“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Captives in chains after a 1904 uprising in what was then called German South-West Africa turned into a war of annihilation waged by German troops against the Herero and Nama peoples. ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES
SHARK ISLAND, Namibia—Just over a century ago, Germany built one of its first concentration camps on a narrow peninsula jutting into the Atlantic.
A 1904 uprising in what was then called German South-West Africa turned into a war of annihilation against the Herero and Nama peoples. At least 60,000 are believed to have died, including some 2,000 in the Shark Island camp, where inmates were starved, beaten and worked to death.
That episode of colonial brutality, considered by many historians to be the first genocide of the 20th century, is now testing the limits of historical apologies.
Namibia says it wants Germany to officially recognize that its actions constituted genocide, to issue a formal apology and to pay reparations. Berlin says it is willing to meet the first two demands and to pay some form of compensation. The two countries have been negotiating for more than a year.
Amid bucolic lakes on the edge of Potsdam, the Prussian garrison city of Frederick the Great, sits the Hasso Plattner Institute, an IT research center named after the founder of the German software company SAP. Here Germany’s leading cyber warriors, industrialists, and intelligence officials gather once a year to talk about the digital threat landscape. Despite the splashy topic, discussions are not prone to sensationalism, focusing on relatively mundane areas such as breach notification requirements, technical norms and standards, and critical infrastructure classifications.
This year was different. Germany’s most senior federal intelligence officials presented a united front about the potential threat of Russian cyber-influence in their country’s September elections. Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV)—Germany’s domestic intelligence service—did not mince words: “We expect further attacks,” he said, adding that they recognized the threat as “a campaign being directed from Russia.” Maassen was referring to the Russia-attributed 2015 hack that hoovered up massive amounts of e-mails, correspondence, and sensitive information from well-placed members of the German Bundestag. The decision of whether to release the tranches of data “will be made in the Kremlin,” Maassen said, implicating President Vladimir Putin personally in any decision to use doxxed material, disinformation, or other cyber-actions to disrupt the integrity of the German elections. In turn, Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s international intelligence arm, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), called for more money to boost cyber offensive and defensive capabilities.
The two were expressing concern that recent cyberattacks against Germany match the pattern of earlier attacks elsewhere in the West—first against Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in the United States, and more recently against then presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, in France. The pattern is simple: a series of hacks and information exfiltration, followed by leaks strategically timed to impact the election’s outcome. In the case of the United States, the leak phase of the DNC operation began on July 22, 2016, three days ahead of the party’s convention in Philadelphia; in France, it was on May 5, 2017, just prior to the 44-hour blackout period before the second-round vote. Both incidents have been linked primarily to APT28, or Fancy Bear, a cyber-espionage group associated with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.
WHAT awkward timing. On February 9th Germany reported the world’s largest current-account surplus, of about €270bn (almost $300bn), beating even China’s. Meanwhile, the country with the world’s biggest deficit remains America, which under its new president, Donald Trump, is browbeating friend and foe alike in the name of putting “America first”. Mr Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, has even accused Germany of currency manipulation. By his logic, Germany “exploits” America and others because it uses the euro, which is weaker today than the old Deutschmark would be, making German cars, machines and other exports more competitive.
Coming just weeks after Mr Trump casually threatened to slap a 35% tariff on imported BMWs, such talk has Germans’ full attention. His verbal assaults on the rules-based trading order, along with his disdain for NATO and the European Union, strike at the heart of post-war Germany’s identity and national interest, which is to be embedded in Europe and the West as a peaceful mercantile nation. But if Mr Trump thinks the angst he is causing gives him bargaining power over Germany, he is naive.
His administration’s mistake is to attack Germany with flawed logic. Yes, the euro is weak relative to the dollar. But so are other currencies. Germans think Mr Trump has only himself to blame. He has promised huge tax cuts and increases in infrastructure spending, which will drive up interest rates in America, boosting the dollar. Mr Navarro’s suggestion that Germany deliberately attempts to weaken the euro makes no sense. The European Central Bank (ECB) may be based in Frankfurt. But its president, Mario Draghi, is keeping interest rates near zero and buying bonds (in the European version of “quantitative easing”) primarily to stimulate economies outside Germany.
What Berlin Can and Can’t Do for the Liberal Order
AXEL SCHMIDT / REUTERS German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Bellevue Castle in Berlin, Germany, January 27, 2017.
With U.S. President poised to pull the United States back from global leadership and with the United Kingdom mired in a messy withdrawal from the European Union, Germany has emerged as the central economic and political power in Europe. Since German President Joachim Gauck’s much-lauded speech at the Munich Security Conferencein 2014—“Let us thus not turn a blind eye,” he intoned, “not run from threats, but instead stand firm”—the country has shown its commitment to ensuring its own security and the continent’s. It has agreed to gradually increase its defense spending to reach NATO’s target of two percent of GDP and to create a credible European defense system. It made a unilateral decision in early 2015, for example, to send the Bundeswehr on a training mission to the north of Iraq and to join the military campaign against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) after France invoked the mutual defense clause of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty following the terrorist attacks on Paris in November 2015. Berlin has continued to help manage the crisis on Europe’s southern periphery, in Syria and Iraq, becoming a reliable partner to Washington at a time when the United States had significantly retrenched under former President Barack Obama.
