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Germany is still haunted by its past

West Germans pushing to normalise ties with Russia in 1971. Klaus Rose/Ullstein Bild/Getty

There’s a simple reason why Germany is acting so meekly over Russia’s threats to Ukraine, says Marcel Dirsus on the US defence blog War on the Rocks: Germans “see the world differently” to the rest of the West. They think military force is both “evil” and “counterproductive”, responsible for the “greatest tragedies of the 20th century”. This is partly because they have no fear of being invaded themselves, as any foreign aggressor would first have to get through “another dozen countries”. But they also think “engagement” works much better than military deterrence. Ask Americans how the Cold War was won and they’ll mention nuclear weapons, money and troops. Ask Germans and they’ll cite Chancellor Willy Brandt’s strategy of “Ostpolitik”, which sought to achieve “change through rapprochement”. It’s no wonder nearly three-quarters of Germans oppose sending weapons to Ukraine.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that Russia is involved. Germans still feel guilty about the millions of Russians killed by the Nazis during World War II. And rightly or wrongly, many in former East Germany feel a debt of gratitude towards Moscow for enabling reunification. All these views may change, of course – the increasingly powerful Greens, for example, want Germany to use its economic and political might to put pressure on Moscow. But ultimately, however frustrating to others in the West, “German foreign policy is the way it is because Germans want it to be that way”.

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