Book Review: Morality above everything else? Why values and national interests are rarely compatible

Moral ueber alles von Michael Lueders

Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The well-known Mideast Expert, former editor of Die Zeit and chairman of the German- Arab society, Michael Lüders in his recent book (Moral Über Alles? Warum sich Werte und nationale Interessen selten vertragen, Juni 2023, Goldmann, München) presents some concepts that not only give a refreshing insight into the state of the present world order, but he also reports about  the emergence of a new multipolar world order, which could transform the present global crisis and lead it in a positive direction. Lüders strongly criticizes the “insistent morality” that is expressed by significant strata of the German political class in reaction to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. This is primarily the case with Greenie politicians such as Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, Economics Minister Robert Habeck or former President Joachim Gauck, who went out of his way by advising Germans how to reduce their personal “freedom” in response to the war. They all keep emphasizing that we are the “Good” fighting the “Evil” Russians. These fervently “zealous” people are also the strongest advocates for harsher sanctions against Russia and unending weapon deliveries to the Ukraine.

Typical examples for the “zealousness”, according to Lüders, are EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who along with the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire demanded that ”Russia will have to pay a huge economic and financial price” or like US President Joe Biden who emphasized that the Russian currency would become a “heap of waste.” There was also a chorus of from many SPD representatives as well as from German historians like H.A. Winkler, who keep underlining that the Germans completely failed and are guilty for having advocated along Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik” a strong cooperation with Russia, thus turning the resolutions of the CSCE Helsinki conference as well as the “Charta of Paris” resolution into a joke. As Lüders notes, the author David Precht called this phenomenon the “Guilt- Pride” reflex, which has become pervasive in German society.

According to Lüders, the “Zeitenwende”, which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced three days after the Russian invasion in the German Federal Parliament, meant a 100% shift of German politics since the beginning of the post war period and was an earthquake in the German landscape. Almost overnight an “unprecedented cut” away from Russia’s energy deliveries (40%) occurred, that got replaced by extremely high priced US LNG deliveries and the expectation to get LNG from Qatar by 2025. Lüders speaks about a strong “Nibelungentreue” and “Vassal” mentality exhibited by leading German representatives in respect to the US that is almost “unnatural.” This includes the strange silence about the Nord Stream I and II explosions in August 2022, which many suspect to have occurred on behalf of the US.  He further states that it is particularly the US and its Military Industrial Complex that have “profited” from the war and US weapons sales to NATO, while Germany and other EU countries have undermined their economic basis.

Lüders, who condemns strongly Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, develops in his book at length his thesis that the “West is co- responsible for the war in Ukraine”. In detail he goes through the pre-history of the Ukraine war, since the collapse of the S.U. and emphasizes that one of the most blatant strategic mistake after the collapse of the SU was n o t to have offered the SU a place in the Common House of Europe but that instead the worst blunder was committed, when the US declared itself as the “hegemon” in a “unipolar” world, pushing for further NATO expansion in the East.

He quotes from the famous US diplomat George Kennan who in 1997 warned in the NYT about NATO’s eastward expansion: “An eastward expansion would be the most fatal mistake of American policy in the entire post- Cold War era,” he stated. Kennan emphasized that it was to be expected that “such decision would heat up nationalist anti- western and military tendencies in the Russian public. The Russians are little impressed by American assurances that the expansion of NATO would take place without hostile intention. They would see their prestige and security interests tangled.” Lüders also points to the open letter that was addressed in June 1997  by fifty influential American foreign policy experts to the then US president Bill Clinton (who had fervently  pushed NATO expansion e.h.)The letter was signed among others by former US Secretary of Defense McNamara (1961-68); by Paul Nitze, former National Security Advisor and by CIA chairman Stansfield Turner (1977 – 81). All of them stated that “we believe that the present US effort by the US to expand NATO eastward is a politically wrong decision, and a colossal historical mistake. It will undermine the security of Europe.” Still in 1998 Kennan reasoned “Sooner or later Russia will react to this. NATO’s eastward expansion will produce a serious crisis and the ones who favor it will say that we always said this. This is the way the Russians are.”

