The Cable

Polish FM to Germany: Don’t even try to become a hegemon

MUNICH - The first panel at the 2012 Munich Security Conference examined whether Germany should assume a role as the regional, benign hegemon in Europe. But one speaker, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, told the Germans that it's just never going to happen so they shouldn't even try.

The question posed to Sikorski and the other panelists at the Friday evening discussion was whether Germany could play a role in Europe today similar to the role the United States played in Europe after World War II. Sikorski said that Germany doesn't have the attributes of a hegemon, such as an overwhelming economy, a large military budget, and an international role commensurate of a preeminent regional power.

"So you will not be a benign hegemon in Europe and you shouldn't even try," Sikorski told his largely German audience. He even referred to lingering concerns about German power left over from the WWII period.

"Why is Russia always a bigger security challenge than Germany for Poland? When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies," Sikorski said. "So don't get too dizzy with success."

Ouch.

"Germany cannot be said to be said to be similar to the United States [in the post WWII period]," Sikorski said. "The position of benign hegemon for Germany is not attainable, and therefore I would propose your actual position in the EU, which is a very honorable one, is the position of the largest shareholder."

Economically, Germany is only marginally larger than France and Britain, whereas the United States economy dwarfed its rivals when it became a world power, Sikorski said. Also, German trade is largely localized, with 9 out of its 10 largest trading partners located in Europe.

Sikorski said a hegemon must have a significant share of resources, must be able to supply public goods to the wider community, and others must believe the hegemon pursues policies that are at least relatively beneficial to all. Germany doesn't fit the bill, Sikorski said, even when one looks at Germany's defense budget, which is about $43 billion.

"[Former German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl was more right than [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger. Kissinger said [Germany is] too big for Europe, [but] too small for the world. Kohl said [Germany is] too big to be first among equals, but too small to dominate in Europe," said Sikorski.

Nevertheless, Sikorski graciously offered to aid Germany's role as the largest, if not the dominant force in Europe.

"Poland declares that we are ready on a pragmatic basis, despite the history, to help you," he said. "As long as we are working towards European solutions."

Johannes Simon/Getty Images

The Cable

Joseph Isadore Lieberman honored by the German government

MUNICH - As part of the opening events Friday evening at the 2012 Munich Security Conference, the German government honored Sen. Joseph Isadore Lieberman (I-CT) with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit as a tribute to his last year serving as a U.S. senator.

"You know, if I had known I would be so honored upon my retirement from the senate, I probably would have retired before the last term," Lieberman said in his acceptance speech. He thanked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for inviting him to co-chair the U.S. Congressional delegation to the conference over 20 years ago. Every year since, McCain and Lieberman have brought a large contingent of American lawmakers and experts to the conference.

The award is officially awarded by German President Christian Wulff and was presented Friday by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Lieberman was quite impressed that Westerwelle knew his middle name.

"I'm usually known as ‘Joseph I. Lieberman' and very few people know what the ‘I' stands for," he said. "In one of my early campaigns for state office, I had a friend who was supporting me who happened to be Irish and Catholic. He was convinced the ‘I' stood for Ignatius."

Lieberman promised to keep on working on behalf of the U.S.-German relationship even after he leaves the Senate.

"I assure you that although I am retiring from the Senate, I'm not retiring," he said. "The U.S. German alliance is an alliance built not on the temporary coincidence of shifting interests, but on the firm values that our two societies share and these are the values of human rights, democracy, free enterprise, the rule of law, and individual freedom."

Westerwelle noted that the Germans have not always agreed with Lieberman, such as when they opposed the war in Iraq, but he praised Lieberman's commitment to the relationship.

"Over the years we've agreed on many issues. Of course I cannot deny we've also had some disagreements on others. And I believe that is the way it should be among friends and allies," he said. "But you always kept talking and we never gave up finding solutions to the problems that lie ahead of us."

Westerwelle then quoted Vice President Joe Biden's speech from the 2009 Munich conference, when Biden said, "When sharing ideas and searching for purpose in a more complex world, Americans and Europeans still look to one another before they look to anyone else."

Saturday, the conference kicks into full gear, with highly anticipated speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, and many others.

Also on Saturday, Lieberman will become the third ever recipient of the Ewald von Kleist Award, named after the man who founded the conference in 1962. The first two recipients were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was in attendance at Friday's ceremony, and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana de Madariaga.

 

Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy