by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Bible students who believe Germans to be descended from the people of ancient Assyria have waited a long time to see Germany become powerful once again. Twice in the last century, Germany—first under Kaiser Wilhelm II and then Adolf Hitler—rose to prominence in Europe, igniting world wars and ultimately suffering ignominious defeats. After World War I, Germany's return to dominance was swift and decisive in historic terms: Less than 20 years separated the Armistice in late 1918 from the Anschluss with Austria in early 1938. However, its recovery from World War II, though quick on the economic front, has been long in coming politically and militarily.
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union played a large role in Germany's relative weakness. Divided between the two superpowers for more than 40 years, Germany functioned as if it had one arm and a leg shackled to the Berlin Wall. While West Germany boomed, East Germany lagged, gripped in Moscow's iron fist. Once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, Germany reunited, beginning the arduous process of bringing the former East Germany up to West German speed.
Essentially, this is a fait accompli. East Germans are quickly approaching the standard of living West Germans have enjoyed for decades. Germany's government has made a smooth transition from Bonn to Berlin. Any residual biases and inequities are minimal enough not to hamper Germany's overall progress. Since unification has succeeded, Germany is free to make its presence known in Europe and beyond—and on its own, not just as a leading nation of the European Union (EU).
As a sovereign nation, Germany cannot be taken lightly. It has both the largest population and strongest economy in Europe. It dominates Europe's financial markets and marches in the vanguard of those promoting the euro and economic integration. When Frankfurt, Germany's financial center, talks, the rest of Europe—and recently, the rest of the world—listens.
Is Germany now in a position to begin flexing more than just economic muscle? Can its leaders take the world stage and influence, even direct, the course of events to its ends? Recent goings-on answer these questions in the affirmative, but how often and how extensively Germany uses its newfound might remains unknown.
Throughout their histories, Germany and Russia have had a curious relationship. Their proximity has led them into hostilities many times, but they seem to hold a strange attraction for each other. They have made and broken numerous pacts, treaties and deals over the course of centuries, and on at least one occasion, Hitler's 1939 Non-aggression Pact with Stalin, such a deal played a significant part in world affairs.
Today, Germany is crafting an economic deal with Russia that could easily have political ramifications in the near future. It could even shift the balance of European power toward Germany—the geopolitical factor that has spawned numerous wars on the continent in recent centuries. Stratfor, an early-warning political and economic forecasting service, reports that Werner Muller, German economic minister, and German Gref, Russian minister of economic development and trade, met in Berlin on December 12, 2000, to debate details of a blockbuster economic deal.
Their plan would convert a large part of Russia's $14 billion debt to Germany into equity in Russian companies. Germany would thus become a major shareholder in Russian industry. If the pact goes through, it could be the first step in forging a closer political partnership between the two nations. Russia benefits because the deal would help its economic and political revival, and it could catapult Germany into the leadership of a united Europe with Russia on its side.
Such a development would significantly weaken American influence in Europe while dramatically strengthening Germany and Russia, propelling them to the head of the geopolitical class. Moscow and Berlin understand this fast-growing cooperation will strengthen each country's potential and help advance both politically. This most recent deal is an important move in this direction.
Several matters draw Russia and Germany closer. Teetering on economic collapse, Russia has felt bitter disappointment in its failed relationship with the United States, as it has received no real help. It fears America's domination and its own lack of allies will keep Russia from regaining its world-power status and possibly culminate with downfall of the Russian state.
The benefits to Germany, as Stratfor lists them, are noteworthy:
First, for its own further growth, Germany needs Russia's enormous natural resources, the last in the world to remain largely untapped. By giving Russia economic and political aid, Germany makes sure these resources will flow to its territory from a stable, German-friendly Russian government, such as that of Vladimir Putin, who speaks German.
Second, a stable, Germany-backed Russia would provide the cheapest, fastest and safest transportation corridor for shipping goods and resources between Germany and the rest of Europe and the world's most dynamic economies in the Asia Pacific.
Third, Germany feels building a secure, united Europe would be impossible if Russia were left without support, destabilized and hostile. After experiencing a half-century Cold War, during which the main front-line was right in the middle of Germany, Berlin would hate to see the old times return. German strategists realize a weakened and abandoned Moscow might feel threatened enough to take on prosperous Europe as a desperate measure if it senses Russia's final collapse. ("Shifting Europe's Balance of Power," December 18, 2000)
In addition, Berlin considers the vast expanse of Russia as a buffer zone between Europe and both the Far East and the Islamic world. This deal will also deny Russia's resources to both its potential rivals, China and Japan, and its current one, the United States.
