Vol­ker Per­thes: The li­mits of Ger­man po­wer.

Handelsblatt Global Edition Magazine - - Table Of Contents -

As th­re­ats mul­ti­ply and the U.S. no lon­ger leads, Ger­ma­ny has ree­mer­ged as a ma­jor po­wer on the world sta­ge. But Ber­lin nee­ds part­ners, ar­gues Vol­ker Per­thes.

In the two ye­ars sin­ce Ger­ma­ny’s pre­si­dent, for­eign mi­nis­ter, and de­fen­se mi­nis­ter si­gna­led that their coun­try would ta­ke on a lar­ger ro­le in in­ter­na­tio­nal af­fairs, the coun­try’s le­a­ders ha­ve re­cei­ved a crash cour­se in geo­po­li­ti­cal rea­lism. The chal­len­ges Ger­ma­ny has had to face in­clu­de Rus­sia’s an­nexa­ti­on of Cri­mea, the con­flict in eas­tern Ukrai­ne, the ex­plo­si­on of Sy­ria, ter­ro­rist attacks in Eu­ro­pe, and an un­pre­ce­den­ted in­flux of re­fu­gees.

The­se cri­ses ha­ve great­ly in­crea­sed Ger­ma­ny’s in­ter­na­tio­nal pro­fi­le. And yet the coun­try’s ree­mer­gence as a ma­jor play­er on the world sta­ge must be tem­pe­red with the re­co­gni­ti­on that its po­wer de­pends on co­ope­ra­ti­on with its part­ners and the de­ve­lop­ment of a strong, uni­fied Eu­ro­pean for­eign and se­cu­ri­ty po­li­cy.

Ger­ma­ny’s em­bra­ce of a mo­re ac­tive glo­bal ro­le has ta­ken place wi­t­hin a ra­pidly chan­ging geo­po­li­ti­cal land­scape — one in which Ger­man and ot­her Eu­ro­pean le­a­ders ha­ve had to ac­cept that most of the rest of the world does not sha­re their pre­fe­rence for mul­ti­la­te­ral de­ci­si­on-ma­king. They ha­ve al­so had to co­me to terms with the fact that the Uni­ted Sta­tes is no lon­ger pre­pa­red to ta­ke the le­ad in every cri­sis, and that ri­sing glo­bal powers — such as Chi­na, In­dia, and Bra­zil — are not yet pre­pa­red to cont­ri­bu­te ef­fec­tive­ly to main­tai­ning a sta­ble glo­bal or­der.

Me­anw­hi­le, the di­vi­ding li­nes bet­ween do­mestic and in­ter­na­tio­nal af­fairs ha­ve be­co­me in­cre­a­sin­gly blur­red. The re­fu­gee cri­sis, for ex­amp­le, de­man­ds po­li­cy in­ter­ven­ti­ons in are­as as di­ver­se as de­fen­se, de­ve­lop­ment aid, Eu­ro­pean in­te­gra­ti­on, do­mestic se­cu­ri­ty, and so­ci­al-wel­fa­re po­li­cy.

In­cre­a­sin­gly, the chal­len­ges Ger­ma­ny is fa­c­ing ha­ve be­co­me in­tert­wi­ned; ter­ro­rism, the Sy­rian ci­vil war, Rus­si­an ag­gres­si­on, and re­fu­gee flows are in­ter­ac­ting in dan­ge­rous and un­pre­dic­ta­ble ways. Nor are any of the­se cri­ses li­kely to be ea­si­ly con­tai­ned or quick­ly re­sol­ved; each will ha­ve to be ma­na­ged over the long term.

And gi­ven its high de­gree of in­te­gra­ti­on in­to the glo­bal eco­no­my, Ger­ma­ny is vul­nerable even to dis­tant de­ve­lop­ments. For ex­amp­le, preven­ting mi­li­ta­ry con­flict and main­tai­ning ma­ri­ti­me free­dom in the South Chi­na Sea is cle­ar­ly in Ger­ma­ny’s in­te­rest.

To their cre­dit, Ger­ma­ny’s le­a­ders, re­co­gni­zing the im­portant ro­le their coun­try can play, ha­ve ta­ken the di­plo­ma­tic le­ad with Rus­sia over its in­ter­ven­ti­on in Ukrai­ne. Mo­re­o­ver, Ger­ma­ny was a key par­ti­ci­pant in the nu­cle­ar ne­go­tia­ti­ons with Iran, and it has be­en de­eply in­vol­ved in the ef­fort to find a po­li­ti­cal so­lu­ti­on to the Sy­rian ci­vil war. Ger­ma­ny al­so as­su­med the 2016 pre­si­den­cy of the Or­ga­niza­t­i­on for Se­cu­ri­ty and Co­ope­ra­ti­on in Eu­ro­pe.

