August 1, 2008

German Security Policy: An Evolution by Increments

Germany’s Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has recently released a security strategy ‘white paper’, in which it outlines the conservative’s vision for a German security reform. Though it has sparked an immediate backlash from many sides, including from the junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), it still represents a logical next step in the incremental progression of German security policy since reunification. To understand this progression it is necessary to look at the post World War II history of German security policy.

8.2008, Julian Tupay
Germany’s Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has recently released a security strategy ‘white paper’, in which it outlines the conservative’s vision for a German security reform. Though it has sparked an immediate backlash from many sides, including from the junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), it still represents a logical next step in the incremental progression of German security policy since reunification. To understand this progression it is necessary to look at the post World War II history of German security policy.
The German security policy of today is still firmly anchored in the past. These ties are only slowly dissolving and, accordingly, German security policy is changing slowly and incrementally. As far as current German security policy is concerned, there have been two important turning points: World War II and German reunification.
The utter humiliation and defeat of World War II led the German elites to completely redefine foreign and security policy. As a result, a completely new German strategic culture emerged, with its own values and norms, its own aims and taboos. Hans Maull has nicely summarized this new strategic culture by framing it as a set of key values that dictate German security policy1:
1. never again (pacifism, moralism and democracy)
2. never alone (integration, multilateralism and democratization)
3. politics not force (always seek political solutions)
These acquired attitudes led Germany to perceive itself as a purely civilian power, a mediator and bridge-builder, forsaking more aggressive tools. Indeed, the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, were restricted to the territorial defense of Germany and its NATO partners exclusively. Outside of this mandate the Bundeswehr was not permitted to participate in military operations (not even UN peacekeeping missions).
World War II had further imbued Germany with an overawing desire for stability. The new security strategy indentified integration into NATO and the EU and strengthening these and other international institutions as the best way to achieve stability and security. Anderson and Goodman write that: “[…] West-Germany’s reliance on a web of international institutions to achieve its foreign policy goals […] became so complete as to cause these institutions to be embedded in the very definition of state interests and strategies […]; they have become ingrained, even assumed.”2
The second important turning point was the fall of the Soviet Union and German reunification. Many analysts, especially the neo-realists, expected the changed circumstances of a reunified Germany to drastically alter its foreign and security policy. In their view power is the determining factor in security policy formation. A reunified Germany, which had become the most populous and economically powerful state in Europe over night, was therefore expected to exhibit a more assertive and aggressive foreign policy. Many even feared the resurgence of some form of German hyper-nationalism.
As we all know, neither the 1990’s, nor the beginning of the 21st century has seen any signs of such a change in German foreign and security policy. In fact, the most exciting title that can be given to Germany’s “new” strategic culture is ‘modified continuity’. Germany continues to perceive itself as a civilian power. One notable change is however, that Germany has begun to participate in out-of area military operations. The first such deployment took place in the wake of the first gulf war, when a German mine-clearing contingent was deployed to Iraq in 1991. This was followed by the deployment of a field hospital in Phnom-Penh as part of a UN mission in 1993 and German participation in IFOR and SFOR missions in the Balkan. In 1994 the a German Constitutional Court ruling clarified the legal basis for such deployments and established the concept of ‘parliamentary reservation’. That means that it is the parliament’s sole prerogative to allow out-of-area deployments of German forces.
This new legal basis also cleared the way for the Bundeswehr’s first combat deployment during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. The German Air-force flew around 500 sorties against Serbian forces as part of the operation “Allied Forces”. This deployment is especially notable because the war against Serbia lacked international legal backing. Neither was it based on a UN Security Council resolution, nor on an invocation of Article IV of the NATO charter. Considering the still existent German focus on the international institutional network, this marks a giant leap forward.
Today some 6000 German soldiers are deployed abroad, most of them in Afghanistan, making Germany one of the major contributors to international operations. Still, any such deployment is a source of internal struggle and debate. German public opinion is always ambivalent and cautious concerning such out-of-area deployments. Accordingly, the government’s approach is also. The commitment to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan for instance, is certain in Germany, however any contribution of combat troops, or even reconnaissance planes to the US led operation “Enduring Freedom” is met with stiff opposition and reluctance.
As hinted to above, Germany’s ‘assumed’ focus on multilateralism also underwent changes after the fall of the wall. A brief analysis of Germany’s preferences during the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) reform negotiations 1995-7 and the later negotiations surrounding the constitutional treaty (2002-4) will shed some light on these small, but not insignificant shifts in policy preferences.
During the reform negations, which resulted in the Treaty of Amsterdam, Germany put a strong emphasis on strengthening the political union, especially with respect to security and defense. The Government wanted to integrate the Western European Union (WEU) with its collective defense clause into the EU. It put a large emphasis on making it more difficult to veto security decisions for single member states through new voting mechanisms such as ‘qualified majority voting’ and ‘constructive abstention’, but at the same time it wanted to ensure that the decision whether or not to send troops remained with the individual governments. Amidst all this, Germany’s biggest target was however, to ensure that NATO would remain the primary and undisputed tool for the territorial defense of Europe. The EU should only play a secondary role and be mainly involved in missions corresponding to the Petersberg Tasks, which are identified as humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and crisis management.
