The German security problem

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Qvist
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The German security problem

Post by Qvist » 05 Jul 2002 14:29

I've been thinking a little about the different approaches German leaders took vis-a-vis the German security problem from 1871 to Hitler. Germany was the strongest state in Europe, but weaker than its combined neighbours. The following is a discussion entirely from the German perspective, which means that I don't cover mistakes made by other states (which doesn't mean that I'm not aware of them :) )

After unification in 1871 Germany was without question the strongest state in Europe. Bismarck took the position that there were no more gains for Germany in Europe that would justify the risk inherent in pursuing them. Equally, Germany did not have a significant interest at stake in any of the standing trouble areas of European politics, mainly colonial issues and the Balkans. This also meant that Germany would not be seriously threatened as long as she could avoid islolation - it would take a combination of major powers to challenge her. Consequently, his policy aimed above all at avoiding such isolation. This was in practical terms the same thing as ensuring the isolation of France. There were four other major powers - France, Britain, Russia and Austria. Implacable French hostility was a given because of the annexation of Elsass-Lothringen. But France could not threaten Germany alone, and any partner for her would have to come from the other three.

Britain presented the easiest task, with her traditional enmity towards France, endemic colonial rivalries with same and, not least, her strong reluctance to enter into binding continental commitments. Germany, on the other hand, posed no threat to British interests as long as she did not attempt to achieve a hegemonic position on the continent or threaten British colonial interests or mastery of the seas - none of which Bismarck considered worth doing. Furthermore, German interests could be best and most easily served through British neutrality, whereas the French would require exactly the sort of binding commitment the British could not be persuaded to provide. His policy thus aimed at avoiding conflict with Britain, and to encourage her to do what she wanted in any case - stay out of Europe.

Austria and Russia was more difficult, as they were endemic rivals in the Balkans. They pursued irreconcilable goals - but they both knew they could never prevail over the other if Germany took sides for the other party. This Bismarck could exploit by signing defensive treaties with both of them - the maintenance of which was a diplomatic juggling-act without precedent, but which, as long as it functioned, guaranteed that France and not Germany would stand alone in Europe, and thus create a fundamentally secure position for Germany. The principal benefit was that neither of the two powers could enter into an alliance with France. It did function, despite Russian and Austrian resentment of German obstruction of their respective aspirations in the Balkans, because the Russians knew Germany would always restrain Austria and thus guarantee her Western frontier, while the Austrians knew that in the final resort, they could count on German support in the event of an aggressive Russian move.

Bismarckian German security can thus be said to have rested on three pillars: One, rejection of any further offensive goals in Europe, Two, eschewal of any global power pretensions and Three, an active alliance policy predicated on the insight that Germany did not need allies, but it needed to deny the French allies. Successfully carried out, it implied a stabilising German influence on the continent.

Bismarck's dismissal signalled a change in this policy which ultimately brought about a steep decline in the German security position and culminated in world war. Under Kaiser Wilhelms unfortunate guidance, Germany embarked on an erratic course without clear objectives. The Kaisers style was a combination of periodic crisis-maximation and chestbeating, demanding satisfaction for such vague notions as "National honour" and "acceptance of Germanys status as a world power". Precisely what would be the objectives of such "world power", or on what it would rest, or how it would be achieved, or why Germany should seek it, or what exactly it entailed, were never elaborated, which transformed Germany from the ultimate guarantor of European stability to a volatile, unpredictable and at the same time highly powerful factor in European politics. Bismarck's third pillar (deny France allies) neither he nor his advisors understood, his second pillar (no global aspirations) they rejected, if only in favour of vague concepts that never advanced much beyond slogans, and this put the first pillar (no further European ambitions) into doubt in the eyes of the other powers.

The dual arrangement with Russia and Austria was abandoned in favour of an Austrian alliance, because it was found to be too complicated to maintain. Russia, inevitably, turned to France, thus creating for the first time since unification an anti-German bloc of considerable strength. The Kaiser then attempted to secure an arrangement with Britain, insisting that this must take the form of a formal alliance. Britain was not uninterested in some sort of security understanding with Germany - perceived colonial threats from France and Russia being high on her list of worries - but was quite unwilling to contemplate a formal alliance requiring onerous commitments in return for German commitments that Britain neither wanted nor needed. The Kaiser, unlike Bismarck, did not grasp the fact that British neutrality gave Germany everything it needed. As Britain settled her differnces with France and Russia, and achieved a japanese alliance protecting her interests against Russia in the far east, and Germany embarked on her naval program in pursuit of a vague notion of global status, Britain instead started looking to her traditional enemy - France - for safety against a seemingly unpredictable Germany. And France was, unlike Germany, willing to settle for something less than formal alliance to begin with, even though she, again unlike Germany, had a pressing need for exactly that.

By 1914, Germany had gone from a position where it had only one isolated enemy, to a state of affairs where it was opposed by a hostile alliance of three major powers, and supported only by the weakest of the five major powers. Many of her own policies, if the Kaisers vagaries can be dignified with such a word, had contributed directly to this.

The overall effects of this rigid bipolar alliance system created world war, which brought defeat on Germany, and for a decade-and-half, the leaders of a severely weakened Germany were confined to work in small increments to improve the German position within the general framework of the Versailles treaty. All of which changed with Hitlers arrival at the helm.

He proved stunningly successful in re-establishing Germany as the strongest power in Europe in a short time. By the conclusion of the Munich crisis, that objective was largely reached, and it is at this point a comparison with the two former approaches once more becomes relevant. He had little sympathy for either of the two former approaches. That of the Kaiser was of course throughly discredited by defeat in WWI and could be rejected out of hand. But equally, he lacked faith in Bismarck's approach - the constant utilisation of the balance of power, combined with modesty of aims, to maintain a favourable security situation. He considered - and quite rightly - that this would put Germany at the mercy of continuing siplomatic and military excellence. Germany would not be structurally secure, so to speak, but would rely on the ability of its gvt to translate its strength into security through wise policies.

