28
June 2024
Past Event
Germany and the World: A Foreign Policy Conversation with State Secretary Thomas Bagger

Event will also air live on this page.

 

Inquiries: msnow@hudson.org

Germany and the World: A Foreign Policy Conversation with State Secretary Thomas Bagger

Past Event
Hudson Institute
June 28, 2024
An F-16 fighter jet takes off from Schleswig-Holstein, Jagel, on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Caption
An F-16 fighter jet takes off from Schleswig-Holstein, Jagel, on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images)
28
June 2024
Past Event

Event will also air live on this page.

 

Inquiries: msnow@hudson.org

Speakers:
sts-bagger-bild.jpg
Thomas Bagger

State Secretary, German Foreign Ministry

Peter Rough Hudson Institute
Peter Rough

Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Europe and Eurasia

Listen to Event Audio

In the quarter century after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, reunified Germany grew steadily more confident and powerful as the preeminent country in Europe. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has shattered much of that confidence, forcing the country to undertake a pivot as expressed in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement of a zeitenwende, or watershed moment.

But what, exactly, has changed in Germany’s foreign policy outlook? Is the change in Berlin’s attitude toward Russia specifically, or in its stance on economic interdependence and dialogue as a pacifying force more generally? How applicable is zeitenwende to Germany’s attitude toward the Middle East, particularly Iran, or East Asia, particularly China? What about the military rearmament of the Bundeswehr?

There are few Germans better placed to answer these and other questions than Ambassador Thomas Bagger, the state secretary of the German Foreign Ministry. Ambassador Bagger is the author of a much-discussed 2019 essay in the Washington Quarterly, “The World According to Germany: Reassessing 1989,” and is considered one of the country’s leading public intellectuals and foreign policy professionals.

Please join Senior Fellow Peter Rough as he welcomes Ambassador Bagger to Hudson for a discussion on Germany’s foreign and security outlook today.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Peter Rough:

Good morning and welcome to Hudson Institute. My name is Peter Rough. I'm a senior fellow here and director of our center on Europe and Eurasia, and it's my absolute pleasure and privilege to welcome to the stage one of the big brains in German foreign policy, Thomas Bagger. Thomas Bagger has a long and distinguished career in the German Federal Foreign Office. He began when the capitol was still in Bonn in the early 1990s in the foreign service in Germany. Has had a variety of positions over the years, including most recently as ambassador to Poland, and now a staatssekretär, which I think loosely translates to something like under secretary or a deputy secretary in the German system in Berlin.

And it's a real pleasure to have you here. I would also commend to all of you the PC penned in 2019 for the Washington Quarterly, which we've linked to in the announcement and event description at hudson.org. It's a deep thought piece about Germany's position in the world, and raises a variety of questions of German's assumptions about where it stands in the international arena, and what really makes up the stuff of foreign policy. So I would commend that to all of you. But first, Thomas Bagger, welcome to Hudson Institute.

Thomas Bagger:

Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

Peter Rough:

My pleasure. And hello also to all of you watching on C-SPAN, not just on our live stream at hudson.org, but joining us from around the country for this conversation. Now, what I didn't mention in that biography is that in 2005, 2006, at the German embassy here in Washington, where you were posted, you tracked American domestic politics. I, at the time was working, and I'll out myself here, at the Republican National Committee and the research staff. We could spend a full hour talking about last night's debate, but we won't do that because we're here for foreign policy. Although I might tempt you with a question here or there. So let me take you across the pond to Berlin and begin with a very basic question, and that is, how do you understand, and what exactly is this word that Olaf Scholz coined in the days after Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine, zeitenwende, or watershed moment?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, thank you first of all for the opportunity to talk about Germany, and how it looks at the world, and what the world looks like from Berlin, and where that might or might not link with American perspectives, and turn into practical cooperation as it did in decades past with the United States. Olaf Scholz coined this word of the zeitenwende, which I think captured not just a policy shock, but also an emotional feeling. Something that my foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, described as “We woke up in a different world on February 24th, 2022.” And I think when I think about it, for me, and you alluded to that article which went back to the lessons we drew from the fall of the wall in November 89, and how it shaped our thinking about the world and Germany's place in it. To me, the zeitenwende marked by February 24, 2022, Russia's attack on Ukraine, is like the bookend to the 9th of November 1989.

