Global Review had the honor to conduct another interview with General ret. Domroese about the relations between the West and Russia, as well as to have a tour d’horizon through the geopolitical crisis belts of the world.
General Hans-Lothar Domröse is a former general in the army of the Bundeswehr. He was the commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (2012-2016). In 2011 General Domröse was appointed German military representative for MC / NATO and EU in Brussels. He took command of the Eurocorps in Strasbourg (2009-2012). During a deployment to Afghanistan in 2008, he was chief of staff at ISAF headquarters. General Domröse received numerous awards and honors during his military career. He is a senior consultant in the consulting firm Friedrich 30, which also includes ex-BND President Schindler, and in the global network of the Agora Strategy Group of the Munich Security Conference:
Global Review: General Domroese, what is your assessment of the Biden-Putin meeting and what, at best, could come out of the working groups? Putin no longer wants to accept the Paris Charter, security guarantees from NATO, a place as a great power in a multipolar world in Europe and worldwide, and areas of influence? How likely is it to make concessions and compromises? What will be negotiable and what will be not?
General ret. Domroese: At the beginning of “our twenties” we experience a tremendous change of epochs: only three examples show this. We see global power shifts between China, Russia, the United States and Europe. At its core it is about the system question: Democratic or authoritarian forms of government. In addition, we are globally affected by a terrible pandemic. And third, the effects of climate change cannot be ignored. Everything takes place at the same time, which puts the rulers worldwide under enormous pressure to act. We need visions to achieve the best and prevent the worst. Everything is related to everything – solutions can only be found together – no one can master these great challenges alone: More than ever, it is about ambitious goals and taking on responsibility, courage and willingness to make decisions, culture and competence.
Now to your real question. „It’s all about perception“ .. In the Indo-Pacific, the independence of Taiwan is threatened – in Europe it’s about freedom and security, not just about the sovereignty of Ukraine. Both centers of gravity affect the United States in particular because America is an Atlantic and a Pacific nation and a world power. – In this respect it is only logical that President Biden should personally exchange ideas with the other two presidents. It’s good. In this way, misunderstandings and / or armed conflict can be avoided.
The UN Security Council is obviously no longer in a position to do this, because every P5 member vetoed “their own cause” – and thus blocked themselves. This shows: the old world order is at an end – there will be no going back to Yalta and Potsdam in 1945, as Putin’s proposals suggest. The old Soviet principle „Mine remains mine – and we are now negotiating yours“ no longer works! Security has to be worked out and lived together. However, national borders, the free choice of alliances of nations or sovereignty rights are NOT negotiable. Russia cannot expect a say in NATO either.
Disarmament proposals and arms control initiatives, however, are negotiable. Take, for example, land-based nuclear weapons, hypersonic weapons, space and arctic aspects, questions of deployments on both sides of borders, the scope of maneuvers or mutual military-observer exchanges, etc. I see great negotiating potential here. This can create a win-win situation. However, this requires both sides to consider concessions. Give and take. Whatever the outcome of the talks: With great effort and a huge threat, President Putin managed to get the West to “move”. In the first round a points win for him.
Global Review: How do you assess the new foreign policy of the traffic light coalition, also with regard to Russia and China? Are the coalition paper and previous actions sufficient, also with regard to the Ukraine conflict? Can Germany thus also have a significant influence on the EU’s “Strategic Compass”?
General ret. Domroese: Germany has and always has had a special relationship with Russia. The low point was the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union – the best was German unitfication. Since then, the Russian regime has moved away from glasnost and now shows authoritarian features. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014, we reached a new low point which we have not yet overcome and which is related to the ongoing unrest in eastern Ukraine and the military threats on the border. Human rights violations and attacks on Mr Nawalny and Skripal and others are also not conducive to good neighborly relations.
The traffic light coalition has been in this situation for a month – it is far too early to measure foreign policy successes against this. First of all, the three parties have to find each other as ONE government and determine their path together and without ambiguity. In the end, actions count – not words. „Worrying“ is by no means enough … So far, I think the government hasn’t really done anything wrong, if I may say so. I remain optimistic that Germany will „stay on track“ in terms of foreign policy
The same goes for China. This is not just a gigantic “marketplace”. In doubt, Germany will have to choose between authoritarian and free-democratic systems. It is clear to me: only together with America and our other democratic friends can there be a path that is characterized by human rights, independence of the courts, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Of course, reality is not black or white; not “either cooperation or competition”. Both ways must be possible and proportionate.