Hitler rejected this approach in favour of the pursuit of objectives that would achieve exactly such a structural solution, thus putting Germanys security position on a footing that would not require constant political fine-tuning - a once-and-for-all solution. This required, in Hitlers opinion, above all continental size, a larger population and economic autarky - the practical corollary of which was German hegemony in Europe, dispensing both with actual and potential threats through forced resolution - through war. From Hitlers perspective, Bismarck's first pillar (no european ambitions) was radically rejected and replaced with its exact opposite, his second pillar (no global ambitions) was largely reinstated along the same basic lines of thinking, while the third (deny France allies) was no longer relevant in the original sense.


This leads me to the following general thoughts. It seems to me that Bismarck's approach was the one most likely to create security for Germany, be it in 1875, 1910 or 1938 (an assertion of course modified by the fact that Hitler in particular had to deal with the legacies and results of previous policies). The experience with it suggests that there was no inherent neccessity in Germany attracting a powerful bloc of enemies in Europe - it is easily conceivable that that could have been avoided if Germany herself had pursued wiser and more rational policies before WW I, both in its approach to dealing with potential allies, in its handling of various political crisis which collectively created an impression of an intrasigent, unpredictable and bellicose empire and in its irrational decision to challenge British naval power. The single strongest power will always have the most to gain from a multipolar situastion, and the least to gain from a bipolar one, as it will play the strongest hand. A divided Europe could never threaten Germany. It also would have implied a Germany content with its frontiers, which, particularly in the long run, would have strengthened her diplomatic credibility and made her a rallying point with all powers seeking stability in Europe. It was a policy based on a clear and precise definition of German needs and aims, coupled with an acute understanding of the thinking of the other powers. The Kaiser was stunningly unable to grasp much of either, and as a result was completely unable to follow a rational political course. Hitler had clarity of aims, and of needs (as he perceived them), but a rather incomplete understanding of his opponents thinking - in some cases uncannily accurate, in others wildly inaccurate.

Hitlers decision to attempt a radical solution to Germanys security problem might seem logical - after all, it is usually preferable to tackle a problem at its roots, rather than continuing to deal with its effects. But put into perspective, it is clear that definite solutions to security problems is something that is almost never within the grasp of any statesman, and to pursue it is always likely not only to fail, but also to create an additional number of threats and problems. Not least of these is that solutions of the kind Hitler sought could only be achieved at everyone else's expense. To live with insecurities, and with threats present and future, to deal with eventualities as they arise, is something which all states have to accept - there is simply no viable alternative to it. To attempt to cut through it is to ignore a basic fact of international politics, and, seen as an approach to national security in its widest sense - a deeply flawed and counterproductive strategy. I submit that this, purely from a perspective of German self interest, was the most fatal and fundamental weakness in Hitlers geopolitical approach - he committed griveous over-reach, and not just in the sense of miscalculating the situation as it then was, but also in the sense that his basic reasoning rested on it.


cheers

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Post by Meech » 05 Jul 2002 22:08

Nice piece.

I only can only offer this:

I don't think Hitler ever had the world/strategic view or goals that Bismarck had. I have never read anything to indicate that. I don't think we can take is musings and flights of fancy about Madagascar, joing up forces in the Middle East etc as a serious expression of a thought-out global view vis a vis German security.

We know he didn't weant to upset the British Empire - and didn't want a two front war, but I suggest these points were ones of expediency not strtegic thinking. All he seemed to have were short term global grand ambitions.

It seems to me that Hitler was preoccupied for the longest time with one thing only: Reversing the Treaty of Versailles and embracing all Germans.

Regards,

Michel

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Hitler's Strategy...

Post by Scott Smith » 06 Jul 2002 01:33

Meech wrote:It seems to me that Hitler was preoccupied for the longest time with one thing only: Reversing the Treaty of Versailles and embracing all Germans.

I agree. Also, great post Qvist! I'll comment soon.
:)

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Post by Qvist » 06 Jul 2002 05:10

Meech wrote:Nice piece.

I only can only offer this:

I don't think Hitler ever had the world/strategic view or goals that Bismarck had. I have never read anything to indicate that. I don't think we can take is musings and flights of fancy about Madagascar, joing up forces in the Middle East etc as a serious expression of a thought-out global view vis a vis German security.

We know he didn't weant to upset the British Empire - and didn't want a two front war, but I suggest these points were ones of expediency not strtegic thinking. All he seemed to have were short term global grand ambitions.

It seems to me that Hitler was preoccupied for the longest time with one thing only: Reversing the Treaty of Versailles and embracing all Germans.

Regards,

Michel


Meech, my point was not that Hitler had global aspirations (and Bismarck most certainly didn't) .

Meech and Scott - but he did have ambitions in Europe that went far beyond the reversal of the treaty of Versailles.


cheers
Last edited by Qvist on 15 Jul 2002 11:35, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Meech » 06 Jul 2002 05:18

He (Hitler) most certainly did - but not as Bismarck, who as you rightly pointed out, sought not only a place and role a place for Germany but security for Germany. Those were his goals. I don't think Hitler had security , balance and stability in his mind - ever.

Regards,

Michel

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HITLER'S Strategy

Post by Scott Smith » 06 Jul 2002 12:12

Meech wrote:
Qvist wrote:Meech, my point was not that Hitler had global aspirations (and Bismarck most certainly didn't) .

Meech and Scott - but he did have ambitions in Europe that went far beyond the reversal of the treaty of Versailles.

He (Hitler) most certainly did - but not as Bismarck, who as you rightly pointed out, sought not only a place and role a place for Germany but security for Germany. Those were his goals. I don't think Hitler had security , balance and stability in his mind - ever.