You can define other ones. There were shocks in between. There were sort of the stuff that I tried to capture in this article, which was written in late 2018, with the inkling of a changing world, but not really with a full grasp of what we're in today. But I think in German thinking, looking back, it will mark the bookend of 32 good years for Germany, essentially. And now what does zeitenwende mean? It means the shattering of some fundamental German assumptions about the world and foreign policy, Germany's place in Europe and the world. It marks significant policy shifts, first of all, and that was the immediate context of the chancellor's zeitenwende use, a massive investment in our own defense, in our military capabilities, which had been neglected over decades, as part of the peace dividend.

But I think it has a broader meaning and a broader context, because it is about other policy challenges as well, the future of the German economic model, the future of the German industrial strength, the future of the car, automotive industry, under the dual pressure from digitization and the transition to electric vehicles. It is about the broader transformation to a carbon-free economy, but it is also a mental shift. In the end it means reexamining some fundamental assumptions about, for example, economic interactions with the rest of the world. For three decades, we expanded these interactions because we believed that that was not just the source of our prosperity, it was also a tool or a means to improve efficiency around the world, spread prosperity around the world, and thereby create a political effect as well. And a lot of that is under renewed scrutiny today.

Peter Rough:

So zeitenwende is not just a new German understanding of Russia, but it's a new German understanding of foreign policy writ large.

Thomas Bagger:

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I think. . .  Russia is at the core of that transformation and of that change in thinking, because it was the most blatant proof that some of our long held assumptions simply did not hold up to reality. And I'm not talking about an illusionary German idea of transforming Russia into a democracy. That was long gone. But there was still a belief that the mutual dependency, as we looked at it, the mutual stake in that energy relationship would contribute to a more restrained and more predictable foreign policy, also on the Russian side. And that was simply wrong in hindsight. So that's the most immediate change, but I think the changes go far beyond that. And one of the. . .  I think if you broaden it a little that you look at economic interactions with the rest of the world, not solely through a prosperity and efficiency prism, but also through a prism of dependencies, vulnerabilities, and the question of what kind of security premium do you actually have to add to your economic interactions in order to make sure that you're not too vulnerable, and that you safeguard your own security.

Peter Rough:

But that strikes me as having pretty significant implications also for Iran policy. No doubt. Because at least one of the, I think, governing assumptions of the JCPOA, of which Germany was a great champion, is that some sanctions relief and economic exchange with Iran might produce a more fruitful foreign policy relationship with the Iranians. Does that mean that we are seeing a fundamental paradigm shift on European attitudes towards Iran as well, or is that an unfair characterization? How would you put it, I should say?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, I think that we're certainly in a different stage in our relations with Iran today, and maybe this is a good day to talk about it as they have their presidential elections today in Iran, but the-

Peter Rough:

It's the only presidential election one's talking about in the US today.

Thomas Bagger:

Now, I was tempting you, but the hope of the JCPOA was, first and foremost to reign in Iran's nuclear program, which we still consider a major, major threat to Israel, but also to the international non-proliferation regime and to nuclear stability around the world. But you're right that there was a corollary to that, and that was the hope that with that agreement, however, limited to the nuclear question, that would open up a more constructive relationship between Iran and the region, Iran and the world. And that was part of the economic incentive to get the Iranians to the table and to sign. And that hope hasn't materialized, hasn't materialized in the immediate aftermath, and certainly not after the US withdrawal from the agreement, and in the years since.

So I think the hardliners in Iran have certainly had the upper hand. If you look at Germany's interaction with Iran today, our trade, I think is 40 percent down from even 2015 when the harshest set of sanctions, pre JCPOA, were in place. So we've gone downhill from there. We've just, the German government has just introduced in the European Union a proposal to list the Revolutionary Guard as a terror organization, on the basis of German court rulings that they were behind arson attacks on a synagogue in Germany, against Jewish institutions in Germany. So things where we clearly say “This is unacceptable. We have to act. We have to show them the limits.” It's not a constructive relationship at the time, but we still need to deal with the Iranian challenge. That's not a solution. That is an approach that we have that tries to send a signal to the Iranians that their behavior is not tolerated. But the reality is, as you know, also in the region, that we have to reckon with Iran's capabilities and it's sometimes incendiary actions.

Peter Rough:

There were some reporting that there has been disagreements between the Americans and the E3 on sensor resolution movement at the IAEA. What is our, setting aside the terror designation, which I would welcome and I think is important, what is our forward-leaning strategy to actually tackle the Iran nuclear weapons program as of right now? Do we have an Iran strategy as a West?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, we still have the remnants of the JCPOA, and we felt together with our E3 partners, Britain and France, that we should not let Iran get away with constantly not being in compliance with the parameters of the JCPOA, and that therefore, this board of governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency was a good occasion to put that in writing and to have a vote on it, that actually stipulates that Iran is in non-compliance with its own obligations. But that is just stating the obvious. That does not yet translate into a strategy of how we proceed. We will have the JCPOA in place until autumn next year. Since you alluded to an election campaign going on in this country, I don't have too high expectations that we will now sit down and devise a strategy on how to go forward and also how to leverage that expiration date next year. But we will have to do it at some point, also across the Atlantic.

