Defence Policy

“German Giant” Waking Up - With a New National Security Strategy?

Leopard 2
Photo. Bundeswehr/Facebook

The Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s era may mark the beginning of a new stage of Germany self-defining itself, says Monika Maria Brzezińska PhD of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, in an interview for Defence24, discussing the new national security strategy adopted by Germany.


Piotr Miedziński, Defence24: What steps were taken by the current SPD, Grune, and FDP coalition, to create the strategy? Reportedly, it was not easy to develop it, and it remains the first document as such in Germany.


Monika Maria Brzezińska, Ph.D., Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw (UKSW): Indeed, it could be said that the strategy you are mentioning is somewhat out of the box. The German politicians agree and point to that as well. It is a good sign that a document as such has been drafted, as some matters need to be perceived more globally, especially in the security domain. The work on the "National Security Strategy" was quite lengthy. When the new government was born, and when the coalition agreement was being signed, an assumption was made that document as such would be written. Originally, it had been planned it would be ready in early 2023. Unfortunately, the works were late, due to the differing political visions of the parties and entities involved. The conflict emerged mainly between the German Foreign Ministry, and the Chancellor, while the main dividing line in the discussion was placed around the thread related to centralization and decentralization of security policy competencies.

Some politicians wanted the current decision-making formula in the national security domain to be retained - with it placed in the hands of the Foreign Ministry. The second group (larger one), represented by CDU, CSU, and FDP, saw the necessity to create the so-called National Security Council, based on the US model. The old model ultimately won. Annalene Baerbock still retains influence over this key policy area.


On the other hand, the delays in preparing the strategy also stemmed from the broad dialogue involving the society - and this is something that Minister Annalena Baerbock was strongly endorsing. The dialogue involved politicians, experts, and ordinary German citizens, during numerous meetings, debates, and workshops with the Minister. One should remember that the format and subject matter of the strategy were not among the simplest issues, which required time to process.

A. Baerbock
Photo. Außenministerin Annalena Baerbock/Twitter

How is the Strategy portrayed in the German media, by the German opinionmakers, and by the opposition?

One can say that the German circles unanimously agree that the National Security Strategy has been, and is very much needed. Some voices suggest that it has come at the very best and expected moment, but in my opinion, it was prepared too late, undoubtedly. The strategy should have been ready before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The urgent need to take care of the matter of the aggressive superpower stance adopted by Russia has been voiced by the Poles for a long time. That voice was, however, ignored in Berlin.

Nonetheless, the Germans are happy, as they succeeded in creating the first document in history, with that document comprehensively dealing with foreign policy. The strategy changes a lot in the approach adopted so far and in the understanding of the security policy. The Germans departed from an incomplete, obsolete model of threat perception just in the context of external factors. The experiences tied to currency, migration, or COVID crises, and the Ukrainian crisis, clearly show that matters overlap in a globalized world, and the consequences of crises in one region have an impact on states located in a completely different part of the world. One needs to be ready to face them.

Looking through the strategy, it stood out to me, how many challenges it listed: disinformation, pandemic, migration, terrorism, and climate threats. It mentions the risks associated with Iran and North Korea but overlooks the problem of Taiwan and the potential Chinese invasion that could result in heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.

Speaking of the international relations between Germany and other nations, especially the superpowers, one needs to remember that economy, and the economic parameters are the key algorithm the Germans use in any political decision-making process. And they would always remain key for any of the adopted strategies and actions. The experience shows that similar logic applies to relations with Russia.

The German imports from China are very high now. The value of imported goods in 2022 was EUR 106.85 bn. (and that sum almost doubled over 10 years). Also, the Chinese direct investment capital in Germany was around USD 53.95 bn. over the last five years, out of which around 26.8 billion dollars was brought in by the transport sector, and Chinese real estate and technologies. These links make the Germans adopt a diplomatically decent policy when it comes to China. Phrasing this differently: they do not push the Chinese over the edge. Hence the presence of words and descriptions, naming China as a "partner, competitor, and a systemic rival" - reiterated several times in the document.