I agree that neither had global ambitions. Certainly without a navy Bismarck did not have an interest beyond security, balance and stability on the continent.

I do not think Hitler's interest lay essentially beyond rectifying the Treaty of Versailles--and by that I don't mean just what the treaty said but but what it was aimed at accomplishing: German encirclement and containment.

That lead to world war and ultimate defeat because Hitler's grand-strategy was not shrewd enough to overcome Germany's military weakness against her enemy coalitions. Hitler's propaganda was uneven and eventually failed almost altogether as the world mobilized against Germany in a conflict thast probably could not have been won.

Hitler was interested in security, but not necessarily through balance and stability. Security and stability through hegemony worked too but it was riskier.
:)

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Re: The German security problem

Post by Scott Smith » 06 Jul 2002 13:17

Qvist wrote:After unification in 1871 Germany was without question the strongest state in Europe. Bismarck took the position that there were no more gains for Germany in Europe that would justify the risk inherent in pursuing them. Equally, Germany did not have a significant interest at stake in any of the standing trouble areas of European politics, mainly colonial issues and the Balkans. This also meant that Germany would not be seriously threatened as long as she could avoid islolation - it would take a combination of major powers to challenge her. Consequently, his policy aimed above all at avoiding such isolation. This was in practical terms the same thing as ensuring the isolation of France. There were four other major powers - France, Britain, Russia and Austria. Implacable French hostility was a given because of the annexation of Elsass-Lothringen. But France could not threaten Germany alone, and any partner for her would have to come from the other three.

Britain presented the easiest task, with her traditional enmity towards France, endemic colonial rivalries with same and, not least, her strong reluctance to enter into binding continental commitments. Germany, on the other hand, posed no threat to British interests as long as she did not attempt to achieve a hegemonic position on the continent or threaten British colonial interests or mastery of the seas - none of which Bismarck considered worth doing. Furthermore, German interests could be best and most easily served through British neutrality, whereas the French would require exactly the sort of binding commitment the British could not be persuaded to provide. His policy thus aimed at avoiding conflict with Britain, and to encourage her to do what she wanted in any case - stay out of Europe.

Austria and Russia was more difficult, as they were endemic rivals in the Balkans. They pursued irreconcilable goals - but they both knew they could never prevail over the other if Germany took sides for the other party. This Bismarck could exploit by signing defensive treaties with both of them - the maintenance of which was a diplomatic juggling-act without precedent, but which, as long as it functioned, guaranteed that France and not Germany would stand alone in Europe, and thus create a fundamentally secure position for Germany. The principal benefit was that neither of the two powers could enter into an alliance with France. It did function, despite Russian and Austrian resentment of German obstruction of their respective aspirations in the Balkans, because the Russians knew Germany would always restrain Austria and thus guarantee her Western frontier, while the Austrians knew that in the final resort, they could count on German support in the event of an aggressive Russian move.

Bismarckian German security can thus be said to have rested on three pillars: One, rejection of any further offensive goals in Europe, Two, eschewal of any global power pretensions and Three, an active alliance policy predicated on the insight that Germany did not need allies, but it needed to deny the French allies. Successfully carried out, it implied a stabilising German influence on the continent.

I agree but would like to point out that Bismarck was a monarchist. The Tsar and the Austro-Hungarian and Prussian Kaisers were therefore more legitimate than the French republic. Germany's policy under Bismarck was not to have any non-German aspirations and to keep France isolated. But he seems not to have considered that what challenged France the most was the German claim to Alsace-Lorranine.

Bismarck's dismissal signalled a change in this policy which ultimately brought about a steep decline in the German security position and culminated in world war. Under Kaiser Wilhelms unfortunate guidance, Germany embarked on an erratic course without clear objectives. The Kaisers style was a combination of periodic crisis-maximation and chestbeating, demanding satisfaction for such vague notions as "National honour" and "acceptance of Germanys status as a world power". Precisely what would be the objectives of such "world power", or on what it would rest, or how it would be achieved, or why Germany should seek it, or what exactly it entailed, were never elaborated, which transformed Germany from the ultimate guarantor of European stability to a volatile, unpredictable and at the same time highly powerful factor in European politics. Bismarck's third pillar (deny France allies) neither he nor his advisors understood, his second pillar (no global aspirations) they rejected, if only in favour of vague concepts that never advanced much beyond slogans, and this put the first pillar (no further European ambitions) into doubt in the eyes of the other powers.

The dual arrangement with Russia and Austria was abandoned in favour of an Austrian alliance, because it was found to be too complicated to maintain. Russia, inevitably, turned to France, thus creating for the first time since unification an anti-German bloc of considerable strength. The Kaiser then attempted to secure an arrangement with Britain, insisting that this must take the form of a formal alliance. Britain was not uninterested in some sort of security understanding with Germany - perceived colonial threats from France and Russia being high on her list of worries - but was quite unwilling to contemplate a formal alliance requiring onerous commitments in return for German commitments that Britain neither wanted nor needed. The Kaiser, unlike Bismarck, did not grasp the fact that British neutrality gave Germany everything it needed. As Britain settled her differnces with France and Russia, and achieved a japanese alliance protecting her interests against Russia in the far east, and Germany embarked on her naval program in pursuit of a vague notion of global status, Britain instead started looking to her traditional enemy - France - for safety against a seemingly unpredictable Germany. And France was, unlike Germany, willing to settle for something less than formal alliance to begin with, even though she, again unlike Germany, had a pressing need for exactly that.

I agree that the Kaiser misunderstod the importance of British neutrality. But British neutrality was not so benevolent as is implied. Germany was a threat not only because after 1871 she was a unified superpower on the continent but because of her industrial and economic potential. Even if the Kaiser had not embarked on his silly naval expansion program, Britain may have started to find ordinary German commercial expansion no less intolerable than an appetite for overseas colonies. Both regimes needed access to world markets and an outlet for surplus industrial production. and if is unlikely that German financial markets would have been an open to British interests as German. Who, then, would guarantee German trade? In a conflict, which markets were more important to the Americans--English or German? At some point Germany would need to pursue a policy incorporating a fleet to safeguard its commerical interests or hegemony to protect markets on the continent.

