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To what extent do we support Ukraine? Habermas, the great intellectual, tackles Europe's dilemma


The West must carefully measure each additional degree of military aid to kyiv. Vladimir Putin is the one who will decide when Western support is equivalent to going to war

After 77 years without armed conflicts and 33 years after the end of a peace safeguarded by the balance of terror, although always threatened, the disturbing images of war have returned to our doors, released by the will of Russia.

The media presence of the events of this conflict dominates our daily lives like never before.

A Ukrainian president who knows well the power of images is responsible for sending us shocking messages, while new scenes of brutal destruction and horrific suffering that occur daily find a self-reinforcing echo in Western social networks.

The novelty of publicity and the calculated ability to shock public opinion of an unforeseen war event is likely to impress us older than young,

However, both with a skillful staging and without it, they are events that get on our nerves and whose chilling effect contributes to the awareness of the geographical proximity of the battle.

Thus, among viewers in the West, unease grows with every death, shock with every murder, outrage with every war crime, and also the desire for some form of active opposition.

The rational backdrop against which these emotions are stirring throughout the country is the logical taking of sides against Putin and against the Russian government that has launched a large-scale offensive war in violation of international law, and that with its systematically inhumane strategy violates international humanitarian law.

Despite this unanimous decision-making, disparate views have begun to emerge between the governments of the alliance of Western states, and a strident controversy has broken out in Germany, fueled by comments in the press, about the nature and scope of the military aid to besieged Ukraine.

The demands of a blameless harassed Ukraine that unashamedly turns the political misjudgments and wrong decision-making of previous German governments into moral blackmail are as understandable as the feelings, compassion and need to help that they arouse in all of us are natural. .

And yet I am irritated by the self-assurance with which Germany's morally outraged accusers oppose a thoughtful and cautious federal government.

In an interview with Der Spiegel



German Chancellor Olaf Scholz summed up his policy thus: “We are confronting the terrible suffering that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine with all the means at our disposal, without creating an uncontrollable escalation that causes immeasurable pain throughout the continent, and perhaps even around the world".

Now that the West has made the decision not to intervene in this conflict as a belligerent, there is a risk threshold that precludes an unrestricted commitment to arming Ukraine.

This threshold has become clear again with the recent closing of ranks of the German Government with the allies at the Ramstein air base and the renewed threat of Sergey Lavrov to use nuclear weapons.

Those who, with an aggressive and self-sufficient attitude, want to continue pushing the chancellor in that direction without taking this limit into account,

they ignore or misunderstand the dilemma in which this war has plunged the West.

And it is that the West, with its morally well-founded decision not to be part of the war, has tied its hands.

A Ukrainian soldier, next to a building destroyed by Russian bombing, in Chernihiv (Ukraine).

AP PHOTO/ Emilio Morenatti

The dilemma that puts Europe in the dangerous predicament of choosing between two evils – the defeat of Ukraine or the conversion of a limited conflict into a third world war – is clear.

On the one hand, we have learned from the Cold War that a war against a nuclear power can no longer be “won” in any reasonable sense, at least not by military force in the limited time frame of a hot conflict.

Nuclear threat capability means that the threatened party, whether or not it possesses nuclear weapons, cannot end the unbearable destruction caused by military force with victory, but, at best, with a compromise that saves the facing both parties.

Therefore, neither side can be expected to accept a defeat that would see them withdraw from the battlefield as the “loser”.

The ceasefire negotiations that are taking place at the same time that fighting continues are a manifestation of this idea: while they last, they keep open the mutual consideration of the adversary as a possible negotiating partner.

It is true that Russia's ability to sustain the nuclear threat depends on the West believing Putin capable of using weapons of mass destruction.

But in fact, over the past few weeks, the CIA has already warned of the danger of using tactical atomic weapons (apparently only developed to make war between nuclear powers possible again). ).

This gives the Russian side an asymmetrical advantage over NATO, which, due to the apocalyptic dimensions of a world war -with the participation of four nuclear powers-,

Now it is Putin who decides when the West crosses the threshold defined by international law, beyond which he considers, also formally, that military support for Ukraine represents Western entry into the war.