This does not change the fact that, in my opinion, the Germans, following the tough experience with Russia, have gained a new level of awareness, when it comes to issues that may potentially emerge between Germany and China. They are indeed worried about creating a strong link and economic dependence on China, since years Berlin has been seeking (which is a constant element of the German policy of establishing global influence) alternative markets and economies. Here, the African region is one of those areas, enjoying a significant German investment interest for years. Currently the above primarily refers to intellectual, soft power relations, promoting German culture and language, as well as numerous scholarships for those living in Africa (such as the DAAD programme, co-financed by the Foreign Ministry). The goal here is to lay down the foundations for the prospective industrial infrastructure. The above involves huge funds and investments, that also require time.

The Germans, however, are not withdrawing from Mali. As I understand, they are more interested in cultural diplomacy in Africa.

Yes, I think they are focusing primarily on soft power and cultural diplomacy here. Furthermore, the political landscape alone is quite challenging in Mali these days. That state gravitates towards Russia strongly, and that, surely, does not encourage the Germans to cooperate. The recent experiences have taught the Germans to be cautious when it comes to relations with Russia. Furthermore, one should remember that ever since the end of WWII, it has become a German tradition not to get involved in and keep a safe distance from Armed Conflicts, while the presence of Russian mercenaries, including the Wagner Group, in Mali is also a relevant factor here.

Fot. ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office/Wikimedia/CC BY 2.0

Nonetheless, the German interest in Africa is visible, even in direct contact, backstage talks, or meetings. In late April I had a chance to participate in a certain international project, the goal of which was to integrate the academia, gathering students from all around the world. And I have to admit, representatives of Africa and Asia formed the largest group there. Many people came from Ukraine, and much less - from Poland. For me, this is also an indicator of the direction of the German "political sympathies".

Germany is not afraid of the repeated migration crisis, as the one that occurred when Angela Merkel invited the migrants to Germany?

This is an important question, but it should be addressed to the external observers, rather than the Germans. I frequently ask my German acquaintances about that, and I have to say: they, in general, are very open towards migrants. They support their stance with their history and the multi-cultural heritage that always, or quite frequently, was based on the so-called Multi-Kulti concept. The multicultural nature of the nation is not scary for them, as it is entirely natural, it may also be viewed as a kind of mental escape from repeating the ubermensch race scenario.

On the other hand, excessive openness towards other cultures or civilizations may lead to social unrest - and Germany has already experienced that. These concerns have not been reflected in the newly prepared National Security Strategy - pity, one should be aware of the fact that these may become a source of threats that are currently unnoticed by the Germans.

Could you please elaborate? What these threats are?

Here, I am referring to the migration policy. The Germans refer to it, in their Strategy, but they do it in a laconic manner, perceiving migration positively through the lens of humanitarian aid and expression of solidarity. These are very important, definitive for us being human, but what is missing here, is the common-sense approach. One should take into account the fact that the migrants carry a different set of values, a different culture, and a different civilization. Most of them are Muslims. Are the Germans ready, do they have any idea how they may face this challenge? I think that they do not.

One should remember that Christians are responsible for most of the global GDP, while Muslims play the role of consumers. If the religious structure of German society changes, that may entail a major economic impact. Numerous migrants work, but many, if not a majority, encounter several barriers when it comes to language or professional skills. One should, however, admit, that the national support scheme within that scope is well-developed in Germany. However, it does not resolve all problems. That may, in extreme cases, lead to a deficit of productivity, with the migrants overconsuming what's provided by the Germans. The authorities should be aware of that, and they should be ready to face such challenges.

Let us go back to the Indo-Pacific area. This has not been emphasized strongly in the Strategy, but the Germans are interested in this region, sending warships and aircraft there, or creating strategic documents. How does it look, on the German side?

