Why will there always be wars?
An interview with Herfried Münkler : "There will be no world without war"
Herfried Münkler is currently considered the most influential German political scientist. The 68-year-old, who has dealt with old and new forms of war in a number of books, taught at the Humboldt University in Berlin until recently. His latest book is entitled "The Thirty Years War" (2017).
Professor Münkler, 80 years ago Germany triggered World War II with the attack on Poland. How does the experience of six years of war affect the attitude of Germans towards the military today?
The last two years of the war from 1943 onwards, when their own losses soared, shaped the consciousness of Germans in particular. The number of German civilians killed in action in the last year of the war was about as high as in the entire war.
Towards the end of the war, the Germans experienced firsthand the suffering they had previously inflicted on others, including the expulsion. And that still shapes the political and cultural memory. Politics and society react negatively to the use of the military.
Many German politicians are proud of the culture of military restraint. Right?
I think that's a euphemism. We have just seen this in the German refusal to discuss escorts for merchant ships in the Persian Gulf. One can certainly discuss restraint because it is not only about the safety of the sea routes, but also about the risk of being militarily involved in a hegemonic conflict.
On the other hand, Germany weakens the cohesion of the alliance and Europe's ability to act. As a result, Europeans can be split up by whoever - Trump, Putin, Iran. It is a problem when the Germans stay out of the assertion that this will save the peace and give little thought to where and how one can prevent conflicts from escalating with early engagement.
If Germany has such a special collective memory that is different from that of other Europeans, that sets limits to defense cooperation in the EU. Can such an attitude change?
The attitude has already changed in the military - since the abolition of conscription and with the missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Professional soldiers know that they are going on missions that can cause them to be wounded or killed. The new German professional army is now developing its own culture of remembrance. On the other hand, we see a post-heroic society not only in Germany, but everywhere in Europe, even in Russia.
This has been the case in the USA since Vietnam, at least for the children of the white middle and upper class. With the drones, post-heroic society has developed new weapons that replace the use of their own soldiers. That touches on a peculiar point with the Germans. They are proud to be a post-heroic society, but oppose the purchase of armed combat drones. I would then speak of an unhappy consciousness with Hegel.
Do you see a change in awareness similar to that of professional soldiers in German politics and society?
No. In politics and society, the differences to other European peoples have remained. The Germans no longer have a special position, but they do have a prominent position. All western societies have become more or less post-heroic societies.
This also has to do with the fact that families have fewer children and the bond with religion, the great cultivator of heroic narration and willingness to make sacrifices, has weakened. Societies with many children and strong religious ties are heroic societies, such as the Gaza Strip. The difference within Europe is that other countries are pragmatic about being post-heroic. The Germans are trying to turn it into a national virtue.
"The parliamentary army is impractical for European cooperation."
Germany also has a parliamentary army whose deployment must be approved by the Bundestag.
The usability of the Bundeswehr is less than, for example, in France with its presidential constitution. The German solution of the parliamentary army is impractical for real cases of conflict which have to be reacted to quickly. It is designed to protect against hasty action.
And for European cooperation?
It is also impractical there. In the history of political ideas there is not only the separation of powers into the executive, legislative and judicial branches, but also, in the case of John Locke, for example, the fourth element, the prerogative. In questions of foreign policy, the king or the prime minister have the right to decide independently of the legislature, the parliament.
The French president has a prerogative, the American one, and Putin even more so. We did not dare to say: This is the job of the Federal Chancellor or the Minister of Defense. The Federal Constitutional Court then assigned them to parliament, which brings many, many difficulties with it.
In any case, the Germans cannot react quickly to impending conflicts.
How realistic then is a common European defense and armaments policy?
That is the real lever to normalize the Germans: a common European foreign and security policy of the European Union. Because this sets a dynamic in motion in which the navel gazes and sensitivities of individual EU members become marginal. At the same time, it is the only chance to get the EU going again after the euro has tended to deepen the divisions.
It should be possible to define common security interests and then to pursue them. That also opens up the opportunity to do certain things independently of the USA. That will of course cost a lot of money. But at the same time this could be so attractive that some parliamentary rituals are foregone.
Does Europe also have an obligation to protect safe sea lanes in the world?
The EU is economically closely intertwined with the world, even if protectionism is rampant. One could even say: Safe transport routes by sea are the real vulnerability of our economy. Therefore, the accusation that Europe and especially Germany are free riders of American military power is not entirely unjustified.
Safe trading at sea is a collective good. Some benefit from it, but do not contribute to it. If Europeans develop their skills in securing the sea routes, they would show that they are living up to their responsibilities.