Peter Rough:

But there are no rumblings of snapback, which is not an American option, but something that sits with the Europeans.

Thomas Bagger:

I think that is something we'll have to discuss then once the time has come, and once we have people around the table who realize that that is the next big issue that, also across the Atlantic, we have to define what we actually try to achieve.

Peter Rough:

Well, since you said something we have to discuss, I didn't even ask at the outset. You're here basically a week before the Washington Summit. Many officials will be traveling here from the Alliance next week, yet you're here this week. What brings you to Washington? What secret back room negotiations are you involved in that you want to tell us about?

Thomas Bagger:

It was not yesterday night's debate, although I did take advantage of a local flavor debate watching. No, I think the two biggest issues in foreign policy, Russia's continued war against Ukraine, and the situation in Gaza, and the confrontation of Israel and Hamas, and with all the risks of a wider regional war and broader escalation, those are the two things that occupy minds in Berlin. But as I could judge already in the last day and a half, also in Washington, we're very close on both of these issues that-

Peter Rough:

Close to solving them or close to escalation on the

Thomas Bagger:

We're close, between Washington and Berlin, in how we look at these conflicts, its origins, its risks, but also possible ways forward. And as with so many foreign policy problems, they don't lend themselves to solutions in the normal sense of the word. So we're working on them. And I've had a number of conversations that I'll continue this afternoon. And obviously the NATO summit is also part of those conversations. But I think we're on a good track there. Send a strong signal of support, continued support for Ukraine.

Thomas Bagger:

. . .  send a strong signal of support, continued support for Ukraine, send a strong signal that the alliance is committed to strengthen its deterrence and defense. And that European allies are actually having a good story to tell, Germany included. Which is when I talked about the transformation, not just in thinking but also in policy, this is the first year where we will go significantly above 2 percent of defense spending, spending almost $100 billion on defense and a lot of it on fresh procurement. That doesn't mean we have completed that transformation, but it's well underway and I think we have a good story to tell as the alliance.

Peter Rough:

Do you have confidence that when the next budget cycles hit with the spent, the $100 billion special fund that was announced and the obvious issues of court rulings in Germany, differences amongst the coalition, we can stay at the 2 percent? Did you detect that political will in your conversations with the decision makers in Berlin that defense will almost be ring-fenced at 2 percent and above?

Thomas Bagger:

Yeah, I would say two things to that. First, there is a clear political commitment among the three parties forming the current government, but also the conservative opposition that we were committed to sustaining 2 percent plus of GDP for defense spending in the future. And secondly, there's a realization sinking in over the last couple of months that what Russia has started as a war of aggression against Ukraine and about control of Ukraine's fate has morphed into a Russian military industrial mobilization that points to the willingness of a much larger confrontation against the West more generally and including the NATO alliance. And that therefore we have to be prepared for a much longer confrontation. And we have to not just think about how we can assist and help you Ukraine fight for its own freedom and independence, but also strengthen and reconstitute actually our own militaries by investing into armaments industries, production capacities across Europe.

That's what also happening in Germany. So that's one thing. I won't deny however, that this is going to be a tough challenge. And I think what you see for those of you who watch German politics a little closer, we're in the final weeks a very tough budget negotiation among the three parties. And since you alluded to Chancellor Scholz's speech in three days after Russia's aggression, so at the end of February two and a half years ago, what he did then was to say, “We need to invest more in our own defense and here's 100 billion euro extra fund to do that.” But this did not address the difficult question of tough trade-offs. If you do that, if you spend more on defense, where do you take it from if you can't pluck it from the air?

And I think that's what we're now in the midst of in this situation of tough trade-offs on the political level. And that will be one of the first things on top of the desk of any new coalition after the September 2025 elections. Because if you want to have a sustained financing of the 2 percent for defense, you will have to come up with some tough trade-offs already in the coalition negotiations. Personally, I have given what I try to say about the realization of that broader and longer term threat from Russia, I have no doubt that that will happen, but it will not be pretty at every moment.