In light of this prehistory Lüders concludes in his book that “it’s not the case that in the West nobody saw the signs on the wall”. Leaving aside staunch advocates such as Dr. George Friedman, who in 2015 advocated in a speech at the “Chicago Council on Global Affairs” that everything should be done to keep Russia and Germany apart, given the danger of bringing together German technology with Russian raw materials and labor power, because this would represent a major danger for US geostrategic interests in Eurasia, it  remains a fact, that essentially since President Joe Biden’s inauguration 2021 who got in power parallel to the new Ukraine President  Zelenskyy, decisions in Washington were accelerated in the direction of “confrontation” with Russia with the help of NATO,  while the Western media only focused on demonizing Russia and the need to “deputinize” Russia.

So Lüders correctly illustrates that the “timeline” for a showdown and for the Russian invasion began with Bidens inauguration. Zelenskyy, the new president of Ukraine began to speed up the drive for Ukraine’s entry into NATO. The author referred to the NATO manoeuver end of April 2021, “Defender Europe 2021”, with 30.000 soldiers from 26 countries along the borders of Russia including non- NATO members like Bosnia Hercegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. In September 2021 this was followed by a “Joint Statement of the US-  Ukraine partnership” , in which both sides underlined that “the success of Ukraine plays a central role in the global fight between  democracy and autocracy.” This common statement only reinforced the communique of the NATO summit in Brussels (June 2021) which had officially opened a NATO perspective for Ukraine. In December 2021 there was the “US -Ukraine Charter on Strategic partnership “ that continued along the agreement from Sept. 1 2021, but it was more concrete in terms of military cooperation on all levels, essentially in the Black Sea together with allies and partners.

Russia at that time reacted with troop deployments along the Ukrainian border and end of 2021 President Putin demanded security guarantees from NATO and USA. (NATO essentially should not establish military bases in former Soviet republics and there should be no further eastward expansion of NATO). He wanted this guaranteed in written form. His initiatives got brutally rejected. The 8th January 2022 discussion on the level of vice foreign ministers from Russia and US in Geneva ended with no agreement. The final meeting January 26th 2022 between Lavrov and Blinken then ended with the categorical rejection by US Foreign State Secretary Anthony Blinken who stated: “The door for NATO is open and remains open. This is where we see our obligations.” Then February 24 the Russian invasion began, which according to Lüders remains historically a terrible mistake. Within days Scholz spoke about a “Zeitenwende” and made a 100% turn around. An amazing manifestation of “Guilt- Pride” in Germany began to manifest itself. One high representative after the other expressed guilt and repentance for what Germany had done in terms of  having laid the ground for a strategic partnership with Russia and a “witch-hunt “ began against those who had been the architects of the successful Russian / German energy cooperation like for example former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The entire German political class – irrespective of party affiliations- exhibited this “Guilt- Pride” complex along the line “We are the Good” against the Russian “Evil”.

In June 2022 the EU granted Ukraine the status as EU candidate (one should remember that according to Transparency International Ukraine is ranking among the most corrupt countries in the World- and essentially conceived as a “failed state”.) According to Lüders this represented a “suicidal move”, where in the first year the EU supported Ukraine with 67 bn Euro. The Americans gave 68 bn US- dollars for the defense of Ukraine as “credit”  that will have to be paid back in terms of the US “Leih- and Pachtgesetz” (lending and leasing law).  If the Ukraine were bankrupt, the US could grab raw materials and land according to this law.  According to Lüders the real “trick” is that American politicians exert pressure on the EU Commission to fulfill its payment obligations vis a vis Kiev. And that with this money President Zelenskyy then finances the first repayment of Kiev’s purchase of US weapons in the framework of the “Lending and Leasing Law”. The whole thing is absurd and shows dramatically who is the loser and winner in the game.

