Apparently a new round of discussion on strategic depth is in full swing. Contributions by Ejaz Haider and Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani in this newspaper in the last few days are leading the way. I agree with both of them, that it is not the word that matters but the concept behind it. And as always, there are many ways of defining a concept. I would therefore like to add a few thoughts from a European and a German point of view.
There was a time not long ago when Germany, too, was seeking strategic depth — in Eastern Europe, although Adolf Hitler did not use that term. He called it ‘Lebensraum im Osten’ (Living space in the East) and it was probably one of the most violent and unsuccessful military and political concepts in the world. When Hitler attacked Stalin in 1940 as a consequence, he overlooked that Russia had much more strategic depth due to its geography than anybody else, despite its economic weakness and many other shortcomings. At the same time, the German army was involved in fights at the western front as well. The result is known: a total defeat and the end of the German empire in 1945.
Nowadays, there is a more contemporary and more benevolent concept of strategic depth available, designed by the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. It is based on the assumption that Turkey, through a variety of means, can develop from a peripheral state into a regional power in the Middle East and Central Asia. It is important to note that this concept has come about as a result of a very successful economic policy carried out by the leading AK Party (Justice and Development Party) that made Turkey a role model for many countries in the region. It is not based primarily on military strength. On the contrary, the AK Party needed to push back the influence of the Turkish army in order to yield the soft power, as a democracy, that is characteristic of the country today.
When the military was still in the driver’s seat, it knew very well that Turkey alone would not be able to play a dominant role and it sought close cooperation with the US and access to the European Union. Unfortunately, as a result of fear and narrow-mindedness, Europe lost out on forging this new strategic alliance. And Turkey took on another path. Critics accuse Ankara under the AK Party of pursuing a neo-imperial approach aimed at reviving the Ottoman Empire. It remains to be seen if the more aggressive foreign policy that Turkey has taken on in the last few years will do the country any good.
Post-war Germany, in comparison, was forced to follow a very different strategy. After it lost much of its territory, it had to acknowledge that it is a middle power that cannot dominate Europe. It therefore focused on rebuilding relations with former enemies through confidence building measures, economic cooperation and total restraint from military adventurism. Chancellor Willi Brandt’s ‘Warsaw Genuflection’ in 1970 was part of this new humility. As was the gesture of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterand in 1984, holding hands over the graves of 300,000 victims of the longest battle between France and Germany in World War I, in the French city of Verdun. One could argue that humility and realism come easy to the defeated. Which is true. But it is also said that pride goes before a fall.
I leave it to the imagination of my readers what this would mean for Pakistan and India. But I do not want to imagine what our friends in Paris or Warsaw would say if Berlin would announce tomorrow that it is seeking strategic depth or that is has ‘long-term interests’ in France, Poland or Denmark and the Netherlands for that matter. Post-war Germany’s realistic assessment of its size and strategic requirements did not only lead to an unparallel period of more than 60 years of peace in Europe. It also allowed Germany to rebuild its shattered economy, become one of the wealthiest nations in the world and gain back its unity after 45 painful years of division. This is much more than we could have hoped for.
Britta Petersen is Country Director of the Heinrich-Boell-Stiftung Pakistan based in Lahore.
This article was first published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2011.
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