Peter Rough:

Well, we're having a similar debate in the US Senator Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee has a new plan out to go to 5 percent of GDP on defense. And I was just at a foreign policy retreat where the budget analysts then talked about entitlement spending and where the trade-offs might lie. And these are tough choices. We have some students with us today and so I want to have you help them with an exam question because you're well-placed to answer this. You worked as one of the closest of aids to the German president Frank-Walter Steinmeierdible. You've worked in the foreign ministry, you obviously have been in and out of the chancellery over the years.

When we watched German policy formulation, what is the interplay between those various actors? There's [Chefsachedible 00:20:14], there's Olaf Scholz, the chancellor, but then there's the minister that comes from a different party. Here in the US, Joe Biden can wake up and fire Tony Blinken like that. Emmanuel McCall can get rid of his foreign minister if he wants as well. It's not quite the same in Germany. How does that express itself in Germany's foreign policy and how does it work? You have to pass your own exam.

Thomas Bagger:

Yeah, no, there would be many stories to tell about that, but part of what has animated me over the years to sometimes write about German foreign policy and then publish it in English, write in English and publish it in an American journal is that over my three plus decades as a German diplomat, I've realized that what we do and how we do it is not always easy to read from the outside. And that's partly a language issue, but not only a language issue. And it's not only true for American observers from a distance coming from a presidential system where authority flows from the top and you have sort of government coherence is not always easy to achieve if you think of the interagency process. But that happens mostly behind closed doors. Whereas in Germany where we traditionally had a two party coalition, now we have a three party coalition where every party has its own political program.

And if you want to strengthen your political profile, it means you have to fight some of these fights also over the direction of foreign policy in public because you actually depend for your own political career, future survival, you depend on sharpening your own profile, then that creates a sense of meandering, internal contradictions, lack of coherence. Whereas in reality I would say it is part of that process that happens also in other systems, but mostly behind closed doors. And now there are reasons for that. The way our system is structured from the election system all the way to our federalism, strong regions lender with strong competencies of their own and then a federal government, a lot of that is a product of our own history and set up after the war to prevent the centralization of power, to mitigate the centralization of power. And so in a way, not just we Germans, but also the allies after the war have created a German system of governance that makes it deliberately more difficult to take quick and far-reaching decisions or to have a ship turn on a dime.

It's more like this is a tanker, this takes a while. Consensus building in German foreign policy is a much lengthier process. If you will, it's for the students, it's more of a Habermasian process. It's sort of a discourse that happens in a room where there is no central authority where you have to convince either the power of argument or by simply repeating discussions over time and nudging in a certain direction. So we've actually managed to in this government and after the shock of Russia's war to write the first ever national security strategy and pass it by consensus in the German cabinet a year ago. We've written the first ever China strategy and passed it by consensus in the government in the cabinet. But there are still different nuances that exist between a ministry of economy and trade, a ministry of digitization, the foreign ministry, the chancellery.

And to iron that out and to create a sense of direction, I sit in endless meetings among my state secretary, colleagues from other ministries trying to shape a consensus how these strategic orientations translate into single operational decisions of any consequence. In your system that would happen through the coordinating mechanism of a national security council. That is something we don't have in our system. And line ministries are far more independent in our system and far more responsible for their set of policies than in the American system.

Peter Rough:

Although the meetings are no less endless here.

Thomas Bagger:

And just last word on that, it's not just, as I said, it's not just difficult between sometimes from the US to understand why it takes so long or why one minister says this and the other minister says that. It's also between France and Germany actually, because they also, they look from their presidential system and they don't quite know are the Germans so difficult because they don't want to or because they cannot or what is the problem? Well, the problem is it's a difference setup that was designed from the beginning not to be rash and not to be radical. And we have to deal with that.

Peter Rough:

So you have a national security strategy, the first in your country's history, modern history, you have a China strategy. Do you think there'll be a Russia strategy written? And if so, what would it say?

Thomas Bagger:

I don't think there will be a Russia strategy written. I think you alluded to in the beginning, is the site vendor all about Russia or is it about other things as well? And I try to say it is first about Russia and it is the fundamental recognition that our assumption that there can only be security on the European continent with Russia is no longer valid. Not because it was an analytically crazy idea, but because Russia decided to define its own future, not just in opposition to the West, but actually an open conflict with the West and fighting it out over Ukraine. So that has moved the needle in the German debate to a position that says security in Europe can only be had against Russia for the foreseeable future.

