aspen Congressional Program, which, going back to the early 1980s, was a joint production of the Aspen Institute and Carnegie Corporation. I'm delighted that (I would call him the "father" of that program) David Hamburg, my friend, mentor, and former boss at Carnegie, is here with us. David, it's a particular pleasure to welcome you here. The Aspen Program really was a very early and very serious exploration of, first, U.S.-Soviet, then U.S.-West-Russia, relations. So there is a certain symmetry here with which I welcome Karsten.

The title of his presentation is "After President Obama's Visit to Europe: U.S. Relations with the EU and NATO." That is quite an intellectual mouthful, as well as a substantive mouthful, to capture in 20-25 minutes. But Karsten will do that, and then we will have a question-and-answer period and a brief reception afterwards. So lots to cover. Karsten, welcome.


KARSTEN VOIGT: Dear guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your invitation. It is a great honor for me to speak at the Carnegie Council.

One of the important strengths of the Carnegie Council is the promotion of ethical considerations in the field of foreign politics. Very often I hear that the pursuit of national interest and a foreign policy based on ethics are bound to collide. I realize that this can sometimes be the case. But Germany's value-based foreign policy after WW II is a good example that ethical considerations and national interest cannot only by pursued at the same time, but that these two components of foreign policy can also mutually support one another.

Observations on the Political Culture of Germany

Let's take the case of Germany: After WW II Germany was surrounded by hostile countries. They feared German militarism, German chauvinism, German authoritarianism, and German racism. Therefore they were interested in a weak and not in a strong Germany. And without admitting it in public, in a permanent division of Germany, even some of our Western allies saw a guaranty against the revival of the century-old German problem. Not only our neighbors were shocked by the German atrocities during WW II, but many Germans were shocked as well. They could not understand how the country they loved, because of its strong cultural heritage and roots in the philosophy of enlightenment, could become the source of such barbarism.

Conscious of this negative heritage, German postwar politicians and intellectuals across party lines initiated an often controversial debate about the Nazi period and its causes. At the same time they started a policy of reconciliation first with our Western and later with our Eastern neighbors and strongly supported the state of Israel. The rationale of this policy was: "If you don't want to be reminded by others, then you have to remember by yourself." Furthermore Germans deliberately attempted to help its neighbors overcome their historical fear of being dominated by Germany. They achieved this by a "policy of attraction," i. e. the endeavor to set a good example and be a peaceful neighbor to other nations . The third component was the deliberate self-limitation of Germany by means of its integration into multilateral institutions like the EU and NATO and by the acceptance of the principle that international law overrides national law. This principle is legally enshrined in our constitution.

A recent poll among the German foreign policy elite highlighted some of the peculiarities of German political thinking. Around half of the respondents held the view that Germany should not pursue a leading role in international politics as an individual country, but should only act in the framework of international organizations. Another interesting result of the poll was that in terms of foreign policy, most of the respondents gave higher priority to energy supply, climate change, and the reformation of the global financial markets than to international terrorism, fundamentalism, or weapons of mass destruction. Thus, the elite views issues which do not require military involvement as more important for German foreign policy. In terms of membership in international organizations, 95 percent of the respondents agreed that membership in the EU is particularly important. 57 percent viewed membership in NATO as particularly important.

Over a period of half a century the German policy of self-restraint and multilateralism has led not only to the acceptance of Germany's unification, now exactly 20 years ago, but also to a fundamental change of our geostrategic situation: For the first time in its history, Germany is surrounded by countries who either are our friends, want to become our friends, or at least give the impression that they want to become our friends. With this historical success story in mind, Germany and German politicians have a deeply ingrained disdain of any "policy of dominance." The support of the described "policy of attraction" reaches across party lines. It has become part of our political culture to further international norms and institutions. Multilateralism is not considered as weak but as wise. Given that political mindset in postwar Germany, during the last years it has sometimes been very difficult to explain the thinking of the last U.S. Administration to my compatriots. The reverse is also true. American sometimes have a hard time to understand the concerns of Germans in international politics.

Obama's Visit to Europe

The popularity of President Obama in Germany and the new start in transatlantic relations has improved the mutual understanding between Germans and Americans. Obama's visit to Europe in early April had a very positive response Germany and all over Europe. The media coverage of the president's tour to the summits in London (G20), Strasbourg and Kehl (NATO), Prague (EU-U.S.), and to Turkey and Iraq was even more positive in Europe than in the U.S. The new trends in American foreign policy are very much in line with European and German preferences. Europeans particularly agree with the new US-Administration on topics such as the Alliance's engagement in Afghanistan, regional policies in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area, the plan for a dialogue with the Islamic world, and the future of NATO. The EU and U.S. also have a similar approach to the financial and economic crisis and to climate change policy.

In addition, Europeans have welcomed President Obama's readiness to launch new initiatives in disarmament and arms control. Over the last years trust between the U.S. and Russia eroded, leading to a stand-still in the bilateral disarmament process. Barack Obama has confirmed his aim to negotiate a further reduction of the nuclear arsenals with Russia. American-Russian talks on a follow-up agreement to the START I-Treaty on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons are scheduled to start soon. In his speech of April 5 in Prague he announced that he would reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. security strategy. As a long-term goal, he even stated his commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. As long such weapons still exist, however, he made clear that the U.S. would maintain an effective arsenal for nuclear deterrence and guarantee the defense of its allies. In Prague, Obama also announced that he would pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a strengthening of the Nuclear Proliferation Treatyand the negotiation of a new treaty that would end the production of fissile materials intended for use in nuclear weapons. Within the next year, the U.S. government furthermore plans to host a global summit on nuclear security that tackles the problem of black markets for vulnerable nuclear material around the world.

