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Turn of the times and Negotiations instead of truce

by Herbert Bertsch and Peter Wahl
"Public opinion continues to cling to pragmatism and pacifism. Skepticism toward military means has even increased since the beginning of the war." For example, in a May poll, 49 percent thought, "The most important thing is to end the war as soon as possible, even if that means Ukraine ceding control of territory to Russia."
"Turn of the times" plus

by Herbert Bertsch
[This article posted on 1/18/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

"The great words...are not for us. Who speaks of victories? Surviving is everything."
Rainer Maria Rilke "Requiem" (1908)

As is well known, the Society for the German Language (GfdS) has chosen the term "Zeitenwende" as the word of the year 2022. The Tagesschau had so informed and explained: The term stands in connection with the Russian war of aggression against the Ukraine and was "taken up and coined" among other things by Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), (thus not invented). His core sentence: "The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire postwar order."

An emotional turnaround had occurred among the German population, he said, combined with concerns about continued welfare, up to and including the threat of nuclear war. To this was added Scholzen's state promise that everything necessary would be done to cushion the blow if the consequences of war and sanctions policy were henceforth to be dealt with; there was again talk of "underhooking" as a desired reaction. After that the information about the effective decision of the rulers: Germany will provide the war party Ukraine with any demanded - increasingly also military - support, without limitation of volume and duration. So, in addition, the transfer of future decisions to a foreign, albeit friendly power. Surprisingly, against the proclamation of the turn of the times and its solemn approval by the majority of the members of the Bundestag, there were hardly any effective inquiries in the published opinion, let alone an open discussion, whether such actions correspond to the constitutional regulations on the use of power in a democracy.

Rarely also the uncovering of contexts, as Claudia Weber, Professor of European Contemporary History at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) already did on March 6, 2022: "The war in Ukraine is currently almost inflationary described as a turning point in time (Olaf Scholz) or as the beginning of another world, in which the Europeans awoke quasi overnight (Annalena Baerbock). To speak of a turning point in time is a big word. A turning point reconfigures the identity- and orientation-forming relationship between past, present and future, when [...] the space of experience and the horizon of expectation begin to diverge. [...] The former German Chancellor Angelika Merkel, incidentally, already spoke during the annexation of Crimea by Russia in violation of international law in her government statement on March 13, 2014 in the Bundestag that this violation of the territorial unity and state sovereignty of Ukraine [was] a conflict like in the 19th or 20th century' a conflict that we thought had been overcome. [...] But [...] obviously it is not overcome." What this meant, or could have meant, as a warning and a lesson for those directly involved and for the contributing states was either not recognized or deliberately disregarded: Thus, this never-finished "national question" continued to drag itself through history: first in the Soviet Union, then during its hand-waving dissolution, and permanently also as a result of external influences and impacts.

Formulated as a question, the contemporary historian Weber saw the facts as follows: "If the turning point of the present time therefore began at least eight years ago, it may be asked what has happened or not happened in the meantime in such a way that a long overdue observation can still be sold as a fundamental realization", which was by no means "without alternative".

Ukraine was one of the significant Soviet republics, with rights and obligations in the overall system as well as in its own social life like other parts of the Soviet Union; but integrated in a special way in terms of personnel: Nikita Khrushchev was part of it as a result of his functions in Ukraine; Leonid Brezhnev had grown up in Ukraine; the liaison of five general secretaries to the United States was Georgi A. Arbatov, director of the America-Canada Institute created for that purpose in 1967 (linked to the IPW of the GDR both contractually and personally), born in Kherson in 1923, died in Moscow in 2010. His best-known work is "The Soviet Point of View on the Western Policy of the USSR" from 1981 - and would be useful at present in Moscow as well as in Kiev and Washington.

Soviet and international world policy was made in the Crimea: Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill completed the middle of three meetings here in February 1945 at which decisions were made on the defeat of Germany, postwar Europe, the creation of the United Nations, and the surrender of Japan. In 1971, German Chancellor Willy Brandt opened the round of numerous Western statesmen at Brezhnev's summer residence as a consequence of the "new Ostpolitik". In 1974, President Richard Nixon was a guest here: according to his memoirs, his life was in danger because he had temporarily entrusted himself to the host's driving skills. Annually, the party and state leaders of the socialist brother states came, first together, later individually, for extensive audiences and recreation to the permanent center of the Soviet party and state leadership during the summer months.

