The Greens have long been regarded as peace-loving idealists. They are now among the loudest voices calling for heavy weapons to be delivered to Ukraine and have placed considerable pressure on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to do so. The pacifists of yore have gone quiet and now the talk is of tanks and howitzers.
By Markus Feldenkirchen, Matthias Gebauer, Kevin Hagen, Christoph Hickmann, Dirk Kurbjuweit, Veit Medick, Laura Meyer, Serafin Reiber, Jonas Schaible, Christoph Schult, Marco Schulz, Christian Teevs, Gerald Traufetter und Mascha Wolf
Anton Hofreiter had his first experience with the military in 1990, when he had to go in for a pre-enlistment physical. It wasn’t a good one.
His left leg is four centimeters longer than his right one, so when he stands with his legs close together, he has to be careful not to fall over. During the physical, the doctor couldn’t believe his eyes. His verdict: “unfit.” The German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, had no use for Hofreiter. He never saw the military from the inside.
The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 18/2022 (April 30th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.SPIEGEL International
And if he had been deemed fit for service? Hofreiter says he probably would have claimed conscientious objector status.
That was then. Today, he might decide differently. The Green Party parliamentarian and former floor leader, in any case, is currently urging the government more vocally and decisively than most others to supply more weapons to Ukraine, and to begin supplying heavy weapons as well.
Together with parliamentarian Marie Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Hofreiter is ratcheting up the pressure on the German chancellor and getting under his skin in the process. Indeed, their efforts likely played no small role last week in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision, after significant hesitati on, to supply Ukraine with German Gepard anti-aircraft tanks. It was a major reversal.
“Things are moving in the right direction,” Hofreiter said on April 27. He seems quite satisfied, with both himself and the situation. At least as satisfied as it is possible to be when a war is raging a few hundred kilometers to the east.
With his long hair, most Germans had until now viewed 52-year-old Hofreiter as the epitome of the incorrigible hippy. He looks like he jumped right out of one of those 1980s photographs of the first Green Party members of the Bundestag – all men with unshorn locks and plenty of facial hair. Hofreiter, though, wears suits in parliament, and not the wool sweaters that were typical of first-generation Greens. Otherwise, though, he fits in neatly with the cliché of the full-blooded tree-hugger.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, also of the Green Party, once said that she comes from “international law.” Hofreiter, though, is more of a farm boy from the Bavarian countryside. Until recently, his political focus had largely been on agricultural and transport policy, and he would have loved to have ended up with one of those portfolios in the current government. Having been overlooked with posts were handed out last fall, however, he has taken a greater interest in foreign policy. To put it mildly.
Green Party rebel Anton Hofreiter: An overnight weapons expert Foto: Dominik Butzmann / DER SPIEGEL
“We are dealing with an imperial, colonial war of aggression,” he has said. Or: “If the aggressor wins, wars of conquest will become possible again.” At times these days, Hofreiter sounds like the German war historian Carl von Clausewitz.
Such is the situation this spring: Hofreiter, the Ph.D. botanist who can name all the plants and flowers while walking through Berlin’s Tiergarten park, is now Hofreiter the weapons expert, who lectures on munitions calibers and crews of infantry fighting vehicles. It’s not really the kind of transformation you could have seen coming.
The role his Green Party has played in the current German governing coalition has also been surprising. The coalition is made up of Chancellor Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the FDP. And the Greens, in particular, have refused to conform to the cliché of what their role should be.
Instead of playing the pacifists and slamming on the brakes when it comes to delivering heavy weaponry to Ukraine, the Greens are the ones who are calling for more, upping the pressure on their partners, particularly the SPD, in the process. Along with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The chancellor is now the one who looks hesitant. One reason is the chancellor’s rhetoric, which, in contrast to the combative tone coming from the Greens, sounds more like a conscientious objector trying to talk about military matters with an active-duty officer. On the other hand, though, the differences are also substantive.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens was the first prominent German politician to call for arms deliveries to Ukraine. He did so last May, long before the Russians launched their invasion, back when he was co-chair of the Green Party. At the time, his own party reined him in and Habeck was forced to backpedal. But now, the party is largely united behind him, and it is Foreign Minister Baerbock who has had to change her tune.
