Indeed, Germany would be doomed with such a weak military, obvious prey in the middle of continental Europe. Recall the wars of old that Germany fought with France and other neighbors. Without sufficient military power, Germany would not survive, no matter how robust its economy was. Soft power can only go so far when the one wielding it has a gun to their head. Germany could try to form alliances for protection, but, realistically, a country that removed hard power from its toolkit of statecraft would lose its sovereignty.
Today, however, Russia cannot simply conquer nearby states, and other states cannot simply conquer Germany. Why? Of course Germany's membership in Nato plays a role, as does the looming threat of nuclear weapons if nuclear-armed powers become involved. But the larger reason is that the world order that followed Word War II and reached new heights after the Cold War is defined by an open global economic system, international institutions, and liberal values. That order is based on norms that have roots going back centuries, but only really came to fruition after humanity's great tragedies of the 20th century – norms that make invading other countries more taboo than ever; norms that make human rights more of a priority and democracy the model form of government; norms that make globalization preferable to zero-sum rivalry.
Germany is more powerful than Russia
These norms of international behavior and conduct are of course not perfect – Russia still annexed Crimea – but they have effectively replaced „might makes right“, which no longer defines the international jungle. Even some of the world's most heinous autocracies at least pretend to have elections and need to temper their imperial ambitions to some degree. That may sound like hardly anything to celebrate, but it is an improvement.
Because of these norms, Germany is able to excel despite a spineless foreign policy and military posture. Indeed, Germany is more powerful than Russia today. German soft power attracts investment and gives Berlin more influence abroad, making it look like the stronger country while Russia limps along toward further irrelevance. American power makes this possible. Like it or not, the United States leads, dominates, and largely created this world order. The United States protects the order with hard power – its navy ensures freedom of navigation in international waters – and deters adversaries from attacking the likes of Germany with security guarantees. But it also uses economic clout and soft power, such as civilian aid programs, to continue the system, which would collapse without American leadership.
No one who loves freedom and prosperity should want to live in a world where Russia is more powerful than Germany. They should want a world where vibrant societies and dynamic economies rule the day, not raw military power and suffocating oppression. America polices an order that perpetuates norms that make such a world possible.
But there is a great irony here. The world is, in a sense, still based on old notions of power and „might makes right“ – just under American dominance. The United States is imposing its will, but in a way that is benign and mutually beneficially to all who wish to partake in the system. That is the beauty of American power, and why billions of people – Germans above all – should want to fight for a world dominated by America.
This article was first published in „The Washington Free Beacon“. For the German version please click here.