The hope among many anxious Europeans and Americans, worried about the fate of the liberal order and the transatlantic relationship, is that Germany will take the United States’ place as leader of the liberal order. But that is wishful thinking.
Germany is already overwhelmed by crises at home and on its borders. And it cannot replace the United States as the world’s liberal hegemon for the simple reason that it isn’t one. In 2015, it had a defense budget that was one-twentieth the size of the United States’, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. It is not a nuclear power and has comparatively smaller ambitions to provide for the common good on the global stage than the United States.
But neither is Berlin complacent, and there is much it can and is willing to do to ensure that Europe stays united, particularly on defense. For the first time since reunification, Germany is set to increase its defense budget, a rise of eight percent from 2016. And it is also moving to advance EU defense cooperation. In fact, even though Germany is unlikely to take over for the United States on European defense, it and its partners may find much opportunity in Trump’s threats to overcome their own political malaise.
FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS A German policeman stands in front of the Brandenburg Gate on New Year’s Eve, 2016
On December 19, 2016, Germany was hit by its first major Islamist terrorist attack, when Anis Amri, a Tunisian supporter of the Islamic State (ISIS), drove a trailer truck into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 and wounding 53. The attack, right in the center of former West Berlin, triggered a heated and nervous debate about how Germany should respond—a debate whose outcome will likely affect the parliamentary elections in September 2017. Many Germans are terrified by law enforcement’s failures in the run-up to the attack, and are demanding quick and decisive changes to the country’s domestic security architecture. Meanwhile, the complacency of politicians in Berlin and in most of the powerful states—with the notable exception of Bavaria—indicates that they do not seem to have grasped that the system must be completely overhauled if Germany is to be saved from the twin dangers of right-wing populism and jihadist terrorism. If Berlin continues on its current path, electoral catastrophes—and more terrorist attacks—are very likely to rattle Germany in the coming months.
Asked what Trump could do to make sure German customers bought more American cars, Sigmar Gabriel said: ‘Build better cars.’ Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA
Berlin has mounted a staunch defence of its policies after Donald Trump criticised the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for her stance during the refugee crisis and threatened a 35% tariff on BMW cars imported into the US.
Germany’s deputy chancellor and minister for the economy, Sigmar Gabriel, said on Monday morning that a tax on German imports would lead to a “bad awakening” among US carmakers since they were reliant on transatlantic supply chains.
“I believe BMW’s biggest factory is already in the US, in Spartanburg [South Carolina],” Gabriel, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic party, told Bild newspaper in a video interview.
“The US car industry would have a bad awakening if all the supply parts that aren’t being built in the US were to suddenly come with a 35% tariff. I believe it would make the US car industry weaker, worse and above all more expensive. I would wait and see what the Congress has to say about that, which is mostly full of people who want the opposite of Trump.”
In an interview with Bild and the Times, the US president-elect had indicated that he would aim to realign the “out of balance” car trade between Germany and the US. “If you go down Fifth Avenue everyone has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house, isn’t that the case?” he said. “How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Not very many, maybe none at all … it’s a one-way street.”
Asked what Trump could do to make sure German customers bought more American cars, Gabriel said: “Build better cars.”
Shares in carmakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen fell on Monday morning following Trump’s comments. BMW shares were down 0.85%, shares in Daimler were 1.54% lower and Volkswagen shares were trading 1.07% down in early trading in Frankfurt.
All three carmakers have invested heavily in factories in Mexico, where production costs are lower than the US, with an eye to exporting smaller vehicles to the American market.
THOMAS KOEHLER / GETTY IMAGES — Steinmeier at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 2014.
Over the past two decades, Germany’s global role has undergone a remarkable transformation. Following its peaceful reunification in 1990, Germany was on track to become an economic giant that had little in the way of foreign policy. Today, however, the country is a major European power that attracts praise and criticism in equal measure. This holds true both for Germany’s response to the recent surge of refugees—it welcomed more than one million people last year—and for its handling of the euro crisis.
As Germany’s power has grown, so, too, has the need for the country to explain its foreign policy more clearly. Germany’s recent history is the key to understanding how it sees its place in the world. Since 1998, I have served my country as a member of four cabinets and as the leader of the parliamentary opposition. Over that time, Germany did not seek its new role on the international stage. Rather, it emerged as a central player by remaining stable as the world around it changed. As the United States reeled from the effects of the Iraq war and the EU struggled through a series of crises, Germany held its ground. It fought its way back from economic difficulty, and it is now taking on the responsibilities befitting the biggest economy in Europe. Germany is also contributing diplomatically to the peaceful resolution of multiple conflicts around the globe: most obviously with Iran and in Ukraine, but also in Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, and the Balkans. Such actions are forcing Germany to reinterpret the principles that have guided its foreign policy for over half a century. But Germany is a reflective power: even as it adapts, a belief in the importance of restraint, deliberation, and peaceful negotiation will continue to guide its interactions with the rest of the world.