The first few days of the United Nations General Assembly brought back a familiar image from the past two years: cocky German diplomats smirking and mocking something to do with the United States and much of the rest of the world, some Americans included, praising them for doing so.
Domestic American conflicts and conflicting messaging have led many to portray German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the new “leader of the free world,” more or less because she is the only European leader who is not involved in Brexit, has some substance behind her thinking, and can be remembered by people with a tenuous desire to follow global politics. However, before one crowns a new leader, a few key areas of German policy should be examined to see what a ruler Germany might be.
First is Germany’s policy towards Syria. As one of the largest humanitarian crises in the modern age, the situation in Syria is one that should have the attention of all members of the so-called free world. But Germany has fallen short.
For one thing, they have refused to conduct any useful action that could serve to stop trade between German companies and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. Such trade has led to parts used for the production and deployment of chemical weapons making their way from German factories to Assad’s arsenal to the homes of Syrian civilian families.
Germany has additionally refused to participate in strikes and military actions conducted by their NATO allies the United States, United Kingdom, and France to try to prevent the fur- ther deployment of chemical weapons against civilians. Germany has also continued to seek to preserve the Iran deal without taking into the considerations of Arab states and Israel, the states whose civilians are most at risk from Iranian unconventional warfare, which the Iran deal does not cover.
Iran has funded militias throughout Syria which have worsened the ongoing civil war,driven Syrian families from their home, threatened Arab states on Syria’s border, and worsened the economic distress of these states as they seek to take in the refugees. They have also funded and supplied the Houthis in Yemen and assisted Hamas in Gaza, putting thousands of civilian lives at risk and worsening existing conflicts and all without true international condemnation.
Instead, Germany has chosen to ignore the needs of the Arabs and Israelis in the region for whom this is a life-or- death situation, and to instead focus on the economy concerns of their citizens, along with wealthy Western Europeans and the authoritarian and, at times, Iran-allied governments of Russia and China.
In terms of Russia, Germany’s continued support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline undercuts any stated German support for Ukrainian sovereignty or defense of Ukraine against Russian expansionism. As it currently stands, Russia is dependent on Ukraine for access into European oil markets. Ukraine is similarly dependent economically on Russian gas transit. This mutual dependency has allowed for Ukraine to obtain some leverage in its conflict with Russia.
However, Nord Stream 2 would completely remove said leverage as it would provide Russia with an alternate route to provide gas to Europe, thus not only destroying one of Ukraine’s few bargaining chips, but also giving Russia additional leverage with which to manipulate Ukraine and diminish its sovereignty. By doing so, Germany demonstrates its preference for its own economic gain over the support for democratic allies on which the security of the free world depends.
These are only a few areas of concern regarding Germany’s status as a member of the Western-led liberal order, much less Germany’s status as its leader. Much of this sentiment supporting German ascendancy appears to come from Americans, who seem to crave a sense of victimization and a desire to mock the current administration, along with all those who support it while simultaneously engaging in a process of self-flagellation for daring to be an American.
The other appears to be largely from Germans who now cling to a perception that they have made amends for their past crimes and as such have decided to ignore the lessons learned, preferring to memorialize the dead while ignoring the cries of those alive and suffering.
German government officials often reference the lessons learned from the Holocaust, while ignoring the threats posed to its remaining Jewish population from growing far-right and far-left sentiment in the country, exemplified by recent neo-Nazi protests throughout East Germany. With neo-Nazis marching down the streets of Chemnitz, Germany would do well to look at its own actions before openly degrading and sneering at one of its closest allies.
The writer is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying business economics and public policy, political science, and military technology and innovation policy.