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Ex-Chancellor Schmidt: Russia Is Less Dangerous Than United States

Helmut Schmidt Checkpoint Charly

"Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor who initiated the US arms buildup against the Soviet Union during his term in office, considers today's Russia to be less dangerous than the United States. This is as surprising as it is provocative," writes Gabor Steingart in Spiegel International and criticizes this analysis. Here is the quote from Schmidt:

Russia poses far less of a threat to world peace today than, for example, the United States. You can go ahead and print that.

Personal comments: I am surprised and disappointed that so many Social Democrats are not concerned about the developments in Russia. It's not just Schmidt, but also Germany's Foreign Minister Steinmeier. And ex-chancellor Schroeder, who is on Gazprom's payroll, criticized Merkel's Russia policy...

The picture shows from left to right Richard von Weizsäcker, Ronald Reagan and Helmut Schmidt on 11. June 1982 near Checkpoint Charlie.

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Zyme on :

In this context it is helpful to hint at the current state the russian defense is in: With a defense budget of between 30 and 40 billion dollars a year, this is hardly a fearsome threat. Both France and Britain spend more, and Germany is not far behind. While we spend most of our equipment for salaries and upgrading, they have to keep a huge cold war infrastructure running. Also they have the obligatory conflicts with their satellite republics, aside from the fact that one would have a hard time finding an army with even worse morale. Does anybody really think that Russia will launch an attack on Europe? Far more likely they will become ever more associated with the EU. We are pumping in both the money and the machinery they need after all. For them to rely solely on the rapidly growing asian countries would be too risky, as rapidly growing countries can fall just as quickly. From our perspective, Russia is basically an energy provider that is capable of keeping up stability in central Asia. (sorry for this undiplomatic description, but I want to be honest) Free trade with Europe has a lot more to offer for them than intimidating us. While Russia has its history and you cannot expect this country to change its harsh way of conducting foreign policy quickly, it is the connection of our economies that matters most to them. And this is also the current doctrine of our foreign policy with Russia: Wandel durch Verflechtung. This isn´t far from the way we got connected with each other in Western Europe. Once the primary industries are in touch, you cannot assault your neighbours anymore. This connection has not only started on the sectors of energy supply and production, but also on the defense sector. I do not exactly expect a nation to attack my country when it is launching our espionage satellites.. Is it surprising that the Russians use tricky methods to improve their negotiation position with the EU? Hardly. That´s what the French and the Poles are doing all the time. And this while they are IN the EU. Schmidt is surprisingly undiplomatic I have to agree. But to be honest, compared to a nation with a defense budget of more than 400 billion dollars that gloats about its capability of global interventions, I hardly know who could be more dangerous anyway.

David on :

Who is it who has been speaking publicly about "World War III"? Putin or Bush?

Joerg on :

Bush made that comment in regard to Iran. Russia has been very supportive of Iran. And Putin was the first Russian/Soviet leader to visit Tehran since 1943. Therefore Bush's talk about WWIII is motivated by Russian policy as well, I assume.

SC on :

Yes Joerg, subsequent discussions of Bush's comments noted your point as well as the overlapping interests of many other nations in the region, i.e. the PRC. This becomes more salient as any conflict in the region widens. Also, concern regarding Russia's ambition has been cited as one possible reason that Secretary Gates halted the draw down of US forces stationed in Europe. Regarding Russia's ambitions, Zyme's 12:06 post seems a little bit rose colored given Europe's own history. Were the nations of Europe not economically engaged in the later half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century? And given the right circumstances, two nations as deeply connected by trade and investment as are the PRC and the US could easily come to blows: Taiwan. Business and trade have always offered much to the participants, does tend to mitigate against war, but does not represent a cure. After all, the human condition and history encompass more than material goods and well being.

Zyme on :

"Were the nations of Europe not economically engaged in the later half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century?" Not comparably. Especially in the arming sector every major power guarded its own production and stressed its independence. Today we have our manufacturers of aircrafts linked together closely, with EADS and Irkut owning shares of each other. This is only the most obvious example. Something like this would have been unimaginable in the 19th century. "Business and trade have always offered much to the participants, does tend to mitigate against war, but does not represent a cure." That´s right - if you do not include "primary industries" like the arming or the energy sector. Without having them 100% under control, waging a war against the country controlling the other part of the infrastructure would be... rather difficult :)

SC on :

"That´s right - if you do not include "primary industries" like the arming or the energy sector. Without having them 100% under control, waging a war against the country controlling the other part of the infrastructure would be... rather difficult :)" Understood. So you foresee a day when Russia will become significantly dependent upon Western Europe for either energy or arms? I detect an optimist. :) Remember, owning shares is one thing; controlling the production is another. Do western European governments yet control, even indirectly, that means for Russian armaments or energy? That would be significant, and news to me, I suppose. In fairness to your point however, there are other ties involving infrastructure that could bind. This is the holiday of Thanksgiving here in the States, so let's lift a glass to Peace. But, let's also remember that not all conflicts begin rationally or even have what we might judge to be rational aims. And of course, possession of a large military and a suitably aggressive attitude have been known to help in achieving strategic aims. ;)

SC on :

And of course, possession of a large military and a suitably aggressive attitude have been known to help in achieving strategic aims . . . short of war. That last part some how got truncated in my editing.