US-German relations in the Context of the EU

As Secretary of State Clinton has said, "in most global issues, the U.S. has no closer allies" than the Europeans. In Europe, Germany is the strongest economy. The EU is mostly important for the U.S. as a major economic power and trading partner and also because the Union created a long period of peace among European nations. But the majority of Americans want the EU also to develop into an effective foreign and security actor and to help the Americans share the burden of international crisis prevention. A couple of years ago the U.S. government was more suspicious of Europe developing its own security and defense capabilities. For some time, this has no longer been the case anymore.

Indeed the U.S. would welcome a stronger European role. "We want strong allies," President Obama said after he arrived in Strasbourg to participate in the NATO summit of April 3-4. Europe should see this as a chance and overcome its inner weaknesses. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albrightonce called the U.S. an "indispensable nation." At the same time, Europe should emerge as an "indispensable partner," and become more capable and willing to act in order to make its voice heard in Washington. Only then will Europe's political priorities and concepts be acknowledged and the transatlantic asymmetry partly overcome.

US-German relations in the Context of NATO

A few observations on the role of the Atlantic Alliance: NATO remains an essential pillar of the transatlantic partnership. During the Cold War, the Federal Republic of Germany depended existentially on NATO, which provided protection against the Soviet threat. Today the major challenges facing the U.S. and Europe are either global in nature or due to conflicts arising in the periphery of Europe or even far beyond its borders, for example in the Middle East, Africa, or the Caucasus. NATO today is engaged far away from Europe in Afghanistan. But NATO cannot guarantee stability and security throughout the world. Therefore it needs to cooperate with other partners across the globe. Nevertheless, NATO membership should remain limited to North American and European nations. All foreign- and security-policy implications should be carefully examined prior to further rounds of NATO enlargement. The fact that France has now returned to the Alliance's military structures makes it easier for NATO to act and above all to act together. This return, and the new U.S. Administration's policies, will enable us to agree also on the concept of EU-NATO cooperation. However, the technical details of that cooperation, which mostly concern disputes between European countries such as Cyprus and Turkey, still have to be worked out.

The historic context, collective memory and geostrategic situation of some newer NATO members are still different from those of "older" Allies. This is understandable, particularly in the case of the Baltic States, which only recently regained their sovereignty. We should therefore make it very clear that we stand by these nations as EU and NATO partners in the face of threats and attempts at intimidation by third countries. Only if this solidarity is beyond doubt will the "new" EU and NATO members realize that our cooperation with Russia is not aimed at sacrificing their security interests, but rather at increasing the stability and security of Europe as a whole, including their own.

The NATO Summit saw France return to the Alliance's integrated structures, as well as the welcoming of Albania and Croatia as new members. No decisions were, however, taken on further new memberships. Moreover, a Declaration on Alliance Security was adopted at the Summit, and a process launched which, after difficult and intensive debate, is likely to result in a new Strategic Concept. These discussions on NATO's future cannot take place without a joint perspective regarding the serious challenges facing the Alliance in Afghanistan, an issue which will have priority for NATO even after the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit.

US-German relations in the Context of Russia

Finally, I would like to devote a few paragraphs to Russia. The German government supports Obama's approach to Russia and hopes for constructive negotiations between the new U.S. Administration and Russia on further disarmament steps. It remains necessary to criticize Russia for authoritarian tendencies in its domestic politics and in some cases also for its behavior toward its neighbors. According to the already quoted foreign policy elite poll, a majority of those interviewed believes that as an international partner, Russia puts national interests first, when it comes to the fight against international terrorism, to energy policy, the Near East and Afghanistan. A majority also does not agree that Russia plays a constructive role in the OSCEor the UN Security Council. Only 29 percent of the respondents favor Russian NATO membership. Still, 89 percent are in favor of a close Russian-European cooperation and advocate the inclusion of Russia into European regional policy, despite the country's shortcomings.

This critical, but nevertheless cooperative stance in the German foreign policy elite also echoes in the image of Russia among the general German population. A recent opinion survey, the Forsa polling institute revealed interesting trends. Large majorities of respondents associate problems such as social injustice (90 percent), power politics (87 percent) and arbitrariness (65 percent) with Russia, but they characterize the Russian people largely positively as hospitable and generous, brave, emotional and peace-loving (incidentally also as 'able to hold their drink'). An overwhelming 95 percent believe that good German-Russian relations are important or very important (only 5 percent thought they were not important).

About the same percentage of respondents has a favorable opinion about the importance of German-Russian economic cooperation. 61 percent believe that Russia had no more important partner in the West than Germany. 78 percent are convinced that cooperation in the field of energy can improve overall political relations, and 76 percent say that the planned North Stream Pipeline through the Baltic Sea will make Germany's natural gas supplies more secure. 80 percent think that this pipeline could also provide gas to other European nations in the future. Thus, what is seen by many Americans as a dangerous dependence of Germany on Russian energy supplies, is regarded by Germans as a positive element of the mutual economic exchange between the two countries. By the way, 20 percent of those interviewed have already been to Russia on a private or business related trip. Among East Germans this figure stood at 36 percent .