On the mi­li­ta­ry front, Ger­ma­ny has bee­fed up its cont­ri­bu­ti­on to NA­TO mea­su­res to bols­ter de­fen­ses in the Bal­tic re­gi­on and Cen­tral Eu­ro­pe, and it has be­co­me in­cre­a­sin­gly open to cont­ri­bu­ting mi­li­ta­ry forces to in­ter­ven­ti­ons in cri­ses outs­ide the al­li­an­ce’s area. It has par­ti­ci­pa­ted in Uni­ted Na­ti­ons peace­ke­eping ef­forts in Ma­li, pro­lon­ged its en­ga­ge­ment in Af­gha­nis­tan, sup­p­lied wea­pons and trai­ning to forces in nort­hern Iraq, and pro­vi­ded re­con­nais­sance flights and ot­her as­sis­tan­ce to French mi­li­ta­ry strikes against the Is­la­mic Sta­te in Sy­ria.

Ger­man po­li­cy­ma­kers are awa­re that their in­ter­na­tio­nal part­ners ex­pect this ty­pe of le­a­dership to be­co­me the norm, and they ha­ve de­mons­tra­ted an in­te­rest in ex­pan­ding Ger­ma­ny’s ri­sing in­flu­ence. As a me­di­um-si­ze po­wer ho­we­ver, Ger­ma­ny can­not be pre­sent ever­yw­he­re; main­tai­ning a broa­der in­ter-

na­tio­nal foot­print will re­qui­re co­ope­ra­ti­on with al­lies and part­ners around the world.

In­de­ed, the mo­re Ger­ma­ny leads, the mo­re de­pen­dent it be­co­mes on ot­her in­ter­na­tio­nal ac­tors — most no­ta­b­ly its Eu­ro­pean Uni­on part­ners — and the mo­re ex­po­sed it be­co­mes to fluc­tua­ti­ons in the geo­po­li­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment. For ex­amp­le, Chi­na’s re­gio­nal pos­tu­re and its stra­te­gic re­la­ti­ons­hip with the US will in­flu­ence Ger­man ef­forts to find mul­ti­la­te­ral so­lu­ti­ons to glo­bal chal­len­ges li­ke cli­ma­te chan­ge or cy­ber th­re­ats.

As Ger­ma­ny con­ti­nues to le­an for­ward in­ter­na­tio­nal­ly, it can be ex­pec­ted to in­crea­se spen­ding on for­eign po­li­cy and in­ter­na­tio­nal se­cu­ri­ty. To be su­re, Ber­lin has yet to meet NA­TO’s tar­get of 2 per­cent of GDP for de­fen­se spen­ding. Li­ke most ot­her sta­tes, it has al­so failed to meet the in­ter­na­tio­nal­ly agreed com­mit­ment to spend 0.7 per­cent of GDP on of­fi­ci­al de­ve­lop­ment as­sis­tan­ce. But, un­li­ke so­me of its part­ners, Ger­ma­ny has not slas­hed its de­fen­se bud­get, and it has sub­stan­ti­al­ly in­crea­sed fun­ding for di­plo­ma­cy.

No­nethe­l­ess, even as it has in­crea­sed its ca­pa­ci­ty to pro­vi­de mi­li­ta­ry forces for UN, NA­TO, or EU ope­ra­ti­ons, Ger­ma­ny has ma­de cle­ar that it does not view its­elf as a mi­li­ta­ry po­wer. Ger­man po­li­cy­ma­kers con­ti­nue to be­lie­ve that po­li­ti­cal and eco­no­mic me­ans of in­flu­ence are mo­re ef­fec­tive than vio­lence, im­ply­ing fur­ther de­ve­lop­ment of soft-po­wer tools, in­clu­ding di­gi­tal di­plo­ma­cy. They are al­so eager to de­ve­lop mo­re“net­wor­ked” na­tio­nal and Eu­ro­pean for­eign po­li­cies that ta­ke in­to ac­count the ac­tivi­ties and pos­si­ble cont­ri­bu­ti­ons of non-sta­te ac­tors.

For the ti­me being, Ger­ma­ny’s main for­eign po­li­cy prio­ri­ties are li­kely to re­main the EU and the con­ti­nent’s eas­tern and sou­thern neigh­bors — from which im­me­dia­te se­cu­ri­ty risks are most li­kely to ema­na­te. This would be a wi­se choice. Ger­ma­ny and its EU part­ners will be most ef­fec­tive when ma­na­ging con­flicts, sta­bi­li­zing go­vern­ments, or sup­porting eco­no­mic and po­li­ti­cal tran­si­ti­ons in thei­rim­me­dia­te neigh­borhood.

Fur­ther­mo­re, gi­ven to­day’s ex­tra­or­di­na­ri­ly tur­bu­lent geo­po­li­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment, Ger­ma­ny has a fun­da­men­tal in­te­rest in cham­pio­n­ing the de­ve­lop­ment of the EU’s for­eign po­li­cy and se­cu­ri­ty in­sti­tu­ti­ons. As much as Ger­man po­li­cy­ma­kers might en­joy the gro­wing de­mand for their cont­ri­bu­ti­ons to in­ter­na­tio­nal po­li­tics, the coun­try’s mem­bership in the EU re­mains its most po­tent sour­ce of po­wer and se­cu­ri­ty.

Vol­ker Per­thes is the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tu­te for In­ter­na­tio­nal and Se­cu­ri­ty Af­fairs, the Ger­man chan­cel­le­ry‘s for­eign po­li­cy think tank in Ber­lin.

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