Given the risk of a global conflagration, which must be avoided at all costs, the uncertainty of this decision leaves no room for risky speculation.

Even if the West were cynical enough to take the risk implicit in the "warning" about the use of a "tactical" nuclear weapon - that is, to accept it in the worst case - who could guarantee that the nuclear war could be stopped? climbing?

There is only room left for arguments that must be carefully weighed in the light of the necessary specialist knowledge and all the necessary information,

not always publicly available, in order to make well-founded decisions.

Therefore, the West, which has left no room for doubt about its de facto involvement in this conflict with the drastic sanctions imposed from the outset, must carefully measure each additional degree of military support in order to determine whether it could be surpassing the imprecise limit, since it depends on Putin's power to establish it, on the formal entry into the war.

On the other hand, the Western side, as the Russian side knows very well, cannot allow itself to be blackmailed at will because of this asymmetry.

If he were to simply abandon Ukraine to its fate, it would not only be a political and moral scandal, but it would be against his own interests, since there is no doubt that he would then have to go back to playing same Russian roulette in the case of Georgia or Moldova, and who knows who would be next.

It is true that the asymmetry that could lead to a long-term impasse will exist only as long as the West continues to wisely avoid the risk of global nuclear war.

Thus, to the argument that Putin should not be cornered because, in that case, he would be capable of anything,

Süddeutsche Zeitung


Of course, this argument also only confirms the nature of an essentially unpredictable situation.

Because as long as we are determined, for good reasons, not to enter this war to protect Ukraine, the kind and extent of military support will have to be decided with these conditions in mind.

Those who oppose a "politics of fear" with rationally justifiable considerations are already within the argumentative realm of that politically responsible, detailed and impartially informed weighting that Chancellor Olaf Scholz rightly insists on.

against sovietology

The question here is to consider what would be, from our point of view, an acceptable interpretation for Putin of a limit according to the law that we have imposed on ourselves.

The ardent detractors of the government line fall into inconsistency by denying the implications of a basic and transcendental decision that they do not question.

The determination not to participate does not mean that the West will simply abandon Ukraine to its fate in its fight against a superior adversary until intervention is inevitable.

It is clear that its arms deliveries can favorably influence the course of a conflict that Ukraine is determined to continue even at the cost of great sacrifices.


Isn't betting on a Ukrainian victory over the infernal Russian military strategy without taking up arms oneself a pious self-delusion?

The warmongering rhetoric does not sympathize with the box from which it is eloquently intoned, since it does not nullify the unpredictability of an adversary who could bet everything on one card.

The West's dilemma is that it can only convey to Putin - who might even be ready for nuclear escalation, if necessary - its firmness on the integrity of Europe's national borders by giving Ukraine a self-limited military support that does not cross the red line of what international law defines as an entry into war.

Soberly weighing self-limited military assistance becomes even more complicated when one considers the motives that prompted the Russian side to make an obviously ill-calculated decision.

The focus on the person of Putin leads to wild conjectures that our mainstream media spread today as in the best days of speculative Sovietology.

The image of a decidedly revisionist Putin that prevails today has to be balanced at the very least with a rational estimate of his interests.

Even if Putin believes that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a big mistake, the idea of ​​an eccentric visionary who, with the blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church and under the influence of the authoritarian ideologue Alexander Dugin,

he sees the gradual restoration of the great Russian empire as his political life's work hardly reflects the whole truth about his character.

However, these projections are the basis for the widespread assumption that Putin's aggressive intentions extend beyond Ukraine to Georgia and Moldova, then to NATO members in the Baltic region and, finally, to the Balkans.

Contrasting this image of Putin as a nostalgic personality of the past driven by his delusion is a history of upward social mobility and a career as a rational and calculating power seeker trained in the KGB, whose concern for political protests in increasingly liberal circles of his own country was exacerbated by Ukraine's turn to the West and the political resistance movement in Belarus.

