Olaf Scholz, Germany's chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, France's president, at a meeting on day two of the NATO summit in Madrid on June 29, 2022.

Olaf Scholz, Germany's chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, France's president, at a meeting on day two of the NATO summit in Madrid on June 29, 2022. (Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg)

On March 3, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of united Germany visited with President Joe Biden at the White House.

The visit brought no public disagreement. Some misguided media observers have questioned whether the visit was at all necessary. That unfortunate outlook overlooks the situation in Europe and the contemporary roles of Germany, and — above all — that nation’s history.

Scholz last visited Washington and the White House on Feb. 7, 2022. At that time, the government of Germany was emphasizing the importance of diplomacy and general accommodation in dealing with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Seventeen days later brought the massive Russia invasion of Ukraine.

Russian aggression in Ukraine represents the most serious crisis and challenge in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Putin no doubt anticipated a quick victory. Ukraine’s heroic self-defense to date has energized as well as united NATO. Russia is paying a high price for aggression.

Formerly neutral Finland and Sweden have decided to join NATO, a dramatic reversal of historically rooted policies. Cold War Sweden practiced variations of often offensive anti-American “neutrality.” Last August, the United States Senate voted almost unanimously in favor of their admission, with only one negative vote.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a sizable and overall a reliable NATO member, has raised a stumbling block related to alleged Swedish support for violent Kurdish separatists. However, Turkey, which occasionally has collaborated with Russia, shows no signs of supporting the Ukraine invasion.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict in total has become long-term. In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and the eastern portion of Ukraine. Crimea had been part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula to the authority of Ukraine in 1954.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the disintegration of the Soviet bloc of satellite states, and then the Soviet Union, represents historic strategic victory for the West. The end of the Cold War confirmed the policy of restraint and deterrence termed “Containment,” initiated by the Truman administration.

Poland, a NATO member since 1999, is active in the collective effort to provide arms to Ukraine. The coalition government in Germany led by Scholz began with a low profile regarding Europe, in considerable contrast to the assertive long-term leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. This changed abruptly when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Germany now provides arms and other aid.

During the early phases of the Cold War, the Arctic was the focus of intense security concern. NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, was formed in 1958 (retitled North American Aerospace Defense Command in 1981) to coordinate Canada and U.S. security.

The threat of Soviet long-range bombers attacking across the Arctic was a prime military worry. President Dwight Eisenhower secured demilitarization of Antarctica in 1959. Eisenhower also sent the new nuclear submarine Polaris on a spectacular voyage under the North Pole, a silent but profound message. Today, the Arctic nations except Russia are with the NATO alliance.

Other threats remain salient and today are more complex than during the Cold War. Espionage remains an inevitable threat in relations among nations. The novels of John le Carré accurately reflect, to an almost eerie degree, the central roles of both East Germany and West Germany in the spy game. The end of the Cold War has not ended the need for effective intelligence.

Germany today is ideally positioned to play an increasing, and increasingly positive as well as powerful role in the affairs of Europe.

Henry Kissinger has emphasized that the vexing irony for Germany historically was that a Germany powerful enough to feel secure inevitably threatened neighbors, while a Germany that was not threatening would inevitably be insecure.

Today, German militarism is part of the past, while strongly rooted democracy and a powerful economy help stabilize Europe.

Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War — American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia.”

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