And that means sort of divesting from Russia, investing more into our own strengths. We haven't managed as much as we tried, genuinely tried to shape Russia's behavior in a more constructive cooperative direction. We failed in that. Was that our fault? Was it their fault? That's for historians to judge. We have all have our own questions where we went wrong in the past, but I think there can be no doubt that the focus will no longer be, when we think about Russia, we will continue to think about Russia, but not through the prism of how do we sort of influence Russia's behavior by engaging with it. But how do we change Russia's calculus by investing into our own strengths? That's the Russia strategy.

Peter Rough:

Have you noticed an appreciable, I dare not say improvement, but change in relations or appreciation in Central Eastern Europe for Germany's new understanding of Russia?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, as you said, I spent one all too short year between the summer of '22 and '23 as German ambassador to Poland. And I got an earful of we told you so. But I think there is a recognition that the German perspective has changed, that we're actually investing a lot in strengthening the security and the collective defense guarantee of NATO, specifically in the Baltic States, specifically most of all in Lithuania with the buildup of a full combat brigade, German soldiers on Lithuanian soil. But because Poland is particularly dear to my heart, on Tuesday we'll have the first full government to government consultations between Germany and Poland in Warsaw, and there will be quite a comprehensive action plan to be adopted. And at the core of that is joint efforts to assist Ukraine and more joint efforts to strengthen and cooperate in security and defense. And I think that is much appreciated also because of the change of government in Poland. That's clearly, that has opened up space for more cooperation. But I think there's something for us-

Thomas Bagger:

. . .  space for more cooperation. But I think there's something for us to do to invest in that relationship because in many ways they perceive themselves to be the kind of frontline states of NATO like the West Germany I grew up in, in the 1980s.

Peter Rough:

Let's move to China. And there, as far as I can tell, the Juncker commission's tripartite approach to China, the systemic rival, strategic competitor, and opportunity partner, that remains basically still in place or that's still the guiding light of European policy, even if maybe the emphasis has shifted within it.

Number one, would you say that's true? And number two, this is the part that's always flummoxed me. Where do you see actual progress on the partnership front with China? And I asked that because when Ursula von der Leyendible was here at Hudson and we had a fireside chat similar to this, she raised the partnership as one component and I said, “Give me an area.” And she raised, as many do, climate change, for example.

And yet when I look at climate change, are there areas where Beijing has come forward or moved in our direction? What are we actually getting from that third part of the stool, so to speak? Another is global public health, but there, I mean, on account of COVID, it seems another area where the Chinese have been, at least to my viewing, pretty atrocious.

Thomas Bagger:

Yeah, no, well, on the first part of your question, I think we still employ these three categories, but I think it's quite clear that the emphasis has shifted from a focus on partnership and cooperation to more competition and even more rivalry.

But as I said, that also depends on the policy areas and therefore differs from ministry to ministry to some degree. But I think there is no doubt that we still profit from the economic interaction with China, which is . . .  you know the American numbers much better, which is an enormous economic relationship even though lopsided in trade, but it is still profitable for both sides. And that is also true in the German case, which is why we have focused in our own China strategy on saying we need to focus on what we call de-risking, reduce over dependencies, vulnerabilities from China as they have become obvious during the COVID crisis. How much of medical equipment, basic medical stuff like masks we've sourced only in China and suddenly were not available or only at elevated prices.

But then also on raw materials, increasingly this is relevant for technology questions. But this is a de-risking part that has many facets. Chinese inward and investment in German technology companies in Europe more broadly, but no decoupling. So no full rupture with China economically also because it would hurt our economy tremendously.

Now, we have based that China strategy very clearly on an analysis, and we've been as straightforward with the Chinese as possible in telling them, “Your behavior has changed.” China's approach to us, to its neighbors, to the international arena has changed in a way that forces us to revisit our own China policy. This is a reaction to your behavior. I found it quite interesting that when I go to Beijing, there's clearly an obsession with the United States. The US is behind everything that happens to China, and that extends far beyond the policy circles.

And the second argument then is a little more subdued, but it basically says, “And you Europeans, when you talk about de-risking, you do that because the Americans told you.” And we try to tell them, “This is sort of your judgment, but we can only tell you Europe has its own interests when it comes to China. And we're affected by Chinese actions in our own right. And so our policy, our China strategy, our changing approach is a reaction to your policies, to your actions.”

We're not on China. We're not America's poodle. We may agree with the Americans on many of these issues, especially on South China Sea, Chinese behavior that needs to respect international law, but not on everything. We don't look at China's challenge as a geopolitical challenge for primacy because we Europeans don't look at ourselves as number one. So that's not where the Chinese challenge us. They challenge us on technology, on economic issues, on trade issues, which are in the competence of the commission. So that's the dispute we're going through with China now.

