“We must become fit for war”, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has just said.
Heribert Prantl recalled in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the same politician used to award a peace prize every two years when he was mayor of Osnabrück.
The German Basic Law, international law and the Declaration of Human Rights call for peace as the basis of all politics. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Recognizing that the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, the General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Human rights therefore mean the rule of law, not the rule of terror, violence or war.
Has the German Minister of Defense violated these universal human rights and the Basic Law by calling for Germany to become “fit for war”? This is not a trivial question, but a central and fundamental one.
It is not only because of our history that Germany is on Israel’s side in the new Middle East war and on the side of Putin’s invaded Ukraine in the Ukraine war. Both Ukraine and Israel have the right to defend themselves and therefore have international law on their side. The basic German conviction of “never again” was always meant to be universalistic. However, this also means that war must never again break out from German soil. The Bundeswehr is there exclusively for defense. This does not exclude assistance in the defense of friendly states. But is that why it is “ready for war”? Is the German Minister of Defense now a “war minister”?
“War capability is different from defense capability,” Heribert Prantl rightly writes. The ability to wage war is rooted in ancient Roman thought and action: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. The new way of thinking after two world wars and in the age of atomic bombs can only be: “If you want peace, prepare for peace”.
Even US President Biden is now advising the Israelis not to repeat the old revenge mistakes made by the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. In other words, neither the Ukraine war nor the Middle East war can be won by force alone. Anyone who seriously and sustainably wants peace must also think about and negotiate diplomatic and political solutions, as the USA and some Arab governments are now doing. We must finally learn not to win more wars, but to win peace.
The lives of over 200 Israeli hostages cannot be saved by brute force. The killing of Israeli babies is just as much a violation of human rights as the killing of Palestinian babies.
The German government should remember the fundamental “never again” right now and insist on international law and human rights in both wars and push for negotiations. Germany must insist on the universal rules: vis-à-vis Hamas, but also vis-à-vis the Israeli military. The alternative is the old way of thinking, the old logic of war and revenge and the law of the strongest.
In the Middle East conflict, the United Nations is already accusing both sides of “war crimes”. It is therefore all the more important that Germany remains capable of peace and does not become “capable of war”. Boris Pistorius should clearly correct himself. In addition to defense, diplomacy must play a central role in achieving a ceasefire and a swift peace agreement. Germany should actively promote peace in both wars so that neither Ukraine nor Gaza remain a mass grave.
The lesson from the Holocaust, as from all wars, is the unconditional defense of human rights and the rights to life of all people. When Russia cuts off water, food, energy and medicine to people in Ukraine, it is just as inhumane as when the current Israeli government does the same to the 2.3 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.