More commitment to NATO?: Expert: "Germany can't just swim along"

During their mega-summit week, the EU, G7 and NATO got things going.

More commitment to NATO?: Expert: "Germany can't just swim along"

During their mega-summit week, the EU, G7 and NATO got things going. However, Germany remains too weak in the concert of international powers, analyzes Eastern Europe expert Liana Fix from the Körber Foundation. In an interview with, she sees NATO as being heavily dependent on the leadership role of the United States. A week of summits under new conditions - the EU, NATO and G7 are looking for ways to react to the threat from Moscow. How big is it outside of Ukraine?

Liana Fix: Putin's draft treaties, which he presented at the end of last year, make it very clear that, in addition to Ukraine, he is also concerned with reducing the role of the USA in Europe and redesigning the prevailing security system here according to his ideas. This is not a regional war somewhere in the east, but Putin's attempt to overthrow the entire order that has existed since 1990. Should he be successful in this attempt, he will feel encouraged to keep going. For NATO, if Putin succeeds in occupying Ukraine, it would become a Russian deployment area, comparable to Belarus.

What role does Germany play in the Western counter-proposal?

With its strong political and economic weight, Germany plays an important role within NATO and within Europe, but also because of its location in Central Europe. From this situation, responsibility for the eastern flank, i.e. the neighboring countries of Central and Eastern Europe, grows.

More responsibility than for other partner countries?

During the Cold War, Germany was a frontline state and received protection and support from its partners. Now the border has moved further east, to Poland and the Baltics, and states now rightly expect the same. Germany cannot just "swim along" here, but must take an active role in defending this order, from which the country itself has benefited so much.

Has Germany now shown this willingness?

Germany is currently doing its part, fulfilling its obligations: heavy weapons for Ukraine, EU candidate status, the chancellor in Kyiv. What we don't see is a German leadership role roughly comparable to that assumed by Angela Merkel in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine. The Western response in 2022 is very much dependent on US leadership. There is still room for improvement for Germany.

In view of the new, difficult world situation, NATO seemed to be on the right track in Madrid. Northern expansion through, massively more budget, permanent troops on the eastern flank.

What is exciting is how NATO decisively changes its approach. We've had a "tripwire approach" so far. There were some NATO troops, including some from the Bundeswehr, in the Baltic States and in Poland to guarantee that further NATO troops would rush to help in the event of a Russian provocation. Now it is being ensured that NATO troops are stationed on the eastern flank in such a way that Russia cannot overrun these areas but can defend them on the ground. Not only is the number of soldiers to be mobilized, namely 300,000, new, but also the reaction time is much shorter than before, i.e. the time until these troops would be ready for defense.

At the same time, this stationing violates the NATO-Russia Founding Act, in which the western alliance committed itself in 1997 not to permanently station any combat troops on the eastern flank. How high is the risk of taking it?

The deployment is not a breach of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which applies subject to the principles of the European security order being upheld, including respect for territorial integrity. However, Russia broke these principles back in 2014 when it annexed Crimea.

At that time, NATO refrained from establishing permanent troops in the eastern member states as a reaction.

In 2014, the idea was not to station troops in the Baltic States permanently, but on a rotating basis, to keep the door open and also allow Russia to return to the principles of this cooperation. Now the attack on Ukraine has shown very clearly that Russia no longer follows these principles. The file is dormant, so to speak.

Armament, deterrence - these are terms that have hardly appeared in the past two decades. Can we now expect a decade in which we have to go back to exactly that?

Yes, because we cannot count on Moscow changing its foreign policy in any way. Russia has turned into a dictatorship and the motives behind its imperialist foreign policy are clearly articulated and flaunted by the Russian side. When the Russian President compares himself to Peter the Great, there is no mistake at all. Russia threatens not only Ukraine, but the entire security order in which we live. In this new world, Russia understands the language of deterrence.

How important are nuclear weapons?

Between NATO and Russia, deterrence is based on NATO having nuclear weapons, particularly US nuclear weapons. In 1994, Ukraine returned to Russia the nuclear weapons that had been stationed on its territory from Soviet times. In return, Russia has guaranteed that the country's territorial integrity will be preserved. The deterrence between Ukraine and Russia no longer existed and Ukraine was militarily defenseless. The consequence of this, however, should not be that every state is now armed with nuclear weapons.


The Kremlin only takes seriously countries that have nuclear weapons or are under an appropriate protective umbrella. And when a power like Russia itself threatens to use nuclear weapons - something we haven't seen during the Cold War - and is only deterred by being militarily as powerful as itself, it harms the goal of nuclear disarmament. A world free of nuclear weapons cannot be worked out with Russia at the moment, because nuclear missiles are the last remaining attribute of a great power that has helped Russia to its current greatness.

At the same time, Putin seems less isolated than many think. Shortly before the G7 summit, the BRICS countries - Russia, Brazil, India, China, South Africa - met and discussed economic strategies. Nobody there had a problem with Russia's war, and the countries represent 40 percent of the world's population.

India, for example, is dependent on Russian military supplies and can therefore not take a clear position in the Ukraine war. At the same time, it tries to maintain neutrality with a kind of seesaw policy. However, this does not mean that Russia has already won the competition for approval from these countries. Russia used the BRICS summit to show that you have friends in the world. In fact, however, a critical attitude towards the West is the lowest common denominator that unites the BRICS countries. Otherwise there are many divergences, both in terms of economic growth and political differences, such as between India and China.

The G7 had now discovered India and South Africa for themselves and invited them to their summit. A poaching attempt?

For various reasons, some countries in the Global South already take a critical stance on the West. Now Russia is trying, especially with the narrative that the West is partly to blame for the global hunger crisis through sanctions, to bind these countries of the Global South more closely to itself. It is very important to counter this with facts and to make it clear that the hunger crisis that we may now see is based on Russia's war and its blocking of grain exports from Ukraine to the world. Russia uses hunger as a weapon of war.

Frauke Niemeyer spoke to Liana Fix

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