'Berlin's attitude on Iran contrasts with historical lessons'

Britains Iran attitude

Dr. Matthias Kuntzel 248.88 (photo credit: )
Dr. Matthias Kuntzel 248.88
(photo credit: )
How does German Chancellor Angela Merkel's repeated declaration that Israel's existence is "non-negotiable" for Germany's national security interests mesh with her country's cozy trade and political relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran? Germany is Iran's top European Union trade partner. Despite Israel's ongoing complaints about Germany's crucial technological support for Iran's regime, particularly in the energy and engineering sectors, the Federal Republic of Germany has refused to clamp down on its companies' trade with Iran. Last week, Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a leading German political scientist based in Hamburg, delivered a talk at Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies entitled "A Fateful Friendship: Anti-Semitism and Iran-Germany Relations." He has recently published a book titled The Germans and Iran: History and Present Time of a Fatal Friendship (Wolf Jobst Siedler, Jr., 2009). In the following interview with Küntzel, conducted by Chaim Noll and Martin Jehle, translated by Ruth Bracha, and obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, he warns of the growing danger of the ties between Germany and Iran: Why would Germany's national interests be harmed if the economic and other ties with Iran remain as they are? The concept of maintaining good relations with Iran is currently predominant in German elite discourse. "Whoever is able to bring Iran onto his side would no longer have to worry about energy logistics and could also stand up to the USA in a different way." This sentence could be read in 2007 in a "Mittler-Brief," a renowned information briefing on German security policy. Thus values as guidelines are exchanged for interests. Eberhard Sandschneider, a leading member of the German Association for Foreign Policy phrased this thought in June 2009 when the crushing of the opposition in Iran had reached its peak: "One should never mix ethics with strategic or economic interests." The sentence is remarkable, since German manufacturers once made money with Zyklon B. I have no idea how Mr. Sandschneider wants to reconcile this apodictic statement with the affirmation that Germany has learned from its history. You believe that foreign policy should not be separated from ethical values. Why not? German history shows where you get if foreign policy leaves ethical standards aside. The Foreign Office can either fulfill the claim that Germany has learned from its history or show it to be absurd. In the specific case of Iran it looks like the latter has been decided on. Bill Clinton took another approach in the Nineties; he forced the US economy to disrupt its trading ties with Iran. Obviously industry leaders protested: If we leave, others will take over. Clinton, however, stayed firm. No business with a country which exports terror and aims for nuclear weapons. In order to set an example for the sensible members of the international community the USA accepted economic drawbacks. Would you say that a foreign policy which disregards ethical standards completely will necessarily fail in the long run? Depending on how you define success and failure. You can do better business with autocratic regimes than with democracies. The circle around Ahmadinejad, however, is an extreme example of an anti-Semitic-apocalyptic clique. They do not only oppress their own population. For them internal terror is the precondition for external terror. They want to combine the destructive power of the bomb with the furor of the holy war - a totally new combination since the beginning of the nuclear age. Therefore the continued relations between Germany and Iran are astonishing. I assume that this is based on a deeply rooted tradition. In my opinion, Karl-Paul Drechsler's statement is typical. Karl-Paul Drechsler is the leader of Siemens' Iran department and at the same time heads the board of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce. He declared in April 2009, "The historical relationship between Germany and Iran in economics and culture is the solid foundation for a continued cooperation based on trust. It is also an obligation which has proved itself over generations and will continue to hold good with all our combined support." Drechsler does not mention that the peak of the history of this relationship falls in the Nazi era. His statement reminds me of the concept of loyalty in the Nibelung saga (a part of German mythology): The "history" of the German-Iranian alliance is the "obligation" for its future. What the generation of the Nazi fathers started must be continued with "all our support," no matter what. In the saga the Nibelungs were loyal to murderers and thus came to their downfall. German romanticism has glorified even this end as "success." Even if the discussion which you would like to start takes place, it isn't clear what the result would be. Voters care mainly about the economy and employment. Historical and ethical arguments that you derive from German history lose their effectiveness with the passage of time, and have never served to affect Germany's Iran policy. This does not weaken your arguments but it is a realistic appraisal. All polls show a majority would prefer sanctions over the risk of war. Also, the importance of Iran for the German economy has been exaggerated. Exports to Iran are only 0.6% of total German exports - and this number is from 2005 when the value of the exports to Iran peaked. Germany could live well with disrupting the economic ties, the Iranian regime could not. Teheran depends on German high-tech products and spare parts for its machines, which were for the most part manufactured in Germany. In this sector, Russia and China could not replace Germany in the short run. In addition to trade there are several other bilateral ties in research, culture, and politics. All these ties today form a safety net for the current politics of Ahmadinejad. They could also be used to pressure Iran on its nuclear policy. The relevant question is: What do we want to achieve in politics? If the office of the prime minister would push for a European strategy of sanctions towards Iran, the dynamics could also move other Western states and finally even influence Russia and China. Paris and London support such a European strategy since 2007 - it was mainly Germany which made it fail, again and again.