In line with the portrayed public opinion on cooperation with Russia, the German government also believes that we must engage Russia in finding solutions for international problems and try to rebuild mutual trust. Germany is at least as much interested in the development of a stable democracy in Russia as the Americans are. We see authoritarian developments in Moscow with as much concern as Washington does. But many Germans might be less surprised by these negative developments than some Americans. It was predictable that Russia would suffer from phantom pains after losing the Soviet empire. We Germans call this the "Weimar-syndrome." After World War I many Germans were convinced that our European neighbors had an interest in weakening Germany. The democratic system during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was seen by those people as an expression of that weakness, as something alien and "un-German." Therefore they wanted to restore so-called "German values" internally and German strength externally by restoring the authoritarianism of the predemocratic era. Some of the same psychology seems to work in today's Russia.

Russia views the eastward enlargement of NATO as an encroachment and a threat. The NATO partners, obviously, view this differently. Personally, I supported the first and second round of NATO-enlargement and the ongoing process of the enlargement of the EU as a stabilizing precondition for our (German) cooperation with Russia. But there is another side of the coin: these enlargements only contribute to a lasting stability in Europe when combined with the concept of cooperation with Russia, e.g. through the NATO-Russia council. We have always made it clear in our dialogue with Russia that we urge it to develop a constructive policy towards its smaller neighbors. And we have always left no doubt that when the legitimate interests of these Russian neighbors are challenged by Russian rhetoric or behavior, we will side with them. But if we want Russia as a partner, we must—in style and substance—also talk with them on the basis of equality and respect that not only we, but also they have legitimate concerns and interests. Recent remarks by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton indicate that the U.S. is ready to cooperate with Russia where possible. So I hope that Germany can work closely with the United States in improving our relations with Russia. I thank you very much for your attention and look forward to our discussion.

Questions and Answers

DAVID SPEEDIE: Let me begin, if I may, by picking up on your last point, the question of the psychological element of dealing with Russia and Russia's feelings toward the West and Western institutions. Might one argue it's more than just psychological—I mean quite apart from NATO expansion, from the Yugoslav war in the late 1990s, from especially the U.S. reaction to Georgia?

We had the Russian Ambassador here a few nights ago, and he spoke generally with great deliberation, and to some degree dispassionately. But when it came to Georgia, he could not and did not conceal the fact that Russia felt very, very hurt and concerned at the American reaction.

First of all, could you speak a little about your sense of the state of NATO-Russian relations, elaborate a little bit on that, with the Partnership for Peace, update it so to speak? And even in the European Union, there is an initiative at work in the European Union, the Eastern Partnership of the European Union, where the European Union is, I gather, seeking to strengthen sort of a regional cooperation with the five eastern EU neighbor states—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, not a coincidentally chosen group of countries—and, at the same time, emphasizing that this Eastern Partnership is, to quote this assessment that I read, "not directed against Russia."

If you are sitting in Russia, in Moscow, at this point in time—let's place ourselves in Moscow, rather than New York, just for a second—If you are sitting in Moscow, how do you feel about the instrumentalities and the specifics of—not just psychologically, but the actual political arrangements that are in place and the directions that we seem to be taking?

KARSTEN VOIGT: First of all, when I sit in Berlin and not in Moscow, but even when I travel to Moscow, I always have to consider not only Moscow but I always have to consider Prague and Warsaw as well. This is complicated. If Germany is cooperating closely with Russia, the countries in between are nervous. If Germany has a hostile relation with Russia, they are also nervous. So normally, it's a no-win situation.

So I think our policy should be to take the interests of smaller neighbors of Russia into consideration. If Russia is intimidating them, we should speak out against it. But at the same time, Russia has legitimate security concerns, and I think they should not only be taken seriously verbally but also in substance.

If you want, an enlarged NATO is only a stabilizing factor in Europe if this enlarged NATO is cooperating closely with Russia. There we have had shortcomings in the last years.

My impression from the papers which I read is that the dialogue has improved already on a couple of issues; it has become substantial. Mistrust is still there; there is no doubt mistrust is still there. And also, different views are there. I think that we have different views insofar as how to deal with Iran. I think there are differences there.

But what is also obvious is that—and this is a shortcoming of Russian policy, I think—Russia is not pursuing a policy of attraction insofar as its former Warsaw Pact allies are concerned if they respect German interests and empower American interests. But the Baltic states and Poland and the Czech Republic have their own historical memories, and even if the Russians don't accept those memories and don't like those memories, if they want a constructive neighborhood, they have to start a dialogue about this complicated element of history and not only cry out. The smaller countries need to be treated well by bigger countries. This is not a policy of weakness. I think this is for me very, very difficult to communicate to my Russian counterparts.