The objective of the EU’s Strategic Compass ‘is right to strengthen the security and freedom of Europe and to protect its citizens. Objectives and analysis coincide with those of NATO / New Strategic Concept – that fits. That is almost the most important thing. While the alliance is primarily intended to ensure protection militarily, the EU wants to promote the more civil-oriented approaches. So cyber, organized crime, border protection and training of like-minded nations / neighbors. That sounds like a smart division of labor to me. But I don’t know whether the Europeans need a “rapid reaction force of 5,000 soldiers”. Far too little for defense in a crisis situation and for “other missions such as training and education” it does not have to be “rapid” or “immediately available”. You should really think twice about double structures – they make no sense, are too expensive and do not bring any added value. Of course, Germany will influence the HOW, i.e. the design, but it will not determine it alone.
Global Review: There are different assessments of China. One camp believes that although China is a “partner, competitor and systemic competitor”, it is essentially rising peacefully and does not want to get Taiwan back militarily either. Others think that a coming Sino-American military conflict over Taiwan is coming, in 2025, 2027 or 2035 either because China will be militarily and economically superior to the USA by then or because it fears that it will reach its power peak in 2030 and now want to use a historic window of opportunity. What is your point of view and what would your advice be for a new government? How could one de-escalate a conflict?
General ret. Domroese: Whichever way you assess China, we have chosen a certain ambiguity with the so-called ONE CHINA POLICY, which the West basically supports. We therefore have no diplomatic relations with TAIWAN. It’s a bit like in divided Germany with the Hallstein Doctrine, which basically advised against recognizing the GDR. So it will require our diplomatic skills to recognize the mainland Chinese on the one hand, but also the Taiwanese on the other To strengthen the striving for freedom and sovereignty without being understood as „interference in internal affairs“. In the case of Hong Kong, the West has looked rather pale. In the event of a Chinese military-violent intervention, we would have to take a stand on the side of Taiwan “without any ifs or buts”, together with other democratic nations. Also to underline our credibility in terms of foreign policy. India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia with America and Europe are ready to go to defend democratic values. There can be no doubt about that.
Since the Chinese government is aware of this scenario and because it has to take into account that there would be a bloody battle with an unknown outcome, I am inclined to assume that China will NOT unleash a war. Since Taiwan cannot attack, occupy or conquer China, calmness is recommended. “Stay on course”, Dietrich Genscher would have recommended. And I could live with that. May the better system „win“ politically, or two Chinas with different ones forms of government arise. In the long term, however, Taiwan should not be denied diplomatic recognition.
Global Review: How do you assess China’s latest initiative in the UN to achieve international regulation of military artificial intelligence? Is that feasible and to what extent could this be an introduction to other arms control negotiations, for example in cyberspace or space or the nuclear sphere?
General ret. Domroese: I think that’s urgent. We have found similar examples in complex situations: in nuclear technology, in ABC developments and in medicine, to name just three fields. In essence, it is about not actually doing everything that is feasible. We don’t want artificial humans / clones; we don’t want to poison water and we don’t want the proliferation of nuclear weapons, so we signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The nations have made rules in the UN that ensure all this morally required behavior. It should be similar with AI. I don’t know to what extent AI regulations can be combined with other control mechanisms. However, I advise against overburdening individual special topics because it will then become more and more difficult to agree on common goals. Step by step or less is more, I think.
Global Review: Erdogan Turkey remains the problem child of NATO. In addition to EU refugee agreements as a regional power in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Sahel, now in the Caucasus and Central Asia, in the Black Sea, it also supplies Ukraine with drones like Azerbaijan before , now wants to build a Turkish silk road through Armenia towards Central Asia, is involved in the gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea and around Greece. At the moment Erdogan has calmed down a little, especially since the Turkish economy is going down, but how should Germany and the West and NATO deal with Turkey? To what extent are Neo-Ottoman imperial ideas, rocking politics between China, Russia and NATO still acceptable?
General ret. Domroese: NATO is an alliance of 30 sovereign states that are politically and militarily united to defend the freedom of their citizens. Everyone contributes what they can bring in. Depending on the direction in which you are looking, sometimes one, sometimes the other, is a „PROBLEM CHILD“. Germany, for example, has more problems with armed operations or the „2% target“ than others. Others in the case of arms exports or space or cyber operations. There would be many examples. In this respect, I would not want to highlight any particular nation. But emphasize that geopolitically every nation brings something specific to the community. Turkey in the extreme southeast of our alliance area borders on Russia, Central Asia and the war zone Syria. It is therefore particularly challenged. Military, political, social and humanitarian. Who else will protect millions of refugees, provide them with medical and school care, feed them and endure tensions with their own people for so long? No other NATO nation. As for Turkish ambitions, the current government seems to dream of the Ottoman Empire – comparable to Russian ideas of hegemonic power. That will be settled, like the gas dispute with NATO’s neighbor Greece or the influence in Libya. In no democratic country does a president rule for life. Turkey will also have to examine whether and to what extent it wants to subordinate itself to Russian anti-aircraft protection or whether it is better off in the Atlantic air defense system NATINAD. Neither is possible. After all, only with the West will economic cooperation achieve a lasting upswing . In Afghansitan, our Turkish brothers did an excellent job – as “believers” they were natural helpers and mediators in difficult situations. I can only report good things from Kabul.