One significant prophetic implication looms large. Europe and the EU—except for U.S.-oriented Britain—is solidly behind Germany in its new Russian policy. The other nations of Europe recognize the tremendous benefits such an accord could bring them, while ignoring or minimizing the historical repercussions of expanding German influence. Britain, on the other hand, feels more secure in its more-than-a-half-century alliance with its American cousins. Germany's modus operandi is similar enough this time around to raise hackles in London.
Another significant factor in Germany's political power is its continued economic growth. Even considering the rise in oil prices in 2000, the German economy posted its strongest growth since unification. The German Federal Statistics Bureau reported on January 11, 2001, that Germany's gross domestic product grew by 3.1 percent, distinctly better than 1999's 1.6 percent growth and double the past decade's average. Strong export growth, high capital investment and modest wage increases drove the economic turnaround, offsetting mediocre consumer demand and decreasing construction activity. Statistics Bureau head Johann Hahlen notes that the economy's unexpectedly strong performance in the fourth quarter of 2000 gives reason to think that 2001 should also be a very good year for Germany.
Finance Minister Hans Eichel—not as enthusiastically—suggests Germany will feel the effects of slower economic growth elsewhere in the world, above all in the United States in 2001. The rebound in the euro's value against the dollar will also make it more difficult to repeat last year's vigorous growth in export sales. Eichel notes that German tax cuts taking effect this year will be timely.
Eichel's caution, however, may be unwarranted. Germany's unemployment dropped steadily in 2000, even as the work force grew. Unemployment fell 5.2 percent overall last year, while the number of actively employed people in Germany rose by more than half a million workers. The unemployment rate, 9.3 percent, while still high by American standards, is moving steadily downwards, even hampered as it is by high unemployment in the formerly Communist half of the nation.
Last year was a good one for German automakers, and industry leaders say 2001 should be better still. Strong export sales, especially in the United States, offset lackluster domestic sales. Although all signs point toward a slowdown in the American economy, German auto bosses remain optimistic about the prospects for the coming year.
DaimlerChrysler's revenues rose by 6 percent. Volkswagen sales in the U.S. alone were up by nearly 13 percent, and the company expects U.S. sales to grow by between five and ten percent in 2001. Like its bigger rivals, BMW saw export sales grow robustly last year, and its output was up by 9.4 percent. Similar reports of growth and expected growth come from many sectors of the German economy.
In a commercial union like the EU, economic success translates into political power; Germany's growth makes it hard to argue against. By its economic strength, it will pull—or drag—the rest of Europe with it. As other European nations begin to enjoy the benefits stronger economies bring, they will be more inclined to listen to German suggestions regarding political and military matters.
When leaders of the EU met in Helsinki in December 2000, they agreed to set up and supply a European Rapid Reaction Force that would insert 60,000 troops and their gear into any trouble spot within 60 days for peacekeeping or humanitarian duties and sustain such a force for one year. Signatories to this agreement want to be capable of this by 2003. It will be directed by the EU military committee, composed of the chiefs of staffs of contributing nations. Lieutenant-General Rainer Schuwirth, a German, will be the first Director-General of the EU's 100-strong military staff, based in Brussels.
Although it will not have offensive power, many are considering it as an embryonic Euro-Army. The force will be formed out of the EuroCorps, a French-German initiative instituted by French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1991. Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg later joined EuroCorps, which has just completed a six-month "trial run" in Kosovo.
Already, the Rapid Reaction Force has been expanded beyond the initial 60,000-troop goal to more than 100,000 troops, 400 aircraft and 100 warships. Only Denmark among EU nations has opted out of contributing forces. Germany's contribution is the largest, having 18,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, while the next highest total contribution is Britain's 12,500 troops, plus an undetermined number of support personnel.
EU nations are loud in their insistence that this force is not and will not become a European army. The terms of the agreement stipulate that troop and materiel contributions are subject to national discretion. The Rapid Reaction Force will act as a complement and reinforcement to NATO forces. However, the EU will in the meantime develop the capability to act where NATO is not engaged. This particular point strongly suggests that EU leaders intend to expand the force's mandate in the future.