From this perspective, its repeated aggression would rather be understood as a frustrated response to the West's refusal to negotiate its geopolitical agenda, mainly the international recognition of its conquests in violation of international law and the neutrality of a "buffer zone" that should include Ukraine.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

on April 19, 2022.

"Identity crisis"

But how then to explain the heated internal debate around the policy, repeatedly affirmed by Chancellor Scholz, of deliberate solidarity with Ukraine in tune with the EU and NATO partners?

To avoid confusing issues, I will leave aside the controversy over the continuation of a policy of détente with an increasingly unpredictable Putin, which worked well until the fall of the Soviet Union and even afterwards, and which has now proven to be a serious mistake .

I will do the same with the mistake made by successive German governments in becoming dependent on cheap imports of Russian oil and giving in to pressure from the economy.

One day historians will judge the short memory of current controversies.

Different is the case of the debate that, under the meaning-laden statement “a new German identity crisis”, already discusses the consequences of a “change of era” in principle referring exclusively to East German policy and the defense budget.

Because this debate, linked above all to the portentous examples of the conversion of pacifist spirits, seems to herald the historical transformation of a post-war German mentality won with effort and insistently denounced by the right, and with it the end of a way of practicing politics focused on dialogue and the safeguarding of peace.

This interpretation takes as a reference the example of young people educated in sensitivity to normative issues who do not hide their emotions and who have been the ones who have raised their voices the most demanding a greater commitment.

It seems that the totally new reality of war has shaken them out of their pacifist illusions.

It also recalls the now iconic Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who, as soon as the war began, gave authentic expression to the shock with credible gestures and confessional rhetoric.

She is not to say that in doing so she did not also represent the widespread compassion and urge to help among the population of our country, but also gave a convincing form to the spontaneous identification with the vehemently moralizing urge of the Ukrainian leadership,

determined to win.

Thus we come to the heart of the conflict between those who sympathetically but brusquely adopt the perspective of a nation fighting for its freedom, its rights and its life, and those who have drawn a different lesson from the experiences of the War. Cold and, like those protesting in our streets, they have developed a different mindset.

The former can only imagine war from the alternative between victory and defeat;

the latter know that wars against a nuclear power can no longer be “won” in the traditional sense.

and those who have drawn a different lesson from the experiences of the Cold War and, like those protesting in our streets, have developed a different mindset.

The former can only imagine war from the alternative between victory and defeat;

the latter know that wars against a nuclear power can no longer be “won” in the traditional sense.

and those who have drawn a different lesson from the experiences of the Cold War and, like those protesting in our streets, have developed a different mindset.

The former can only imagine war from the alternative between victory and defeat;

the latter know that wars against a nuclear power can no longer be “won” in the traditional sense.

Members of the German government, including Olaf Scholz, listen to the remote intervention of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on March 17, in the Bundestag (Berlin). TOBIAS SCHWARZ (AFP via Getty Images)

post-heroic mindset

Broadly speaking, the more national and more post-national mentalities of the populations constitute the background of the different attitudes towards war.

This difference becomes apparent when comparing the admired and heroic resistance and evident readiness to sacrifice of the Ukrainian population with what, generally speaking, one would expect from “our” Western European populations in a similar situation.

Our admiration is mixed with a certain amazement at the certainty of victory and the unflinching courage of soldiers and conscripts of all ages, doggedly determined to defend their homeland from a militarily far superior enemy.

In the West, on the contrary, we have professional armies that we pay so that, if necessary, we do not have to take up arms ourselves to defend ourselves,

This post-heroic mentality was able to develop in Western Europe – if I may generalize – during the second half of the 20th century thanks to the nuclear umbrella of the United States.

In view of the devastation that nuclear war made possible, the idea was spread among the political elite and the overwhelming majority of the population that, in essence, international conflicts can only be resolved through diplomacy and sanctions, and that, in If a military conflict breaks out, it must be resolved as soon as possible, since the hardly calculable danger posed by the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction means that it is humanly impossible to end the war with a victory or a defeat in the traditional.

