Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – and Zeitenwende (turning point) German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced soon after – destabilized left-wing political parties: Germany’s left-wing party Die Linke is engaged in fierce internal debates over its relationship with Russia and the responsibility of the West and of NATO. In contrast, the social democratic SPD is grappling with the legacy of its Ostpolitik and a new security policy exemplified by a special fund of 100 billion euros for the German armed forces and its new demand for leadership.
Surprisingly, it is only within the Green Party that the radical change in German foreign policy does not seem to have sparked debate. Recalibration doesn’t seem to justify throwing spray paint — like at the Green Party’s 1999 congress, when its foreign minister Joschka Fischer championed the German army’s first foreign deployment in Kosovo. Interviewed by German public television at the end of April 2022, the co-leader of the Greens’ parliamentary faction, Katharina Dröge, seemed a little surprised by her party’s unity.
In fact, the Greens began to move from radical pacifism to realpolitik and change their stance on the use of military force when they approved military deployments to Kosovo in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001. However, this has involved many intense debates with the party base. . The current pragmatic political consensus, abandoning the party’s original radical pacifism, has been a long one: in 2014, a large majority of Greens – led by parliamentary group leader Anton Hofreiter – voted against supplying weapons to the Kurdish peshmerga to fight IS; only a few members, including Green Party leader Cem Özdemir and Joschka Fischer, voted in favour. In 2021, during a visit to eastern Ukraine, Robert Habeck was the first Green to call for arms to be given to the country. He was quickly brought under control by his party’s co-leader, Annalena Baerbock, who is now Germany’s foreign minister.
From pacifism to interventionism
Meanwhile, fundamental pacifist beliefs and military restraint are a thing of the past, including among party supporters. In a survey commissioned by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung on attitudes toward the momentous foreign policy change, more than half of Green Party voters advocated that Germany intervene militarily if necessary. Consequently, the Greens are more willing to intervene than the rest of the electorate: a third of CDU and FDP voters approve of military intervention, with only a quarter of SPD voters and only 5% in Die Linke. From leaders to members, the party that emerged from the peace movement has not only begun to become pro-interventionist, but also generally accepts and cultivates the use of military force. This is very unusual in Germany.
Practical political necessities place values behind interests, the most recent example being Germany’s plan to offset the loss of Russian gas with gas from Qatar.
As well as shedding their pacifist mantle, the Greens are introducing a new note in foreign policy as the investigation into the Zeitenwende reveals: Some 84% of Green Party voters favor a strongly normative foreign policy in which values matter more than interests – despite possible negative consequences. SPD, FDP and Conservative voters are much less enthusiastic.
Almost all Green Party voters would accept a loss of prosperity to reduce dependence on countries like Russia and China – compared to around three-quarters of other party members. Of all the electoral blocs, the Greens are the least in favor of an interest-based foreign policy. Instead, they want theirs to be values-driven. Green supporters are also the least convinced of the need to cooperate with countries that do not share our values in the name of maintaining peace and security.
The contradictions of the Greens’ foreign policy
The well-defined orientation of the Greens’ foreign policy, so different from that of the other parties mentioned, did not begin with the war in Ukraine. In September 2021, the socialist magazine Jacobin published an article claiming that the Greens’ foreign policy was to the right of the Conservatives. The Green Party’s platform for the Bundestag election was most opposed to authoritarian states. With “dialogue and rigour”, they insisted on a clear position in the competition between political systems. Jacobin described the Green Party’s values-driven foreign policy as “full of contradictions” and “conflict.”
Practical political necessities place values behind interests, the most recent example being Germany’s plan to offset the loss of Russian gas with gas from Qatar. Of course, the energy supply must be secured by pragmatic solutions. But morally speaking, it cannot be “right” to shift the energy supply from one authoritarian regime to another. As far as values go, it’s either hypocritical or inconsequential – and skeptical self-criticism doesn’t change that.
A purely values-based foreign policy cannot calm the perfect storm created by parallel and mutually reinforcing mega-crises. The climate crisis, social inequalities, pandemic shocks, hunger and wars will not be overcome by cooperating only with “like-minded” countries. What responsibility do Western democracies bear vis-à-vis the 71% of the world’s population ruled by autocrats? What is the relationship between the ethics of purpose and that of responsibility? It will be interesting to see how the Greens proceed with democratic says: It is unlikely that they will continue to oppose the CETA free trade agreement with Canada.
When political conflicts are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the parties to the conflict are reluctant to sit down together to negotiate.
Also, it is unclear who will pay for the values-based policy. A foreign policy that only cooperates with countries with compatible values is expensive. We must recognize that Germany’s decades of prosperity have made us dependent on fossil fuel sources, rare earths, highly specialized supply chains and export-led growth. But we must not maintain these dependencies: On the contrary. It is good for Europe to diversify. But we have to recognize that independence is neither quick nor cost neutral and someone has to foot the bill.
The end of dialogue?
Finally, a normative foreign policy can make dialogue impossible. When political conflicts are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the parties to the conflict are reluctant to sit down together to negotiate. Morally charged conflicts are particularly difficult to resolve. By focusing on interests, it is easier to overcome differences.
This does not mean that German foreign policy should be blind to values and only care about interests. It wasn’t in the past and won’t be in the future. Values and interests are an integral part of foreign policy. The war against Ukraine forces us to reconsider their relative weight. Where it was once in our national interest to provide households and industry with the cheapest energy possible, we must now reduce one-sided dependencies and diversify our energy sources as quickly as possible – recognizing that complete self-sufficiency is neither possible nor in our economy. interest.
As a community of shared values, the EU will have to use all its resources to oppose autocratic reaction and defend European democracies from their enemies at home and abroad. The EU cannot fight global crises by limiting itself to the increasingly restricted club of democracies. It must forge alliances by making targeted and attractive proposals to semi-authoritarian states. Values and interests should be considered equally important and not mutually exclusive.
Interestingly, the apparent contradictions of the Green Party’s foreign policy seem unfazed by its supporters: the leadership’s communications strategy appears to be a resounding success. But to make foreign policy for all voters and not just their clientele, the Greens must strive to better balance values and interests and not abandon their pacifist principles, including the desire for dialogue, too quickly.