This article is an onsite version of our Europe Express newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every weekday and Saturday morning

Welcome back. After a few delays and a great deal of political and bureaucratic infighting, Germany is poised to publish its first comprehensive national security strategy. Will it be worth the wait? Will it change, for better or worse, German foreign and defence policy? I’m at

Earlier this month, I attended a conference in London staged by the Hanns Seidel Stiftung, a German public policy foundation, and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Geopolitics. The conference offered valuable insights into what Germany’s new national security strategy will look like and how effective it will be.

The observation of one German participant made a strong impression on me. She said: “All our allies, from the US to central and eastern Europe, seem to be sincere in saying to us, ‘Germany, please, up your game!’”

Germany’s friends on both sides of the Atlantic are keen to see Berlin take more responsibility for European security, spend more on defence (and spend it wisely) and, above all, think strategically. So the question is: will the new national security strategy enable Germany to step up to the mark?

What’s in a name?

What purpose does a national security strategy serve? Ideally, it sets out a conceptual framework for policymakers to plan foreign, defence and security policies.

It has the advantage of assessing long-term challenges as well as the more immediate ones that preoccupy governments in democracies where the next election is never far away.

It sends a useful signal to citizens, and to international allies and rivals, about how leaders see the world and their country’s place in it.

The German government originally promised to issue its strategy by last December. Then the deadline slipped to the annual Munich security conference, which took place in February. Now I hear that we can expect it to appear some time next month, ahead of a Nato summit in July to be held in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

The burden of history

But to start with, let’s recall why Germany is drawing up such a strategy for the first time. In truth, Germany was starting to seem like the odd man out in western Europe after France and the UK each published national strategies between 2017 and 2021, and then updated them in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, in the 74 years since the Federal Republic’s creation in 1949, neither the old West Germany nor the reunited Germany formed in 1990 has shown much inclination to frame foreign and defence policy in an overarching strategy.

In this respect, history has clearly been a heavy burden: not just the 1933-1945 Nazi era and the second world war, but also Germany’s division into two states, one of which laboured for 40 years under Soviet-imposed communism. Leaders in Bonn, and later Berlin, acted as if Germany was safest as a kind of Greater Switzerland, not offending other countries and pursuing national economic prosperity as if geopolitics was some separate, unrelated policy field.

This approach had some benefits: it reassured West Germany’s friends during the cold war, and it permitted the emergence of Ostpolitik (reconciliation with eastern neighbours) in the 1970s. But in the post-cold war era it became increasingly blinkered, as was forcefully argued for many years by Germany’s allies, especially the US and central and eastern European countries alarmed by Russian behaviour under Vladimir Putin.

Constanze Stelzenmüller, a regular FT columnist, put it bluntly last year: by the late 20th century, Germany had “outsourced its security to the US, its export-led growth to China and its energy needs to Russia”.

Echoing this analysis, a participant at the London conference said of Germany’s defence and security policies: “We felt comfortable with the US doing our thinking for us.”

New times, new thinking

Now change is in the air. German policymakers are acutely aware that, if Donald Trump or another Republican moves into the White House after next year’s presidential election, the new US administration may have much less patience with Germany’s relatively low levels of defence expenditure and hesitations about displaying leadership in Europe.

Another reason behind the decision to produce a national security strategy is straightforward: the three parties that formed a government after Germany’s 2021 Bundestag elections — the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats — agreed in their coalition programme to publish one.

More broadly, as Cornelius Adebahr writes for the Global Policy Journal, many policymakers had felt for some years that the traditional language of German foreign policy had become outdated. “Whether it’s the ‘honest broker’ or ‘effective multilateralism’, ‘never again war’ or ‘change through trade’ (Wandel durch Handel) — after decades of use, these words cloud more than they elucidate,” Adebahr observes.