When President Roosevelt partially yielded to the Soviet Union's insistence on balancing the balance of power at the founding of the United Nations, Ukraine and Belarus were selected for additional Soviet positions at the United Nations in recognition of their special achievements and sacrifices in the Patriotic War, but also as an expression of special confidence in them by the CPSU and the Soviet Union, so decided by Stalin. In this way Ukraine and Belarus with assumed membership of the UN belong since October 24, 1945, today admittedly with highly different voting behavior. But the similarities belong to the whole history.

"The war in Ukraine and Putin's criminal annexation policy are bitter reality. But reality is also the danger that this war will be fed with words and with weapons until it bursts. Then Hiroshima will be everywhere. That would not be the turn of the times announced by Chancellor Scholz, that would be the end of the times for Europe," Heribert Prantl recently lamented in a television commentary. President Volodymyr Selenskyj's New Year's tweet: "Thank you for the turn of the times, Chancellor! May we make it complete in the year with our joint victory." Sometimes it is said that you have to talk to Putin in spite of everything, maybe to Selenskyj as well. In both cases, in any case, not only according to their instructions.

In the closing apotheosis of his government declaration on the turn of the times, the chancellor drew on this finding: "We are united these days: we know about the strength of free democracies." As chance would have it, on July 20, 2022, Campus Verlag published a book with the rather sybilline title: "Drivers of the Authoritarian Path of Developments at the Beginning of the 21st Century"; an anthology edited by Günter Frankenberg and Wilhelm Heitmeyer. Although with high, sometimes inflated standards for theoretical discussions, another 13 scholars are also politically practical in their efforts to address this concern: "Since the crises of the last two decades, Western societies have increasingly and more clearly registered authoritarian temptations, to which different parts of the population have given in. At the same time, authoritarian movements, parties and regimes have gained political and cultural influence worldwide. Finally, authoritarian activities-even beyond the bounds of the legal-can be detected in state institutions."

It is easy to conclude that the latter must include the Russia complex and its "politics by other means." Publishers and editors solve the understandable demand on the Russian war of aggression as a major crisis, as do other authors, editors and proofreaders, by means of updated prefaces or epilogues to establish a context. It is likely to be and become more difficult with exams and with training texts, including material for general education schools. These are side effects of another "turn of the times," recalling the incorporation of the GDR educational system and the sufferings of former GDR teachers at the hands of state requirements in conflict with their own experiences.

Apparently, the authors share as an initial finding the fact that "democracy" is continuously in retreat; currently, only 45.7 percent of the world's population is covered by this social system. In this publication - not dealt with states but as generally effective principles - it is examined what contradictions can be endured for the unity of as many members of a society as possible; how long and by what means can democratic communities be regulated? And as the main question: What effects do crises have on the development toward authoritarianism? Are they "drivers" or retarding elements, which is essential for the exercise of power in Germany as well. The pandemic is the focus of the study as a current major crisis. The findings on this are useful for both theory and practical policy. Perhaps some of our leaders will find here aid to the realization that incantation and hope are too little for a durable democracy in the long run; especially at a turning point in time.


Negotiations instead of truce

Even if the Ukrainian army has recently been able to achieve partial successes, it is still far from a military victory. Solidarity with Ukraine therefore means first and foremost working to stop the killing.
By Peter Wahl
[This article posted in September 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

After more than six months of war in Ukraine, voices in favor of negotiations are growing. But among the most important actors in power politics, the signs seem to point to a continuation for an uncertain time. Washington and its European entourage are once again increasing arms deliveries to Kiev, the economic war is taking on ever more drastic forms, and in the major media, offers of negotiations are considered not only unrealistic but even immoral. If they appear at all in Tagesschau or FAZ & TAZ, they are insulted as lumpenpacifism and smothered with Nazi comparisons. "Defeatists" wanted to "conjure up a truce by Putin's grace," said the FAZ on September 5 (p. 9), a true propaganda soundbite of blood and iron. The moral discrediting of criticism of the official course is intended to intimidate and is not completely ineffective. It is even felt as far as parts of the social left and the peace movement.

However, the consensus orchestrated between the political class and the media for the continuation of the war does not seem to be working very well among the population. A study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation concludes that the so-called turn of the times "is not transforming Germany into a completely different country, because public opinion continues to cling to pragmatism and pacifism. Skepticism toward military means has even increased since the beginning of the war." For example, in a May poll, 49 percent thought, "The most important thing is to end the war as soon as possible, even if that means Ukraine ceding control of territory to Russia." Only 19 percent think "Russia should be punished for its aggression, even if it means killing and displacing more Ukrainians*."