Sanctions produce counterreactions

The other thesis of Lüders focusses on the idiocy of the sanction regime, that triggers counter reactions and undermines in the middle and long term the hegemonic position of the US.  For example: After Crimea 2014 sanctions were imposed on Western imports and exports of agrarian products from Russia. This however, according to Lüders, helped Russia to turn the entire dynamic. In a record time it modernized its agrarian sector and prohibited  imports from US, Canada, EU, Norway, Australia and New Zealand; i.e. “In a record time Russia became the biggest agrarian exporter worldwide.” In 2020 Russia’s income was 30bn US Dollar with its sales of agrarian products to the Global South. The biggest loser of this sanction package was Germany, having been before an important agrarian exporter to Russia, according to Lüders.

Lüders also observes the effect of the war on the “dollar hegemony”: Since the Second World War the US Dollar is the world leading currency and international trade as well as the international financial system is based on it, since the funds are denominated in Dollar.  For the US it is comfortable since it can incur debts in an unlimited way. The US is with 130 % of its GDP indebted, the highest debt quota since the Second World War; in the EU it is 85%.  In 2007 the US state debt was 10 trillion Dollar; in 2023 it stands at 31,4 trillion (!), Lüders states. Yet he also observes that in reaction to US sanctions, Russia and China began to introduce “countermeasures.” Since each national economy of the Global South-i.e. the n o n-Westerners should be prepared for also being sanctioned by the US or EU, it is advisable to shrink the dependency from the USA western financial system and the dollar.  According to  Lüders the first major development was that after the Crimea crisis 2014  Russia as well as China  have expanded among themselves “compatible financial systems” and  got own credit cards. In Russia the equivalent to Visa or Master Card is called MIR card. Nearly every adult Russian has a Mir card which is recognized as payment means outside of the western hemisphere.

When in March Western Banks i.e. Washington and Brussels excluded Russian banks from  the US dominated SWIFT system, the Russians, as Lüders writes,  introduced a counter to SWIFT, called System for Transfer of financial Messages “SPFS”. The Chinese have the “Cross Border Interbank Payment system CIPS” since 2015. Also since 2018 Russia and China reduced accounts and state bonds in US Dollars in Western banks. In 2018 Russia still had 100 bn dollar bonds, end of 2021 only 4bn. China having in 2013 1,32 trillion US dollar bonds, reduced them till mid 2022 by 25%. Bilateral trade between Russia and China 2015 was traded up to 90% in US Dollars; in 2020 this was only 46%; one year after Ukraine invasion the quota is at zero (!). Both countries trade in Ruble and Yuan exchange. India also turns toward Yuan and Ruble, as well as South Africa, Pakistan, Vietnam, the countries of the Global South. The newest trend is in direction of digital central bank currencies. This indicates according to Lüders, “that the dollar as world hegemonic world currency is slowly losing its role.”

Similar new trends emerge in the field of energy: Since non- Western states don’t sanction Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Gulf states get oil from Russia in a favorable way which they then resell it at the spot market in Rotterdam and then resell it in part to the EU at much higher prices. Especially India plays a huge role on the oil market.  Russian oil is refined into gasoline and diesel and then exported to USA and Europe. India in 2023 delivered 89000 barrel gasoline and diesel daily to Europe. The absurdity is that US companies want to have oil refined in India. Another absurdity is that the US produced LNG is sold to Europe by an increase of 170%.

As result of the sanction regime against Russia, as Lüders observes, Germany runs into state debt in an amazing way. The situation is such that 60% of the German households will have to spend almost all its income for living standard costs. One third of the German population lives in precarious conditions and often the alternative is heating or eating. Therefore according to Lüders the ending of Germany’s “energy partnership with Russia” from one moment to the next, constitutes “the essential century mistake of German politics” and has been paving the way for self- inflicted economic decline.