The SPD, on the other hand, continues to equivocate – and the party doesn’t seem nearly as united as the Greens. SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich and General Secretary Kevin Kühnert were even caught completely off guard by the recent announcement of Germany’s decision to send tanks. And it wasn’t the first time.
What has happened with the Greens? The party’s roots lie in the environmental movement, in resistance to nuclear power, but also in the peace movement, in resistance to NATO rearmament in the 1980s, a development pushed through by then SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. As recently as 1999, Green Party Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was struck in the head by bag of paint at a party conference, targeted because he had led the Bundeswehr into the Kosovo mission. Fischer had left pacifism behind long before that incident, but his party wasn’t yet ready.
Where have the Green Party’s pacifists gone since then? Do they still exist? And, if so, why have they gone so quiet?
There’s also another question that goes beyond the Greens and beyond their attitudes about war and weapons deliveries. What does it mean for the party system, for its stability, when a party that normally backs peace and disarmament suddenly can’t send enough tanks and howitzers? Who, then, takes on the mantle of pacifism?
“We see that, because of the war, there has been a change in thinking among many.”
Daniel Hecken, chair of the organization BundeswehrGrün
In the past, the Greens probably wouldn’t have accepted someone like Daniel Hecken into their rolls. At the very least, they would have eyed him with suspicion. Hecken, 38, is an officer in the Bundeswehr, Germany’s military, and a member of the Green Party. He is open about his profession and has even made it a kind of political project.
Last spring, an organization called BundeswehrGrün was founded to promote exchange between the army and the Green Party. Hecken is one of the organization’s two chairs. The association now has just under 60 members, most with some form of ties to the Bundeswehr. “We see ourselves as a bridge for conducting the necessary societal debate about the Bundeswehr, also within the Green Party,” says Hecken.
In addition to his position as chair of the association, he is also deputy spokesman for the Federal Working Group on Peace and International Affairs. These committees, or BAGs for short, have an important function for the Greens: They are where the policy building blocks are created that will later become campaign platforms. And at first glance, it may seem rather odd that a soldier holds such an important position in the BAG responsible for addressing peace issues.
Hecken, though, sees no contradiction, and the BAG apparently doesn’t either. And that, too, says a lot about the Green Party’s more relaxed relationship with all things military.
In general, Hecken says, few in the party have much of a problem with his group. “There has been opposition very occasionally,” he says. “But no one has approached us with hostility. Quite the opposite.” That, too, is likely something of a change from the past.
Hecken says that criticism of the association, such as it is, has tended to come from the outside, with some telling him that as a soldier he should be conservative. The relationship with the Green Party base, on the other hand, is good, he says, and there has been a great deal of interest in his issues and in the association since the beginning of the Russian invasion. “We see that, because of the war, there has been a change in thinking among many. That was also necessary.”
Such a shift, though, doesn’t happen overnight, not even under the pressure of an invasion like the one in Ukraine. In addition to the immediate shock of reality, it also takes a lot of preparation, over years. One person who has done this groundwork is Agnieszka Brugger.
The 37-year-old, who is the deputy head of the Greens’ parliamentary group, has been in parliament for more than a decade and has been shaping her party’s foreign and defense policy for almost as long. She has piercings on her face, her hair is dyed red, she speaks enthusiastically about feminist foreign policy and she belongs to the Green Party’s left wing. She knows her way around weapons and is fascinated by technology and naval helicopters. She is the personification of the Greens’ reconciliation with the military, if you will.
Defense policy expert Agnieszka Brugger has sought to build bridges between the Green Party and the Bundeswehr. Foto: Dominik Butzmann / DER SPIEGEL
She is modest and emphasizes that others before her paved the way, such as parliamentarian Winfried Nachtwei, who knew more about the Bundeswehr’s Afghanistan mission than almost anyone else. Or Omid Nouripour, the current party leader. But Brugger was instrumental in ensuring that the Greens are now much more widely accepted among the troops, because at some point the soldiers realized that the young member of parliament knew her stuff better than the vast majority of suits who came to visit the military in Afghanistan, in Mali or even in military bases at home.