By 1914, Germany had gone from a position where it had only one isolated enemy, to a state of affairs where it was opposed by a hostile alliance of three major powers, and supported only by the weakest of the five major powers. Many of her own policies, if the Kaisers vagaries can be dignified with such a word, had contributed directly to this.

I agree, and that the Kaiser's erratic saber-rattling had exacerbated this.

The overall effects of this rigid bipolar alliance system created world war, which brought defeat on Germany, and for a decade-and-half, the leaders of a severely weakened Germany were confined to work in small increments to improve the German position within the general framework of the Versailles treaty. All of which changed with Hitlers arrival at the helm.

Without the American moralistic meddling Germany would have won a limited victory that tended toward German hegemony and a maritime foothold. But surely a more prescient foreign policy could have achieved that same result without four years of bloody attrition-war.

He proved stunningly successful in re-establishing Germany as the strongest power in Europe in a short time. By the conclusion of the Munich crisis, that objective was largely reached, and it is at this point a comparison with the two former approaches once more becomes relevant. He had little sympathy for either of the two former approaches. That of the Kaiser was of course throughly discredited by defeat in WWI and could be rejected out of hand. But equally, he lacked faith in Bismarck's approach - the constant utilisation of the balance of power, combined with modesty of aims, to maintain a favourable security situation. He considered - and quite rightly - that this would put Germany at the mercy of continuing siplomatic and military excellence. Germany would not be structurally secure, so to speak, but would rely on the ability of its gvt to translate its strength into security through wise policies.

Hitler rejected this approach in favour of the pursuit of objectives that would achieve exactly such a structural solution, thus putting Germanys security position on a footing that would not require constant political fine-tuning - a once-and-for-all solution. This required, in Hitlers opinion, above all continental size, a larger population and economic autarky - the practical corollary of which was German hegemony in Europe, dispensing both with actual and potential threats through forced resolution - through war. From Hitlers perspective, Bismarck's first pillar (no european ambitions) was radically rejected and replaced with its exact opposite, his second pillar (no global ambitions) was largely reinstated along the same basic lines of thinking, while the third (deny France allies) was no longer relevant in the original sense.

I agree but feel that Hitler's goals on the continent were more modest. A State can exercise hegemony without occupation. Where Hitler erred, I think, is that he (and his generation) was radicalized by war and thus he believed that war at some point was inevitable. He therefore repeated his predecessors' mistakes and increasingly substituted the military art of opperational maneuver and siegecraft for STATECRAFT, and even seeking a knockout blow against the Soviet Union with his Blitzkrieg--certainly with no less folly than the Schlieffen sicklestroke through Belgium in 1914. Far from achieving Hitler's objectives against Versailles at Munich, these hurdles were just getting started for him.

This leads me to the following general thoughts. It seems to me that Bismarck's approach was the one most likely to create security for Germany, be it in 1875, 1910 or 1938 (an assertion of course modified by the fact that Hitler in particular had to deal with the legacies and results of previous policies). The experience with it suggests that there was no inherent neccessity in Germany attracting a powerful bloc of enemies in Europe - it is easily conceivable that that could have been avoided if Germany herself had pursued wiser and more rational policies before WW I, both in its approach to dealing with potential allies, in its handling of various political crisis which collectively created an impression of an intrasigent, unpredictable and bellicose empire and in its irrational decision to challenge British naval power. The single strongest power will always have the most to gain from a multipolar situastion, and the least to gain from a bipolar one, as it will play the strongest hand. A divided Europe could never threaten Germany. It also would have implied a Germany content with its frontiers, which, particularly in the long run, would have strengthened her diplomatic credibility and made her a rallying point with all powers seeking stability in Europe. It was a policy based on a clear and precise definition of German needs and aims, coupled with an acute understanding of the thinking of the other powers. The Kaiser was stunningly unable to grasp much of either, and as a result was completely unable to follow a rational political course. Hitler had clarity of aims, and of needs (as he perceived them), but a rather incomplete understanding of his opponents thinking - in some cases uncannily accurate, in others wildly inaccurate.

I agree. Hitler did not understand his opponents' mentality. Foreign diplomats seemed like domestic bourgeois political parties, easily outmaneuvered; but instead they brought to the table the accumulated diplomatic experience of entrenched superpowers. German and American diplomats were amateurs by contrast.

Hitlers decision to attempt a radical solution to Germanys security problem might seem logical - after all, it is usually preferable to tackle a problem at its roots, rather than continuing to deal with its effects. But put into perspective, it is clear that definite solutions to security problems is something that is almost never within the grasp of any statesman, and to pursue it is always likely not only to fail, but also to create an additional number of threats and problems. Not least of these is that solutions of the kind Hitler sought could only be achieved at everyone else's expense. To live with insecurities, and with threats present and future, to deal with eventualities as they arise, is something which all states have to accept - there is simply no viable alternative to it. To attempt to cut through it is to ignore a basic fact of international politics, and, seen as an approach to national security in its widest sense - a deeply flawed and counterproductive strategy. I submit that this, purely from a perspective of German self interest, was the most fatal and fundamental weakness in Hitlers geopolitical approach - he committed griveous over-reach, and not just in the sense of miscalculating the situation as it then was, but also in the sense that his basic reasoning rested on it.

I think Hitler's approach was basically sound, and in retrospect he should have used military force earlier--at Munich--even if it meant starting the war (when he could have won it quickly). The Versailles boil could have been lanced for good before the infection had spread. In addition, assuming that Hitler had not been assassinated in a 1938 general's plot, such an acute situation would have allowed him to make short work of this class-conscious festering openly. But with "Peace FOR our Time," the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact to outflank the Polish guarantee was a devil's bargain that left Hitler making a severe miscalculation that the Allies would not go to war anyway to save face.

