Needed: A Second Earth-Shaking Scholz Speech
To provide Germany with proper orientation in times of historic misses, the German Chancellor has to show a lot more courage. All parties have a lot of explaining to do.
- Applying “Ostpolitik” to the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin today, his hands stained with blood, is nothing but appeasement. It is not genuine, as Willy Brandt’s policy was, it is disingenuous.
- Going soft on Russia today is not brave and honest, as Brandt’s policy was. It is cowardly and delusional. It is not forward-looking and acknowledging our past, as Brandt’s policy was, it is backward-looking and risking our future.
- We Germans must be firm, uncompromising and confident in our defense of freedom and democracy. At this point in history, this pits us unquestionably against Vladimir Putin and Russia. This is the new Realpolitik.
- While always being quick to criticize the United States, we Germans have often hidden behind the United States and its military power to protect ourselves and our common democratic values, without as much as lifting a finger.
- We Germans also failed to convince our enemies, the enemies of democracy, that “Never Again!” does not just apply to our own Nazi past. It also applies to standing up to fascism and genocide in our own neighborhood.
- We Germans must – and should – reach out our hand in peace, whenever possible. But we cannot, in good conscience, shake a hand like Putin’s and Russia’s that is so drenched in blood.
- To those who reject extending our deadline of decommissioning nuclear plants, I ask you this: What do you fear most? The infinitesimally small chance of an accident in a nuclear power plant – or the true and present danger of a Russian nuclear attack?
- To those who reject coal as a temporary band-aid for our immediate energy needs and to protect our national security, I ask you: Are you willing to accept Russian tanks on our streets and our democracy in shambles instead?
- To those who are opposed to LNG imports from our closest ally, I ask you: No marriage is perfect, but will you divorce your closest partner over small grievances and thus jeopardize the happiness of your children?
- We failed you
- There are no excuses
- Ostpolitik then and now
- But we live in a different world today
- Can we handle the truth?
- Let’s try Realpolitik for a change
- No peace without credible deterrence
- Aggression is not just fought by the power of our wallets
- Climate change cannot be our excuse to let a despot rule us
- We should have listened to our friends not our fears
- We put the national security of Germany at risk
- No easy answers
- Give us a chance to right the wrong
My fellow citizens,
I am standing here before you today because it is my responsibility as your Chancellor not just to propose our policies for the future as I did two months ago in my “Zeitenwende” speech, but also to admit to the grave errors of our past.
The errors that were committed by the political class includes every single major, democratic party sitting in this parliament. And these failings have lasted for decades.
We failed you
My apologies are far-reaching because as your “representatives” we have failed precisely that purpose, i.e., to represent you. As your leaders, we have misled you. We have turned ignorance, naivete and even ill-will into virtues.
We, and I repeat “we”, have betrayed you and we have betrayed our own so-called ideals. As a result, we have caused and are causing great harm to you, the German people, to our European neighbors and to democracies all over the world.
We have been short-sighted and selfish, we let the expediency of elections determine the direction of our policies and we have grossly violated the oath each member of the Bundestag swears at the beginning of the parliamentary cycle.
This oath begins as follows: “I swear that I will dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people, promote their welfare, protect them from harm…”
There are no excuses
It does not matter if politicians in other countries have failed their own electorates too. It does not matter whether some of us had good intentions. It also does not matter, if many of you, the German people, trusted us and did not question us hard enough. We as leaders bear sole responsibility for decades of neglect, false priorities and even lies.
And so, today, I stand here before you in complete honesty owning up to our flawed leadership that hardly deserves that term – leadership.
I stand here to express my regret for these actions or inactions. I stand here to apologize to you for not protecting you from harm. But I also stand here to tell you what you and we can do about it.
Ostpolitik – then and now
First, as a Social Democrat, I shall apologize for our stubborn and outdated adherence to one of our greatest foreign-policy achievements: our Ostpolitik, as far as Russia is concerned.
Our late leader and the first social-democratic chancellor of post-World War II Germany, Willy Brandt, was the key architect of what became known as “Ostpolitik”.
I should recall that our former Federal President and then foreign minister, Walter Scheel, from our friends in the Free Democratic Party (FDP), shared much of the credit in the ultimate design and execution of this policy.
An admission of guilt
This policy was not uncontroversial at the time, not among our citizens, not in this chamber and certainly not among our allies.
But ultimately it achieved what it was designed to do. It sent a message of peace and reconciliation, an admission of guilt towards our neighbors in the East, injured by the atrocities of the Third Reich.
Indeed, it mended fences, and some say it may have ultimately put holes into the very wall that divided our own nation. It was, in my humble opinion, the greatest foreign policy success of post-World War II Germany. It was a genuine apology to our neighbors and the world.
We live in a different world today
But the world has changed since the late 1960s and early 1970s. And today, we are facing a hostile Russia, no longer communist, but hyper-feudalist, kleptocratic and criminal, that has violated international law, invaded a sovereign country and threatened the use of nuclear weapons against them and against us.
And yet, many of my friends in the SPD – and I take blame for that – continued to elevate our Ostpolitik of yore toward Russia to our guiding principle even for today.
We are today at peace with our neighbors to the East and many of them are members of the European Union and NATO. We are their friend, and they are ours.
So, when some still misuse Willy Brandt’s opening to the East, Ostpolitik, as the principle that should guide us toward Russia today, it deeply tarnishes the historic achievement of that policy.
Can we handle the truth?
Truth be told, applying Ostpolitik to the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin today, his hands stained with blood, is nothing but appeasement. It is not genuine, as Willy Brandt’s policy was, it is disingenuous. It is not brave and honest, as Brandt’s policy was, it is cowardly and delusional.