On the Georgian case, I think the Russians—I understand that they dislike Saakashvili because of what he did—they proposed this All-European Security Conference. There is a lot of sympathy in Germany for that. But when you start such a security conference, you in the beginning need to define who is sitting at the table. By defining two new states, they have already created an obstacle for the beginning of the conference, because nobody outside of Russia, at least no majority inside the trans-Atlantic context, will recognize those states. So by simply reacting—I think overreacting—in the Caucasian crisis, they have created a couple of obstacles which will harm their policy in the future, not only because of the memory but even because of procedure terms, to give only one example.

QUESTION: If you could place yourself not in Berlin or in Moscow for the moment but in Washington, any suggestions you could make about what the Obama Administration could most usefully do, let's say in the next year or so, would be very helpful. There are a number of implications which you have already said on that point, but maybe there are additional explicit points you would wish to make about what you would like to see the President and the Secretary of State particularly do in the next year.

KARSTEN VOIGT: I already have difficulties in influencing our own policy, but to influence U.S. policy might be more difficult.

But having said that, one thing I think is very important in the U.S. debate is not to have the expectation that things will change immediately. It is easier to create mistrust on short notice than to create trust on short notice. Therefore, I think that the American-Russian relationship will be complicated for some while. Only because the Americans now engage the Russians, talk with them, start about disarmament, start ratification, all that, that doesn't mean that they have identical views. This will be a complicated relationship in the future.

I think this will be used by many people on the domestic side, because they say there was no dramatic change in Russian policy. They would say, "There, you see, he doesn't get it." There is always this domestic attitude.

Where I think it is complicated is that Russia sees itself in a certain way as an equal partner, on an equal footing with the United States, and on the other side they know that they are not equally strong. I think they know that they are not equally strong, but they want to be treated as equally strong.

So far the question is: How can the Americans communicate that they take the Russians seriously when they have specific views, not only that they do it in style but in substance? And how can they manage that without creating an outcry in East-Central Europe? And then, to balance it by objectively seeing China is becoming more important for you every year.

In the economic field we are more important for the Russians, but in terms of the power relationship, nuclear relationship, you are the only important power. I think to manage this at tension time, where you can only see the results on a longer-term process, whether it should be another Gore Commission, you need to establish a permanent dialogue with the Russians.

And then, in a different way, to communicate that with the East-Central Europeans so that they are not nervous. But you can only maintain such a policy—this is at least our experience—if the smaller countries don't get nervous because of that. We will not get nervous, but especially the Poles, the Czechs, the Baltic States will get nervous. I think how to manage this is a very important issue and challenge.

In the United States, we had from the 17th century until the 1830s basically a European North America, and after that we had Andrew Jackson and we had a Jacksonian North America in the 19th century, and during the 20th century we bounced back and forth between the two. Even Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were examples of those two tendencies in American history.

We now have, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first globalist president of the United States. He represents a very small proportion of Americans, in terms of his thinking is quite far in advance probably of the way that many Americans look at the world. Even those who are internationalists are not necessarily globalists yet.

Within the United States, within the policy debates that take place in the United States, there are very few European voices heard. Now, you've been working at the German Foreign Office for a number of years on encouraging that kind of intellectual exchange, something that I have done in the French-American space. At the level of decision makers I think it is extremely important for Europeans to understand that, as acceptable and attractive as Barack Obama is, he is not making all the decisions, although lately he has been making quite a few. There is Congress, which is what Congress has always been, there is the influence of all the think-tanks and the media and academics, and then there is general public.

Do you believe that more can be done—and, if so, how can it be done—for European voices to be heard in the United States? Americans are not going to listen from abroad. Christine Lagarde was on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" last week, so that helps. But that sort of thing doesn't happen very often.

What's your view on how Europe can make some of the points that you have been making here to a small and sympathetic audience to a broader audience in the United States that is less attuned to what Europe is thinking about?

KARSTEN VOIGT: I would go even beyond that and say it is even more difficult, because what you see in the United States, not only in the last weeks but when you look at the voting patterns in Congress and analyze the voting patterns in Congress over a longer period of time—they talk about bipartisanship, but the number of parliamentarians in both sides of the House and Senate who were crossing the line actually and voting for a different group has diminished in each period over the last 20 years. The last who have crossed this line by voting for the Democrat Specter, this has now changed, and the others were McCain and Lieberman in the Senate. There were very few left to cross the line.

And American politics—I can describe why, but that's a different story—has become more ideological. German foreign politics has become less ideological.

When you look at the patterns in which Americans observe the debates—while I am here I naturally look at MSNBC, every night I see "The O'Reilly Factor," and I see these different debates. While inside Germany and most European countries you have, because of public TV, a plurality inside one channel, you have a plurality between different channels, which means that—I normally make a test when I travel in the United States—people either see Fox or MSNBC, or sometimes CNN. So those people communicate only with their orientation. Therefore, this ideological orientation is stronger. People in New York, many of them, don't know that even in upstate New York Fox is dominating, not CNN and MSNBC. And when you look at the services on Sunday morning, you can see similar politicization in different directions.

Therefore, what I did in the last years, I asked my parliamentarians from the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, and the Greens to reach out to the Christian right, to discuss with them environmental issues because of Creation, and to invite them to German meetings by the foundations, party-affiliated foundations. So we, hopefully I think, should reach out also to those conservatives, because trans-Atlantic relations cannot be based only on one party.