Global Review: How do you assess the development in North Africa and the belt from Nigeria along the Sahel to Somalia? Which powers do you see as the main drivers of the conflict, to what extent is Islamism a danger and how should the West react?
General ret. Domroese: Nigeria will be more populous than the USA in a few years – but it can give its citizens far fewer opportunities for a just life: A lack of education and training, work and the rule of law are the main causes of corruption across Africa. It spreads through the continent like a nasty cancerous tumor. More than 2 billion people will soon be living there; around 50 states, of which around 1/3 are „failed“, 1/3 are „falling“ and only 1/3 are „stable“. This situation calls for help: the people I consider it our special obligation to give concrete perspectives for a better life. This effectively removes the breeding ground for conflicts. If we don’t succeed, I see the collapse of the Sahel zone. Take, for example, MALI, where putschists rule, or SUDAN or Libya, which mutated into a “gateway to hell” after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. With negative effects on neighboring countries and Europe. Migration claims are promoted in this way. Pope Francis is absolutely right when he castigates that the Mediterranean is becoming a shameful death trap. EUROPE, we are called upon to change that.
I don’t see the Islamic religion as the problem. Sure, IS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and others are a huge danger – but more the result / consequence of injustice, corruption and mismanagement than the cause. We should give broad support to good governance in order to pull the ground off the radical forces. A Herculean task!
Global Review: Iran has now elected a hardline president Raisi, the positions in the nuclear negotiations with Iran have hardened and are far apart, Israel has now ordered refueling planes from the USA in order to be able to carry out a military attack against Iran itself. How do you think the situation around Iran will develop?
General ret. Domroese: Indeed, in the Middle East we are faced with an immensely large and complex task with an uncertain outcome. ONE facet of the conflict is the Iranian demand for the containment of Israel after the UN two-state solution, which neither Israel recognizes , nor the world community can and will enforce. It appears to be an irreconcilable conflict, with the result that Israel, for reasons of self-assertion, allegedly wants to „bomb Iran back 80 years“ if it possesses nuclear weapons. That would settle the conflict for the current generation, some claim. But the West cannot bring Iran back with further sanctions – it has reached its limit. So incentives must be offered that are so attractive that Iran does without “the bomb”. Hurry! Since “we” cannot enforce the UN resolution, the only option that remains is the apparently paradoxical option of credibly and reliably guaranteeing Iran protection in order to prevent an armed conflict. Otherwise, Iran will one day have these A-weapons. A dilemma that can only be solved by the P5. Israel must move – both must move!
Global Review: Iraq is also central to Iran. After the US withdrawal, Iran is hoping for a stronger position there. Pro-Iranian militias have now even carried out a drone attack on the Iraqi prime minister, which caused general outrage in Iraq. The Islamist and election winner Muktadar El-Sadr has now called for the pro-Iranian militias to be disarmed and disbanded. How do you see the further political development in the Shiite crescent of Iraq-Syria-Lebanon and how should the West act?
General ret. Domroese: This is the SECOND line of conflict: IRAN vs. IRAQ or Sunnis vs. Shiites. Since the first Gulf War (1980-88) there has been an armistice – but no peace. The second Gulf War (attack on Kuwait) ended with the complete defeat of the Iraqi army, the killing of Saddam Hussein and the collapse of Iraq. The efforts of the US-led coalition to establish stability and democracy there failed miserably, which accelerated the withdrawal of international combat troops – and the further deterioration of the structures. Iraq is unstable, weakened and not really democratic. (The only democratic state in MENA is Israel) It would be good for the „old coalitionaries“ to build what they have destroyed. Germany is already participating with a training mission.
Iran, as I see it, uses every opportunity to promote unrest, chaos and instability in the outlined crescent. Also in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was for many years the “Paris of the East” – reaching that again remains a distant goal of our Middle East policy. Let us not have any illusions: Germany will not make it. With “Israel as raison d’état” based on our history, we are “party” and are therefore not the “first address” for conflict resolution. Europe must and can act – together with the USA.
