By Gökhan Dağtekin
The former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder published his new book, co-authored with Gregor Schöllgen on January 25th. The book is titled “Last Chance – Why we need a New World Order now”. The book’s coauthor Schöllgen has been a university professor until 2017, he has lectured in New York, Oxford and London. Schöllgen was also responsible for the education of German diplomatic attaches in the Foreign Ministry and has edited and published Foreign Ministry documents as well, as the letters of legendary German Chancellor, Willy Brandt. An expert on diplomacy and history of foreign relations, Schöllgen’s habilitation treatise titled “Imperialism and Balance” examined the power competition between the German Empire and Great Britain in the Middle East.
Here, we should emphasize that Western bourgeois history uses the expression “imperialism” to describe great power competition before World War I. In order to avoid misinterpretations, we need to emphasize that their concept of imperialism is fully distinct from that of Lenin or anti-imperialists. The bourgeois perspective on imperialism does not depart from the assumption that monopolist capitalism has established a worldwide imperialist-capitalist system. Instead, it considers imperialism as a period of geopolitical competition in the past. But still, this perspective acknowledges important similarities between today and the past “imperialist period”.
Schöllgen is also the author of a book titled “The Age of Imperialism”. In his book titled “Afraid of Power”, Schöllgen defended the position that Europe needs to pursue an active foreign policy based on geopolitical realities. Schöllgen considers NATO as an obstacle and, while NATO is in disarray, he has taken the position to dissolve the Alliance. Schöllgen has also written the biographies of Gerhard Schröder and Willy Brandt.
In this article, I will discuss certain aspects of Schröder’s and Schöllgen’s book. I don’t know which of the authors is responsible for which part of the book, but as will be seen are their opinions congruent. Besides, we assume that a former German Chancellor will not put his name on the cover of a book if it contains phrases he does not support. Therefore, it will not be mistaken to evaluate the book as Schröder’s opinions.
In the following analysis, we will refer to the book as “Schröder’s book”. I do not ignore the contribution of Schöllgen but attach greater importance to Schröder’s position and prefer easy readability. But I would like to emphasize once again that the book is published by both, Schröder and Schöllgen.
I. “… Ultimately, NATO has to be dissolved”
One of the main topics in Schröder’s book is the fact that NATO has lost its purpose after the end of the Cold War. Schröder states that Europe’s and the West’s unity was provided only by the existence of a common enemy, the Soviet Union. But after 1991, NATO still acts according to the parameters of the Cold War. According to him, NATO’s (and the European Union’s) enlargement towards Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics was a grave mistake. Schröder cites in the beginning and end of his book some congruent statements of George F. Kennan dating back the 1990s (P. 47 and 235). Kennan was a former US ambassador to Moscow and highly influential in developing US Cold War paradigms.
According to Schröder, NATO was only able to continue its existence by turning Russia into an enemy after the Cold War, an approach that Russia retaliated, committing a grave mistake. This has led Europe to “lean back” and wait for the US to solve every problem of the old continent. Schröder expresses that European states have not even “taken responsibility” in their own geography and developed according capacities and haven’t demonstrated political unity or political will.
Schröder defends the position that as long as the NATO exists, European countries will not escape dependency from the US and will not be able to pursue own policies in accordance with the new international order. He also argues that the NATO’s political dissolution does not mean to abandon its military, technical and logistic capacities.
The US has never taken the demands and interests of Europe into consideration, neither during the Cold War, nor after, and it has always acted in its own interest, writes Schröder, while adding that Washington pursued brutal policies when following its interest. He argues that the US has lost interest in the Middle East and Africa, therefore ceased to be a “factor of stability”, forcing Europe to fill the gap left behind by the US. Schröder demands that the European states should give up sovereignty and the European Union should progress towards a more state-like structure. His evaluation of global politics is based on the assumption that if they separately as nation states, European countries have no power there. The author argues that the main reason, why “the West is just a word”, is because alongside the US egoism, European countries also act with “national egoism” and “particularism”.
II. The Perspective on Turkey and West Asia
The book’s chapter 6 is dedicated to the Kurdish Question’s international dimension. The chapter is titled “Dangerous neighbors: The Kurdish Quadrangle”.
“The earthquake that is shaking Middle East since more then 40 years has a political and geographical epicenter. This epicenter is the region widely called ‘Kurdistan’. The Kurds have never had a state of their own, and as far as we can judge, they will not have one in the foreseeable future.” (121)
Although in this chapter the book places the Kurds and ‘Kurdistan’ to the center of the West Asian problematic, it does not discuss the US and Israeli project to establish a state of Kurdistan.
Schröder states that Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran were countries that never had common interests, on the contrary, hostile relations, adding that only the desire to crush Kurdish independence makes them take a common stance. He explains that Bush senior in the First Gulf War took he decision not to topple down Saddam Hussein, because the US were concerned to protect Iraq’s territorial integrity. The author argues that Washington acted in that way due to NATO ally Turkey’s clear objection based on the Kurdish Question and US worries that shaking up the territorial integrity of Iraq might have strengthened Iran’s influence.
Consequently, Schröder starts the chapter stating that Iran is the “political center of the earthquake”, being a “volcano” that is “active without interruption” since 1979. He holds Iran responsible for all problems occurring in a broad geography from West Asia reaching into Central Asia.