At first, Brugger explains, she felt alienated. “Hierarchies, uniforms and weapons – they just weren’t my world.” But she listened, showed interest and gradually eliminated that distance. When she learned that soldiers in Afghanistan had no way of using video telephony, she wrote a resolution for German parliament. When the Armed Forces Association also asked the Green Party to sign messages to servicemen and women at Christmas, she says she passed on the request. At first, some members of the party were skeptical, but now it is normal. For troops in the field, these kinds of letters are an important symbol.
Habeck Supported Weapons Deliveries Early On
In the end, however, when it comes to the big questions, when historic decisions have to be made under the pressure of events, it is no longer specialist politicians who matter, but those at the top, the ones calling the shots.
In the case of the Greens, these are Foreign Minister Baerbock and Economy Minister Habeck, even though they are no longer the party leaders. The two played a decisive role in shaping their party’s current position on the issue of arms deliveries, and the party has followed their lead.
Less than a year ago, Habeck visited the line of contact in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine, where the so-called “people’s republics” bumped up against territory still under Kyiv’s control. Wearing a bulletproof vest and a protective helmet, he knelt by a road littered with bullet casings, speaking into the microphone to a reporter from a German public radio station. “I think it is hard to deny Ukraine weapons for defense, for self-defense,” he said.
German Economics Minister Robert Habeck was the first of the prominent Greens to call for weapons deliveries to Kyiv. Foto: Olexandr Techynskyy / F.A.Z.
At the time, it was an outrageous thing to say, breaking both with the country’s previous line under Angela Merkel and with Greens Party tradition. Habeck’s sentiments also contradicted fellow party co-chair Annalena Baerbock, who was the party’s candidate for chancellor at the time. She had been insisting that Germany would not deliver weapons to a war zone. Reaction within the party was swift.
Baerbock tried to salvage what she could in the middle of the campaign, seeking to reinterpret Habeck’s comments to the point they could no longer be recognized. The emotions of a visit to the front, so went her narrative, overcame him and he misspoke. Nobody was convinced, but Habeck clammed up to avoid any further damage. His comments, though, had in no way been the product of emotion. He had been expressing his conviction.
After the election, he also took over leadership of the Economy Ministry, which plays a central role in the approval of arms exports. He appointed his confidant Sven Giegold as the responsible state secretary, a deeply religious Christian, but also a man who share’s Habeck’s views on arms exports – a fact that few in the party knew before the Russian invasion. Behind the scenes, Giegold instructed his officials to process applications for arms exports quickly and favorably.
Publicly, Habeck remained silent and vented his frustration about the attitude of his own party only internally. The official line that no weapons are to be supplied to war zones is misleading, he told his confidants in the ministry. What about German arms exports to Egypt, which is involved in the war in Yemen?
The Foreign Ministry wasn’t yet interested in such arguments. “There is only one solution, and it’s called diplomacy,” Baerbock told parliament in mid-January.
Even at the end of January, when demand for arms deliveries was growing louder, she continued to reject the idea. “Flipping your foreign policy position by 180 degrees must be done with full awareness. Most importantly, it should not be used to close doors to de-escalation that are so tentatively reopening at this very moment,” she said in parliament. “Those who speak, don’t shoot.” In other words: Germany still shouldn’t supply Ukraine with weapons.
Only the invasion, which began on Feb. 24, led to a rethink, even if it didn’t happen immediately. And pressure from Habeck’s ministry was still necessary. That, at least, is the narrative from the Economy Ministry.
According to that version of events, State Secretary Giegold sent a letter to the relevant ministries on the Friday after the invasion began arguing in favor of arms deliveries. As justification, he cited Article 51 of the UN Charter, according to which countries under attack have the right of self-defense – in which case Germany could also supply Ukraine with weapons, Giegold wrote. Baerbock was still hesitant, but by Saturday, she had changed her mind – so fundamentally that some in the Foreign Ministry were shocked.
Her first step was to overcome German opposition to the delivery of old East German howitzers to Ukraine, which the government had blocked up to that point. The artillery pieces had wound up in Estonia years ago, and as their former owner, Germany had to authorize their transfer. Baerbock signaled her approval and the first taboo had fallen. In the course of that Saturday, the foreign minister also became a major driver of weapons exports to Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, seen here during a visit to NATO forces, shifted her position on weapons deliveries after Russia invaded Ukraine. Foto:
IMAGO/Janine Schmitz/photothek.de / IMAGO/photothek
Since that morning, Chancellor Scholz had been sounding out through his foreign policy adviser Jens Plötner whether the important ministries would also support direct arms deliveries to Ukraine. Around noon, Baerbock signaled through her state secretary, Andreas Michaelis, that she would not only go along with it, but that it was also imperative that it happen quickly.