But it says we have our own approach to China. Last word on the partnership dimension beyond the trade and economic partnership that we want to hold onto. I think you're right about some of the skepticism also on the climate change agenda because they're still holding onto a position where they try to say, “Well, we're big, but we're still a developing country, and so we don't have to commit to climate financing, for example, in order to make COP29 and Baku a success. This is for you in the west, the legacy emitters to do.”

And I think we have to continue to challenge them on that and to nudge them as much as we can. But I think what's driving our approach to trying to engage China as a partner on the climate change issues is that we won't come to a viable approach on the global level without China. But that doesn't mean that they're already there or that they're delivering better on that than they do on some of the other items on the agenda.

Peter Rough:

On the de-risking in particular, are you comfortable with the rate of progress? Are we moving quickly enough to where political informed policy coercion bordering on blackmail is not really a viable strategic option for the Chinese? Or is it more rhetoric and slow movement? Because sometimes just as a background, I think in the American context, this is regularly and permanently in the news, but it's like swimming through molasses on actually executing the steps sometimes. Because it is difficult. To your point, it's been decades since the end of the Cold War. We've built this globalized world of connectivity and on things from critical minerals to other supply chains. We've obviously grown reliant on others. Are we doing okay?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, I think we're moving in the right direction, and there are certain areas where we've moved quicker and more successfully than others. I think we've moved quicker on inward investment screening and also discouraging certain investments that would've happened a few years ago, but no longer happened today from the Chinese side. So you have a dramatic fall off in Chinese direct investment in Europe, and most of what is still coming in is in new electric vehicles. And most of that actually goes to Hungary as one of last openly welcoming countries with apparently no screening but rather incentives for more Chinese investment.

There are other areas where it's much tougher. I think specifically on raw materials . . .  There's only the water bottles. Raw materials dependence, I think we're mostly still in the process of figuring out how serious it actually is and where the options are and how expensive and complex they would be. And we don't have big extraction industry companies that could be activated or mobilized in that sense. I think that's more a matter of a decade, possibly more to move towards more independence. It's very interesting talk with the Japanese about that because they've created government instruments to help industry to open up new sources and make them viable also commercially.

In general, I think on de-risking, everyone knows what the general sense of direction is, but at the same time, it's a pretty vague concept that needs to be operationalized and translated into regulatory measures, policy measures, but also company decisions, business decisions. Not simply to bet on availability on a global market, but to say we need to be sure that we have access, so we need to be invested in that supply chain. And I don't think that there's an exact formula for that.

So I believe it's good to have a certain competition for the best approaches, but to constantly compare notes, not just between Washington and Berlin, but also among Europeans with the commission that has been developing a whole toolbox of dealing with the Chinese challenge on these issues. But also with the South Koreans and the Japanese, for example, where I was in February, which is very interesting conversations of how far they believe they are. But I believe this issue, this challenge of de-risking will not only stay with us through the next decade. It may also become more acute depending on the future trajectory of Chinese political action.

Peter Rough:

I think one area where I detect a nuanced . . .  disagreement is putting it too strongly, but difference maybe between the United States and Europe right now on China policy is on Russia's war in Ukraine. And maybe I'd put it this way. I think while both Europe and the US recognize that China's support for Russia is helping Russia in the war and to reconstitute its military, and here Secretary Blinken went to the NAC, briefed out to the press afterwards by now famous percentages, 70 percent machine tool, 90 percent microelectronics for the Russian War effort come from China.

But when they urged Europe to raise this with the Chinese in Beijing, where I think the Americans believe the Europeans have more leverage, the Europeans do that, but it's almost raised as an issue in the bilateral relationship and then the next issue in the bilateral relationship comes up and the issue after that. Rather than almost putting it at the center of the agenda where the argument is, you're sowing the seeds for the next great war in Europe and it will dramatically filter out into all aspects of our bilateral relationship.

Is that unfair? Does Europe have the urgency with China on the Russia/Ukraine front that it requires?

Thomas Bagger:

So when the chancellor went in mid-April to Beijing, he delivered what I think was a very clear message and at the very top of Chinese power, of the Chinese state to say in helping Russia in its military industrial efforts that undergird its war against Ukraine, China is . . .  what's the right word? Infringing. China is hurting German and European core interest. So deliberately couching it in terms the Chinese regularly use in order to push back when we make our statements on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, international waters and all of that.