In that context, he does not explain China’s repressive and totalitarian policies towards the Moslem Uighurs or the intervention of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan 1980 with previous CIA activities or Saudi-led Wahhabism. On the contrary, he claims that the Iranian Islamic Revolution and activities of the Iranian “regime” are responsible for these. Schröder states that Russia and China are very concerned because of radical Islam and observes a profound contradiction between Russia, China and Iran on that matter. He says that Iran is continuously provoking the US, describing the martyrdom of Qasem Soleimani as a direct consequence of Iranian provocation. Schröder argues that Iran tries to provoke the US to make a step, thus, the murder of Soleimani fulfilling Irani desires.
Schröder writes about Iran the following:
“Iran is a political force that defends its positions outside its borders by using militia forces with a strong effect, that since years has declared openly its intention to eliminate Israel and that for a long time has been progressing a nuclear program with the aim to build the bomb. Iran is an expansive force. Even if we accept the notion that Iran regards itself in a defensive position since the declaration of the Islamic Republic, a notion that is justified since the 8-year-long Persian War, its offensive policies on every dimension surpass clearly everything that could be accepted as forward defense.” (127 – 128)
In a different part of his book, Schröder says: “Iran’s servants leave everywhere, where they been active, a landscape of devastation.” (131)
Schröder also describes how wrong and dangerous the decision of the US was to cancel the nuclear agreement, and how it caused disagreements with European countries. He considers Iran’s strong presence in Lebanon and Syria a fundamental problem, and states the following: “As long as Israel’s extermination is one of Iran’s goals, Tehran will not want to and will not abandon this two forward posts.” (135)
Schröder describes the Turkish-Russian relations as complex, changing between clash and cooperation. In the Karabakh Question, he sees Turkey supporting Azerbaijan and Russia supporting Armenia. He states that a compromise between these two powers is very important in Syria, because unless Ankara and Moscow find an agreement, the war will never end.
The migration crisis has strengthened Turkey’s hand according to Schröder. He describes that the times when Turkish Presidents and Prime Ministers were kept waiting in a humiliating way in the entrances of Bonn and Berlin are over, with Merkel being a guest to Erdoğan nearly every month in 2016. Schröder says that in the migration crisis, Europe is dependent on Turkey (and other autocratic countries such as Libya and Morocco) and that Turkey therefore has a strong bargaining position. Stating that Turkey takes “the right side, the side of the civilians” in the migration crisis, Schröder writes the following in the next sentence:
“This cannot be said concerning the military operations against the Kurds. It is certain without doubt that some of them, particularly those organized in or sympathizing with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) constitute a serious threat to Turkey. Nevertheless, even the goodwill guided observers do not understand why Erdoğan declares the Kurds to enemies as a whole. Turkey’s allies had to accept, though with wrenched fists, how Erdoğan has in Syria fought against and weakened the most decided and effective enemies of ISIS.” (141)
Schröder interprets the “Kurds in Syria” as a separate force then the PKK, but falls in contradiction some sentences later, when he says:
“Turkey has entered Syria again and again, it has intervened repeatedly into the province of Idleb, and it has pursued three military operations that targeted directly or indirectly the Kurds: The ‘Euphrates Shield’ in mid-2016, the ‘Olive Branch’ beginning 2018 and the ‘Peace Spring’ in October 2019. In trying to establish Turkish control from the west of the river Euphrates until the Iraqi border, Erdoğan followed three purposes: Firstly, to resettle 2 million Syrian refugees back into the corridor. Secondly, to crush down the Kurdish Self Administration here, which he rightly considered a PKK bastion. Thirdly, the revision of the Lausanne Treaty, a goal officially declared and pursued with the settlement in Syria and similarly in Iraq. In that treaty signed in 1923, Turkey had to give up important parts of its territory prior to World War I.” (141)
Here, the Kurdish Self Administration in the north of Syria suddenly becomes the “PKK bastion”. Meanwhile, Schröder’s text and his reference to the revision of the Lausanne Treaty shows that the Neo-Ottoman discourse, which official Turkish sources use from time to time, consternate and cause distrust even to those forces that try to understand Turkey.
Schröder comments on the US policy to retreat from Syria as follows:
“Trump’s announcement on this policy, and its later implication has caused a shock on several observers. There is not doubt that the Kurds, an honorable and battle-tested people, are among the victims of this war.” (142)
Schröder mentions that Trump had threatened NATO ally Turkey months before the Operation Peace Spring, saying if Ankara was to “attack the Kurds”, he would devastate the Turkish economy. This shows NATO’s inadequacy and untrustworthiness as an alliance, according to Schröder. He criticizes that a NATO member threatens an ally to that degree, only to take a political U-Turn some months later. Schröder considers this development as an indication that NATO has lost its value completely. It should be noted that Schröder also agrees in his book with the French President Macron’s statement of “NATO’s brain dead”.
Schröder finishes the 6th chapter of this book with an evaluation on Turkey:
“There was a reason why these threats (US sanction threats concerning S-400 acquisition) were received by Erdoğan in an extremely relaxed manner. On the on hand, the Turks have certain important instruments of pressure: The US military depends on the Incirlik Airbase and the Kürecik radar base. On the other hand, Turkey meanwhile owns a considerable national defense industry today. Turkish companies are developing, producing and exporting helicopters, tanks, airplanes and, being besides of Israel one of the few countries to do so, armed UAV. It is true that the country depends on imports especially concerning motors, but its effective weapon systems are being used today in Nagorny-Karabakh, Syria, Iraq and Libya, as we will describe in the next chapter. Ankara’s defense industry and several regional countries’ dependence on its products enable Turkey to proceed fast toward its declared goal to achieve regional supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean. This affects inevitably the situation in of the world’s oldest and most explosive crisis region: The Middle East.” (142-143)