For Wolfgang Ischinger, former chairman of the Munich Security Conference, the state of transatlantic relations is in good shape at the moment, although whether we will have the stamina to stay the course is uncertain. In a Global Stage interview with Ian Bremmer, he seems more concerned about US war fatigue than the Europeans – despite the EU having Viktor Orbán and Germany finding it difficult to cut off Russian gas. One lesson Ischinger learned from the current crisis is that Europe needs to have America’s back on China, especially with Taiwan. And he calls German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent foreign policy reversals “going out the window”.
Ian Bremmer: With my friend Wolfgang Ischinger here at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Wolfgang, then state of transatlantic relations today, from the point of view of Davos, what do you think?
Wolfgang Ischinger: Good shape. Better than any time in recent memory. If we had had a Davos a year ago, we would have been talking about the debacle in Afghanistan, et cetera. We are in good shape now. NATO is basically on the right track, the European Union has surprisingly not collapsed. I think my only concern is whether it is correct to assume that this war in Ukraine will last not weeks but months, are we going to be healthy three, six, nine months later? This is my concern. Will we have the stamina to stay the course?
Ian Bremmer: Now, ask; to the extent that war fatigue begins to set in over time, and again, I think most people assume this isn’t going to end anytime soon.
Wolfgang Ischinger: Exactly.
Ian Bremmer: Does it come first from Europeans or Americans? And why?
Wolfgang Ischinger: Well, let’s talk about America for a moment. You have an election coming up, a midterm election, and I’m not sure the average American voter will like the idea of paying more for gas and spending more money on shipments to the stranger, etc., etc. So I was a bit worried about the longer-term American commitment. In Europe, I think at the moment we are in good shape, but of course we have these outliers. We have Viktor Orban.
Ian Bremmer: Hungary.
Wolfgang Ischinger: We have Hungary, and we have a few other partners who have special interests. Germany has its own problem with gas. I would like to be able to say that in six weeks or in 12 weeks we will be able to reduce gas imports from Russia. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to do, and I feel sorry for those in my own government who have to answer this urgent question from our Ukrainian partners. When are you going to stop funding the Russian aggression war by continuing to buy this stuff? But again, it won’t help if Germany cuts its gas imports now. With the obvious and obvious consequence of a major recession, then of course the German general public’s commitment to our Ukrainian resolve will surely diminish. And whose interests would we serve with that? So it’s really a dilemma.
Ian Bremmer: And the Americans and Europeans have had a diversionary outlook on Russia for a while now aligning. They also had a diversionary outlook on China for some time.
Wolfgang Ischinger: Yes. Yeah.
Ian Bremmer: Are they now aligned?
Wolfgang Ischinger: I think there is a lesson that we Europeans are learning. We cannot ignore that the United States is facing a huge problem, a potential problem with China, with the Taiwan question, etc. And we can’t leave the United States alone in this. In other words, we need to understand that even though it’s thousands of miles away, it’s in our interest to get involved. Maybe not militarily, we don’t have the military capabilities, but certainly politically, and we need much closer coordination between Washington and Brussels, and Berlin and Paris on China.
Ian Bremmer: And Olaf Scholz so far, when you saw that initial speech that he gave, the turning point speech that he gave, did that reflect for you a new strategic vision for Germany? Is this a new generation for Germany in politics or is it more modest than that?
Wolfgang Ischinger: No. It was a major decision. Listen, essential elements of established German foreign policy have gone down the chimney.
Ian Bremmer: We would say out the window.
Wolfgang Ischinger: By the window.
Ian Bremmer: But it seems more definitive, if it’s down the chimney.
Wolfgang Ischinger: By the window. The idea on which we have been preaching for many years, the future partnership with Russia; through the window, it is no longer possible. The idea of a security order for all of Europe, including Russia; by the window. In other words, for no country has this Russian attack on Ukraine produced deeper cuts and the need for a total overhaul of our foreign policy. The problem for Olaf Scholz is not that he gave the wrong speech. The problem for him is that it’s not so clear that all of his supporters in his own party agree with his rhetoric-
Ian Bremmer: The Social Democrats.
Wolfgang Ischinger: And with the consequences of spending another hundred billion on defense, and to meet the 2% defense target in the future, etc. So he has to fight this internal political fight, not against the opposition, which supports him, but against his party.
Ian Bremmer: Americans have been saying for a long time, how come the Europeans don’t sacrifice the Germans? The Europeans are sacrificing more this time around. There is no question.
Wolfgang Ischinger: Yes. Absolutely.