The security of Europe and the defense of Ukraine against Russian aggression is a core interest of Germany and Europe, and that is something the Chinese need to understand. I think he made that unequivocally clear. And that this is not something that is already priced in as a mere loss of reputation of China in European public opinion, which maybe has not gone as far downhill as it has in American public opinion, but pretty far downhill compared to pre-COVID days.

So this is not already priced in. If and when China continues to violate Europe's core interest in security on the European continent, this will have an increasing cost on China. That's the message, and I think we'll have to deliver on that message to make it credible to the Chinese. The response we usually get from-

Thomas Bagger:

The response we usually get from China is, “We hear you,” but you have to understand that the Chinese-Russian relationship has been difficult in the past. It's very important to be functional and cooperative today, basically saying, “We'll continue to do what we have been doing. We respect the red line that we do not deliver lethal assistance to Russia's war, but anything below that threshold is fair game.” And we're telling them “That can no longer be the measure of what is acceptable to us, and it will have consequences for our relationship.” You can't isolate. You can't come to us and say, “This is a tragedy, but none of this will affect the excellent Chinese-German relationship.” Which is the kind of message they're trying to take to us.

And we have to turn that around and say, “That cannot be compartmentalized. If you continue to support Russia's war effort against Ukraine, that will have consequences also for our bilateral and European-Chinese relationship.” And I think that may be more forcefully articulated in the United States or from US officials, but I think it is pretty much a consensus in the German government as well. We'll have to translate it now into practical steps over the next month.

Peter Rough:

Since we have viewers from around the country on C-SPAN who might not be as familiar with Germany's involvement or support for Ukraine, can you talk a little bit about what Germany has done for Ukraine and why supporting Ukraine also matters to the United States? Or should matter to the United States?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, I think Ukraine's independence, Ukraine's freedom, also freedom to choose its own affiliation, its alliance should be of interest and of value also to the United States because if it is successfully violated there in Central Europe, it would set a dangerous precedent around the world. When I was in Poland, I heard a lot of reproaches that Poland was the first to help. Germany was a laggard in the beginning. I think if you look at what we've done, what we've mobilized for Ukraine over the past two years, it's a very significant effort to support on all levels. Military above all. Air defense is not just three Patriot systems, but a number of so-called IRIS- state-of-the-art, air defense systems that. . .  Not enough for Ukraine to protect its cities and its critical infrastructure, above all energy infrastructure, but a major contribution to at least be able to defend itself against Russian aggression.

Peter Rough:

And just in recent weeks, I think an announcement on that. . . 

Thomas Bagger:

An announcement on the third Patriot battery to be transferred, I think the seventh IRIS-T system, but also Germany trying to lead a coalition, what we call immediate action on air defense to try to mobilize with a view to the NATO summit, additional air defense batteries from around the world. Sort of urging partners from Japan to Romania, Netherlands, all the way to the US to help the Ukrainians to be able to defend their critical infrastructure in order to get through the next winter without power cuts. And to drive home the message to Putin that time is not on his side.

And honestly, I will admit that the Ukrainians have proven their own agency after Russia's aggression in a way that not only Putin had not expected, but many of us didn't either. So in a way, President Zelensky has managed with his team and his people to put Ukraine on our mental map in a way it was not there before. That is not only admirable, but it also deserves support.

We host up to 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees in Germany, which is one contribution. Poland and Germany and the Czech Republic are the top three host countries for Ukrainian refugees, displaced mostly from the east of Ukraine. We've delivered tens of billions in military aid, from tanks to air defense to just about everything, above all ammunition, that you could think of. We've just held what is called the Ukraine Recovery Conference, 2024 in Berlin two weeks ago. A major conference, more than 3000 participants, Secretary Pritzker from the US and a major US delegation in order to not just encourage investment, but in order to give Ukraine a sense of perspective so that their news is not only about the daily fight on the front lines, but it is about “Here's your future as a member of the European Union, as a country that can attract investment, as a country will be helped by its reconstruction and recovery efforts.”

I think that was a very, very successful signal, and we hope that the NATO summit will deliver its own clear message of support. I think it is really important to strengthen the Ukrainian position now in order then to allow the process that began in Switzerland with this Burgenstock Conference on peace for Ukraine to develop into a genuine diplomatic track at some point. But for that, Putin needs to understand that time is not on his side. And in all honesty, I not only think that there is a genuine American interest in the future of a free and independent Ukraine, but that also not only the Ukrainians, but also the Europeans will need continued American backing and support in order to make that happen and to ensure that that is our future.