"From war you can only learn to make peace," says Alexander Kluge.

This way of seeing does not necessarily translate into pacifism in principle, that is, peace at any price.

The purpose of ending destruction, human suffering and decivilization as soon as possible is not the same as demanding that a politically free existence be sacrificed for mere survival.

At first glance, it would seem that skepticism about the use of military force finds its limit at the price of a life suffocated by authoritarianism, an existence from which even the awareness of the contradiction between imposed normality and self-determined life would have disappeared. .

human suffering and decivilization is not the same as demanding to sacrifice a politically free existence for mere survival.

At first glance, it would seem that skepticism about the use of military force finds its limit at the price of a life suffocated by authoritarianism, an existence from which even the awareness of the contradiction between imposed normality and self-determined life would have disappeared. .

human suffering and decivilization is not the same as demanding to sacrifice a politically free existence for mere survival.

At first glance, it would seem that skepticism about the use of military force finds its limit at the price of a life suffocated by authoritarianism, an existence from which even the awareness of the contradiction between imposed normality and self-determined life would have disappeared. .

I explain the conversion of our former pacifists, celebrated by the right-wing interpreters of the change of era, as the product of the confusion of those mentalities opposed over time, but historically asynchronous.

This distinguished group shares the Ukrainians' confidence in victory while appealing in the most natural way to violated international law.

After Bucha, the slogan "Putin, to The Hague" spread at the speed of the wind, indicating to what extent we tend to take for granted the normative standards that we apply to international relations, or what is the same, indicating the true scope of the change that affects the expectations and the humanitarian sensitivity of the population.

At my age I do not hide a certain surprise: how deeply the substratum of our cultural certainties on which our children and grandchildren live today had to be plowed so that even the conservative press appeals to the prosecutors of an International Criminal Court that neither Russia, neither China nor the United States recognize.

Unfortunately, these realities also betray the hollow foundations of the heated identification with the increasingly strident moral accusations against German moderation.

It is not that the war criminal Putin does not deserve to appear in court, but rather that he still has the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council and can threaten his opponents with nuclear war.

An end to the war, or at least a ceasefire, must still be negotiated with him.

The allies should not blame each other for political-mental differences that find their explanation in an unequal historical evolution, but take note of them as a fact and take them wisely into account in their cooperation.

But as long as these perspective-determining differences remain in the background, they will only lead to emotional turmoil—as was the case with the reactions of German MPs to the Ukrainian president's moral call to order in his video address to the federal Parliament. , to the messy mixture of insufficiently matured approval, mere understanding of the other's position, and due respect for oneself.

This finding also casts a more neutral light on the conversion of former pacifists.

And it is that neither the indignation, nor the consternation and compassion that motivate their misguided demands can be explained by the rejection of the normative orientations that the so-called realists have always mocked.

Rather, they are the consequence of an overly strict interpretation of those principles.

It is not that its defenders have converted to realism;

it is that they have rushed upon him.

Certainly, without moral feelings there can be no moral judgments, but the generalizing judgment also corrects the limited range of feelings that immediacy arouses.

After all, it is not by chance that the architects of the "change of era" are the leftists and liberals who, in view of the drastic changes in the constellation of great powers, and in the shadow of transatlantic uncertainties, want to put into implements a long-standing idea, namely that a European Union that is unwilling to have its social and political way of life destabilized from the outside or undermined from within will only be able to act politically if it can also stand on its own same on a military level.

The re-election of Emmanuel Macron in France represents a reprieve, but first we must find a constructive way out of our dilemma.

This hope is reflected in the cautious formulation of the goal that Ukraine must not lose this war.

Jürgen Habermas

(Düsseldorf, 1929) is perhaps the greatest living European intellectual.

Philosopher and author of the 'Theory of communicative action', he defends a "constitutional patriotism" applicable on a European scale.

© Süddeutsche Zeitung

In collaboration with Public Agenda

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-05-07

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