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FT: Mr Beck’s Schröderian Gamble

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Kurt Beck shows that Schroederism is alive and well

From the FT:

Kurt Beck, Mr Schröder’s successor as SPD chairman, launched the first salvo early last month when he told the Bild tabloid that US plans to create an anti-missile defence system with bases in Poland and the Czech Republic were a step back to the cold war. “We do not need new rockets in Europe. The SPD does not want a new arms race between the US and Russia on European soil,” he said. “We already have enough problems in the world as it is.” Although broad-brushed, the comment was well calculated, both in its historical reference and in its intended effect. The reference was to Nato’s decision in 1979 to deploy nuclear missiles in western Europe to match the Soviet arsenal. … The move struck a chord; a poll in Stern magazine last month showed that 48 per cent of Germans saw the US as more dangerous than Iran (31 per cent said Tehran was a bigger threat), and nearly three-quarters agreed with Mr Beck’s comments. “We are very much aware of the domestic dimension of the discussion,” said a US diplomat. As the SPD be-longs to the coalition, there is some concern in Washington about the debate spilling into Berlin’s official policies. This concern rose when Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD foreign minister, penned a virulent attack against the US missile defence system in an article last week in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Our highest priority is disarmament, not rearmament. We want no new arms race in Europe,” he wrote. The criticism went further than Ms Merkel’s cautious call for Washington to consult more openly with Russia and the EU and to bring its plan under the umbrella of Nato. Her defence minister, a Christian Democrat like her, has openly supported the US plan. This cacophony raised questions in the US about what, exactly, was Berlin’s position, and it prompted the US embassy to hold separate seminars on the anti-missile shield with the coalition parties and to seek a meeting with the SPD chairman. On the domestic front, analysts doubt Mr Beck’s Schröderian gamble will pay off. With the next general election scheduled for 2009, many think he has moved too soon. Neither has the offensive met a universally positive echo in the SPD. Gunter Weissgerber and Markus Meckel, two MPs and foreign policy experts, have accused the chairman of launching a simplistic and mistaken controversy.