Against the background of the American military quagmire in Iraq and
intensified conflicts with Iran, the US and the European powers are closing
ranks. This was very apparent at this year’s Munich Security Conference,
held last weekend in the Bavarian capital.
For more than four decades, the conference has provided an annual forum
for high-ranking military officers, cabinet members, politicians, military experts
and journalists to discuss military and geo-strategic questions. The conference
is dominated by delegates from NATO member-countries, but guests from other
countries are also invited.
Just three years ago, the conference was the scene of public disputes between
the US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and then-German Foreign Minister
Joschka Fischer of the Green Party over the imminent Iraq war. This time around,
transatlantic harmony prevailed. The tone for the proceedings was set by the
German chancellor, Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union—CDU), who
opened the conference.
Merkel avoided any reference to controversial issues, such as the origins of
the Iraq war, illegal US “renderings” or the US detention camp in
Gunatánamo. Instead, she heaped praise on the transatlantic partnership.
In a speech that could have been dictated by the Bush administration, the chancellor
declared that the “symmetrical threats of the Cold War have been superseded
by a completely new kind of asymmetrical threat.” She went on to cite
“the erosion of state structures, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction
in the hands of unreliable regimes.”
Merkel continued: “This is a situation we must face up to.... Let me
clearly state that in this regard united Germany is prepared to take on responsibility,
indeed greater responsibility, beyond NATO’s boundaries in the cause of
safeguarding freedom, democracy, stability and peace in the world.”
NATO, she stressed to the obvious delight of her American listeners, assumes
“a primacy” in this task. “The necessary political consultations”
would have to be carried out and “the required measures” taken.
In particular, she said, “the situation in the Middle East and Iran”
had to be discussed. Saying the necessary “political will” had to
be summoned up, she declared that “to be able to take action, we, of course,
need the right military capabilities.”
Merkel made clear that her government—a grand coalition of the conservative
CDU, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—had
shifted from the stance of its predecessor, a coalition of the SPD and the Green
Party, which had maintained that under international law only the United Nations
was empowered to make decisions on military action.
She referred directly to the National Security Strategy of the US, which envisages
preemptive strikes and has been used to justify the Iraq war. Together with
the European Security Strategy and NATO’s Strategic Concept, the US policy
provides “a suitable foundation on which to conduct more intensive dialogue
on the form of our common security agenda,” she said.
Merkel stressed the “remarkable degree” of agreement between the
three strategies. It is “fascinating to see that things are moving in
the same direction,” she declared.
Press commentaries unanimously assessed Merkel’s speech as a shift towards
the US. “The attending American politicians, both Republicans and Democrats,
were enthusiastic about the German head of government, on whom they base their
hopes for pragmatism and reliability,” wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung. “Munich 2006 could become the beginning of a new collaboration.”
The weekly Die Zeit commented: “Contrary to her predecessor,
the chancellor leaves little doubt about where the Federal Republic belongs
in the new world order. It is in the West.”
Merkel did not limit herself to general remarks about NATO. With pointed threats
against Teheran, she assumed a prominent position in the current campaign of
agitation against Iran.
By resuming its nuclear program, she said, Iran has “willfully...and
knowingly overstepped the line.” She then indirectly drew a comparison
with Germany’s Nazi regime. “A president who questions Israel’s
right to exist, a president who denies the Holocaust cannot expect Germany to
show any tolerance on this issue. We have learned the lessons of our past.”
The newspaper Die Welt assessed this remark as a qualified threat of war, and
wrote: “The conclusion of this line of thinking, which rejects ‘appeasement,’
as Merkel said, would logically be a readiness to intervene militarily.”
The newspaper added, “With respect to the Iranian nuclear program, whoever
recalls the path followed by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s may be required to turn
words into deeds.”
The newspaper concluded: “With Merkel’s speech and reply it now
appears that Germany has committed itself—close to the side of the US,
whose defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, later expressly referred to and raised
the military option.”
The FAZ came to a similar conclusion: “The clear words used by the chancellor
in Munich with regard to Iran and the anti-Israeli outbursts of its president
have strengthened the conviction of the Americans that this time round the Germans
will be on their side with regard to a robust, not necessarily military action.”