If we would not do that, I think then we would misinterpret the American situation, because many Europeans didn't see that there was another America which was not represented by Bush. Many people now overlook, as you rightly are saying, that Obama is only representing one element of the American debate. If we want a stable relationship, we have to reach out to those others in Congress, but also beyond Congress. You are totally right.

For good reasons, do the Poles and the Czechs trust the Americans in more than NATO? I always say to the Poles when I meet them, they have two strategic allies as countries, Germany and the United States. One, the United States, they need and love, and the other they need inside the European Union. So this is improving as well.

That they want, in addition to NATO, strong bilateral American commitments is understandable. First of all, you have to understand that. They expected already, as a result of the conflicts between Germany and the United States during the Iraq war, that America would redeploy its forces to Eastern Europe. The Poles also thought that the visa requirement would be lifted, of high psychological importance. Those things didn't happen. So, seen from their side, from the Czech side and the Polish side, this is an element of additional security. They want it because of Russia.

The American explanation was they want it not because of Russia—that is always what they are saying—but this was against Iran and against nuclear weapons, which you just tried to prevent by negotiating with them. The speed by which this was promoted by the previous administration, I think, sometimes had to do with the missile debate in the United States, not only with the Iranian threat, and with the concern that another U.S. Congress might stop the program. You know how controversial missile debates, antiballistic systems, have been in the United States.

Having said that, the present U.S. administration has a very difficult task: to balance its desire to come closer to understanding with the Russians with, on the other side, not alienating the Poles, the Czechs, and other countries, because this would again feed opposition in Congress, would make it more complicated in the public debate, and anyhow complicate also relations inside NATO.

I think this is what they are now trying. They are not giving up the missile issue, they are saying "We stick to it," but they postpone it all the time, the schedule, and make it contingent in one way or the other, without mentioning progress with Russia on specific items.

But again, it is complicated to change. It is easy to announce a change of policy, but when you consider all the implications of the change it is very complicated. Therefore, in Germany and when I speak to other European countries, I always say: "Be realistic in your expectations when you see the limiting factors on the domestic side, but also the limiting factors on the international scene."

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit more about three areas in which there seems to be a little bit of tension between the United States and Europe, and perhaps Germany? One is on financial stimulus and the degree of financial stimulus. The second is on the strong American push for the inclusion of Turkey into the European Common Market. The third is—I've just now forgot it. Sorry.

DAVID SPEEDIE: You can come back again.

KARSTEN VOIGT: I start with the one on Turkey. Turkey's membership is controversial in Germany along party lines formally. In real terms, it is controversial in the society, because the one aspect of Germans is looking on the geostrategic advantages, the other is looking on the day-to-day complications of integration. Once Turkey is a member, you have a free labor market. I do not know many Americans who are in favor of a free labor market with Mexico. This, practically, when you look at the numbers, would be similar.

Therefore, I am simply saying that I understand the United States is pushing for it. For them it is easy. They look at in geostrategic terms. I live in such a quarter on the world where I have always been dealing with those issues. We have success stories of integration, but we have also failures of integration. We have not had violence, as in other countries in Europe.

But having said that, integration is real, real difficult, because these people are very often coming from the countryside, from Anatolia. We have Turkish intellectuals, but these are not only the intellectuals. These are people who are uneducated. You have managed marriages. You have honor killings. There are always minority issues inside the Turkish community. But they happen. Therefore, this is a complicated issue and will stay with us.

So the question is how it will turn out. I am a Social Democrat. My party is in favor. But I am simply saying there are also arguments on the other side. It is very controversial.

That Turkey should have an extremely close relationship with Germany and Europe is a given. This is clear. We have now five members, I think, with Turkish background in the German Bundestat. So the political representation is improving, but it is far from being perfect.

The stimulus package—I think there is a little bit of a misunderstanding, and then we have a problem in substance. Many people look at the stimulus package as such: numbers. What many people overlook is that we have an automatic stimulus element in the German welfare system.

When you are unemployed, you get unemployment fees. Your health care is guaranteed, and then the health care system is running in a deficit, which means it's a stimulus. Your pension system is not reduced. It is not related to the stock market. It's an insurance system. So the pension system is running into deficit. It's a stimulus element. And I could mention a couple of other issues where, automatically, when we have an economic downturn you have deficit spending elements inside the social welfare system. Therefore, we add those figures. The Americans only look at the stimulus package. When you look at these two together, you come to very identical figures.

But now I come to the point where we differ in terms of psychology. The traumatic memory of Germans is inflation, because they see it as a pretext to Nazism—unemployment, inflation. There were two inflations, one in the 1920s-1930s, and another inflation was because we had the reform of the money system after World War II. So two generations have seen that their money was worthless. Therefore, the desire for financial stability is enormous inside Germany.

While we are now spending more and increasing our deficit, in all likelihood in May-June the Bundestat will adopt a change of our constitution which obliges the government, while they spend now, to reduce the deficit in the coming years in such a way that people can go into court and otherwise define the budget as being unconstitutional. So we will increase the elements of financial stability while we spend now more. This is a very different psychology than we have in other European countries, and even in the United States.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. The third point was perhaps the most important, which was troop levels in Afghanistan.

KARSTEN VOIGT: We have a consensus minus one in the German Bundestat, meaning that all parties are in favor of German troops staying there, with the exception of the Left Party. Even the Greens and the liberals, being in opposition, are in favor of the German troops staying there. Therefore, there will be no change with the next election in September on that point.