Therefore, I submit that Hitler's most serious weakness was in failing to understand the Allied, especially British, mentality--and therefore failing in his foreign propaganda. Hitler's concenpt of expansion based on German ethnic self-determination was a good one--far superior than Bismarck's monarchist Prusso-German nationalism and balance-of-power. Following Munich, a more patient foreign policy could have avoided open war and advanced Germany's hegemonic interests more safely by the natural growth inevitable for a superpower. But shrewdness and caution goes against a soldier's thinking. German containment was bound to fail so long as open military siege never came to a head, whereupon Germany would likely lose the resultant war-of-attrition.

With increasing politco-diplomatic failures following the declaration-of-war, Hitler reluctantly sought to expand his resource-base through a hesitant empire and found that the burdens for a Greater Germany were too great. Nothing is more costly than trying to keep a heterogenous empire from flying apart when spinning at fevered wartime paces. Rome had much more time than Berlin to establish its roads.

Best Regards,
Scott

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Post by Qvist » 08 Jul 2002 09:59

Scott

I agree but would like to point out that Bismarck was a monarchist. The Tsar and the Austro-Hungarian and Prussian Kaisers were therefore more legitimate than the French republic. Germany's policy under Bismarck was not to have any non-German aspirations and to keep France isolated. But he seems not to have considered that what challenged France the most was the German claim to Alsace-Lorranine.


More precisely, Germanys policy was to not have ANY European aspirations, in terms of territory. And Bismarck was naturally completely aware of the fact that the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in itself guaranteed French hostility - this was what created the need to isolate France.

Germany was a threat not only because after 1871 she was a unified superpower on the continent but because of her industrial and economic potential. Even if the Kaiser had not embarked on his silly naval expansion program, Britain may have started to find ordinary German commercial expansion no less intolerable than an appetite for overseas colonies.


Now this is a line of reasoning that pops up from time to time. I should like to see some source backing for that speculation, as it certainly does not fit into the general picture of what motivated and drove British security policy of the time. I would be extremely surprised if you were able to find a single statement, public or private, to the effect that Germany's economic power neccessitated an anti-German foreign policy. For one, I can't recall Britain ever regarding the United States as a threat
even though she was an economic competitor of far greater potential than Germany.

At some point Germany would need to pursue a policy incorporating a fleet to safeguard its commerical interests or hegemony to protect markets on the continent.


I am not entirely sure we have the same understanding of the word "hegemony", but more on that later. Do you mean that conflict with Britain was an inevitable consequence of German economic growth? Also, I was unaware that "protecting markets on the continent" was much of a factor in German security policy. Would you have something to substantiate that with?

I agree but feel that Hitler's goals on the continent were more modest. A State can exercise hegemony without occupation. Where Hitler erred, I think, is that he (and his generation) was radicalized by war and thus he believed that war at some point was inevitable. He therefore repeated his predecessors' mistakes and increasingly substituted the military art of opperational maneuver and siegecraft for STATECRAFT, and even seeking a knockout blow against the Soviet Union with his Blitzkrieg--certainly with no less folly than the Schlieffen sicklestroke through Belgium in 1914. Far from achieving Hitler's objectives against Versailles at Munich, these hurdles were just getting started for him.


You are contradicting yourself - if Hitler sought hegemony on the continent, in whatever form, this in itself goes well beyond a reversal of Versailles.

I think Hitler's approach was basically sound, and in retrospect he should have used military force earlier--at Munich--even if it meant starting the war (when he could have won it quickly). The Versailles boil could have been lanced for good before the infection had spread. In addition, assuming that Hitler had not been assassinated in a 1938 general's plot, such an acute situation would have allowed him to make short work of this class-conscious festering openly. But with "Peace FOR our Time," the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact to outflank the Polish guarantee was a devil's bargain that left Hitler making a severe miscalculation that the Allies would not go to war anyway to save face.

Therefore, I submit that Hitler's most serious weakness was in failing to understand the Allied, especially British, mentality--and therefore failing in his foreign propaganda. Hitler's concenpt of expansion based on German ethnic self-determination was a good one--far superior than Bismarck's monarchist Prusso-German nationalism and balance-of-power. Following Munich, a more patient foreign policy could have avoided open war and advanced Germany's hegemonic interests more safely by the natural growth inevitable for a superpower. But shrewdness and caution goes against a soldier's thinking. German containment was bound to fail so long as open military siege never came to a head, whereupon Germany would likely lose the resultant war-of-attrition.

With increasing politco-diplomatic failures following the declaration-of-war, Hitler reluctantly sought to expand his resource-base through a hesitant empire and found that the burdens for a Greater Germany were too great. Nothing is more costly than trying to keep a heterogenous empire from flying apart when spinning at fevered wartime paces. Rome had much more time than Berlin to establish its roads
.


I frankly find it a bit difficult to follow you. You advocate war in 1938, while at the same time advocating a more patient foreign policy to avoid war. Simultaneously you extol the virtues of a policy of "expansion based on German ethnic self-determination". I was unaware, by the way, that Hitler at this time had become a convert to Wilsonianism as a staunch defender of the principle of ethnic self-determination. And you need to decide what it's going to be - a policy of expansion based on German ethnic self-determination, or a policy seeking the reversal of the Versailles treaty, because they certainly do not imply the same thing.

