Germany’s National Security Strategy – The First Strategic Steps
74 years after coming into existence, the German Federal State adopted its first National Security Strategy (NSS). It is important to understand why it took so long, so as to correctly interpret the document. After the Federal Republic was founded, the question of rearming Germany as a front state in a growingly intense conflict between the Cold War blocs became ever more important. Germany’s part in building up deterrence against the Soviet Union was needed, but skepticism naturally rose in Europe given the devastation brought about by Germany’s aggression during the two world wars. A rearmament of the largest state in the center of Europe was only possible through its maximum integration into the western alliance system. Adding to efforts to calm its neighbors, German politicians as well as the German public wanted to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the country’s militaristic past, and so developed the foreign policy identity of “civic state,” with no ambitions to use military power outside its territory, a mediator and a good ally. With this also came a strong anti-militaristic position, which is a major trait in Germany’s foreign policy identification, and which makes diplomatic measures the favored means of foreign policy-making. Another result of this position was that Germany sought not to push a strong security agenda of its own. Most of the strategic defense and security decision-making was handled by the alliances in the EC/EU, or mostly NATO. Therefore, Germany did not develop strong strategic decision-making capabilities or an epistemic community to this end. This came even easier after the Cold War ended, as Germany could see itself as completely safe, with wars in Europe having become almost impossible; only friends at its borders, and global trade as a stabilizing factor for its interaction with the world. The German “Zeitenwende,” however, is an acknowledgement that this time of stability is over and that Germany needs to play a more active role in restoring and defending Europe’s security.
Against this background, the first NSS of Germany has to be read as a document which has to prove that Germany understands the security issues of the time and that shows it is willing to react accordingly. But due to a lack of established procedures, which could systematically include the security community in the strategic decision making, some shortcomings are to be found in the document. The NSS fails in concretization, priority setting and is not convincing regarding the integration of the various policy fields listed in the strategy. Nevertheless, it is an important beginning of a change in the strategic culture.
Integrated security as a reaction to changed threat perception
What kind of changes to the German security policy are to be found in the NSS? First of all, the threat perception reflects the recent developments and longer trends which Germany until now only reluctantly accepted. Russia is described as the major threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and China as a partner, competitor and systemic opponent, with a growing share of rivalry. In general, the world is described as more multipolar and more unstable.
In reaction to this, Germany is structuring its strategy around the idea of integrated security, which combines defense and security against threats from outside with domestic security (economic and democratic resilience), and which guarantees the bases of human existence (climate change and natural resources, food security). That the effects of climate change have an impact on the world’s and Germany’s security is a major point of the NSS.
In order to deal with these threats, Germany is willing to play a major role in the European security architecture. While underlining the importance of the transatlantic partnership, a focus of reform activities is set on the European Union. Germany wants to develop its army into a cornerstone of the European defense system. For this, it plans to invest no less than 2% of its GDP in this over the years, and to make “efforts to expand the military presence on Allied territory” (p.32). One direct implementation can be seen in the recent speech of the Minister of Defense, Boris Pistorius, offering to permanently station 4000 troops in Lithuania under NATO’s command.
A capable European pillar of NATO
Germany intends to push mostly for reforms on the European level and to support the European defense and security industry. Reforms of the EU decision-making procedures, such as majority voting on foreign and security policy issues, are necessary to make further enlargement possible. In the NSS, Germany again underlines its support for the accession of Ukraine, Moldova, the Balkan states and, “on a longer-term, Georgia” (p.13).
While other regions in the world are mentioned, it seems to be clear that Germany’s main focus is on Europe and its direct neighborhood. This means a commitment to security in this region by deterring Russia, investing in its own capacities and those of its partners; pushing for a European Union that is a capable geopolitical actor with the ability to act independently, if needed.
However, while focusing on the capabilities of the EU, it is always seen as the European pillar of NATO, therefore holding up Germany’s strong focus on this alliance. Its own role in Europe is seen as a hub for the alliance forces, investing in logistical and supporting capabilities in order to enable the alliance to swiftly act in Europe and globally.
The fight for human rights and a multilateral world order
Regarding the global order, the NSS underlines that “attempts to divide the world into spheres of influence” (p.15) are unacceptable, and claims that Germany is countering this by promoting the positive model of a rules-based order. Germany will invest in multilateral structures and is supportive in reforming these institutions so that they better reflect the political structure of today’s world.
The Russian war in Ukraine also caused some irritation regarding the reaction of other nations, especially in the Global South. Germany had difficulties understanding why countries wouldn’t openly support the coalition around Ukraine in a situation of clear aggression from Russia. An outcome of this irritation is to be found in the NSS, which states that “in order to be able to offer better and long-term options, the Federal Government will expand its global partnerships in a targeted way. Its goal here is fair, respectful and long-term cooperation between sovereign and equal partners.” While the Global South might have been the major reason for this approach, Eastern Europe should also profit from. Partners which share Germany’s values will be the focus of moves to cooperate. One major aspect of this is the feminist foreign and development policy, looking “to strengthen the rights of women and marginalized population groups, to drive forward the elimination of discriminatory power structures, to foster participation and diversity, to enable all population groups to participate in decision-making at all levels on an equal basis, and to ensure that they have access to resources.” (p.52, NSS)
On the other hand, the NSS clearly states that Germany also needs to cooperate with states which are not fully supportive of its values regarding global problems, an issue which needs to be solved collectively. This is mentioned especially with a view to China, making the NSS slightly ambiguous regarding Germany’s major global trading partner. The NSS makes a direct link to a soon-to-be-published China strategy. Whether this will be able to shed more light on the German-China policy is yet to be seen.
A good start to follow up on
In sum: Is the strategy positive for Eastern Europe? I would argue yes. Germany has understood that it needs to take more care of security in Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe. It will be more open to fair partnerships and more willing to invest in security and economies. An important aspect of the NSS is also the reduction of economic dependence, which Germany felt quite painfully in the last year while detangling itself from Russian energy deliveries. Pushing for more diversity in resource supplies, and resilience in supply chains and production, might offer a chance for the Eastern European economies.
However, while this strategy presents a lot of important issues, from building up the military to economic and democratic resilience and developmental cooperation worldwide, it lacks a clear prioritization that would hint as to which of these aspects will be pushed more and which less. Even more problematic, all the policies are to be implemented without additional burdens on the federal budget, which seems rather unrealistic. Even reaching the 2% goal of military spending after the 100 billion special funds end, as early as 2025, won’t be possible without considerable additional funds added to the defense budget. As such, the strategy is a good starting point, indicating where Germany will is heading, but it will need additional work to make its priorities clear and understandable with regards to what is funded and what is not. Eastern Europe will remain a major focus of Germany and should use the momentum for intensified cooperation.
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