Finally, although the decision to publish a strategy preceded Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the initiative seems a useful way to flesh out the ideas contained in a landmark speech that Chancellor Olaf Scholz made just days after the war’s outbreak. This has become known as his Zeitenwende speech, after the word he coined to suggest that Russia’s invasion marked a “historical turning point” or an “epochal shift in geopolitics”.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz visits the German armed forces during a training exercise in Ostenholz, northern Germany, October 17 2022 © Ronny Hartmann/Getty

What will the new strategy say?

According to those involved in drawing it up, the new German strategy is built on three concepts: vigorous defence, resilience and sustainability.

On defence, the idea is to demonstrate that Germany will heed its allies’ pleas and take more responsibility for European security. This will mean meeting the Nato target of spending at least 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence, and also supporting the enlargement and effectiveness of the EU.

Resilience means protecting democracy, strengthening the German economic model, upholding international institutions, ensuring access to strategic materials and acting robustly against disinformation.

Sustainability means measures to tackle threats such as climate change and pandemics.

What are the strategy’s shortcomings?

One unusual outcome of Germany’s debate over its national security strategy is that, although there will be a detailed document setting out the country’s priorities, there will not be a national security council to accompany it.

This may prove to be a serious drawback. As one conference participant said: “A strategy without a council is a one-legged animal.”

Why has this happened? Fundamentally, it’s about domestic German party politics. Politicians in the three-party coalition couldn’t agree on whether to house a security council in Scholz’s chancellery, or whether to base it in other ministries, notably those handling foreign affairs and defence.

This dispute reflects the fact that Germany is almost invariably governed by coalitions, and the chancellery and foreign ministry are generally in the hands of different parties. In today’s coalition, Scholz’s SPD holds the chancellery and the Greens party has the foreign ministry under Annalena Baerbock.

Defence spending

Another concern relates to defence expenditure. Scholz last year announced a €100bn special fund for military refurbishments, but it is taking time to get projects going — and it may not be enough to make a big difference, anyway.

Erich Vad, who served as former chancellor Angela Merkel’s military adviser from 2006 to 2013, wrote for Harvard Kennedy School’s Russia Matters website last month that Germany needs to spend more like €300bn to bring the armed forces to operational readiness.

In itself, the new national security strategy won’t guarantee that kind of extra commitment, for what matters is the political will to do it. However, it is a promising sign that Boris Pistorius, Germany’s new defence minister, is showing more determination to get things done than most of his predecessors.

Military aid for Ukraine

In this context, it should be noted that, after a slow start last year that drew strong criticism from Ukraine and some of Berlin’s Nato allies, Germany has gradually ramped up military as well as financial and humanitarian aid for Kyiv.

As the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s chart below shows, Germany is one of the west’s largest providers of military aid in absolute financial terms, though not in terms of GDP.

In conclusion, it seems to me that Germany is serious about meeting its responsibilities and allaying its allies’ concerns. But the new national security strategy needs to be more than an expertly written policy paper. It must result in concrete plans, implemented in a timely fashion.

What do you think? Will the national security strategy improve German policies? Click here to vote.

More on this topic

The Ukraine war: what do members of Germany’s Russian-speaking diaspora think? A survey by the dimap research institute for the Deutsche Welle broadcaster

Tony’s picks of the week

  • Chinese nationals own less than 1 per cent of foreign-held US land, but the figure has risen substantially in recent years and now dozens of US states and federal lawmakers are trying to halt the trend. Patti Waldmeir, a contributing columnist for the FT, sets out what’s at stake

  • The UK’s decision to provide Ukraine with Storm Shadow cruise missiles should boost the country’s forthcoming offensive operations against Russia, but at more than £790,000 a weapon they will have to be expended carefully, Jack Watling writes for the London-based Royal United Services Institute

Britain after Brexit — Keep up to date with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign up here

Working it — Discover the big ideas shaping today’s workplaces with a weekly newsletter from work & careers editor Isabel Berwick. Sign up here

Are you enjoying Europe Express? Sign up here to have it delivered straight to your inbox every workday at 7am CET and on Saturdays at noon CET. Do tell us what you think, we love to hear from you: Keep up with the latest European stories @FT Europe

Source link

Leave a Comment