The real issue is whether Germany will provide more troops, whether we will be willing to send those troops to the south, whether we will do more for police, education. I am frank enough, election campaigns are not the best time to discuss these issues. So I am willing to discuss this issue, why it will be complicated, after September.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you felt that Europe should be a weight vis-à-vis the United States rather than a counterweight. In the context of the ongoing discussions of the United States' and Europe's and NATO's relation with Russia, a number of us have watched with some concern as the NATO expansion process, the Georgia attack, which wasn't clearly just a decision by Saakashvili himself—


QUESTIONER: The weapons came from the United States, the weapons were shipped from the Ukraine, the U.S. military were carrying out exercises with the Georgian military a day or two before the attack. There was no question that the Americans gave a green light. Exactly from where it came isn't clear. And then Europe and the United States pretty much embraced it. Now, starting in two days, NATO will be carrying out month-long exercises in Georgia, which the Russians, not irrationally, take at least as an endorsement of Georgia's policies.

Europe resisted MAP [Membership Action Plan], the official position, but endorsed the NATO Commission, which unofficially, and perhaps in some ways more dangerously because it is beneath the radar, is continuing the process of integrating Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

Part of the deal with the missiles in Poland is increasing conventional weapons in Poland. The radar in the Czech Republic is not just to monitor Iran, but it monitors the entire integrated missile system of the southern part of Russia. The chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff was in the Baltics a few months ago saying we would increase conventional weapons to the Baltic countries.

At what point does Western Europe say: "Poland and the Czech Republic may be concerned that Russian tanks will roll in, but we don't think so; America may want to increase military presence around Russia, but we don't think so"?

Is there a point at which Western Europe has to assert a counterweight to this direction, which clearly from Moscow is problematic, and one can understand why perhaps?

KARSTEN VOIGT: First, I don't know of any facts that the American administration was giving a green light to the attacks by Saakashvili. I don't have any evidence. I have evidence that the State Department was warning against it. The other issue is an open question for me. That the Russians might see it in a different way is a different story. But from what I know, I have no knowledge that any American authorities were endorsing it. From the State Department I know that they were against it. Whether other institutions were you can speculate. I don't speculate because I don't have the knowledge.

I think, first, I would ask a question in the direction of the Russians: "Why do your neighbors fear Russia?" This is a question which the Russians have to answer.

It is not so that Germany or any other country in Europe which I know are saying, "You should be concerned about the Russians." We are personally as Germans not concerned about the Russians.
But where is Russian politics contributing to the fears? There I simply must say, from my outside analysis, Russia is not pursuing a policy of attraction but a policy of dominance, at least the attempt of dominance. This is creating all the anxieties.

Therefore, I started with this explanation of German postwar policy. There I think that if I would be in Moscow I would say, "Pursue a different policy towards your smaller neighbors and talk with them about history. Even if you have a totally different view, even if they provoke you, try it."

I mean Kaczynski has made statements—well, he was not quite clear whether he hated the Germans more or the Russians. He made one speech—we overheard it. He made a second speech—we overheard it. Then he made his third remark—we invited him to dialogue to Berlin.

It's a question how you react. I think very often the Russians make mistakes in their reaction. I understand those reactions—it's not that I don't understand—but they are not wise. Therefore, I think this is a question in the direction of the Russians, and we should not hesitate to say that. That is the reason why the neighbors want to join NATO and the European Union. There is a reason, and this has to do with historical memory, experience, and present Russian policies. Therefore, in that respect I am on the side of the smaller countries.

Beyond that, I say to the smaller countries: "Yes, I personally think, for example, that the lack of democracy and economic stability in Ukraine and in Georgia is a much bigger problem for the cohesion of those countries and stability of those countries than the outside threat. Therefore, I am willing to contribute to the stability insofar as economic stability and democratic stability is concerned. But this, again, is a balancing element, trying to cooperate with Russia; on the other side, being critical where I think one must be critical insofar as Russia is concerned." And then to say: "Yes, we will, if you are intimidated, stand up in your favor. But if you, so to say, try in a certain way to provoke a situation in which your policy is leading to new dividing lines in Europe, which over a longer period of time would have a destabilizing effect for the security of Europe, then I think we have to seriously debate about this concept."

The concept of NATO enlargement, the first two phases of NATO enlargement, including Poland and the Czech Republic—when I was president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, at that time I was very much in the forefront of that—was conditioned not only by the element of making those countries a member, but the other condition was to strive for a cooperative relationship with Russia. The second part has been forgotten or neglected or not supported, not by actual policy, in the last year.

I think, in a certain way, this is what you see when you see in certain states—yes, I think the way how the Russians are behaving in Transnestria, how the Russians are using the Georgian-and-South Ossetian conflict, must create anxieties. You can say that Georgia was reacting in a wrong way, but the way in which the Russians then immediately went overboard, recognized those states, made an agreement that they now deploy troops there, that the Russians have not withdrawn the troops from Transnestria and used it as a veto element—the argument of Russia when the Russians went into South Ossetia was: "Wherever Russian citizens are sitting we have to protect them," and you know that citizenship was given by the Russian authorities to them.

