In the face of this lack of will on the part of the Europeans, the United States’ readiness to rapidly and constantly support the pursuit of European interests out of solidarity to the alliance will also diminish, as is currently illustrated in the case of Libya. The consequence of this is that NATO may transform into a forum for nonbinding trans-Atlantic political discourse. With solidarity fading away within the military alliance, the Europeans would be relegated to ensuring their security on their own in the future.

That is a scenario that surely cannot be in Germany’s interests if it wants to pursue a serious, credible and responsible security policy. However, Germany’s present self-isolation leaves the international community with the fatal impression that Germany, the former main beneficiary of NATO, is no longer available to shape a NATO strategy for the future. And why isn’t it? Because of ignorant, nationalist-pacifist provincialism. ~Jorg Himmelreich

When Americans wring their hands about German pacifism, it is fairly strange, but when Germans do it there is something really bizarre going on. It is amusing that Himmelreich feels the need to throw in the label nationalist as part of his indictment, as if the greatest danger from nationalism is its capacity to undermine multilateral wars of choice. If this were what we could reliably expect from nationalists, we might want to encourage them.

On the whole, Himmelreich’s complaints about Germany’s “self-isolation” ring just as false as standard American warnings about the bogey of “isolationism.” In both cases, the supposed isolation under discussion is not anything like diplomatic, economic, or cultural isolation. Merkel isn’t suggesting that Germany put itself under an embargo, nor is she saying that Germany should break off relations with all other nations. There is no question of Germany’s pursuing autarky, or hunkering down behind fortifications, or cutting itself off from the rest of the world. What we’re talking about is an unwillingness to support the killing of foreigners.

One can debate the merits of that decision, but instead of doing that the Germany-bashers have usually resorted to deriding Germany for its lack of cosmopolitan belligerence. That’s why we keep hearing how the European project is being jeopardized by a “nationalist” Germany, as if Merkel were Marine Le Pen, and the government that has so far kept the EU and euro from imploding is being accused of provincialism! Of course, if one is provincial, ignorance has to come with the territory, because it’s obvious that only an ignorant person who knew nothing about Libya would not want to attack it. The attackers are clearly so very well-informed.

I keep seeing claims that Libya has marked the death of a common European defense policy, but this is the same abuse of language that militarists engage in here in the U.S. when they refer to spending for power projection to prosecute wars of choice as “defense.” Libya is showing the limits of how far European governments can project power outside Europe, but in the case of Libya this has nothing to do with a common European defense. Europeans will have to spend more on their militaries to provide for such a defense. If Libya reveals the obsolescence of NATO and speeds that up it may have at least one small redeeming element. What Libya does not show is an unwillingness on the part of Germany to support a common European defense policy. It shows that Germany is not interesting in using European resources to settle a North African civil war.

Describing neutrality or inaction or opposition to war as “isolation” is an impressive abuse of language. One of the first things that happens when a war starts is that the relations that previously existed between two or more nations are severed. Economic and diplomatic ties are broken. Governments that do not participate in ongoing wars are among the least isolated in that they can conduct commerce and diplomacy much more freely, and their relations with other governments are not distorted by war aims.

It would be one thing if Germany were one of a few states objecting to the Libyan war. Then it might be the case that Germany was isolating itself diplomatically by staking out an extremely unpopular position. That isn’t what’s happening. Germany happens to be on the same side regarding Libya as the vast majority of governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and in Europe it is on the same side as the second-largest non-U.S. member of NATO and one of the six largest members of the EU. Most of NATO is uninvolved in Libya, and even some of the governments formally supporting the mission are not fully committed. It is not Germany that is isolating itself, but rather those few European states that are carrying out the attacks on Libya.