Also, according to a FORSA poll from late August, 77 percent of Germans want the West to start negotiations. Only 32 percent support the delivery of heavy weapons, while 62 percent oppose it. For all the skepticism about polls, there is at least a strong minority that does not support the official course. And this while the weather is still quite mild and the toxic mix of war, energy crisis, inflation, corona and social crisis is still barely noticeable.

All of this shows that the call for immediate negotiations is by no means as doomed as it is proclaimed to be on the media home front. There is significant potential that can be transformed into political pressure by the peace movement and also by 4.9 percent parties. To do so, of course, one must also offensively confront the bellicose narrative as well as make the persuasive power of the diplomatic alternative vividly visible.

The Death of Others

The moral view of this war certainly has advantages for its users, because it simplifies things a great deal. Morality does not analyze, but judges and condemns. In doing so, one has to work with only two variables: Good and Evil. Complex problems, whose understanding and solution require a certain intellectual effort and capacity for differentiation, then suddenly appear quite simple. An analysis of the structural and historical contexts out of which war arose ̶ actually a matter of course for enlightened and, even more so, socially critical thinking ̶ , is then superfluous.

But morality also has a big disadvantage: it is indivisible. Anyone who repeatedly invades other countries, as Germany did in 1999 in conjunction with NATO against Yugoslavia, or Ukraine, which in 2003 provided the sixth largest troop contingent (of 36) in George W. Bush's coalition of the willing in the war against Iraq, becomes morally untrustworthy if he sees evil only in the others. Morality then becomes double standards.

This is not about questioning morality in principle. As a normative orientation, as a compass for the direction of practical action, it is not only legitimate but necessary. However, it cannot be transferred seamlessly into everyday practice, and certainly not into the complicated contexts of international relations.

Max Weber tried to solve the problem by distinguishing between ethics of conscience and ethics of responsibility. How useful this is remains to be seen. But for the war in Ukraine, the supporters of military solutions can be granted neither one nor the other. For their war goal - be it a military victory for Ukraine, or even the military enforcement of a strong negotiating position - is neither moral nor responsible.

For it is morally unacceptable to send an incalculable number of people to their deaths for an incalculable period of time. Baerbock & Co. cannot avoid the question of whether to accept ten thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand or more dead soldiers and civilians in order to achieve their war goal. Only to fail to achieve it in the end.

The death of others, which leaders, kings, rulers have always thought they had the right to claim, is morally reprehensible. Conversely, this is where the most important moral legitimacy for credible peace policy lies. In a value-based foreign policy worthy of the name, peace comes first, just as it is the central concept of international law. The same applies to human rights. In the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, it is no coincidence that the right to life is at the top of all rights.

Solidarity with Ukraine therefore means first and foremost working to stop the killing. But also out of moral responsibility towards third parties, especially towards poor countries, an early stop of the war is necessary. Economic war accepts as collateral damage the increase of poverty, hunger and death in the global South and the worsening of chaos in the world economy. The responsibility for this lies with those who have this weapon at their disposal. Finally, war absorbs the political and material resources needed to combat climate change, species extinction, and other environmental problems.


But surely negotiations are completely unrealistic, at least until one of the warring parties is exhausted. That the ruling propaganda wraps its interests in a new TINA principle ̶ there is no alternative to arms deliveries and sanctions - is normal. But for the Left, 50 percent of whose program consists of utopian visions of the future and 45 percent of currently unattainable individual demands, this should not be a reason to see the course of history as a mechanical gear train whose course one would have to fatalistically adapt to. At the very least, one should be a sand in the gears, not a left-wing lubricant for NATO.

First of all, it should be noted that the supporters of arms deliveries work with completely unrealistic speculations. Russia has occupied a territory of about 100,000 square kilometers since February 24. This is almost equal to the area of the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland combined. Add Crimea, which Kiev wants to take back, and that's territory the size of England. To conquer all this militarily against an opponent who is far from exhausted, and although attack usually requires three times more resources than defense, is pure illusion.