It is not forward-looking and acknowledging our past, as Brandt’s policy was, it is backward-looking and risking our future.
We must, we all must, recognize the world we live in. Our policies must fit that world, not false and – to be honest – lazy sentimentalities.
Let’s try Realpolitik for a change
Instead, we must replace the outdated Ostpolitik and replace it with another policy concept – Realpolitik. We must all acknowledge the evil that Vladimir Putin represents, the threat to the lives of the people of Ukraine and the indisputable threat to the rest of Europe, if not the world.
It is futile to engage in discussion whether or not Russia is Putin and/or whether Putin is Russia. Vladimir Putin is President of Russia, he commands their troops and, as of now, his nation engages in war crimes.
Let us not fool ourselves, we should hope for the best, but we must prepare for the worst. We must be firm, uncompromising and confident in our defense of freedom and democracy.
At this point in history, this pits us unquestionably against Vladimir Putin and, sadly, Russia. This is the undeniable demand that springs from our new Realpolitik.
No peace without credible deterrence
Second, we must learn to truly defend ourselves and see the valor in such self-defense. For decades, our friends and allies have asked us to do more. But we have rationalized our inaction for a host of reasons.
We have hidden behind the atrocities of our forefathers as a shield that gave us permission – no, even demanded of us – that we disarm ourselves and make ourselves prey to foreign aggression.
Conveniently hiding behind the United States
While always being quick to criticize the United States, we Germans have at the same time rather disingenuously often hidden behind the United States and its military power to protect ourselves and our common democratic values, without as much as lifting a finger.
We have allowed our troops to be ignored, our weapons to be in disrepair and our spirit to be dovish even when it came to our Federal Republic’s core principles.
We have failed to spend enough of our fiscal resources to credibly deter any enemies, who are now a clear and present danger.
But we also failed to spend enough of our political resources to convince our enemies, the enemies of democracy, that “Never Again!” does not just apply to our own Nazi past, but that it also applies to fascism and genocide being committed in our own neighborhood.
Aggression is not just fought by the power of our wallets
That’s why I proposed two months ago that we raise our fiscal spending on defense dramatically and permanently. But foreign aggression is not just fought by our wallets.
Our answer to foreign aggression will only be credible if we muster the courage and conviction to stand up for ourselves and others. And when we do, it is sobering to acknowledge that we cannot win a gunfight with a knife.
We must – and should – reach out our hand in peace, whenever possible. But we cannot, in good conscience, shake a hand like Putin’s and Russia’s that is so drenched in blood.
Climate change cannot be our excuse to let a despot rule us
Third, we as your leaders, have failed you in honestly pursuing a truly effective, realistic and balanced climate policy. For decades, we ignored the risks of climate change, or at least we minimized it.
When we acted, we did so with grand fanfare indulging in the “accomplishments” of yet another international accord. Don’t get me wrong. This is a global problem, and it requires global coordination and cooperation.
But climate change is not solved by proclamations and energy policy is deeply connected to the complexities of our foreign policies.
A bad mistake
It was therefore a grave mistake for us Germans under the guidance of my predecessor Chancellor Angela Merkel – and the strong support of my own party, the SPD – to instinctively, prematurely and without a solid plan announce decommissioning of our nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Some supported this step out of fear of such disaster in our land. Others did so, at least for a long time, because they had always pursued an exit from nuclear energy as their key policy goal, even as their raison d’ètre as a party.
We should have listened to our friends
We were warned by some of our greatest friends and allies that creating greater dependence on Russian gas undermined our national security interests.
We, my fellow citizens, we, your leaders, dismissed these concerns of our closest allies. We publicly shamed their ignorance of the “new reality” that allegedly followed the Cold War.
Some of our former leaders even became the strongest and well-paid lobbyists of Russian oil and gas interests. They became accomplices of our enemy.
Some of us even accused our allies of offering self-serving arguments, arguing that their only purpose in warning us on relying so heavily on Russia was so as to sell their own oil and gas to us instead.
Maybe we were a little right, but truth be told we made massively wrong decisions based on false assumptions, wishful thinking and even for personal profit.
We put the national security of Germany at risk
So, here I stand before you, before this chamber to confess to you, the German people, that we, current and past members of parliament, over the stretch of an entire generation created a gigantic national security risk for all of Germany, well even Europe.
NordStream1 and NordStream2 were the direct results of our massive miscalculation, ignorance and willful neglect.
No easy answers
There are no easy solutions to rectify what we did wrong and all of them come at a price.
To those who reject extending our deadline of decommissioning nuclear plants, I ask you this: What do you fear most? The infinitesimally small chance of an accident in a nuclear power plant – or the true and present danger of a Russian nuclear attack?
To those who reject coal as a temporary band-aid for our immediate energy needs and to protect our national security, I ask you: Are you willing to accept Russian tanks on our streets and our democracy in shambles instead?
To those who are opposed to LNG imports from our closest ally, I ask you: No marriage is perfect, but will you divorce your closest partner over small grievances and thus jeopardize the happiness of your children?
For those who promote renewable and/or clean energy, I beg you: Double down! Let’s invest our positive energy into that type of energy.
Give us a chance to right the wrong
In closing, let me once again express my deepest apologies to the German people for having failed you. Let me do so not just on my own behalf, but on behalf of all democratic parties in this parliament which at one point or another held responsibility in government.
As the science fiction writer Jack McDevitt once said: “The real problem has to do with the inability by people to admit that a position they’ve held a long time might be wrong. That’s all. Not that it is. Just that it might be. I don’t know why it is, but we tend to fall in love with things we believe, threaten them, and you threaten us.”
Thank you for listening. I hope, from the bottom of my heart that you, the German people, will allow us to right what we did wrong for so long.