Brookings’ Constanze Stelzenmüller to discuss what Ukraine war means for U.S.

When Constanze Stelzenmüller first spoke at Chautauqua Institution, it was in the middle of a week dedicated to evolving issues in Europe, and how the continent was redefining itself geopolitically in the 21st century.

She’d planned on focusing on the future of European foreign policy, but following several other morning lectures she was in attendance for — including journalist Roger Cohen and financial specialist David Marsh — she pivoted and started from scratch, offering a perspective on her native Germany. 

She spoke on its role in both Europe and broader international affairs, and how the country evolved from the end of World War II to the economic strength it possessed in summer 2015.

“The reality is that the Germans are not in the (European Union) what the Americans are in NATO,” she told Chautauquans that summer. 

“It may be currently the most powerful, and with the most successful economy, but we are very conscious that, just 10 years ago, we were the sick man of Europe, and what goes around, comes around.”

A lot has changed since that lecture in 2015, and in summer 2022, Stelzenmüller has again pivoted. 

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, noted that Stelzenmüller was among the first speakers invited for the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week One theme: “What Should be America’s Role in the World?” 

“(Stelzenmüller’s) lecture in 2015, during our week on ‘Redefining Europe,’ remains one of the most buzzed-about talks on geopolitics in Chautauqua’s recent history,” Ewalt said. “As we thought about our 2022 season, and the excitement about reconvening as a community in conversation, her name was one at the top of our list of speakers we wanted back in the Amphitheater.”

The invitation to speak in 2022 came the same month as Germany’s election, in which Olaf Scholz emerged as the winner to replace longtime chancellor Angela Merkel. 

The thought, Ewalt said, was to have Stelzenmüller — who is the first Fritz Stern Chair on Germany and trans-Atlantic Relations in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings Institution — examine what Scholz’s election, and Merkel’s departure, would mean for the EU and for the Biden Administration. 

Stelzenmüller would also offer insights on how Germany defines its role as the anchor economy in the region. 

And then Russia invaded Ukraine. 

So, Stelzenmüller took a different approach. She’ll deliver her morning lecture, now titled “Putin’s War: What it Means for America’s Role in Europe and the World,” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, June 28, in the Amphitheater.

An expert on German, European, and trans-Atlantic foreign and security policy and strategy, Stelzenmüller has held several positions at Brookings, including senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe, and the inaugural Robert Bosch Senior Fellow. 

At the Library of Congress, she served as Henry A. Kissinger Chair on Foreign Policy and International Relations, and was senior trans-Atlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

A prolific writer in both German and English, Stelzenmüller has been published in Foreign Affairs, Internationale Politik, the Financial Times, the International New York Times and Süddeutsche Zeitung, among others. In April 2022, two months after Russia invaded Ukraine, she wrote for the Financial Times arguing that the German government hesitated to provide military support to Ukraine, drawing ire from allies — and highlighting weaknesses of the Social Democratic Party. She likened it to a “merciless war … being waged in the middle of Europe — on Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party. That, at least, is what a casual observer of German politics might conclude.”

In 2015, Stelzenmüller shared with her Amp audience that, when it comes to military engagements, Germany was perhaps most cautious with Russia. In her April Financial Times piece, she called Germany’s policy on Russia “self-serving,” and Germany’s energy dependence on Russia “part willfully naïve, part deeply corrupt.” Both found supporters across the German government, she wrote, which “emboldened the Kremlin, and … enabled Vladimir Putin’s war.”

But most urgently, Stelzenmüller wrote, Scholz needs “a proper national security staff that can advise and assist the head of government to weather an age of continual disruptions.”

“It matters all the more,” she wrote, “because Germany has a special responsibility to put a stop to the evil unleashed by Putin.”

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The author Sara Toth

Sara Toth is in her seventh summer as editor of The Chautauquan Daily and works year-round in Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Education. Previously, she served four years as the Daily’s assistant and then managing editor. An alum of the Daily internship program, she is a native of Pittsburgh(ish), attended Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and worked for nearly four years as a reporter in the Baltimore Sun Media Group. She lives in Jamestown with her husband (a photographer) and her Lilac (a cat).