The major offensive announced by Selensky to retake the major city of Kherson in the south has then also mutated into a tactical range operation in the Kharkiv region in the east. This is territory outside the Lugansk region in the Donbass, and its conquest is therefore not part of the core of Russian war aims. This is not the first time Russian troops have withdrawn. The withdrawal from the Kiev region in the early stages of the war or from Snake Island in the Black Sea in July are earlier examples. This has not changed the overall strategic situation. However, such limited partial successes are then overestimated as evidence of Ukrainian chances of victory and generate deceptive hopes, as the frontline coverage in our media these days demonstrates. It serves to maintain fighting morale on the home front and justify the demand for delivery of modern battle tanks. In the end, this would lead to military escalation, increase the blood toll and make negotiations even more difficult.

Moreover, the claim that neither side wants to negotiate is so incorrect. Moscow has signaled time and again that it would be willing to negotiate, as Foreign Minister Lavrov did again on September 11 - in stark contrast to Selensky. Even if one thinks that these are only words in a propaganda war, a government with a will for peace would have to try to test them for their seriousness. After all, Moscow was ready to negotiate in the grain deal, as it was in the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.

But no one in the EU seems to have the courage to take a diplomatic initiative. It is significant that while Macron and Scholz still sometimes talk to Putin on the phone, Joe Biden has not picked up the phone once since the war began. In Moscow, it is rightly assumed that Paris and Berlin have no say in the matter. For one effect of this war is that the dream of the EU's strategic autonomy is over for the time being.

We have long since been dealing with a "proxy war with NATO," as Hal Brands, a fellow at the U.S. State Department, writes. His readable article is entitled Why Superpower Crises Are a Good Thing. In it, the opportunities that war presents for Washington are highlighted. Indeed, the proxy dimension is now the dominant driver of war. And the high command of the Western camp sits in Washington. However, internationalization means that the complexity of the conflict and the associated risks are orders of magnitude greater. This also renders obsolete the argument that we should not tell Ukraine what to do from the outside. There is no outside anymore.

However, the balance of power in this war cannot be reduced to the military one. Even though the sanctions are certainly causing damage to the Russian economy and the IMF is forecasting an 8.5 percent shrinkage in GDP, at the same time Ukraine's GDP is predicted to shrink by 35 percent. The social consequences for the population are already dramatic and will take on even more drastic forms during the winter months - with corresponding effects on the military situation and the political mood. In the long run, the leadership's usual phrases of heroism and certain final victory in such situations do not sate the mood.

Peace policy alternatives as a politically productive force

It is true that those who call for negotiations do not (yet) have any influence on military and economic developments. But that does not mean that they are completely powerless. Their terrain is influencing the climate of opinion in our country. Making negotiations a strong alternative to war in the domestic political debate is a politically productive force that can be used to generate pressure from below, from society. Power relations are not static; they can be changed through intervention from below. One way to do this is to draw on war fatigue, which has always been an ally of peace forces. For example, the Vietnam War ended not because of U.S. military weakness but because of a loss of domestic political support.

But the alternatives in the narrower sense of security and peace policy must also be made vivid, even if they are not immediately feasible. As with other issues, demonstrating alternatives is a productive force that generates motivation and political commitment. The first task is to break the monopoly of opinion held by the military narrative.

In the multitude of proposals now available for ending the Ukrainian war, the following points crystallize as the core:

first, a cease-fire must be reached;
This will require mediators. The UN and neutral states could be considered for this, possibly in combination;
the cease-fire could be the starting point for the creation of a demilitarized zone in which UN blue helmets would be stationed;
Ukraine needs security guarantees. These could be provided by guarantor powers, preferably those that are not parties to the conflict, such as India, Turkey, or South Africa, but possibly mixed with partners from both sides;
for Russian interests, it is central that Ukraine does not become a U.S./NATO military bridgehead on Russia's doorstep;
for the resolution of territorial issues, referendums could be held under international supervision after a few years. The Saarland, which was under French administration for ten years after the war, could be a model. In 1955, 67.7 percent of Saarlanders voted to join the Federal Republic. The defeated minority must have the option to move to the other country, flanked by social support;
as a positive incentive, an international reconstruction program must be set up for all regions affected by the war, including those under Russian control;
sanctions are to be dismantled step by step;
as a further incentive for Russia, negotiations on strategic arms control will be launched;
as a longer-term perspective, a conference on a pan-European security architecture will begin.

The agenda of a peace conference would look like this or something similar. It would be difficult and face setbacks. And, of course, all sides would have to swallow toads and give up maximum positions. That is part of the nature of compromise. But this is what morally upright and at the same time realistic politics looks like.
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