Zyme on :

Of course one cannot prevent irrational wars. So including them into a rational discussion won´t create many results. Granted Russia has the upper hand in the delivery of raw materials here. What I was also talking about is the manufacturing of common military devices. In a war, a good strategy would be to develop new devices which surprise your foe. This becomes an increasingly difficult task if you develop your tools together with those potential foes :) German companies have their own mining rights in Russian gas and oil fields. We all know that this by itself doesn´t mean much today. But combined with something else it does: The Russians are an authoritarian people. You have to be prepared for rough treatment, and take it sportsmanlike. If they deny your overflight permission, you deny theirs. And suddenly, everyone is back at the negotiating table. The worst thing you can do is to act like a polish crybaby. I would be quite doubtful about the german reaction to russian provocations in case our government still would be in Bonn. But Berlin has changed the way foreign politics are conducted here. Today, our government is up to the job. Also the Russian position is weakening continuously. With every year passing, the needed amount of energy ressources is decreasing here. Energy consuming in Germany has decreased by almost 5% since 1990 already and is expected to decline further, while the percentage of renewable energy is increasing. This also doesn´t look like we have a lot to fear.

SC on :

"(P)olish crybaby"? Yikes! Zyme, these are your European brethern. Where's the love? :) Overall point taken. Let's hope history works itself out this way. By the way, Dimitri Simes has an interesting article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs that you might find interesting and in its own way congenial to your viewpoint: "Losing Russia" - a fetching title, I think. Unfortunately it's behind a subscription wall online, but if I recall correctly, you are at university and my have access.

Zyme on :

Although I don´t agree with all points (no wonder, it isn´t short) in this article, it was indeed interesting to read. Thank you for the hint.

Joerg on :

David, based on your graduate studies, is there some truth to this statement: Russia is now "like Germany between the wars." [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/912-WSJ-.html[/url] Interested in writing a guest blog post about it?

Jacob on :

Which of the two... Russia or America is in the process of fighting a gratuitous war what has left 1 million+ people dead?

Pat Patterson on :

Since the only reliable figures on civilian deaths in Iraq have come from Iraq body Count (65,000-70,000) the I can only assume that the rhetorical question's answer must be Russia with over 200,000 killed (Russian-Chechen Friendship Society) in the two Chechen wars.

David on :

I cannot see the similarities between Putin's Russia and pre-war Nazi Germany. Do you?

Zyme on :

@ David We know about you alignment with the current american government. Have you ever considered the possibility that european valuation of the dangers of foreign powers might not change essentially with a different american government? The commentatorship in the german press does hint to that conclusion. In case you´d like to see a sample: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,518896,00.html

David on :

@Zyme The article is about the campaign finance in the US election. The sad fact is, a candidate will need over $100 million+ to compete on a national scale effectively. In terms of the perceived threat of US power, would you agreed that that the assessment in Europe of the Clinton administration was qualitatively different (ie less reckless/threatening)?

Zyme on :

"In terms of the perceived threat of US power, would you agreed that that the assessment in Europe of the Clinton administration was qualitatively different (ie less reckless/threatening)?" Yes I would agree. But this is a thing of the past. I posted the link to specifically underscore this. In the past, democratic politicians have been treated very forthcoming in our press compared to republican ones. And this article exemplarily shows the change here.

Reid of America on :

Forget about who is a bigger threat to world peace. Who is a bigger threat to Germany and Europe? Anyone who answers the US is a fool. When the Russians shutdown the natural gas pipelines again to Europe in the middle of winter the US haters will change their attitude.

Anonymous on :

Discovery Institute: http://www.russiablog.org/2007/11/one_cold_war_was_enough_russia.php Trying to understand Russia through the prism of the British and American news media these days can be a real headache. On one hand, if you’ve read the business pages of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times lately, you would learn that Russia is now one of the world’s leading emerging markets, and the Russian economy has grown at an average annual rate of 7% since 2000. On the other hand, if you turn to the headlines or the editorial pages, you will read that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been busy crushing democracy and reviving the Soviet Union. While Americans are constantly having their eyes opened to the possibilities for growth and economic freedom in the People’s Republic of China, a far more free and open society in Russia is judged more harshly in the Western news media. Why is this? Is it because the shelves at Wal-Marts across America are not stocked with goods from Russia?

pen Name on :

I have read Schmidt's book "Men and Power". I found him to be a sensible man. If he thinks US, pursuing (neo-conservative) fanatasies, is threat to world peace then he is probably right. Russia is not a threat to world peace; she has very little ability to project power beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union and she has no claim to world leadership in economic, political, or military spheres. And just because the Russian governing system is not the same as that of US or EU that does not make her a danger.

Fuchur on :

I also liked "Men and Power" ("Menschen und Mächte" in German) very much. It should be noted in this context that especially the chapter about the USA contains some of the most passionately pro-American passages ever. If I remember correctly, one of the subtitles is "America: The most generous nation ever". I think the end of the chapter goes: [i]Should I ever be forced to leave Germany, I'd emigrate to the USA. But this will never happen, because the Americans stand true to their promise [to defend Europe]". [/i]

Browserspiel on :

I think noone can give a reliable statement, how dangerous Russia really is. We simply don't know it, as we are not able to read the thoughts of dictator Putin.

vitay on :

Russia is very dangerous, trust me. Just like the USA. WWIII is coming. Good Luck.

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