Do you advocate building a European navy?
Right, but not only. Europe also needs forces who cooperate with this navy outside of its own continent. Only if you have this instrument can you use it to signal that you will not use it as long as other powers are cooperating.
Could it be that after the collapse of communism and because of the experience of reunification 30 years ago, the Germans gave themselves more than others to the conviction that now the end of all conflicts is here and a liberal world order is inevitable?
I'm careful about that. Only a few years after reunification, the Balkan Wars broke out. Do you remember what Joschka Fischer said back then? He put “Never again Auschwitz” next to “Never again war”. At that time, the Greens led this debate on behalf of German society. It had an effect.
Since then, German soldiers have also been deployed in the Hindu Kush and in Mali. The other is: In addition to the shaping of political action by the memory of the two world wars, there is also a shaping of action by the idea that a world order can be established that is essentially shaped by economic interdependence, democratization, legalization.
"Heiko Maas prefers to play for the public."
That is the official goal of German foreign policy - listen to any speech by the Foreign Minister ...
I now consider this idea to have failed. The Chinese and Russians have always been aloof from this notion of democratization and juridification, the Americans have crashed out of their role of guardian of the world order under Trump at the latest.
They no longer want to invest in “common goods”, they only invest in their own interests. That means: we are entering a world order in which there is no longer a guardian. And instead five metropolitan areas, namely the USA, Russia, China, India and the Europeans, provided they stay together. These large areas will compete with one another, but will also cooperate with one another. That will be a different world order than that which appeared possible after the end of the East-West conflict.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas appeals to those involved in almost all conflicts to hold back and behave rationally. Does that have any effect in the world?
Some politicians seem to have a skewed view of their profession. They believe they are intellectuals and can act in the role of admonisher and warner. In doing so, they forget that they have to run the operational business. Heiko Maas would rather play the public than chew the hard bread of concrete influence. The Foreign Office apparatus then has to take care of that for him.
If juridification and democratization don't work - what should Europeans orientate themselves to?
I recommend looking at examples from history where such pentarchies have repeatedly arisen after the end of a comprehensive order with a point. Such an order of five will inevitably have a higher degree of militarization. The role of the guard was to put up security screens for others as well, which saved the protected ones from having to upgrade themselves. If the security umbrella is lost, the security dilemma arises: I have to upgrade in order to feel safe.
But when I upgrade, my neighbor feels insecure and also upgrades. Which means that I have to keep upgrading, and so on. That is why the decade ahead will be marked by higher arms spending. This is bad because the money could be better used for other things, but it is the result when the “guardian of an order” leaves this position.
Do the Germans accept the idea that military threat potential is one of the instruments of foreign and trade policy?
There is a gap in Germany between actual action on the one hand and the public debate about it on the other. This becomes a problem when far reaching, dangerous decisions have to be made. Our politicians are not used to doing things against persistent public opinion. Because of the fundamental nature of the decision to use the military, the German public has particularly high expectations of the Bundeswehr.
Polemically speaking: If the German public decides against its basic pacifist disposition, then at least the result must be that the country in which the foreign assignment takes place is completely pacified very quickly. The Germans have no sense of what the military can solve and what cannot. I see a problem in that.
The American scientist Steven Pinker argues that there are fewer and fewer wars and that the extent of state violence has been declining for decades. Why do his theses find so little echo in our emotional household?
This is not just a special problem for Germans, but for all Europeans. The experience of the First and Second World Wars weighs heavily on us. If we compare ourselves to early societies, even in the 20th century in Europe, for a century as a whole, the statistical probability of dying a violent death was low. In addition, highly industrialized societies are highly vulnerable, which is one of the reasons why they develop a high aversion to war.
And outside of industrialized societies?
We'd all hoped for the logic that war goes away. However, this logic no longer applies since war has become cheap again in certain forms and regions. The new wars on the periphery of the affluent zones do not need expensive armaments such as warplanes or tanks. They can also be wielded with Kalashnikovs and bazookas. There are enough young people who take part, these wars are worthwhile. Warlords do not have to pay for expensive aftercare, such as looking after veterans and the disabled or clearing mines. These wars won't go away because they're worth it.
At the end of the 18th century, the enlightener Immanuel Kant presented a draft of how the state's history of human violence can be ended through legalization. Will there ever be a world without war?
As a political scientist, I have to say no. There will be no world without war. Anyone who takes a closer look at Kant's text “For Eternal Peace” will notice that it too is characterized by deep skepticism. Kant writes: “Nothing completely straight can be made out of such crooked wood as what man is made of.” That has not changed today, more than 200 years later.
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