The invasion of Ukraine on April 24, February 2022 marks a turning point in the history of our continent, “said Chancellor Olaf Scholz in his government statement on February 27. Since then, this turning point has affected more and more areas of our lives. In the meantime, we must not only ask ourselves how Germany and the Social Democrats will face Russia now and after the war.
Have we not become accustomed to the game of accepting the circumstances for too long and voting for more and less social, integration or environmental policies through elections in occasional interactions? Our usual everyday life is based on a very sensitive architecture, the basis of which is only very inadequately anchored in the public debate.
How strong back to the pre-war order?
But then Putin’s war revealed reality and gave new impetus to already fluttering debates. First of all, to the conflict itself: Regardless of the question of how many heavy weapons are now being delivered, we must relate to the question of the extent to which we can, must and should reintroduce parts of the pre-war order in resp. not to drive Russia completely into the hands of China? That’s an extremely uncomfortable question at the moment.
An article in the April issue of Le Monde Diplomatique gives us a first glimpse of what to expect when the fog of war eases: a weak Russia, where the idea of Eurasia as the new focus of world politics takes over and a points gain for China , as it continues to break the siege of US allied systems. In this regard, the SPD repeatedly emphasizes that China is not happy about how much Russia excludes itself. But is this really the truth?
China will win, not Russia
Let us think of the artificial islands with which China supports its demands for sovereignty, the boycott of Australian goods to stifle criticism of the human rights situation, the “new Silk Road”, which more than Europe intends to activate, especially Asia. And now Russia has entered this sphere of influence, a tree atomic power whose raw materials we still no longer want in the medium term due to climate change. Moscow will have to redirect them, now even faster.
By doing so, Russia will probably only achieve imperial territorial gains – if at all – China will probably actually win. And Europe and the United States? Now they have to reset themselves. But the question is what relationship the EU should have with the United States in the future. Should there be a European defense policy alongside NATO and, if so, to what extent? How can we ensure economic and social development, at least in Africa, and are our development cooperation instruments still sufficient for this? These and many other questions await now.
System competition also needs self-criticism
What is it for us? Just as in the days of the Cold War, successful system competition also requires intelligent cooperation with the outside world, but at the same time internal social consolidation. And it is precisely in this aspect that there is cause for considerable concern because the majority of Western democracies are in a worrying state.
Let us first reflect on some of the circumstances that made the Western world great: the rule of law, the growing orientation towards individual human rights and – although sometimes inadequate – the control that results from free and fair elections in a nationally organized state. . Over the decades, governing governments have learned not to overburden the suffering of their residents. In many countries, the liquidation of the welfare state was carried out only piecemeal.
With the triumph of what is sometimes vaguely referred to as neoliberalism, the human rights discourse was promoted uninterruptedly on the one hand, but the economy, its order and the prevailing rules were increasingly withdrawn from democratic decisions. And so many leftists today talk more about individuals than about social and collective rights. Globalization ensured our prosperity, at least for the export-oriented German economy. And because wages were quite high by global standards, they have been curbed over the last few decades.
Trump was no coincidence
As a result, however, inequality in the country grew to ever new dimensions. And in the end, those affected felt only uncomfortable. But what it means when the losers of a society are no longer represented in the party system, feel excluded from public discourse and then at times isolate themselves, we had to recognize for years back, for example, when Donald Trump won the US election.
Democracy is slowly and invisibly eroded in this way. Therefore, one needs a discussion culture that is able to represent the diversity of opinions and not exclude them prematurely. Our reality, on the other hand, is often determined by political struggle. Although the AfD is currently shrinking, political systems are slipping from one crisis to another almost everywhere around us: Britain, France, Spain, Poland and of course the EU as such.
The future of world trade, democracy and multiculturalism
Let us return to Russia and China at the same time and the complexity that our relationship with this system entails. At the expense of its people, it has learned to think of capitalism in the form of the state and to offer us its huge market to achieve technology transfer and conquer its own export markets in return for the short-term, rapid profits of Western companies. Is the West now dependent on the East, or is it the other way around? Even before Russia’s war, the motto “change through trade” shook the heads of other regions of the world, of course, without the criticism of Europe and the United States having been adequately answered. North Central America can serve as an example.
However, it must not be forgotten that outsourcing production capacity to developing countries is just another way of creating prosperity and organizing its distribution from the Nordic perspective. It is a form of new winners and new losers that makes it hardly possible or sensible to go back in time. Nevertheless, the current crisis in the cereals market, for example, shows that we need to reassess how secure supply chains are more important to us and when cheap is more important. As part of the theory of comparative advantages, many have become addicted to cheap grain imports. But India will now significantly limit its exports and Ukraine will hardly be able to implement them. The world grain market is in turmoil. Should agriculture then remain a protected area, like semiconductors and many other essential commodities and commodities? To what extent should this happen without violating the general principle of world trade? And how do you set boundaries for transnational corporations and their power?
And here we come back in our logic to our ability to suffer and our political resilience. For what once led to prosperity in democracies is reaching its limits in a world of geopolitical reorganization. On the Western side, the rights of the individual and a state that must guarantee these without being allowed to question the economic system, because today it is more and more popular that the market regulates itself. And on the other hand, the Chinese, the development dictatorship, which has had great success in economic policy (excuse the bold expression). Here, too, we suddenly encounter a critical imbalance. We must ask ourselves how individualistic we want to be and how collectively we should think. And in any case, the question of the role of the state in the economy reappears.
Globalization requires democracy
Now it should have become clear that globalization and democracy are also in a tense relationship. Also: Who should represent the interests of the people in times of disorder, if not the nation state? The multilateral authorities will no longer be able to take on this role. The UN is in the deepest crisis since its founding. Putin’s war has shown everyone that the Security Council is now completely locked in and unable to act. The tension in the already mentioned interplay between the economy we live in and democratic participation becomes even clearer.
But where are the studies that take a closer look at these concept pairs? Unfortunately, academic research is also interest-driven and usually produces knowledge only for those who expect some of its funding. Academics rarely ask themselves what topics need to be researched in the ground. Instead, the first question is about the interests of the donor.
The debate must start
The list of construction sites in our democratic systems and in our world architecture has become worryingly long. What globalization can we afford, which should we avoid, and which points should we adapt slowly? And time and time again, the question arises as to who the state and its democratic structures should serve in these times.
We need more internal consolidation, not a return to the nation, but also no unreflective integration into a global world shaped by conflict and competition. Let’s talk about it, even if it hurts and will take a long time. And above all, let us remember that none of these themes can stand alone. Any turning point also means that unquestioned beliefs must suddenly be recognized as such, namely as ideology. That’s how we all feel. First, there are defensive reflexes. The most important thing is not to stop at these. None of us yet know what will happen at the end of a serious reflection process. But the themes are fixed. What (social) democracy must mean today must not be covered up with quick fixes.