“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”, so said Abraham Lincoln in 1862.
And indeed the world has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Climate change, international terrorism and globalisation are just three of the headings for the new challenges we face.
Frequently, the answers which we present to these challenges on both sides of the Atlantic are still the old ones. Military power to combat threats, military power to secure resources, dismantling of the welfare state and transfer of the state’s regulatory powers to the markets and banks. The results of this policy are plain to see. The USA is only slowly emerging from a financial crisis which drew almost the entire global economy into its maelstrom.
Yet, the realisation that banks threaten our democracy is not a new one. The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, later to become the third President of the United States, wrote as early as 1802: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”
The militarisation of foreign policy has led the US to become embroiled in a number of wars, prompting President Obama to talk about the previous decade as a “decade of war”. Missile defence shields and Nato deployments contrary to international law – such as the one against Yugoslavia – cannot be the answer. Targeted killings, using unmanned drones where possible, are stoking hatred towards the West in Pakistan and Yemen and are not contributing to its security.
We thus have to ask whether the concept of security being under threat by one or more states and the idea that deterrence – the threat of equivalent military force –creates a balance and thus maintains this security, is still timely. I do not believe it is.
Security grows from respect, freedom, justice and solidarity. Not just as abstract concepts, but translated into concrete political measures. And the list of challenges is long enough. I should like to briefly mention just a few:
The USA seeks to reduce its dependence on oil and gas imports. In Germany, we have been working for some time on producing electricity from renewable energies. Perhaps this could be an opportunity to develop new approaches together? To identify common interests and create economic incentives. Perhaps also in view of the fact that the US has so far generally not supported agreements on climate protection.
In his victory speech in Chicago, President Obama talked of the bonds which hold together such a diverse nation, of obligations to one another and to future generations – I would call it solidarity – of freedom, respect, love and charity.
With these bonds as a foundation, Europe, Germany and the United States can build a new partnership for the 21st Century, which
1. promotes peace in the world, through bold collective moves towards disarmament. How can any country credibly campaign to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons if its own arsenal is ready for deployment and is being modernised? The withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from Germany and Europe would be a possible first step and would not endanger security either in Europe or in the US.
2. combats poverty worldwide, through bold regulation of the banking sector. A global financial transaction tax would be a possible first step.
3. develops new mechanisms of collective security for the world as a whole. Strengthening the OSCE, instead of permanently expanding Nato, could be a possible first step. And it would be worthwhile: cooperation could be enhanced on an early-warning system for economic and environmental issues, such as energy, trade, climate change or water resources, in order to defuse tensions in the Eurasian region. These steps could bring about a lasting improvement in relations to Russia and allow a collective, sustainable security architecture in Europe.
4. demands respect and regard for diversity and launches a collective initiative in the Middle East in order to finally achieve a two-state solution accepted by both Israelis and Palestinians. The granting of full UN membership to Palestine would be a possible first step.
5. advocates collectively for respect of human rights and thus launches an initiative to ban weapons exports. Suspending weapons exports to crisis regions and to countries involved in conflicts would be a possible first step.
6. promotes freedom across the world by shaping economic relations such that economic upswings benefit those who work to bring them about – also one of Abraham Lincoln’s ideas incidentally – and thus promotes sustainable development in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Suspending patent rules for the production of generic versions of lifesaving drugs, to combat HIV for example, would be a possible first step.
The rethinking of security and collective security was one of the driving forces of the 1980s, a decade of détente. After the end of the Cold War, these realisations faded once more. Now, after several decades of long-term conflicts of a new sort – involving non-state actors, without declarations of war – and of international terrorism able to destabilise whole states like Mali, I believe it is vital to take up these debates again.
After all, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us that military solutions do not work. Quite the contrary.
And a reversion to old mechanisms can be observed. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ideological conflict has disappeared. Nevertheless, the rivalry between Russia and the USA has remained, indeed has grown. Why is this so? Yet the solutions we need are there, if we manage to finally liberate ourselves from the dogmas of the past – which brings us back once again to Abraham Lincoln.