“Shared Threat Perception”

By Pascal Lottaz

This article first appeared in german on Nachdenkseiten
Photo by Yannes Kiefer on Unsplash

In its latest issue, the “Zeitschrift für Innere Führung” of the German Bundeswehr published a call to increase the perception of threat from Russia among the German public, with the aim of strengthening Germany’s loyalty to NATO’s Eastern member states. The author employs various euphemisms and scientific studies on public opinion to advocate for an effective, anti-Russian communication campaign. On the eve of the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, hawks in Germany are trying to revive an old enemy.

Warmongering in Germany is gaining momentum. This may sound drastic, but what was recently published by the “Zeitschrift für Innere Fürhung” (Journal for Inner Leadership) (IF), the magazine of the Information and Media Center of the Bundeswehr, can’t be described in any other way. Under the title “Vulnerable Flank: On the Loyalty of Germans to the Alliance” political scientist Timo Graf called openly for an anti-Russian policy and political propaganda.

In the article, Graf discusses the willingness of Germans to come to the aid of Eastern NATO allies in the event of a Russian attack or a “Russian threat” (the article does not clarify the difference or how to interpret “threat”). Graf criticizes the low willingness of Germans to show loyalty to the alliance. Despite 70 percent of the population generally agreeing with the NATO principle of “all for one, one for all,” according to his article, only 40 percent are willing to use military force in the event of a military conflict between an Eastern alliance partner and Russia.

Aside from the fact that Graf assumes as a matter of course that Russia is an aggressive, hostile state, he argues that Germans lack “solidarity,” which he sees as a problem because “solidarity forms the foundation of NATO—and thus the security of Europe.” The political scientist from the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr (ZMSBw) quickly finds a reason for the German population’s unsocial attitudes: the “lack of a Russia-threat perception” in large parts of the population. It can be demonstrated scientifically, he holds, that Russia-threat perception correlates with the willingness to support German NATO operations in the East.

From these simplistic theses, Graf derives recommendations for action with chilling logic in order to remedy the lack of solidarity: “…in particular, German citizens should be conveyed the reason for a return to national and alliance defense: the military threat from Russia.” The pinnacle of euphemisms in the article is Graf’s observation that a “shared understanding of threats” is essential for alliance solidarity. It is the old idea of an “enemy bogeyman”—packaged poetically and politically correct.

It should be alarming that a German state magazine is promoting the escalation of public fear of Russia. Exactly 80 years after Germany’s war of aggression against the Soviet Union, calls for intensified creation of a Russian enemy image are becoming socially acceptable once again. Unfortunately, it seems to be a sign of the times, as evidenced by the hateful journalistic reactions of the mainstream media to Vladimir Putin’s reconciliatory article in Die Zeit, as noted by RT and the Nachdenkseiten. The idea that Putin—and by extension, Russia—is a “killer,” as propagated by the US President is an accepted narrative and, according to Graf, should now be complemented by a “shared threat perception.” When this internal attitude of German hawks is coupled with the ongoing escalation spiral in Eastern EU states, where Baltic nations as well as Poland reject any reconciliation with Russia to the extent that they even torpedoed Macron and Merkel’s proposal for an EU summit with Putin, it creates an explosive mixture for warmongering within Germany, the EU, and NATO. Russia (and China), as emphasized at the recent NATO summit, is the new (old) enemy, and the population must be made aware of this, otherwise the prospects for accepting further armament and escalation in the East are not favorable.

One can only hope that the forces of de-escalation within the EU will be strong enough to refute the forthcoming rhetoric of fear and to seek a future with Russia in the common European house, as Gorbachev once intended. It is time for a perestroika of European relations with Russia.