Again, you speak of Germany's "hegemonic interests". Germany pre-1914 had not possessed a hegemonic position in Europe. Nor had ever anyone else, at least not in the consolidated sense. You seem to imply that such a state of affairs would have been somehow natural, or conceivably acceptable to other states, or achievable through peaceful means. This was not the case. What "hegemony" means, according the the Century dictionary, is "headship or control exercised by one state over others, as through confederation or conquest". It becomes a bit propagandistic, and highly inaccurate, to speak of German "hegemonic interests" in Europe then, as this implies that German overlordship over the European continent was somehow a legitimate and natural German "interest", something that Germany in all fairness needed. What you can speak of is "hegemonic ambitions" - the practical corollary of which would be a policy of expansion, and of confrontation in the absence of the unlikely eventuality of the other great powers simply abandoning all of their own security concerns and ambitions. Hegemony would require aggressive war, and Hitler was far too much of a realist to imagine anything else.

What you seem to fail to understand is that any policy aiming at a hegemonical position goes radically beyond any attempt to reverse the Versailles treaty and/or reinstate Germany in its natural position as the strongest state in Europe. The latter aim would - and should - have been pursued by any German government post 1918. The former aim in practice amounted to a fundamental challenge against in some cases the existence of, in many cases the territorial integrity of and in all cases the sovereignty of other European states, making a general conflagration all but inevitable. Hitler did aim for hegemony, and he was clear about what hegemony demanded - it demanded a radical and permanent expansion of German territorial control.

The main point in your comments, here and elsewhere, is however your curious view that Hitler desired nothing more than a reversal of Versailles. I shall return to that in a separate post in due course, with documentation. Suffice it to say at this point that we both agree a) that in the actual event he did attempt to build an empire of sorts and b) he expounded views, in MK, the table talks and elsewhere, that argues for the neccessity of such an empire in terms of general geopolitical concerns and not exigency. My conclusion from this is that his actual attempt at empire is connected with his arguments in favour of such an empire, something that is backed by documention. Your conclusion seems to be that while he did at one point want an empire, he then changed his mind completely, only to be forced into seeking it anyway, if only hestitantly, reluctantly and temporarily. Perhaps you would consider some of the following questions:

1. When did his dramatic change of heart and political vision take place?
2. What prompted this extraordinary reversal of geopolitical orientation?
3. Why did he keep saying things and ordering policies reflecting his original views long after changing them?
4. Where, if not in MK, is the documentation expounding limited goals in Europe? I have never seen it, and "I think"s and "he did"s simply won't cut it.

And I finally figured out the quote thing. Oh well.

cheers

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Post by viriato » 08 Jul 2002 14:30

To Qvist:

I have very much enjoy your both posts on this thread so far. But you wrote something I don't agree with:

I would be extremely surprised if you were able to find a single statement, public or private, to the effect that Germany's economic power neccessitated an anti-German foreign policy. For one, I can't recall Britain ever regarding the United States as a threat even though she was an economic competitor of far greater potential than Germany.


1-In 1914 the European powers were diplomatically engaged mainly in the rivalry between them. As so they paid little attention to what could be happening in the rest of the world except on the realm of their colonial politics. They had a rather eurocentric vision of the world politics. The USA was secondary in their thoughts.

2-The XIX century wars in which the UK took part against the USA (both directely -1812- and indirectely -Civil War-) were a fiasco for her.

3-The Atlantic is a physical barrier greater than the North Sea. Germany is a neighbour unlikely the USA.

4-Germany was an immediate rival in what was the major preoccupation of the UK: economics and commerce. The development of the German economy and its export-driven economy was putting the british against the wall and in a few more years, if the same pace of divergence between Germany and the UK were to consolidate, Germany would have become the prime country in Europe.

5-The USA was primary an exporter of agricultural products and in this diverged from Germany which was an exporter primary of industrial products. Moreover the UK was in need of those agricultural products. In a way the UK was now (mildly) dependent of the USA for its own feeding.

6-Prior to WW1 the UK had already realised the futility of meddling in the politics of the USA, and had by then reached a good relationship with her old colony.

7-The use of the same language by the UK and the USA in a era when this was becoming increasingly important led to a kind of friendship between the two countries.

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Post by Qvist » 08 Jul 2002 15:04

Hello Viriato.

4-Germany was an immediate rival in what was the major preoccupation of the UK: economics and commerce. The development of the German economy and its export-driven economy was putting the british against the wall and in a few more years, if the same pace of divergence between Germany and the UK were to consolidate, Germany would have become the prime country in Europe.

5-The USA was primary an exporter of agricultural products and in this diverged from Germany which was an exporter primary of industrial products. Moreover the UK was in need of those agricultural products. In a way the UK was now (mildly) dependent of the USA for its own feeding.


You are of course right that there was economic rivalry between Britain and Germany. But by 1914, Germany had long since surpassed Britain as an economic power, and was undisputedly the prime country in Europe in that regard. You are also quite right in pointing out that there were many reasons why the growth of US economic power did not lead to a strained relationship with Britain.

However - what I am arguing against is a view that economic rivalry was at the core of Anglo-German relations, making confrontation inevitable. There is IMO little to support such a view. Histories of the foreign relations of the period, such as those by Taylor and Kissinger, point to different concerns than these, mainly those connected with security policy in a restrictive sense of the word. Britain sought rapprochment with Germany as a counterweight to colonial threats from Russia and France, and later with Germany's enemies only when these threats had subsided and Germany had embarked on a policy of Naval armament and political confrontation, made more worrying by the general growth of German power. Part of this power was the economic aspect, but this does not mean that economic power in itself was regarded as a vital threat to Britain. Indeed, precisely the fact that relations with an economically nascent USA only improved, despite a far bigger threat to relative British economic influence than that posed by Germany, indicates that economic power was perceived as a real threat requiring foreign policy countermeasures only when and if it coincided with a perceived threat of a more general nature. Such a perceived threat was found from the German side, but not from that of the US.

And I don't think the US agricultural exports point quite holds good. Firstly, Britain, while certainly dependent on imports of food, were not specifically dependent on the United States as an exporter - there were plenty of other suppliers, such as Argentina, Russia, Australia and their own empire. Secondly, whatever the profile of American exports at a given point in time, analysts in London were not so short-sighted as to ignore the general outlook of and potential of the American economy - and it was clear, and was realised in London, that this pointed inexorably towards future American primacy in all areas of export economy and finance.

cheers

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Foreign Policy...

