- Von Aaron Kliegman
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Besser zusammen: Kanzlerin Merkel und Präsident Trump Bild: AFP
Germany is able to excel despite a spineless foreign policy and military posture. It is even more powerful than Russia today. Like it or not, American power makes this possible.
Which country is more powerful: Russia or Germany? At first glance, the question seems random. What is the point of asking? As it turns out, the answer reveals why an American-dominated world order is so important to preserve.
This year, in the Russian equivalent of the State of the Union address, President Vladimir Putin spent several paragraphs touting Russia's military might, including its nuclear capabilities. „But can they count?“ Putin asked, apparently referring to foreign leaders. „Probably they can. So let them calculate the range and speed of our future arms systems. This is all we are asking: just do the maths first and take decisions that create additional serious threats to our country afterwards.“ Putin tends to exaggerate, but Russia does have the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and one of its most advanced militaries.
But Russia does not have much else. The Russian economy is stumbling along, with stagnation as the new normal. The economy is growing, but slowly, and following a three-year recession driven by low oil prices and devastating American and European sanctions. And what little growth there is will likely not last. „We are moving slowly towards a demographic pitfall; we have almost zero non-state investment“, Andrey Movchan, an economist at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said in Feburary. „All developments favor GDP contraction rather than growth.“ And that only scratches at the surface of Russia's systemic internal problems.
Germany, meanwhile, is falling short even of its modest goals for defense spending, and the consequences are serious. The German Defense Ministry found last year that only about one-third of its military assets are operational. The vast majority of weapons systems are unavailable for training exercises or deployment. To give one example, no submarines and none of the air force's 14 large transport planes were available for deployment at the end of 2017 due to repairs, according to a parliamentary report. Moreover, the RAND corporation found in a report from 2017 that the German army would need a month to mobilize a full armored brigade, and only by stripping equipment from other units, therefore making it difficult for the Germans to field a larger force or engage in „other operations until equipment shortages are addressed.“ Simply put, Germany is unable to defend itself, or anyone else for that matter.
Yet Germany has the largest economy in Europe, and the fourth largest in the world. Yes, Germany saw slow growth at the end of 2018, and the group that advises the German government on economic policy has slashed its growth forecast for this year to 0.8 percent. But Germans still enjoy a far more healthy economy than Russians, and a healthier society in general. And, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, Europeans say Germany is playing an increasingly important role in global affairs. In fact, it has become popular among Western elites on the political left to say that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the new „leader of the free world“ – a ridiculous notion to be sure, but telling nonetheless.
In sum, Russia relies on coercion to exert its influence, Germany on soft power. So which country is more powerful?
Historically, the answer would be Russia. Russia has many weaknesses, but in previous times, when conventional wars between states were more common and accepted, Moscow could use its military might more liberally. The principle of „might makes right“ applied to international relations. If a larger country with more military force wanted something, it could just take it and change the geopolitical status quo. Russia could bully and seize control of its smaller neighboring states and exploit them for economic gain, using their resources as Moscow saw fit. Russia's borders, or at least its sphere of influence, would creep further into Europe, lessening the distance to Germany, which would be like a helpless child trying to defend itself from the Russian bear.