During the 2004-7 constitutional treaty negotiations the German position remained very similar, but did differ in some interesting points. Generally speaking, Germany was more cautious to bind itself but very ambitious concerning the substantive scope of the EU. Germany pushed for an increased role of the EU in military planning and according capabilities, but also insisted on maintaining the intergovernmental nature of security related decisions. The most telling change however, was Germany’s relative ambivalence concerning the role of NATO. NATO should remain responsible for the territorial defense de facto, but Germany exhibited an increasing focus on strengthening the EU in that field. This shift can best be exemplified by two quotes. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl said in 1996 that “NATO will be the central institution for European security in the future”. Former foreign minister Joschka Fischer said in 2003 that “NATO will remain one of the principal cornerstones for peace and stability”.
The above outlined post-unification shifts in German security policy show us a slow but steady evolution. Germany’s security policy and German self-perception is maturing, though none of the much feared neo-realist leaps for world-power have taken place. Nor are they likely to take place in future. First of all, Germany’s relative power increase, gained through the added size and population due to the reunification, is negligible compared to the vast power potential of the US for example. By that I mean, that Germany’s capabilities and options in the security realm did not change dramatically through reunification. In fact the German economy suffered greatly from it. Secondly, the European theatre is no longer a Hobbesian anarchic system of rent-seekers, in which security maximization through power is necessary. Germany has recognized that the opportunities and the threats of today and the foreseeable future lie in international cooperation.
This recognition of the continued and even intensified need for multilateralism is also highlighted in the conservatives’ ‘white paper’. It paints a broad threat landscape, identifying terrorism, WMD proliferation, international organized crime, failed or failing states and regional conflicts as the principal issues Germany must be faced to deal with. These are supra-nationalized issues, which often involve non-state actors and cross traditional national boundaries. This supra-nationalization of the security field requires of Germany to seek intensified cooperation with its allies and adopt a security paradigm that dissolves the traditional distinction between foreign and domestic security.
The strategy paper further highlights the need for Germany to be able to preemptively minimize these security threats. It emphasizes the importance of strengthening coherence within the EU and NATO and fostering an international legal environment. It, however, also stresses the necessity to actively seek to quell any threatening contingencies at their place of origin. The tools prescribed for that include, as expected, development aid, institution building, peace-making and peace keeping, but also explicitly include the use of military force where necessary and legally possible. This inclusion of the possibility to use German armed forces to preemptively defend German interests militarily abroad marks the next progressive step.
Past deployments of the Bundeswehr have always been unique and on a very case-by-case basis. The early excursions into Iraq were completely new terrain with no political or legal precedence to set the path and did not involve any combat missions. Later deployments have been born out of dire necessity, such as the horrible human rights situation in Kosovo in 1999, a region basically on Europe’s doorstep. The current deployment in Afghanistan is the direct result of 9/11, which was declared a direct attack on the territory of a NATO ally, invoking the collective defense clause. The ‘white paper’ now consequently establishes the possibility of combat deployments as a standard modus operandi for the German government to deal with certain types of contingencies, which endanger German security and which cannot be resolved in a non-coercive fashion. The ‘white paper’ does however stress the importance of legality (i.e. UN mandate, Article V of the NATO charter) and multilateralism, keeping in line with these ‘historic’ German values.
Still, even though the change is incremental and each step in the progression seemingly follows the logic of necessity, neither the German public nor the elite is unified on the subject. While the KFOR mission to Kosovo still enjoyed the support of 67% of the German population, not a strong majority by any means, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan can only gather the support from 53% of the population3. As expected with any issue that is viewed so ambivalently by the public, there is much political discourse and disagreement about the out-of-area deployments. Generally speaking, the further left along the political spectrum one moves, the stronger the opposition to any kind of foreign deployment of German forces becomes. The broad political center, whether left or right, does however agree that Germany’s security does require the deployment of German forces abroad, in strictly prescribed conditions and circumstances.
In summary I want to say that the evolution the German security strategy has taken is a good one. Any resurgence of German nationalist rent-seeking would certainly have had dire consequences for Germany and Europe as a whole. This incremental shift from a sole civilian power, to a modern state that is beginning to carry its own weight facing the difficult challenges that western states and western values confront today, did follow the logic of necessity and, when looking at the ‘white paper’, continues to do so. Germany will have to grow even more assertive, before it can live up to its potential in the concert of Western nations, but it should take care to not lose the guidance of the values it has learned the hard way during World War II. Legality, multilateralism and force only as a last resort are valuable guidelines, the adherence to which will ensure the success of German security strategy in the future.
1 Maull, Hans: „Germany and the Use of Force“; p. 66ff
2 Aderson, Jeffery J.; Goodman, John B.: „Mars or Minerva? A United Germany in a Post-Cold War Europe“, in Robert O. Keohane; Joseph S. Nye; Stanly Hoffmann (eds.): „After the Cold War: International institutions and State Strategies in Europe“, 1989-1991; pp. 23-62
3 Bevölkerungsbefragung des Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut der Bundeswehr; 2006

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