Global Review: Assad now seems to be firmly in the saddle again with Russia and Iran’s aid in Syria. Many Arab states are now trying to reintegrate Syria into the Arab League. The US, Egypt and Israel are building a so-called Arab pipeline from Egypt to Lebanon, but via Syria. In addition, construction aid is now being negotiated, but the conditions for granting it have not yet been clarified. What role should the US and the EU play in this?
General ret. Domroese: SYRIA has been bleeding since 2011 – it’s a human tragedy! President Assad has fought down the „Arab Spring“. More than 100,000 dead, millions displaced, destruction and endless suffering are to be lamented. We Europeans didn’t want to intervene there because we couldn’t militarily. The Americans could have done it – but they didn’t want to, so Russia had a relatively easy game to support the Assad regime politically AND militarily. Iran plays an important, but rather subordinate role here. Should Syria be accepted back into the Arab League, it would be a great political success for Assad – and Russia. It would have been made possible by Turkey, which is apparently ready to give up the last „pocket of resistance“ in Idlib. It will be seen what price it hopes for or gets for this. In short: the Arab League has always had an eventful history with a number of zigzags and changing political standards. In essence anti-Jewish, not democratic and therefore perceived as distant from the West. Nevertheless, it would be welcomed if it were possible to make peace, to finally stop the bloodshed and the displacement, more or less on their own. The aim is to rebuild and return the refugees as soon as they are “protected” from now on.
Let’s imagine – if I had a dream – what it would mean if the Arab League were a strong, peaceful, democratic community of around 350 million people? The crisis arc in the south-eastern Mediterranean from Morocco to Egypt to Turkey would be stable and offer its people a good life, solid education and training, legal security and human dignity – a great partner for Europe and Africa. A stability factor of the greatest importance – we should keep a firm eye on this and support it with a courageous vision / strategy. The West and the rich oil states are financially and economically in a position to set up a development program and give people a concrete perspective on a decent life. Win win. Since „we“ have not prevented the war, we should not shut ourselves off now from helping people in need. Perhaps there will be a good government in Damascus and in that way over the years other capitals of the Arab League in office …
Global Review: How did the situation develop after the disastrous withdrawal of the NATO in Afghanistan? At the moment it is rather quiet in the media. China and Russia are trying to win new allies with the Taliban, also for the Silk Road, but make this dependent on their specific behavior. What role remains for the West in Afghanistan? To what extent do you believe that the situation will stabilize or rather that it will also be destabilized with regard to Pakistan, Central Asia and the southern Russian republics?
General ret. Domroese: The shameful withdrawal of the NATO-led coalition from Afghanistan is not the end of the story. Fortunately, despite all the tragedy. We should have done better – of course. The real losers are the Afghan citizens, especially girls and women. The West acted immediately and with a UN resolution „Right to leave“, „Rights of women, children, minorities“ and „No violence against US / Allies“ further offers for financial and cultural and economic aid to alleviate the suffering of the people. But I think that we will only support the new Islamic government „with the handbrake on“. An injustice regime cannot expect that we will find and tolerate everything. Certain minimum standards are required. We have to speak willy-nilly to the governments that are in office.
Russia and China have other interests than primarily concerned with the “citizens‘ well-being”. Her priorities are to contain „Islamist influence“ on the AFG border. President Putin immediately offered military protection to the “Stan Republics” and acted accordingly. He wants – understandably – to prevent weapons, drugs and terrorists from infiltrating the Russian sphere of influence. China primarily wants to salvage Afghan natural resources. You could say: exploit. Like it does everywhere. The Eynak Copper Mine near Kabul is an example: the Chinese come with their “workers‘ brigades” including protective forces and do everything on their own. This is not an economic development or „help for self-help“. Hardly any Afghan profits. The contrary! The only and not insignificant thing, however, is the political and diplomatic recognition of Kabul, which helps the Talibs. Pakistan benefits from Chinese influence. And about the fact that the Talibs are back now – and no longer in their own country in Peshawar or anywhere else.
In short: the West could remain the sole “patron saint” for a decent life in Afghanistan. Morally, I don’t see any alternative other than “making a good face in a bad game”. We owe it to the people we have protected for twenty years. And who trusted us.
Global Review: After Belarus, there have now also been mass protests as a result of mismanagement and rising gas prices in Kazakhstan. It is no longer just about economic demands, but also about regime change Some commentators now fear not only a Russian invasion of The Eastern Ukraine, but also the Russian-speaking Northern Kazakhstan. Wouldn’t this be an imperial overstretch and to what extent does this have an impact on Russia’s policy in near abroad, Central Asia and also for the SCO, which is dominated by China and Russia?