In addition, Germany's Bundeswehr launched a comprehensive reorganization and modernization in June 2000. This process will reduce the number of personnel in the German armed forces to 275,000 but will increase the rapid deployment troops normally available. Modernization will focus on "smart" weaponry, strategic air support, intelligence and communications.
Another, more controversial change is the inclusion of women in combat roles. A European Court of Justice ruling last year forced the German armed forces to provide equal opportunities for women. Beginning January 3, women can fly fighter jets, steer U-boats and drive Panzer tanks. The closest that German women have come to combat in the past 300 years has been as anti-aircraft gunners in World War II. A few women were allowed to become test pilots, while some others were recruited as prison or camp guards. Publicly, Bundeswehr officials play down potential problems, but privately, concern over unit cohesion and sexual distractions is significant. How this change will affect Germany's military strength remains to be seen.
One sure sign of German assertiveness is the outspokenness of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on the subject of further European integration. The latter, especially, has been forthright in his views that the EU must forge ahead in areas beyond the economic sphere. Fischer's detractors decry his call for a European superstate, and he has even been dubbed "the most dangerous man in Europe."
Fischer sees deeper integration as the inevitable result of the EU's current economic unity and its plans to nearly double its membership by 2004. He narrows Europe's choices to further integration or paralysis. Such thoughts drove Germany's position at the Nice summit in December, particularly its attempt to change the EU voting apparatus to a weighted system based on population and to narrow the number of issues that must be resolved by unanimous vote.
Of interest from a prophetic point of view is that Fischer's model for Europe includes the retaining of individual nation-states. He remarks in a speech made in London on January 24, 2001:
With its cultural and democratic traditions, the nation-state is the primary source of identity for the citizens of all European countries and will remain so for the foreseeable future. For culture, language and tradition it will continue to be the principle framework. . . . [O]nly the nation-state can credibly lend full democratic legitimacy to European decisions.
It follows then that European integration has to take along the member states. Only if their own national institutions are neither undermined nor likely to disappear altogether, will European integration come about. The nightmare of British eurosceptics, the so-called "superstate," a new sovereign that would abolish the old nation states along with their democratic governments, is therefore nothing but a synthetic construct that has nothing whatsoever to do with European reality.
But let me be clear on one thing: In key areas of common interest we cannot get by without "Europe." . . . The Union of the future will have strong European institutions fully capable of taking European decisions but building at the same time on strong member states. The EU is never going to be a state, let alone some kind of superstate. No one—in Germany, France or anywhere else in Europe—wants a centralized super-bureaucracy with anonymous actors and structures totally remote from the ordinary citizen. The union we want is the exact opposite of such a superstate.
His description sounds eerily similar to what John saw in Revelation 17, a beast with seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads represent seven "mountains," a symbol of governments, and seven kings, the rulers of these governments (verses 9-10). The ten horns
are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. . . . For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. (verses 12-13, 17)
Notice how the angel words this description: The ten kings "receive power . . . with the beast" and "give their power and authority to the beast." It appears that these leaders head ten nations or similar entities, and they receive kinglike power in concert with the Beast. Like Fischer's vision of the EU, this describes a two-tiered sovereignty with split responsibilities. Ultimately, however, the ten kings give the Beast authority to act to the point that they, in effect, "give their kingdom to the beast." That is, the Beast is in reality in charge, though the ten kings maintain a semblance of sovereignty.
It does not appear to be coincidental that this idea is being floated and pushed by Germany's Chancellor and Foreign Minister. At this point, their designs are benign and reasonable, but they can be manipulated to destructive ends with little effort. Isaiah writes, "Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations" (Isaiah 10:7).
Assyrians have a inner drive to "unite" people under one rule, particularly theirs:
For he says: "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent; also I have removed the boundaries of the people, and have robbed their treasuries; so I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man. My hand has found like a nest the riches of the people, and as one gathers eggs that are left, I have gathered all the earth; and there was no one who moved his wing, nor opened his mouth with even a peep." (verses 13-14)
Are we seeing the next stages of this plan being set in motion? Possibly. More time will need to pass, more events must transpire to expose the true purpose of Germany's recent ascendancy to greater influence in Europe and abroad. However the time of the end unravels, we have the understanding and hope that just beyond it is the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His perfect government upon the earth.