In February 2023 the huge chemical company BASF announced that 2600 job places be cut, two third of this in Germany. This all means that “deindustrialization of Germany” is beginning, hitting steel, cement and fertilizer production, which is going down. The president of the VCI Association of Chemical Industry Markus Steilmann, in December 2022 in its annual conference, characterized the situation in the chemical industry as dramatic. Especially middle sized industry would fight for survival.  Every fourth company is being relocated in terms of its headquarters to foreign countries, mainly to the US, while production is rapidly shrinking.


The emergence of a new multipolar world  

The great paradox according to Lüders is that the West is more united than ever but at the same time its global influence is shrinking. New Alliances come to the fore, regionally and internationally, that document the loss of power of the US, EU and Germany. One can see the contours of a new World order.

An illustrative example is the former US vassal Saudi Arabia that guaranteed preferential oil prices for the US. Since 1970 oil and gas deals were handled on Dollar base – petrodollars.  Iran and Saudi Arabia are today the biggest power centers in the Islamic world and the Saudis are the biggest purchaser of American weapons. Yet when in July 2022 Biden visited Jeddah,  urging Saudi Arabia to join the Western line against Russian aggression, he didn’t get what he wanted. Saudi Arabia and Russia decided to reduce the supply of oil by 2 Mio barrel a day.  This was an “assault” against Biden, since the “vassal” went against the demands of Washington and came out in defense of Russia. Then in December Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled for to Saudi Arabia, making deals worth 30 bn dollars in the field of energy, technology, space research, 5G and 6G. This means that Huawei gets engaged in the Gulf in an increased way and more Arab countries follow, given the “domino effect.” In July 2022 Riyadh got the invitation to join the Shanghai Corporation Council (SCO), founded in 2001 by China and Russia as counterweight to US influence in Central Asia. Other states followed like Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. The SCO represents 40 % of the world population. In February 2023 it made known that its members among themselves will no longer have trade on the dollar basis. Saudi Arabia also wants to join BRICS, an alliance of states from the Global South such as Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

Iran, according to Lüders, is another example. It’s a good ally of Russia and China and despite many street demonstrations in Teheran, Moscow would never allow regime change in Teheran. After Trump’s cancellation of the Iran deal (that got initiated under US President Obama in 2015), Russia’s Gazprom and the Iranian Oil company signed a memo of understanding worth 40 bn in July 2022 and founded a Gas OPEC. They also agreed on new pipelines and a sanctions free corridor- a railway line from Russia via Azerbaijan into Iran, in direction to the Persian Gulf;  the other from the Black Sea and Azov Sea via the Volga- Don channel  into the Caspian Sea and further to Iran. From the Iranian harbor city Chabahar, by ship in direction of India.  Hence, according to Lüders, “Iran will become a logistical bridge not only for Russia but also for China in the framework of the new Silk Road.”

Lüders emphasizes at the end of his book, that the new Silk Road is huge transit hub, including six main corridors. The most important one leading from China via Kazakhstan and Russia to Madrid (new Eurasian Land Bridge), with the harbor of the German city Duisburg marking the end in Germany. Other land corridors lead to Moscow and St Petersburg via Teheran to Istanbul, to the Pakistani harbor city Gwadar, to Calcutta and Singapore. In addition there are two maritime silk roads in direction of Africa and Europe, with the “Piraeus” harbor in Greece, and another maritime corridor going into South Pacific and to Latin America. As Lüders emphasizes, “It’s a real master plan.” To finance this, the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Bank was founded). According to Lüders Beijing wants to revive the Eurasian economic space and connect it with Africa and South East Asia. It’s a gigantic economic project and Russia as junior partner of China will in 2025 pump via the “Power of Siberia pipeline” 38 bn Cubic meter of gas on the basis of Rubel and Yuan, to China and will invest 100 bn additionally in other pipelines and in industries such as cement, metallurgy and chemistry.

Lüders’ book shows a way out of the Great Powers dilemma by posing the question whether the US and its NATO allies go as far and risk to set the fuse for World War III that may end in nuclear destruction of mankind or whether they will chose a “rational” pragmatic solution in order to find an exit from the devastating Russian -Ukraine war, that includes diplomacy and option for peace as well as cooperation in the future multipolar world.


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