General ret. Domroese: Superficially, the doubling of the (car) gas price seems to be the trigger for the protests and outbreaks of bloody violence. Behind this, however, is a 30-year-old encrusted clan structure since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1990. At its core, three powerful clans with and without government responsibility rule the country, the economy and dominate the whole of social life, as I see it. The enormous profits from the oil and gas industry are not passed on to the citizens / employees, which leads to social tensions, especially in the economic centers – and which „overflooded the barrel“ with the surprising and completely excessive price increase.
Behind this brutal dispute is the power struggle between the incumbent president and his predecessor, who gave the capital its name. Many of the dead, I hear, belong to the security of the old president – you don’t hear or see anything from him. He will be disempowered. The now well-known (Russian) narrative is the usual: foreign terrorists attack innocent citizens, endanger state authority and “internal peace”; Declaration of a state of emergency, deployment of the military and „alliance case CSTO“, i.e. Russia as the lead nation is asked to help. Some say the two presidents get along very well. This is followed by pictures of the arrival of Russian paratroopers in an impressively fast relocation, checkpoints to secure the government district and burning cars and buildings caused by the terrorist. Everything presented fine – media / internet switched off. Recent experiences from Belarus and Ukraine show: it has to be done quickly and you have to master the images. Lessons learned – respect (with a view to the militarilyy-tactical craft), it would be non-tragic, bloody and criminal. In this context I refer to the “Afghanistan Conference” in Moscow, in which President Putin promised protection to the “-stan Republics”. So what?
I do NOT think that Russia is „overstretched“. Militarily at least not. One or two brigades in Kazakhstan would NOT weaken the „Western Front“ on Ukraine. Russia could also send more troops to exercises in Belarus – with the signal: don’t miscalculate!, Politically, a calm Kazakhstan, a peaceful Belarus and a nervous Ukraine will bring President Putin the greatest success. Domestically for the forthcoming own elections. Foreign policy for the beginning negotiations with the USA / NATO in Geneva from mid-January 2022. And the OSCE in Vienna. Therefore I do NOT believe that Russia will invade Ukraine – possible losses, painful sanctions, own elections could have the unintended effect of tasting like a „defeat“ – especially since there would be no quick solution in sight in the event of an armed conflict.
On the contrary, on top of that, he too would have to fear internal unrest and nationwide protests. For what reason ? The Russian government is familiar with the NATO admission regulations: they know that NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the agenda as long as there is no “calm”. He will NOT have a say in the alliance – of course. He doesn’t even need …
Global Review: If you gave an outlook for the year 2022, what do you think the main conflicts and events will be and what do you wish for the new year?
General ret. Domroese: Great Question would my American friends say … Well, peace in freedom and a decent life in as many countries as possible would be a good feeling – let’s try it! We live in a change of epochs that must and can run safely with courage and vision. The tectonic power shifts between Europe, Russia, China and the United States of America resemble an earthquake – we must prevent the outbreak of great wars at all costs. To do this, we have to look through the “glasses of the other” from time to time. At the seam of the “hegemony borders” or “zones of influence” there will inevitably be “unrest” – precisely because it is very complex and interlinked there. And different interests prevail. Moderating, channeling and influencing this global and disruptive process will cost all of our energy.
I fear troubled times if we don’t succeed. First of all in the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear drive must be stopped – otherwise I will see bloody battles for this decade. Lose-lose situations! Nobody can want that. Then I see the “old guard” in and around Russia, who are desperately trying to revive the old Soviet empire. At the same time, human and freedom rights are suppressed so that an implosion can occur à la Kiev / Orange Revolution. And because these rulers do not want to allow that, there is a real danger that they will „let off steam“ on foreign policy, as in Crimea. The entire belt around Russia is in turmoil – from Minsk, via Kiev and Nur-Sultan to Vladivostok. It would be welcomed if the Russian government were to adopt a more relaxed British attitude: our friends believe they are powerful and big with the Commenwealth, but are in fact perfectly normal. That makes them so adorable!
Finally, I hope for Chinese common sense and restraint. The Xi Jinping system should lay its great intelligence on promoting the prosperity of its own huge population and on free, fair world trade. With his RCEP, he set the world’s largest free trade agreement in motion since a few days. Respect! To rise from a developing country to a world power in just 50 years is something to be proud of. It doesn’t always have to be more. We have not dealt with climate and pandemic issues today – they are of course extremely urgent. With this in mind, I wish your readers a good, healthy year! Stay safe!