Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defense Minister von der Leyen emphasized Germany’s responsibility to support international crisis prevention and conflict resolution efforts during statements laying out the government’s policy priorities to the Bundestag in late January and again in remarks to an international audience at the Munich Security Conference in early February, where they were supported by President Joachim Gauck.  Their remarks signaled a departure from the anti-interventionist stance embraced by former Foreign Minister Westerwelle with respect to military engagement in international crises. [1]

Several subsequent measures have given practical expression to the new policy direction. [2]

  • Steinmeier and von der Leyen sought and received cabinet approval to reverse Germany’s decision not to participate in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. The cabinet agreed to accept hazardous waste products from the initial breakdown of mustard agents aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean and neutralize them at a German facility in Münster. [3]
  • Von der Leyen announced that she, Steinmeier, and Development Minister Müller would together develop a new Africa strategy combining military security, diplomatic initiatives, and humanitarian and economic assistance in an effort to create more stability. [4]
  • The cabinet agreed 5 February to extend and expand the mandate for German military participation in the EU Training Mission in Mali, raising the ceiling for German troops from 180 to 250, [5] and to increase its development assistance program in Mali in cooperation with France.[6] The Defense Ministry also plans to send MEDEVAC aircraft to the Central African Republic and provide troops to the EU training mission in Somalia. [7]
  • Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Fabius announced a Franco-German cooperative project to secure loose weapons and munitions in Libya that pose a threat to regional stability. [8]

Resistance within the coalition to more active German military engagement, especially in Africa, has come primarily from the ranks of the CDU/CSU. Some of the opposition comes from conservative anti-interventionist elements that have a narrow, near-isolationist view of German security interests.  Others are unhappy that von der Leyen has not, in their view, sufficiently informed and consulted party and parliamentary group colleagues on these new initiatives before announcing them in public. [9]

  • Populist CSU Deputy Chairman Dr. Peter Gauweiler, known for his opposition to Western military interventions in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, criticized the new direction presented at the Munich Security Conference and told the party’s traditional Ash Wednesday rally in Passau that “Germany will be defended in the Munich subway, not on the Hindu Kush.” [10]
  • CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer warned that his party is “very reserved” with respect to any expansion of German military engagements abroad.[11]
  • CDU/CSU parliamentary group chairman Volker Kauder, foreign policy spokesman Philipp Mißfelder, and other senior party officials sharply criticized von der Leyen at a meeting of the parliamentary group leadership on 10 February after they learned of Defense Ministry planning for operations in the Central African Republic and Somalia from media sources.[12]

In response to these criticisms, the government sought to reassure both internal critics and the public that Germany is not embarking on a more militaristic approach to foreign policy. Government ministers said the media had overemphasized military aspects of the new engagement strategy and insisted the use of military force is still a measure of last resort. Comments by Foreign Minister Steinmeier indicate Germany is no more likely than before to participate in coercive military actions against rogue states.

  • Von der Leyen noted that only three of the current missions in which German troops are participating (the missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Horn of Africa) authorize the use of military force to accomplish their mission. In most cases, German troops are used to provide training, support, and security. She further promised that German troops would never be used on a unilateral basis or even bilaterally with France, but only as part of multinational efforts.[13]
  • Günter Nooke, Chancellor Merkel’s personal advisor for Africa policy, said critics were wrong to focus on the military aspects of engagement and that the main focus would be on development assistance.[14]
  • Steinmeier said he still believes Berlin made the right decision when it chose not to participate in military action against Libya and stated that he is “not very impressed with what those who dropped the bombs on Libya left behind.”[15]

 

Stephan Wallace is a defense and security policy analyst following political, military, and economic developments in Europe. He has worked more than 33 years on this area for the U.S. government, most recently for the U.S. Department of Defense. He can be contacted by email at wallace.stephan@gmail.com. The views expressed are those of the author alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS).


[1] Guido Westerwelle, Die Kultur der militärischen Zurückhaltung ist zeitgemäßer denn je,”Auswärtiges Amt, 30 March 2012.

[2] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Regierungserklärung von Außenminster Frank-Walter Steinmeier zur Außen-, Europa- und Menschenrechtspolitik vor dem Deutschen Bundestag,” Auswärtiges Amt, 29 January 2014; Ursula von der Leyen, video attachment to: Florian Manthey, “Ministerin von der Leyen: ‘Eine familienfreundliche Bundeswehr wird stärker,’” (speech to the Bundestag 29 January), BMVg, 30 January 2014; Ursula von der Leyen, “Rede der Bundesministerin der Verteidigung, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, anläßlich der 50. Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz,” Munich Security Conference, 31 January 2014; Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Rede des Bundesministers des Auswärtigen Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier anlässlich der 50. Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz,” Auswärtiges Amt, 1 February 2014.

[3] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Regierungserklärung von Außenminster Frank-Walter Steinmeier zur Außen-, Europa- und Menschenrechtspolitik vor dem Deutschen Bundestag,” Auswärtiges Amt, 29 January 2014; “Germany pledges further help in destruction of Syrian chemical weapons,” Deutsche Welle, 9 January 2014.

[4] Ursula von der Leyen, video attachment to: Florian Manthey, “Ministerin von der Leyen: ‘Eine familienfreundliche Bundeswehr wird stärker,’” (speech to the Bundestag 29 January), BMVg, 30 January 2014; “Auslandseinsätze – Von der Leyen verteidigt stärkeres Engagement,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 January 2014.

[5] “Bundeskabinett beschließt Mandatsverlängerung für die Einsätze ISAF and EUTM Mali,” BMVg, 5 February 2014.

[6] “Kabinett verlängert Einsätze in Afghanistan und Mali,” Spiegel On-line, 5 February 2014.

[7] “Bundeswehr mit 20 Soldaten nach Somalia,” Der Tagesspiegel, 4 March 2014.

[8] “Deutsche-Französisches Engagement für Stabilität und Sicherheit in Libyen und der Region: Gemeinsames Project zur Sicherstellung von Waffenbeständen in Libyen,” Auswärtiges Amt, 6 March 2014.

[9] Robert Birnbaum and Antje Sirleschtov, “Ursula von der Leyen – Ministerin im Alleingang,” Der Tagesspiegel, 12 February 2014.

[10] Peter Gauweiler, “Rede von Peter Gauweiler – Politischer Aschermittwoch der CSU am 05.03.2014,” YouTube, 5 March 2014; Reinhard Bingener, “Politischer Aschermittwoch der CSU, Mit Franz Josef Strauß Richtung Moskau,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 5 March 2014.

[11] Robert Birnbaum and Antje Sirleschtov, “Ursula von der Leyen – Ministerin im Alleingang,” Der Tagesspiegel, 12 February 2014.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Von der Leyen: Kein Kampfeinsatz in Zentralafrika,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 11 February 2014.

[14] Ulrike Scheffer and Michel Penke, “Es geht um unsere Interessen und Werte,” Der Tagesspiegel (interview with Günther Nooke), 15 February 2014.

[15] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Ukraine: ‘Alles kann noch scheitern,’” Auswärtiges Amt (reprint of interview published in Der Spiegel, 23 February 2014).