Post by Scott Smith » 09 Jul 2002 12:37

Hi Qvist,

Before WWI, Germany was a competitor with Britain for the markets of quality industrial goods. The economic system of the times was mercantilism. The empire imported raw materials and foodstuffs from colonies (including the USA) and exported finished-goods to (captive) markets. After WWI and the war-debts, New York seized the torch from London as the world's financial capital.

By WWII, Germany was eclipsing Great Britain industrially but England was earning a great deal of income from the ownership of paper, which actually made her economy slightly bigger than the Reich's. In other words, a traditional mercantile economy was giving way to a modern finance economy in Britain, and Germany was seen as a financial market to be exploited like any other.

Hitler's Germany understood that she must have control of her own financial markets and unimpeded access to others. Germany must export or die. Germany had no gold reserves. No problem! She issued currency by fiat--because work gives currency value not gold (the same principle used today). Instead of using British capital, Germany employed a barter system to obtain, for example, Romanian wheat--a modified mercantilism.

The goal of Democracy-Capitalism is to widen world financial markets. British high-finance and American high-finance got along well because they were not really competitors; they had the same Anglophile, elitist class backgrounds. They will adopt an international specialization-of-labor if they can, but during the Depression national tariff walls went up and Germany, with its economic nationalism, was seen as more than just a simple trade competitor.

No, Kissinger would probably not employ an economic approach to diplomatic history, but an economic historian might. Lenin is one example. Keynes and Galbraith might be others. I no longer have many of my old textbooks and my memory slips. Anyway, economic motivations are best viewed in the long term, whether these are articulated into immediate security issues or not.

Hitler was very much concerned about economic sovereignty. Steps were taken against land speculation and to protect German farming. A nation which could build Krupp guns would not get very far in wartime if it had to import food through a blockade. But Hitler was not an "economic isolationist." That was not how he viewed his Autarky.

Adolf Hitler wrote:For many years the German people have been trying to make better commercial treaties with their neighbours and thus to bring about a more active exchange of goods. And these efforts have not been in vain; for, as a matter of fact, German foreign trade has increased since 1932, both in volume and in value. This is the clearest refutation of the assertion that Germany is pursuing a policy of economic isolation.

Adolf Hitler: Speech to the Reichstag on German Foreign Relations. January 30, 1937.


Best Regards,
Scott

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Foreign Policy...

Post by Scott Smith » 09 Jul 2002 12:39

Hi Qvist,

Before WWI, Germany was a competitor with Britain for the markets of quality industrial goods. The economic system of the times was mercantilism. The empire imported raw materials and foodstuffs from colonies (including the USA) and exported finished-goods to (captive) markets. After WWI and the war-debts, New York seized the torch from London as the world's financial capital.

By WWII, Germany was eclipsing Great Britain industrially but England was earning a great deal of income from the ownership of paper, which actually made her economy slightly bigger than the Reich's. In other words, a traditional mercantile economy was giving way to a modern finance economy in Britain, and Germany was seen as a financial market to be exploited like any other.

Hitler's Germany understood that she must have control of her own financial markets and unimpeded access to others. Germany must export or die. Germany had no gold reserves. No problem! She issued currency by fiat--because work gives currency value not gold (the same principle used today). Instead of using British capital, Germany employed a barter system to obtain, for example, Romanian wheat--a modified mercantilism.

The goal of Democracy-Capitalism is to widen world financial markets. British high-finance and American high-finance got along well because they were not really competitors; they had the same Anglophile, elitist class backgrounds. They will adopt an international specialization-of-labor if they can, but during the Depression national tariff walls went up and Germany, with its economic nationalism, was seen as more than just a simple trade competitor.

No, Kissinger would probably not employ an economic approach to diplomatic history, but an economic historian might. Lenin is one example. Keynes and Galbraith might be others. I no longer have many of my old textbooks and my memory slips. Anyway, economic motivations are best viewed in the long term, whether these are articulated into immediate security issues or not.

Hitler was very much concerned about economic sovereignty. Steps were taken against land speculation and to protect German farming. A nation which could build Krupp guns would not get very far in wartime if it had to import food through a blockade. But Hitler was not an "economic isolationist." That was not how he viewed his Autarky.

Adolf Hitler wrote:For many years the German people have been trying to make better commercial treaties with their neighbours and thus to bring about a more active exchange of goods. And these efforts have not been in vain; for, as a matter of fact, German foreign trade has increased since 1932, both in volume and in value. This is the clearest refutation of the assertion that Germany is pursuing a policy of economic isolation.

Adolf Hitler: Speech to the Reichstag on German Foreign Relations. January 30, 1937.


Best Regards,
Scott

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Post by Qvist » 09 Jul 2002 13:04

Anyway, economic motivations are best viewed in the long term, whether these are articulated into immediate security issues or not.


Well, Scott - I'm certainly no economist. But in any case, if it was the case that concerns of economic competition had a decisive impact on foreign policy, these concerns would be articulated in foreign policy terms and reflected in the analysis underlying foreign policy decisions. And they don't seem to be. If they are not articulated into security issues, then they have no effect on the security policy of the state in question, in which case they are irrelevant to the issues we have been discussing here.

The economic system of the times was mercantilism.


Actually, I think you'll find that in economic history, the 17th and 18th centuries are what is referred to as the period of mercantilism. The period in question here, the late 19th and early 20th century, is usually referred to as the period of Liberalism.

By WWII, Germany was eclipsing Great Britain industrially but England was earning a great deal of income from the ownership of paper, which actually made her economy slightly bigger than the Reich's.


Germany eclipsed Britain industrially well before World War I.