When you now look at the neighborhood, how many Russian-speaking people are in the neighborhood, in the Baltic states, in Kyrgyzstan, in Ukraine, then this concept of protecting Russian-speaking people or people with a Russian passport is a potential threat for those neighbors. It's a wrong concept.

I am very much in favor of a close cooperation with Russia. But where I think they are following a wrong line—which, by the way, in the long run will not be in Russia's interest either, but that's not for me to define—there I stand up against them.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I will add, if I may—I don't want to prolong this and cut out other questions from the audience—I spent several days in Germany just about a month ago, in Berlin—

KARSTEN VOIGT: Did you enjoy it?

I loved it. I always do.

—with the American Consul in Germany. I have to say that many of the German views expressed not only were somewhat different from yours, Karsten, but in some very specific things.

For example, just to pick another recent cause célèbre, the question of Ukrainian oil or gas. The Russians supplied gas to Ukraine, and then of course Ukraine to the west. The view expressed by many of the Germans that I heard was more nuanced; and along the lines of the Americans, we read, of course, of this as a Russian bullying tactic, whereas of course the whole question of Ukrainian corruption, lack of investment in infrastructure, lack of investment in any sort of coherent energy policy in Ukraine, is simply not heard in the United States.

Back to the previous questioner, one hopes that certain European views are better heard over here and that there is again a more nuanced view of Russia's behavior towards its neighbors and the way that the neighbors respond. Sometimes, I would argue, the neighbors respond: "The fear of the Russian bear is here for the American consumption."

KARSTEN VOIGT: There are in the Ukrainian case Russian problems, but there are also Ukrainian problems. I am simply saying that it is more complicated than that. And then, you have the domestic struggle inside Ukraine, then you have the exitory [phonetic] sources, which is important in the election campaign inside Ukraine. So there are many different elements which play a role. I think at least we tried to be helpful in this debate.

Karsten mentioned earlier the lack of democracy in Russia. Just today I read—

Not only in Russia, in the whole surrounding area.

just today I read an article in Fachs [? phonetic], a German newspaper, that Russia ranks among the countries with the worst conditions for journalists to live in. Do you think that now, with the financial crisis even hitting them, that the situation for political freedom is going to get worse, or do you think it is going to be a motivation even now, with partners like Germany and the better relationship that hopefully will come with the United States, that this will get better? Thank you.

The Russians just changed their budget. They still can finance their budget from the resources which they have preserved in the last years. But they changed the budget because they had less income because of the oil and gas prices. In the future years they might need outside help for the budget. It depends, naturally, on the development of the oil and gas prices.

But having said that, this doesn't mean that because they need outside help that the outside can decide about internal developments inside Russia. I mean it's difficult to influence U.S. policy, as you rightly mentioned, from the outside. To think that Russia's reaction in the inside is only a reaction towards outside behavior is wrong. There are many elements of dynamics inside the country which are more important, and these elements can only be influenced to a very limited degree from the outside.

I think democracy is a culture achievement. It is, regrettably, not a human desire by nature. Therefore, to change the political culture takes time. The German postwar political culture did not change in 1945; it took some while. Therefore, what we can do is when the Russians want support in the rule of law we can help them. We can criticize the lack of freedom of press, but we cannot impose the freedom of press from the outside.

So what we are doing is invite journalists, not only for a delegation, and they are invited to stay in German newspapers. We do that now for more than a decade. This doesn't mean that automatically with this exchange freedom comes. It is a necessary but not a sufficient precondition.

We do the same with lawyers, with teachers, with youth exchange. You increase the likelihood that pluralism is not seen as a hostile outside force but an element of growing stability, support from outside, something which you want yourself.

I think it is working a little bit in that direction. But it will take time.

As I am saying, this authoritarian tendency inside Russia are tendencies, which are also very often overlooked, which are supported by the majority of the Russian population. It's not so that you have on one side a democratic society, on the other side an authoritarian government. It is worse than that. You have an authoritarian society, a society which is supported for authoritarian tendency.

Many people think that was the time of Putin, where you had economic growth, you had more security, you had more stability. The [inaudible] times, which very often were seen as the ideal period, are seen in a very different way inside Russia. And again, I don't like it, I have a different view, but I have to respect that such a big neighbor has its own view and that we can only help in their construction of democracy if they see it also to be in their interest.

I cannot change Russian society from outside. We can help them to modernize—we call it "partnership of modernization"—we can help them to modernize if they want to be modernized, they want to be modernized economically, culturally, in many terms also in the rule of law, but that they have their own definition of what it means. I might not like, but I have to respect that, sometimes to criticize it and say, "This is my value system." But I will not give the impression that I as a German can decide about the destiny of the Russian people. I can't.

It's even difficult enough to change the Romanian society, which is a member of the European Union, and there we see all the corruption. And the Bulgarian society, and you have anti-Semitism coming up again in Hungary, and they are full members of NATO and the European Union.

So we have all those frozen mentalities which were there for decades, and now, after the end of the Cold War, these frozen mentalities are coming up to the surface. They are different in Romania from Hungary. Kaczynski is also a traditional element in Polish society. We have that coming up again.

I only hope that my country will be an element of stability in this context and be an example, be attractive in a certain way, and that we will use soft methods to influence the debate. But in the final end these movements must come from inside.