In the afternoon, shortly before the decisive meeting of Scholz and his closest team, Michaelis followed up. The foreign minister, he wrote to Plötner, would like to give the green light today for the immediate delivery of 1,000 Bundeswehr anti-tank missiles. Furthermore, 500 Stinger systems, capable of shooting down Russian helicopters, needed to be delivered quickly. If there was no commitment in the next hour, he said, Baerbock herself would call Scholz to urge him to act.
The historic decision in the Chancellery came a short time later. Together with his closest advisers, Scholz decided to deliver both types of weapons to Ukraine. The next day, he delivered his government declaration in the Bundestag, proclaiming the “watershed moment .”
Since then, Scholz has often looked like more of a follower than a leader. He has repeatedly urged caution by, for example, arguing that Vladimir Putin could regard the delivery of heavy weapons as participation in the war. But such arguments aren’t getting him anywhere with the Greens.
Under international law, arms deliveries do not constitute participation in a war, Baerbock said last week during a round of questions to the government in parliament. Careful considerations are necessary, she said, but that there was no reason to stir up panic. Since the Russian president doesn’t care about international law, she said, it is important how he evaluates certain decisions made by Germany. “As such, what Mr. Putin thinks might be a step is solely at the discretion of this president.”
In other words: Of course we are going to deliver – no matter what Putin may threaten us with next time.
“Ideally, Ukraine should be equipped well enough that it can close its airspace. We have to prevent the country from becoming a second Syria.”
Members of the Green Party who don’t have roles in the government can express themselves more openly – people like former member of parliament Marieluise Beck. Beck recently traveled to Kyiv together with her husband Ralf Fücks, the former executive director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank closely aligned with the Green Party. Her views on the situation have been clearer since that trip.
Beck says the Ukrainian army needs to be supplied “as quickly as possible with as many weapons as possible.” Ideally, “Ukraine should be equipped well enough that it can close its airspace. We have to prevent the country from becoming a second Syria.” She argues that old tanks from former East German stocks, which can explode quickly when fired upon, are not the ideal situation. They could, after all, become death traps for Ukrainian soldiers.
A “totalitarian regime,” Beck says, must be “brought down militarily if necessary.” That some in Germany, especially given its past, don’t see it that way is something she finds “very confounding.”
That’s how the Greens sound now. And there is also no longer any talk of the “feminist foreign policy ” that the Greens had annoyed the SPD and FDP with during coalition negotiations. Indeed, the Greens seem to have turned their back on the policy.
Feminist foreign policy advocates human rights and equality in diplomacy, but above all conflict prevention – to prevent wars from happening in the first place. The question is how that is supposed to work when someone like Putin is determined to wage a war of aggression.
Although there is no single definition of feminist foreign policy, most supporters of the approach tend to regard calls for arms delivery and rearmament as a step backward. Baerbock is trying to get around that contradiction by repeatedly speaking of the victims of war, of the women and children who are affected, which is also a component of this school of thought.
But none of that changes the fact that the foreign minister is currently trying to avoid casualties by delivering heavy weaponry.
The SPD Is Protecting Its Chancellor
Within the SPD, annoyance with the course Baerbock has been charting is growing with each passing day. But the SPD is also fully aware that the opposition – especially the CDU/CSU – would immediately exploit any cracks in the governing coalition. Which means the Social Democrats have had to remain cautious and avoid any frontal attacks on leading Greens. Instead, they have focused their displeasure on figures like Hofreiter, who may be a key element in the Green Party’s new image, but he plays no role in the government.
Green Party co-chair Omid Nouripour has publicly distanced himself from Hofreiter. Foto: HC Plambeck
Not to mention the fact that he recently attacked Olaf Scholz directly. “The problem is in the Chancellery,” Hofreiter said. Taken together, he has become a welcome target for the Social Democrats.
Indeed, members of the party unloaded their anger at a parliamentary group meeting on April 26. Axel Schäfer, the SPD’s foreign policy point man in the parliamentary group, specifically mentioned Hofreiter’s enthusiastic support for weapons deliveries, according to participants, and said Hofreiter hadn’t been able to get over the fact that he hand’t received a cabinet appointment. Schäfer claimed that if Hofreiter were part of Scholz’s government, he would surely be singing a different tune. “I don’t understand why no one in the SPD is making that clear,” he said.
Meeting participants say that SPD parliamentary group head Mützenich also went after “those who make new demands in front of the cameras every day despite a lack of expertise” – a comment some felt was directed at Hofreiter. Meanwhile, Ralf Stegner, a left-wing member of the party, has taken the Green Party leadership to task. He said he would like to see Hofreiter contradicted more clearly.
Although Robert Habeck and party co-chair Ricarda Lang and Omid Nouripour have already publicly distanced themselves from Hofreiter, that isn’t enough for the Social Democrats. Some believe Hofreiter could ultimately drive a wedge into the coalition, or they are simply trying to protect their chancellor.
One SPD member of parliament recalled how vehemently former parliamentary group leader Andrea Nahles would call internal critics to account. “But the party and parliamentary group leadership of the Greens seem incapable of doing this,” the SPD parliamentarian said. “This shows that the Greens still haven’t really stepped up to the challenge of being in government.”
Such remarks haven’t seemed to bother the Greens much. After all, they have other sources of criticism to deal with. When Habeck appeared at an election rally in the city of Bielefeld last week, he found himself speaking against a barrage of catcalls and glare at a rather large banner held up to him. “Greens = Warmongers,” it read.
“The Greens as a whole have never been pacifist. I, for example, never believed, even when I was young, that Hitler could have been defeated with white flags and warm words.”
Habeck isn’t the first Green minister to have been attacked in this way. The Greens and their relationship with war is a story that goes back decades.
The party has strong roots in the peace and environment movements of the 1970s. Both of those currents united in the party’s stance on nuclear power and weapons. Some protested against nuclear armament, others against nuclear power plants, many against both.
In the early days, pacifism was represented above all by Petra Kelly, who was among the founders of the Green Party in 1980 and was one of the leaders in the fight against NATO’s missile rearmament. But opposition to nuclear weapons didn’t necessarily translate into a rejection of all uses of force for all Greens.
Joschka Fischer, who later became foreign minister when the Greens were part of a coalition with the SPD under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from 1998-2005, had struck a policeman as a young man. Tom Koenigs, who later became the German government’s human rights commissioner, had donated his large inheritance in his younger years to, among others, the Vietcong for the fight against the United States in Vietnam.
The Communist League of West Germany (KBW) supported armed freedom movements all over the world, including Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, which was responsible for the genocide of its own population. A fundraising campaign raised 150,000 deutsche marks for the Khmer Rouge butchers, as the German historian Gerd Koenen reported in his book “The Red Decade.”
Green Party icon Petra Kelly: Roots in the peace movement Foto: Sven Simon / ullstein bild
Politicians including Reinhard Bütikofer, Ralf Fücks and Winfried Kretschmann, who is today governor of the state of Baden-Württemburg, bolted the party for the Greens, where they established their political careers. Many of the leftists of that time didn’t oppose weapons in general – only those owned by NATO and particularly the U.S.
Hubert Kleinert, head of the Green Party chapter in the state of Hesse, says, “The Greens as a whole have never been pacifist. I, for example, never believed, even when I was young, that Hitler could have been defeated with white flags and warm words. That always led to discussions with the staunch pacifists, which we of course had.”
But they were largely theoretical discussions that continued until 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War world order broke down. In Yugoslavia, Serbs, Croats and Bosnians were soon fighting each other. What was the right response: to look on with the clean conscience of pacifism or to stop violence committed with weapons by responding with weapons?
At the time, Green Party foreign policy expert Marieluise Beck changed her stance. “My idealism of surrender as a better solution ended in 1993 when I learned in Bosnia that not defending yourself can lead to terror, mass rape and displacement.”
Kleinert also experienced a change of heart at the time. “In view of the tragedy in the Balkans, the question arose as to whether it was possible to dispense with the use of military means. I remember sitting down with Joschka Fischer one evening at the end of 1992. I spoke in favor of the use of military means, which Daniel Cohn-Bendit had already done before. Then Fischer chided me: Now you’re starting too! At the time, he wanted nothing to do with it. Then came the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995. After that, Fischer called me and asked: What do you say now? I said: We are all horrible cowards. He then felt that way too. That was the real turning point.” At least from Kleinert’s perspective.
When the Greens formed a coalition government with the SPD at the end of 1998, chancellor-designate Schröder and future foreign minister Fischer were already faced with the question of whether to send German soldiers to war.
Serbia used brutal force to try to stamp down Kosovo’s efforts to seek independence and people were warning of possible genocide. NATO was ready to intervene to stop the killing, but it wasn’t able to get a mandate from the United Nations Security Council to do so because Russia used its veto. Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton urged Schröder and Fischer to participate in a military mission. And they agreed.
On March 24, 1999, Schröder said in a televised address on the evening news: “Fellow citizens, tonight NATO began air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia.” German air force Tornado fight jets had joined the air strikes. Two days later, the New York Times wrote: “Half a Century after Hitler, German Jets Join the Attack.”
Never Again War, Never Again Auschwitz
The reference to the worst chapter in German history also defined the debate within the Green Party. On May 13, Fischer had to face a special conference of his party’s federal delegates in the city of Bielefeld. The hall was heated to the boiling point, filled with anger and hatred. Fischer was insulted as “Joschka Goebbels,” and one activist hurled a bag of red paint at his right ear, causing injury to his eardrum.
In his speech, the foreign minister stated: “I stand on two principles: never again war, never again Auschwitz, never again genocide, never again fascism! The two go together for me.”
Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer after being struck by a red bag of paint in 1999 Foto: K. B. Karwasz
Until that point, the Holocaust had been cited as justification for German pacifism, but now Fischer had reversed that argument: Auschwitz also obliged the Germans to use military means to stop atrocities if they have to. The war effort had been justified on humanitarian grounds, which made it easier for some Greens to agree. In the end, the conference agreed on the highly convoluted resolution into which everyone could interpret what they wanted. For Fischer, the decisive factor was that he wouldn’t have to go to the chancellor and ask him to end the air force deployment.
The next test for the Greens came two years later, after Islamists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
The SPD and Green government wanted to participate in the combat mission against international terrorism and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it had difficulty gaining majority support in parliament. Eight members of the Green Party’s parliamentary group were determined not to approve the required mandate from the Bundestag for the Bundeswehr, including Antje Vollmer, Hans-Christian Ströbele and Steffi Lemke, who now serves as Germany’s environment minister.
A heated debate ensued, Fischer was disparaged as a “war criminal” on a banner at a conference of federal delegates in the city of Rostock.
Chancellor Schröder also decided to link the vote on the combat mission in Afghanistan to a vote of confidence in his government. Ultimately, the renegade Greens wanted to avoid the collapse of the Schröder-led government and decided, in a sly move, that only four of the eight would vote “no.” Vollmer gave what would be a much-derided quote at the time: “My yes is a no.”
Schröder remained chancellor and German soldiers went to war on the side of the Americans. And the Greens had finally become a party willing to succumb to the pragmatism necessary in government. A party of realpolitik.
It is a reflection of that development that the Green parliamentary group is now surprisingly united behind the course advocated by the leadership to support weapons deliveries to Ukraine. At the same time, the party’s election platform states that, “exports of weapons and arms to dictators, regimes that disregard human rights and to war zones are prohibited.” That line has now essentially been scrapped, and resistance was essentially non-existent.
This surprises some who have been around for the battles of the past. People like Angelika Beer, who served as the defense policy point person in the parliamentary group in the Bundestag at the time the Kosovo mission was debated. She was sitting only two seats away when Fischer was smacked in the head with the bag of paint in Bielefeld in 1999. Of today’s Greens, she says, “The loud fundamental opposition of the past has given way to an absolute lack of criticism.”
Beer left the Greens long ago, having bolted to the Pirate Party in 2009. When she compares Fischer and Habeck, she sees clear advantages with Habeck. Beer says that Fischer didn’t explain his policies. “The bag of paint happened because there was no willingness to engage in dialogue on his part.” She says that Habeck is doing a better job of that today.
This probably also contributes to the fact that things are so quiet in the parliamentary group about current developments. But some still find it hard to believe.
“Surprised By the Unity”
“I’m surprised by the unity,” says one member from the traditionally pragmatic wing of the party dubbed the “Realos.” One member from the party’s left wing says that a few are having difficulties with the policies, but at the core, there is a broad consensus across the party: Namely that Ukraine must be able to defend itself. Meaning it needs weapons, including heavy ones.
If there is anything at all that is even slightly controversial right now, the Greens say, then it is the special 100-billion euro fund the German government plans to use to turn the Bundeswehr back into an effective army. Some fear this could lead to some kind of arms race. But even these skeptics are pretty quiet right now.
Members of the FDP, the third party in Germany’s coalition trio, are pleased about that. “During the coalition negotiations, some Greens still had a problem with NATO,” says the FPD’s newly elected general secretary, Bijan Djir-Sarai. “Now, together with the FDP, they are advocating the supply of even heavy weapons. I welcome the fact that the party has recognized the foreign policy and security reality.”
The party’s deputy chair, Johannes Vogel, offers similar praise. “I’m pleased with this stance,” he says of the coalition partner’s course. “The whole political culture in Germany has had a lopsidedness in this regard in recent years.” In Germany, he says, there has often been a kind of vulgar pacifist tango, even when it came to smaller questions like how to adequately equip the Bundeswehr.
Green Party Foreign Policy Expert Jürgen Trittin: “There can only be a negotiated settlement if Ukraine is not overwhelmed and is in a proper negotiating position.” Foto: Jochen Lübke/ dpa
In the past, it would have been unpleasant for Jürgen Trittin to be praised by the FDP. One might have reasonably expected Trittin, 67, to oppose arms deliveries. The former parliamentary group leader is now the foreign policy point man for the Greens in the Bundestag – and he has long been a prominent voice on the party’s left wing. As recently as February, he said he didn’t think that weapons for Ukraine were a good idea. But now he, too, has joined the ranks in supporting weapons deliveries. But why?
Trittin says an effort was made to deter Putin with maximum political and economic threats, but that didn’t stop him. The invasion of Ukraine changed everything, he says, and now Ukraine must be strengthened, and there is no other way than by military means. “There can only be a negotiated settlement if Ukraine is not overwhelmed and is in a proper negotiating position.”
Trittin says this as if he had never advocated anything else. Then he goes on to make a very big statement.
“There is a long tradition in the Green Party of standing up to injustice.”
“There is a long tradition in the Green Party of standing up to injustice,” he says. “We were also the only ones present on the Maidan.” When the Ukrainians drove their pro-Russia president from office in 2014, senior members of the Green Party visited protesters on the famous square in Kyiv. And when Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016, people joined the Greens in droves.
That’s not comparable to a war, but the conviction to always stand up for the good, to be on the right side, is part of the Green Party’s image of itself – and this applies to climate change as well as to geopolitics. It often leads to a self-righteousness that is at times difficult bear, a moral sense of mission. It also makes the party susceptible to being led by emotions.
Weapons deliveries are prohibited? That is still the case, the Greens argue, but not when things are as clear-cut as they are in this case. The roles of the attacker and the victim are clearly defined, and the aggressor is unwilling to negotiate.
How, though, is this situation different from 2014, when Islamic State seized parts of Iraq and Syria and established a reign of terror? Good and evil were clearly delineated in that case, too, yet the Greens opposed equipping the Kurds with weapons.
All of which makes one wonder if the party is suddenly completely devoid of the internal conflict that has been one of its key features throughout the years. Is there nobody in the party who thinks the Greens might be straying too far from their principles?
It’s Wednesday evening in Münster and Green Party members have gathered for a district meeting. Around 50 people have turned up, and the general mood is good. One of the focuses of the meeting, of course, is the war and the question as to whether Ukraine should be supplied with more weapons and heavy weaponry. For most people present, the answer is yes.
“What peace do we have when a country is simply allowed to be annexed? That’s not a peace I want to live in,” is how Green Party state parliament candidate Dorothea Deppermann puts it.
Many here sound similar. One member says that although he wishes there had been other ways to end the war, he can see that “talk without action won’t deliver peace in the end.” That evening, there is repeated praise for Habeck – one new member calls him a “role model.”
Is that a contradiction? Not in Münster, which is why some people emphasize almost apologetically that there are “certainly other opinions in the party.” Only, where?
In Berlin, perhaps, where Hans-Christian Ströbele, a veteran of the left-wing arm of the party tweeted last week: “Are we a war party,” without adding a question mark. Politicians and media of the “NATO-Dt.,” which in all likelihood means “NATO Germany,” had “forced the delivery of tanks,” he wrote. What, then, makes them so sure there will be “no escalation to world war?” It’s “bad,” he wrote.
Ströbele belongs to the Green Party’s district association in Berlin’s joint Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, which is considered strictly left wing. But even there, he seems to be for the most part alone.
“This war of aggression is a blatant violation of international law. Every country in the world has the right to defend itself,” says Philip Hiersemenzel, a member of the district association’s executive committee. “Now that all the diplomatic attempts have failed, there’s not much left but arms deliveries.”
But does everywhere here really see it that way? “Certainly not all people within our district group agree with my opinion,” Hiersemenzel says. “But of the people I talk to, most of them were already in favor of supplying heavy weapons.”
His colleague Jenny Laube, also a member of the executive committee, puts it this way: “For me, too, an evolution, a rethinking, has taken place in the last few weeks.”
“After using diplomacy and economic sanctions to try to stop the hostilities, the delivery of the heavy weapons is the next level of support for Ukraine. I mean, is there really any other milder remedy available right now?”
For Baerbock, Habeck and the Green Party leadership, these are the kinds of things they must be pleased to hear. There is no threat of an uproar, let alone a fracture in the party – the consensus right now is clear. The other question is whether this is also a good thing for political culture.
It probably isn’t.
It’s always healthy for a democracy if there is a diversity of opinion within the moderate forces, if points of view that deviate from the majority opinion are expressed within this moderate spectrum – and they aren’t only articulated in the margins by extreme forces. This is particularly true of the big issues.
The conservative Christian Democrats would like to supply even more weapons, and more quickly. It has also applauded the special fund for the German armed forces. In that sense, even though they are in the opposition, they aren’t really showing it. That leaves the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the far-left Left Party.
The Left Party at the moment has been shaken by allegations of sexual assault and is too caught up in its own scandals. Moreover, the party’s most prominent member remains Sahra Wagenknecht, who is also conspicuous in the current situation for her, for Germany at the moment, unusually high understanding for Russia. There is currently no serious opposition in Germany to arms deliveries to Ukraine and the upgrading of the German armed forces.
This could be politically dangerous, especially after the past two years of the pandemic. Populists and conspiracy theorists used that time to paint a picture of a party system in Germany in which all were supposedly in cahoots with each other. They will try to take advantage of the seeming unanimous support for both the arms deliveries and the billions in additional funding for the Bundeswehr. Their narrative will be: Once again, they all agree, in a line reminiscent of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s widely backed policy of “there is no alternative.”
The most resistance right now is still within the SPD, the chancellor’s party, of all places. But if the party wants to prevent the further weakening Olaf Scholz, it will have to remain at least somewhat united. In that sense, it would be helpful to the debate if there were at least a little bit of debate among the Greens. And indeed, there does appear to be something at least stirring at the very base of the party. In, for example, Claudia Lux from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Laux describes herself as a pacifist and, as such, she opposes the special fund for the Bundeswehr, as well as the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. She wants to see a party vote on both. “We at the grassroots want to know what the party things about this,” Laux says. She wants to push the vote through with some fellow campaigners.
One of the people behind the initiative is Philipp Schmagold of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, a man who is something of a legend at Green Party conferences because of the constant slew of motions he introduces. He says: “We’re supposed to spend the extra 100 billion euros on the arms industry, but we really need the money for climate and species protection, the shift to renewable energies, social security, education, health and civil crisis prevention.”
He says the initiative spans all wings of the party and that new supporters are signing on every day. As of last Thursday at noon, 1,229 party members had signed on with their support on a Green Party website.
Just under 6,300 members would have to indicate there support for a vote to take place. They still have time to sign up to support that vote until mid-August.
Perhaps there is still something left of the Green Party people once knew.