Toward a New German Foreign Policy

Oct 28, 2020

Taking a Stand

Germany needs to improve its capacity to act in the realm of foreign and security policy. This includes reaching the NATO 2-percent goal more quickly. There are also structural changes required, including the setting up of a National Security Council.

The Germab Reichstag building
All rights reserved

As a strong player in a self-confident EU, Germany must pursue a foreign policy that does justice to our country’s global responsibility and meets the geopolitical challenges of the 21st century. This should also be seen as an offer to our European and international partners. They need to know where Germany stands in terms of foreign and security policy—and where it is heading.

Developments in German-American relations in particular underscore how important foreign policy “at eye level" and with a claim to leadership is for our country. Only a firmly established European-American alliance can safeguard our freedom on both sides of the Atlantic. The less we pull our weight and meet our responsibilities in the world, the less the United States will do. We must invest in the Bundeswehr with more courage and a more forward-looking approach and reach the NATO target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense more quickly: that would enhance our capacity to act in foreign affairs.

This is essential for Germany and Europe—and it is also an important signal to the West: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law will only be preserved if the United States and Europe finally work together more closely, more seriously, and with mutual respect as equal partners.

One thing is certain: the United States will remain a world power. Neither Donald Trump nor the COVID-19 pandemic will change that. It is reassuring to know that the only superpower is democratically constituted; if it weren’t, our life in Europe would look different—less peaceful, orderly, and prosperous. However, the global environment has changed, especially due to China's growing economic and political power. That’s why a deepened, powerful, newly forged transatlantic alliance makes sense, not only for Europe but also for America.

Germany’s Position Toward China and Russia

The EU describes China as a systemic rival. The US defines China as a new competitor for superpower status. The conflict “democracy vs. China” will shape this still-young century. We are in the first days of a new Cold War. China presents special challenges for the West; we have an economically successful dictatorship on our hands. Every day China tries anew to divide the EU, to take advantage of individual countries, while its cyber-spies and state-owned corporations put pressure on our industry and try to force on us a 5G network that would allow surveillance-obsessed Beijing to reach into every German mobile phone mast. The still-open question of whether Huawei is allowed to install hardware in the German 5G network endangers the integrity of our networks. The reliability and confidentiality of information channels is a question of sovereignty: who would still want to exchange information and data with Germany if no one knew where it was going?

Sanctions will have to be part of our toolkit in the future. We should think about creating a European sanctions authority, similar to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US. At least as important is the issue of trade: the West must insist on full reciprocity in all trade matters, from freedom of investment to freedom of establishment and provision of services to the protection of intellectual property.

The situation with Russia is different. The Kremlin has created facts on the ground in Europe, while significant parts of the German foreign policy community are concerned with a “culture of military restraint” or with somehow putting together an “alliance for multilateralism” without the US. In 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, triggering a war on European soil that continues to this day. In Syria, the Kremlin bombed its way into the eastern Mediterranean without regard for the civilian population. South of Europe, it has extended its actions to Libya, where Russian mercenaries are making trouble on behalf of the state.

Above all, however, is the nuclear question. Russia repeatedly broke the treaty banning medium-range missiles until Washington felt compelled to terminate it. Why has Russia gained the nuclear upper hand in Europe over the West in recent years? While we are avoiding this question, Moscow is stepping up its espionage activities, certainly in Germany, where the domestic intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz ) is recording a level of agent activity similar to that at the height of the Cold War. RT and Sputnik spread fake news and Kremlin propaganda. We can handle Russia more easily than China. Our economic ties are far from close, and Moscow has nothing constructive or innovative to offer anyone.

The Courage to Take Responsibility

Germany's foreign policy stature does not reflect its political and economic importance. Our country must finally dare to take on more leadership (and responsibility to lead) in the international community—this is what our international partners expect of us. It is time for Germany to rise to this challenge. On the one hand, offering leadership means being true to principles. On the other, it means taking concrete action. That means, for example, not just mediating in Libya but working with our partners to bring peace to Europe's southern border; recognizing with regard to the Iranian regime when the scope for words and diplomacy is so limited that concrete consequences are needed; and actively helping democratic friends when they are bullied by China, as Canada recently was.

And above all, leadership means working with our partners in Europe to provide security when Russia or China threaten this security. “With our partners” does not mean that we can wait for others to move forward and do the job. On the contrary, from Washington to Tallinn, people are waiting for Germany to stop using empty words and to provide concrete support for countering Russia’s aggression and China’s quest for power. Not because we are better or smarter than our partners—and certainly not because we harbor any skepticism or animus toward the Russian or Chinese people—but rather because without Germany, the most populous and prosperous country in Europe, it simply won't work.

To achieve these goals, defense and economic policy as well as development cooperation must become more closely interlinked, better coordinated, and more efficiently structured. Experience from other countries shows that the most appropriate instrument for this is a National Security Council, headed by a National Minister of State for External Security with cabinet rank and the corresponding competencies and resources. Having such a council would allow us to more effectively put into practice the “networked approach” espoused by the German government, which currently exists mainly on paper. In addition, the competitive relationship between the Chancellery and the Foreign Office slows down the cumbersome process of formulating foreign and security policy objectives. Both government departments must therefore be headed by people who belong to the same party.

We must be ready by the next federal elections—at the latest. Those who do not concern themselves with the world will be surprised by it more quickly than they would like.

Peter Beyer is Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation of the Federal Government at the German Foreign Office and a CDU Member of Parliament.