QUESTION: As a follow-up to that question, we've been talking about having nuanced views. The view that you get in a lot of American newspapers is that Russia is really controlled by Putin with his collection of ex-KGB agents and that's who runs the country. To follow up on the description you have just given, can you give us a more nuanced view of the nature of the political society in Russia, who runs it?

KARSTEN VOIGT: I went first to Russia, the Soviet Union at that time, in 1970, and I have been there for more than 50 times in my lifetime.

First of all, Russia is no longer a totalitarian society, which is a big step forward, seen with the past. When I compare the situation—and I felt it myself as a youngster during the East-West conflict—we have a much safer situation nowadays in Europe than we had in previous decades. When I look at the pessimists which were analyzing Russia, saying Communists would take over again, fascists would take over again, ethnic wars, tribal conflict—they were all there, but much more limited than the pessimists thought. The optimists have not become true either.

So Russia is more democratic than Kazakhstan, which is already something. I mean there was an idea during the Clinton years that the Central Asian states would follow the example of Turkey. Do you remember that? That was the first project of democratization—that Turkey should be secular; Islamic countries, Central Asia, would then follow the example of Turkey, being the big example for the Islamic world. Do you remember that concept? It has not quite become true.

But in there Kazakhstan is different from Kyrgyzstan, and you see the nuances there. And you see that even inside Russia the developments are different. Petersburg has a different political culture than, for example, some other parts of Russia. It is very nuanced.

Therefore, I would not describe Russia by saying that you have the KGB being strong. Yes, they were the elite in the old country. They were seeing themselves as elites. They knew foreign languages. Their view of democracy was slightly different from my view of democracy, to put it mildly. But they saw themselves as the elite of the country after the Communist Party faded away. Then they talked about the rule of law. They had a different perception of what rule of law meant than what I had.

But you cannot say that it is only dominated by former Communists cadres and KGB people. It is a different generation. It is not coming from the security apparatus. This should also be seen by many people as a surprise. Many people expected Ivanov to take over, the one or the other Ivanov. But it was not the case. Medvedev took over. Medvedev is now already a different generation, which did not grow up to the same extent in the old Soviet Union.

You can see this difference in behavior when you meet with young Russians. You can see a different lifestyle desire, a certain degree of modernity. But they want to be respected in their own way and treated on an equal footing and not to be lectured. I understand that.

I will end with this. After the end of the Cold War, we agreed with the Russians all war memorials which existed in East Germany were kept. We did that. So you see close to the Brandenburg Gate a Russian war memorial commemorating the victory of the great Soviet Army in the great victory over Nazi Germany. You see now German citizens who emigrated from Russia after 1989 commemorating the victory of the Soviet armed forces over Germany as German citizens. We say, "Why not? Part of the history."

We have Russian graffiti in the Reichstat. Russian soldiers were there. Part of history.

The only museum in the world where Russians commemorate their history together is in Karlshorst, the former headquarters of the Soviet armed forces, where the Germans signed the capitulation, and there were also other institutions there. There you see how first Germans killed the Russians and then how Germans were killed by Russians, a relatively honest description of the history.

I think what we need in Eastern Europe is not only strategic [inaudible]. What is very often overlooked is how long did it take for the United States to overcome the divisions of the Civil War? History is still defining behavior, instincts, strategies in large parts of Europe.

I think that, coming from a country which has its own history which is difficult, when I talk with the Russians, it is like two big people having made major mistakes in their history. It is not the one is good, the other is evil. It's full of history and it's full of mines when you go in that field.

But you only can clear up the mess when you step-by-step address not only strategic issues, but you understand them and the history and the perspective of the soft definition of the altercation[?], of the memory of the altercation[?]. This doesn't make it easier, but it must be part of the reconciliation process. There is not only the necessity of reconciliation between Germans and its neighbors. There is also a necessity of reconciliation between Russia and its neighbors.


In agreeing with my friend and guest on that final point, I'd say two things. First, Medvedev is one of a mere handful—not just in Russia but in post-Soviet leadership, all 15 states—who was not a member of any Communist elite, was not a Communist official. Think about the whole spectrum of some of the countries who fear Russia in that regard. Second of all, who remembers Yudonovsky [phonetic]? Not many.

Karsten, thank you so much. It has been a stimulating and wonderful evening.

You may also like

Uruguay signs the Artemis Accords, February 15, 2024, Washington, DC. CREDIT: NASA HQ Photo.

MAR 6, 2024 Article

Empowering the Artemis Accords Coalition for Peace and Stability

As missions ramp up, Zhanna Malekos Smith writes that the U.S. should lead an effort with the Artemis Accords for space sustainability and security.

JAN 9, 2024 Article

Omnipolicy: How the Next Generation is Rethinking U.S. Global Engagement

In 2023, the U.S. Global Engagement initiative engaged in a series of on-campus site visits. How does the next generation think about America's foreign policy?

Launch of OSIRIS-REx, September 2016, Florida. CREDIT: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

NOV 29, 2023 Article

A Human-Centric Epic for NATO Space Domain Awareness

In this report on NATO's annual space policy summit, Visiting Fellow Zhanna Malekos Smith analyzes the challenges the institution faces in the final frontier.

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation