The Foreign Policy of the Left

The Left Party had not played a role in the foreign policy of the Federal Republic until now. After all, it is the successor party to the SED, which established a one-party dictatorship in the former German Democratic Republic, largely controlled from Moscow. After reunification, it sought its way into the politics of the Federal Republic of Germany and, after some restructuring and name changes, was able to establish itself in federal politics as Die Linke (The Left).

In the following federal election, there is for the first time something like a chance for the Left to be involved in government, even if it is decidedly slim. This would have to be done through a coalition with the Greens and SPD (Socialdemocrats). However, apart from the necessary majorities in the election, there are major differences of opinion between the three left parties, especially on foreign policy issues. In this field, for example, the Greens are much closer to the CDU (Conservatives) than to the Left, and they would clearly be the dominant force in the government.

At the same time, the imprint of Marxist-Leninist doctrines is still present, albeit partly in a modernised version. While the SPD sees both Germany and the European Union as a “peace power”, this emphasis on its own state or confederation of states is no longer present at all on the Left. Instead, it generally sees “the principle of peace as a mode of international politics” as worth defending. It sees itself as a “peace party and a reliable voice of the peace movement in the Bundestag”. This is also made clear in its draft programme, and it should be noted at the outset that the text does not deal with any country or world region in detail, only brief remarks on the policies of the major powers occur.

The Left sees these powers as the attempt of the USA and the EU to maintain their supremacy over China and Russia. They therefore also reject a confrontational policy towards these countries (and all other countries). In general, the Left’s focus in foreign policy seems to be on disarmament. They call for a “paradigm shift in foreign policy and stand for non-violent conflict resolution and cross-border cooperation instead of arms exports and foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr.” Probably with a view to a possible red-red-green coalition government, it is stressed that the party would not join a government which “wages wars and allows combat missions of the Bundeswehr abroad, which promotes rearmament and militarisation.” It also demands the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr from all foreign missions.

The Left has traditionally been critical of NATO, describing it as a “relic of the Cold War” and calling for its dissolution. As a replacement, it wants to establish a collective security system in which Russia is involved. With regard to Germany, she calls for the country to withdraw from the Alliance’s military structures if NATO continues to exist. The Bundeswehr should thus be withdrawn from NATO’s supreme command.

It is not surprising that the Left also wants to reduce spending on armaments. Of course, this would render NATO’s 2% target obsolete. It also sees the restructuring of the Bundeswehr not in the country’s interest, but merely as an instrument to secure “raw materials, spheres of influence and sales markets”. Given the desolate state of the armed forces and Germany’s strategic blindness, one almost wishes they were capable of such actions.

At times, however, their commitment to a world free of weapons slides into the ridiculous. For example, it calls for “a 10 per cent reduction in military spending in all states worldwide in the coming year.” Since the relative loss would be the same for all states, no country would then be in a worse position than before. And the 183 billion dollars that would be available could be used to respond to the consequences of the Corona crisis. Where all the states of the world should suddenly gain enough confidence in the other states of the world to take such a step is completely left out of the equation and shows rather their wishful thinking than serious policy.

Basically, the party does not have a high opinion of the FRG’s foreign policy so far. Thus, it sees the previous development policy as an “instrument of (post-)colonial oppression and exploitation”. There is also a demand to come to terms with German colonialism and to finally recognise it as a reign of injustice. In addition to the well-known accusations from the socialist camp against capitalist states, it should also be mentioned here that in German history it was not primarily the colonised peoples outside Europe who had to suffer under German policy (without glossing over the crimes overseas, especially in what was then German Southwest Africa, today Namibia). This affected the Jews and the peoples of Eastern Europe much more, who were affected by German occupation and warfare in the First World War and even more so in the Second. For example, the blockade of Leningrad (Saint Petersburg), which lasted from 1941 to 1944, cost the lives of about 1.1 million civilians. Most of them starved to death. However, since most and especially the conservative parties do not like to talk about crimes that took place in the former Soviet Union, even more so in a time when Putin rules Russia, and the political left prefers to use the attention guaranteed by the Black Lives Matter movement and the focus on minority rights, the event does not play a major role in the consciousness of Germans today.

Even though most of the Left’s demands contradict the foreign policy tradition of the Federal Republic and have little chance of success, certain weak points are named which other parties sometimes like to ignore. For example, the Left clearly opposes economic sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy. This would primarily affect the ordinary population. And there are enough examples, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Iran today, to confirm this. Sometimes they take the form of a modern variant of a siege. One could add that there are also sanctions against individual persons of the respective elite. Although these are less cruel, they have not yet been proven to be beneficial.

The reference to a functioning supply chain law also makes sense; after all, large companies in particular can often exploit a lack of state control in poorer countries. The Wild West phase of globalisation is coming to an end.

Finally, the left attests to a crisis of multilateralism, in which the two blocs USA and China/Russia block the UN and the Security Council. In the meantime, however, doubts are growing as to whether the construct of the United Nations in itself is still capable of breaking through the polarisation.

In summary, it must be said that the left will not be able to exert much influence on foreign policy in the next legislative period. However, like the FDP (Liberals), they could focus the debate on certain issues in which they have developed competences and thus improve the country’s foreign policy.

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