Hitler's Germany understood that she must have control of her own financial markets and unimpeded access to others. Germany must export or die. Germany had no gold reserves. No problem! She issued currency by fiat--because work gives currency value not gold (the same principle used today). Instead of using British capital, Germany employed a barter system to obtain, for example, Romanian wheat--a modified mercantilism


Well, the analyses I've seen of pre-war Third Reich economy - which BTW is a throroughly fascinating subject - tells me that the German economy in this period, unlike before Hitler, was not export-driven, but on the contrary fundamentally dominated by internal investment, mainly directly or indirectly related to rearmament. This left precious little capacity for export. This again created fiscal and currency difficulties, because the economy was dependent on imports of certain raw materials, which had to be paid for through exports. This again neccessitated stern and strategic control of foreign currency and foreign trade, various financial manipulative steps and even barter, to sidestep the whole currency problem.

They will adopt an international specialization-of-labor if they can, but during the Depression national tariff walls went up and Germany, with its economic nationalism, was seen as more than just a simple trade competitor.


You haven't been overreading Werner Sombart or Oswald Spengler by any chance? :)

Hitler was very much concerned about economic sovereignty. Steps were taken against land speculation and to protect German farming. A nation which could build Krupp guns would not get very far in wartime if it had to import food through a blockade. But Hitler was not an "economic isolationist." That was not how he viewed his Autarky.


Yes - Hitler did see economics entirely as an aspect of security policy in the wide sense of the word. This was central to his geopolitical thought.

One last thing - a critic at Hitlers 1937 speech might have pointed out that while it was true that German foreign trade had increased in volume and value since 1932 (incidentally, not a very difficult point from which to rise), it had increased far less than the overall growth rate of the German economy. And, regarding the issue of whether or not the German economy was export-driven, what does this tell us?

cheers

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Additional Points...

Post by Scott Smith » 09 Jul 2002 13:09

Qvist wrote:I frankly find it a bit difficult to follow you. You advocate war in 1938, while at the same time advocating a more patient foreign policy to avoid war.

I'm sorry that you don't follow me. I don't "advocate" anything. In retrospect, the only chance Hitler realistically had of winning WWII short of building an atomic bomb was to go to war in 1938 when the only real opposition was his own General Staff, which he could have liquidated for treason and solved later problems. Failing that move, he should have pursued a cautious policy of shrewd diplomacy.

Simultaneously you extol the virtues of a policy of "expansion based on German ethnic self-determination". I was unaware, by the way, that Hitler at this time had become a convert to Wilsonianism as a staunch defender of the principle of ethnic self-determination.

It's right in Hitler's 25 Points!

He saw that the Achilles heel of the Versailles treaty was its self-determination of peoples (except Germans). The real reason for promoting all these petit-nationalisms was to encircle Germany and dissolve other empires, of course. By insisting that self-determination apply to GERMAN ethnicities he was able to dismantle that encirclement at Munich--and it would have worked in the Danzig corridor as well if he had not overstepped in asserting German hegemony against the rump Czech state afterward--which still doesn't mean that the self-determination of Danzigers and other oppressed German minorities was not a legitimate grievance. But Hitler had cashed in moral capital, and in diplomacy you must have a long standing relationship of trust or you will always need shocktroops standing by. Against smooth and snake-oily Anglo-Saxon diplomats Hitler preferred real soldiers. But that's not my problem.

And you need to decide what it's going to be - a policy of expansion based on German ethnic self-determination, or a policy seeking the reversal of the Versailles treaty, because they certainly do not imply the same thing.

As I've tried to explain on another thread, it is not merely the *reversal* of Versailles, or 1914 borders or whatnot, but the reversal of what Versailles entails. And that is a means to encircle Germany diplomatically and contain Germany economically and to prevent her from reclaiming superpower status.

To that end Germany cannot be held hostage to an economic blockade or boycott or foreign loans but must instead be able to claim economic sovereignty. As an equal among nations and not as a Versailles war-criminal, she must have equal access to markets--what the capitalist powers claim are free for the competition. No mercantilism here; if you wanted to sell goods in Germany you had to buy German goods. I wish I could find the 1919 propaganda poster showing the wartime Hun who "will want to sell you his German goods after the war."

But the more embroiled Germany became in a Second World War, the more her demand for resources, labor, and markets inside her own cordon sanitaire. War-industry throughout Axis Europe was put onto a sort of Zollverein that continues in a sense to this day in the form of the EEC. The theory after the war was that with the means of making war (coal and steel) not controlled by their host nations but by a supranational consortium, warfare among nation-states would become impossible. There's some merit to this idea, if the heterogenous Europeans can ever pull off a union.

Best Regards,
Scott

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Economic Imperatives....

Post by Scott Smith » 09 Jul 2002 13:28

Qvist wrote:
Scott wrote:By WWII, Germany was eclipsing Great Britain industrially but England was earning a great deal of income from the ownership of paper, which actually made her economy slightly bigger than the Reich's.

Germany eclipsed Britain industrially well before World War I.

Yes, but prior to WWII German industry barely eclipsed Great Britain but the British economy was greater because of paper assets and income from that.

One last thing - a critic at Hitlers 1937 speech might have pointed out that while it was true that German foreign trade had increased in volume and value since 1932 (incidentally, not a very difficult point from which to rise), it had increased far less than the overall growth rate of the German economy. And, regarding the issue of whether or not the German economy was export-driven, what does this tell us?

I'm not trying to argue that the Third Reich was laissez-faire or anything other than economic nationalist.

It was not, however, "economic isolationist," as critics blamed. And I submit that this notion and practice of German economic sovereignty was no different a motivation for war on the part of the British than in WWI when "cheap German goods" were the problem. No economy was more threatened by Germany than the British from 1871-1939.

My ideas on economic imperialism certainly don't come from Spengler, who eschewed economics, although I have read him.

Best Regards,
Scott

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