"The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia!" Thus spake, not Zarathustra, but clever, cunning, ruthless Otto von Bismarck, perhaps up there with Talleyrand as one of the greatest statesmen of 19th century Europe. He knew, as others failed to know, or deliberately ignored, that the theft by Germany of Alsace-Lorraine in 1870/1 meant that France was forever a vengeance-fueled enemy sitting nursing its grievance on Germany's western flank, thus, it was imperative that Russia, on its eastern flank, was kept sweet almost at any price. I have been jogged into remembering this by a comment from 'SoD' in an earlier comment thread in which he drew attention to a piece by Ambrose E-P in The Telegraph. In it, A E-P suggests that the foreign policy of the new anti-EU party, the AfD, contesting the German election, is, to quote his words, "pure Bismarck":
Dr Gauland [AfD's foreign affairs spokesman], a former state secretary for the Christian Democrats, said it is time to accommodate Kremlin "sensitivities" and treat the wounded Russian bear with more caution. He explicitly proposed that "elements of Bismarck's reinsurance policy towards Russia should be maintained.
"The Germans sometimes forget that Russia played a positive role at key
moments of German history, saving Prussia from destruction. It happened in 1763, 1806/1807, 1813, in Bismarck's unification of the Reich in 1866/1870, and in
German reunification in 1990/1991."
Well, as A E-P is quick to point out, a claim that the economic collapse of Soviet Russia was a positive move to asssist German re-unification is a bit of a stretch! Even so, it cannot be denied that given Germany's location, squatting as it does in the middle of the European nest like a giant cuckoo, its two immediate and biggest neighbours are of prime importance. The only danger from France is that in their almost desperate efforts to cuddle the Germans as closely as possible they might actually smother them to death! But a new Russia, shorn of its soviet satellites but still possessed of nuclear capabilities and an army which might lack expertise but makes up for it in zillions of boots on the ground, needs to be treated with care. Quite apart from purely strategic considerations, it is German commerce that is the constant priority of Germany's leaders. To nick an American catch-phrase, 'what's good for German business is good for Germany!'
Not the least of the sensible decisions taken by various German leaderships, particularly after the fall of the iron curtain, is that defence spending has been minimal and none of its neighbours feels in the slightest way threatened. So, better to build Mercedes-Benz cars than tanks, nein?! It now cracks the economic whip over a pliant Europe but, like those, er, 'strict fräuleins' so beloved of the likes of Max Mosley and others given to such tastes, they try to ensure that the strokes do not really draw blood, or at least, not too much!
So far, so brilliant as far as Germany is concerned and one can sense the old Prussian nodding in approval. But now there is the possibility, I put it no higher, of Russia under the leadership of a corrupt, kleptomaniac gang of thugs becoming over confident and possibly contemplating the exertion of their considerable weight into a potentially very delicate area. Between Germany and Russia lie several territories whose exact status is, shall we say, not yet fixed in concrete and which Russia would dearly love to bend to its will. Of course, they constitute something - not much, but something - of a barrier between Germany and Russia which the Germans would dearly love to keep; but on the other hand, Germany needs energy supplies which for the moment only Russia can provide.
As you would expect, A E-P sums it all up much better than I can:
A cynic would say that Mr Gauland is merely articulating openly what is
already the foreign Ostpolitik of Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel. The
country refused to back its French and British allies in the UN Security Council
over Libya; it refused to join France, Britain, Spain, and Italy in signing the
G20 accord denouncing the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in
It curries favour with Russia and China at the expense of EU partners on one
issue after another, undercutting the European Commission when its own trade
interests are at stake. It is a "semi-detached" member of the European Union
already, more so than Britain these days in foreign policy.
That leaves one outstanding question quivering in the air unanswered - whither Britain? Before I try and explain the answer to 'Dim Dave' - and that could take a long time given that one is restricted to words of one syllable - I think perhaps it would be advisable for me to try and think what it is! The only certainty is that it will be almost the exact opposite of what the mandarins in our 'ministry for foreigners' thinks it is!