German leadership has been crucial to the efforts to hold the EU together—while also trying to articulate Berlin’s vision without alienating its neighbors. The domestic debate over German foreign policy has been impacted by calls for Berlin to assume more engagement in dealing with a world permeated by crisis. Responding to these calls has generated extensive projects in both the foreign and defense ministries seeking to explain where, when, how, and why Germany wishes to exercise its global responsibility, deploy its foreign policy resources, and engage in dealing with crises in the service of its own interests and those of a peaceful world. This has been framed by the realization that Germany has the capability and the responsibility to engage as a wealthy and successful stakeholder in a world in which its security and wealth are both directly and indirectly affected by critical developments in Europe, its neighborhood, and around the globe.
Germany has emphasized its role as “leading from the middle” in its efforts to mobilize resources and to act as a leader in encouraging a multilateral approach to threats, crises, and a sustainable global order together with its partners. It has evolved a broad set of tools to deal with crisis prevention and management, development aid, and military engagement. It has emphasized the extensive overlapping network of domestic and international organizations, government agencies, and the Bundeswehr in the effort to deal with turmoil in regions where they can be engaged. It has recently increased its investments and budgetary expenditures accordingly.
This multi-level comprehensive approach is not necessarily unique to Germany and can serve as a blueprint for expanding capacities through a European framework. Leaders should draw on the resources of all EU members in positioning a stronger European response to a range of issues by sharing tools and coordinating policy. The full meaning of a shared European security and defense posture must be framed by a commitment to pooled policy priorities, including among non-EU NATO member states. Few, if any, major security challenges—military threats, terrorism, arms control, climate change—are manageable by a single state. It should be a German priority to testify to that reality, address its own limitations, and encourage a comprehensive approach to finding solutions. That includes strengthening the commitment to these priorities within its own national dialogue.
Serious problems stand in the way of implementing these priorities. One is convincing the German public about their importance. While embedding itself in a multilateral cluster appeals to most Germans, the challenge occurs when the model of implementation runs into stormy waters. The reality of permanent crises will not allow a reprieve from engagement. Germany’s experience in Afghanistan since 2001 is an illustration of the difficulty of sustaining public support despite setbacks and serious losses. The second problem is implementing multinational engagement with partners who also have difficulties in securing public support. There will be asymmetric equations of pooled resources—just as there is in the transatlantic framework. Maintaining coherence and effectiveness depends on identifying the purposes of joint engagement in the perception of national interests as well as affirming the value of joint efforts to meet threats and crises. For reasons that reflect a variety of centrifugal trends pulling at the fabric of European policymaking, it will fall to Germany to lead the effort in coming years.
Dr. Jackson Janes is the President of AICGS. Follow him on Twitter @DrJJanes.