Peter Rough:

One of the principle pillars of German foreign policy that we have not touched on is the European Union in the coming days, you just referenced Hungary, Viktor Orban takes over the European Council leadership. He's taken as his motto, “Make Europe Great Again.” What is happening within the European Union, which is to say, as Americans, I think we've experienced new political currents in recent years. There seemed to be similar ones in Europe. Are they related? Are they separate? Give us just a brief Europe 101, if you can, in the context of the European Union election.

Thomas Bagger:

We're not insulated from some of the trends that are indeed global. That new communication technology is changing the ways of political discourse in our open societies and our democracies. You can watch and analyze the tendencies towards polarization in many European societies. There's a widespread discontent also in European societies that then translates into different political movements. So you have stronger populist parties in Europe as well.

But if you look at the European elections just three weeks ago, as Europe always is, it's a union of 27 countries. You have a wide spectrum. In Denmark, the Green Party came out of the election suddenly as the strongest party. And most of Scandinavia, it was not the populists who won, it was moderates. In Poland, it was the center right, but not the populist right that had lost the elections last autumn, and again, in the European elections. But in other countries and above all in France, it was the populist right, and extreme right that carried the day in the European elections.

And that will create a challenge now with the French elections happening on Sunday and then the second round a week from this Sunday. And we'll have to deal with the consequences, live with the consequences, and shape the next political consensus out of it. But it's like a mobile. These parts are constantly moving. I don't see them moving only in one direction. I think that they're moving in many directions at the same time.

And the challenge around the European Council table, the table of the 27, where the 27 heads of state and government assembled yesterday to pick the new leadership team for the European Union and the European Commission. Every time they meet every four or six weeks, and in all the other council formations, you do exactly that. You're constantly shaping a new consensus that reflects the correlation of power, of political power, if you will, on the national level.

Peter Rough:

The Times are going to demarche you for that comment. Not secret about anything.

Thomas Bagger:

No, no, they won't. Okay.

Peter Rough:

Well, let's stay on this side of the Atlantic then with the last political question, and that is how Germany might see a Trump presidency. So I don't think it's any secret that you've had excellent ties with the Biden administration. There was a cable [foreign language 00:55:50] I think in May around the Nord Stream issue where the embassy cabled back. “Germany should be grateful because the Biden administration's prepared to take on confrontation with Congress over this issue.” Olaf Scholz sat down at the sidelines of the G7 in Apulia with I think JP Pugat from Bell Tefo, and talked about the close relations, and that he thinks President Biden can win reelection even. And under President Trump, it was, I think a tough going. I don't think that's any secret either.

Do you need a Trump strategy? Do you continue on as before trying to create more capability and ability and investing properly, and then there's a change of leadership is what it is? Or how do you think about it in Berlin?

Thomas Bagger:

Well, I think the relationship with the United States in all honesty is so critically important, not just to us, but to basically every country around the world that I think any government would not do its proper work if it would not reflect on what would this scenario mean, what would that scenario mean? But that is not something that we should do or would do in public. That's something we do as a reflection process behind closed doors.

This decision is up to the American people, and we will work with whatever American administration comes out of that. There's no doubt that we've worked very well. We do work very well with this administration. But it's also true that if you look back to some of the most controversial issues in the German-American relationship during the first Trump presidency, some of that is actually not as relevant anymore. And some of it because we have had to re-examine our own assumptions. Russian gas is one of them. Iran in some ways is another one. 2 percent is a third one.

I think what would remain is certainly very different opinions on trade issues and the number of economic issues. But that then is a competence of the European Commission. So we're not alone in our disagreement were it come to pass. So we'll look at that policy area by policy area, but above all, you can be sure that the one global election that every European is watching carefully is the American election. Alas, probably more so than the European Parliament election.

Peter Rough:

Well, when this opportunity was brought to me to have you at Hudson, I immediately wrote back to your team. One of Germany's biggest brains on foreign policy. How could I resist? And I think over the past hour, in fact, we've gone a little bit over an hour, we've really done a tour to horizon covering the world. Thank you for being so frank and open and making this an interesting conversation. Thanks to all of you watching at home, and those of you at hudson.org. You can visit our website for all of our offerings on Europe and really foreign policy writ large.

I'd also encourage you to click on the link in the event announcement for this event to read Secretary Bagger's Washington Quarterly piece that referenced written in late 2018 for 2019. But I think a very insightful one that's been cited many times in think tank discussions over the years.

Thank you so much for being here, sir, and we look forward to having the Germans in town as an important ally for the Washington Summit next week. Thank you, sir.

Thomas Bagger:

Thank you.

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