Merkel also made the future German relationship with Russia dependent on the
latter’s attitude towards Iran. While the previous government led by Gerhard
Schröder (SPD) had sought a close relationship with Moscow as a counterweight
to Washington, Merkel now declared that Russia’s conduct on the issue
of Iran would be the acid test for future relations. “The strategic partnership
between Germany and Russia will therefore have to prove itself in the resolution
of the conflicts with Iran,” she stressed.
American delegates exerted even more pressure on Russia. The US deputy secretary
of state, Robert Zoellick, accused Moscow of seeking to control its neighbors
and looking upon them “on basis of a standpoint from the 19th Century.”
Republican Senator John McCain went so far as to raise the possibility of a
boycott of the next G-8 summit, due to be held this summer in St. Petersburg.
The closing of ranks between the European powers and the US evident at the
Munich Security Conference does nothing to lessen the contradictions that were
at the heart of differences over the Iraq war three years ago.
Objections to the Iraq war raised, in particular, by Berlin and Paris were
directed not at the neo-colonial objectives that lay behind the American invasion.
Rather, Germany and France feared for their own imperialist interests in the
Gulf region should the US establish a permanent military presence or destabilise
the entire region in its haste to secure increasingly scarce energy resources
and access to new markets.
Once the war had commenced, both countries acted to ensure the success of the
US military. They rendered logistical support, relieved hard-pressed US forces
in Afghanistan and—as recent reports make clear—maintained a close
collaboration between their respective secret services.
With her shift towards Washington, Merkel is reacting to the US military debacle
in Iraq and the increasing discontent of the broad masses throughout the Middle
East. Her new course has won the unreserved support of the SPD, which holds
the post of foreign minister in Germany’s grand coalition. The French
president, Jacques Chirac, has also joined the front against Iran and recently
threatened Teheran with nuclear attacks.
So far, it has been primarily reactionary Islamic forces—Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran and Hamas in the Palestinian regions—that
have been able to profit from the rising mass discontent. These tendencies represent
a wing of the native ruling elite and are neither prepared nor willing to conduct
any serious struggle against imperialism. Nevertheless, the great powers regard
increasing instability in the Middle East as a threat to their interests and
are preparing violent counter-measures.
Their closing of ranks recalls the year 1900, when rival great powers united
to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China. The influence of the British Empire
had already peaked, and Britain was being pressed from all sides. Russia, Japan
and Germany advanced into China in order to secure their own share of control
over this enormous territory. However, in response to a national movement that
arose to repel colonial subjugation, the competing imperialists did not hesitate
in joining forces to drown the resistance in blood.
It is within this context that one must consider the publication of caricatures
of Muhammad by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, subsequently reprinted
by newspapers in other European countries. The publication of this material
is nothing less than a deliberate provocation aimed at creating the ideological
basis for a new imperialist offensive against Iran and other Muslim countries.
After the claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were revealed to be blatant
lies and the US-led introduction of “democracy” into the Middle
East exposed as crude propaganda, a new military offensive is being planned
in the name of the “clash of cultures.”
The right-wing Jyllands-Posten has a record of agitation against immigrants
and has been instrumental in the political advance of the xenophobic Danish
People’s Party. It played a large role in the election victory of the
right-wing head of government, Fogh Rasmussen.
The newspaper deliberately published the caricatures in order to provoke a
violent response. Reviling the prophet Muhammad is regarded as an offence by
millions of Muslims all over the world and it was clear that such a provocation
would meet with considerable opposition.
The demonstrations, including acts of violence, are now being used by the media,
including a number of left-liberal newspapers, as proof of the intolerance of
Islam and the incompatibility of Western and Islamic cultures. In the name of
“freedom of speech,” the same media outlets that unreservedly supported
the Iraq war and all of the associated attacks on fundamental democratic rights
are now banging the war drum against Iran.
A comment in the Süddeutsche Zeitung makes clear that this propaganda
assisted in the closing of ranks between imperialist powers in Munich. “Islamic
anger,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote, “led to a demonstrative
solidarising of the Western world, which quite rightly feels itself to be under
attack. The Munich Security Conference offered the most obvious evidence of
this new harmony. The transatlantic security network is busy not just with itself,
but is confronted with a new threat and has adjusted its sights.... The threat
posed by Islamic fundamentalism has accelerated the trend to a new unanimity.”