Back in September 2020 Germany adopted a special set of guidelines for Indo-Pacific that, as they admit themselves, is a strategic region for them due to the important trade routes there. The German interest in the Indo-Pacific region stems, primarily, from the fact that 9 out of 10 relevant ports responsible for the global supply chain are located there - and that also refers to supplies for Germany. For the German state, it is a key matter, tied to the establishment of influence. Potential limitations in the movement of services and goods would hurt the German economy, and thus, the position that Germany has, globally. This is an unacceptable scenario.

Of course, one should remember that Indo-Pacific is highly volatile and uncertain, politics-wise. Nuclear superpowers, growing constantly, such as India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea, can be found there. The Germans do not want, or even cannot make strong statements, as that may have a dramatic impact on their economy. And the German economy is the foundation of the German power. If we look at the region considering these two aspects, it would be clear that Germany is keen on retaining political correctness, a mild tone, or maybe even some concessions when it comes to relations with some states in the region. This is well exemplified by the relationship with China.

Now we can easily understand why the Strategy views China as a “partner, without whom it remains impossible to resolve many of the most urgent, global challenges”. I think that there is a major risk of a conflict emerging between the USA and Germany, as their perception of China is different.

Germany and the United States have been in dissonance when it comes to global security policy for quite some time now. It is a normal powerplay, even though we know that Germany is nowhere near the US. This does not change the fact that everyone needs to take care of their own interests. The German politicians are in that group as well. They have a lot of ties with China, as the German economy is dependent on the delivery of metals and strategic elements coming from that part of the world. 39 out of 46 strategic elements used by the German industry come from that region. This means that Germany can obtain just 7 elements from alternative sources. This is very little, given the strategic meaning they have for the German automotive sector or the high-tech industry. Furthermore, 97% of drugs in the German market are manufactured in China, and this also makes the German market very much dependent on China. The economic interest takes precedence over the political one.

However, the strategy also mentions the necessity for the Germans to diminish any goods-related dependence on other nations. I am also puzzled by the lack of caution about China, following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, despite warnings issued by many nations, Poland included.

There is a red warning light switched on in the minds of a majority of German politicians. They are very much aware of the threats stemming from the lack of diversification in the supply market. However, being aware of the problem is one thing, and having an ability to redirect economic opportunities is a whole other issue. Currently shifting the international economic cooperation schemes is the biggest problem for the German political and economic elites. It may be said that two strategies are present here: not to touch China and the strategic partners, to buy the time needed to find alternative markets. On the other hand, worries about the repeated case of Russia are growing. The Germans do realize that they have made a mistake once, and they need to learn a proper lesson here. Will they succeed? Time will tell. So far, the proven reserved assessment, friendly language, and a bit of soft policy tactics have been adopted towards China.

Photo. Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz/Twitter

Let us go back to Russia, defined as "the greatest threat". Is this term resulting from the pressure inflicted by the public, following the events unfolding in Ukraine? Or are the Germans starting to notice the threat posed by Moscow, similarly as the Poles do? The Strategy does not mention the political stance that Berlin wants to adopt when it comes to Russia.

This is one of the deficiencies of the strategy, with concerns over it voiced by numerous German politicians, pointing to its very laconic nature. The document does define some trends, tendencies, or matters, but without a precise definition of an action plan within that domain. And similar statements may be applied to Russia, I think. However, I also think that voices regarding the political assessment of Russia's behaviour shall be viewed as ones that remain authentic. Public opinion and the global pressure surely had an impact here, especially the concerns expressed by Poland, but also the economic consequences of the relationship with Russia were relevant within this scope. The Germans indeed understood, in a brutal way, the ramifications associated with remaining in close contact with Russia. The change in German-Russian relations is visible, in my view, in the actions undertaken by the present Minister of Defence, Boris Pistorius, whose stance is much more concrete than the one adopted by his predecessor. What would the impact of those conclusions be, on the practical side of things, time will tell. The economic factor will be decisive here - let me reiterate this.

The strategy also includes a statement suggesting that not only is the European Union treated as a peace project, but also as a geopolitical one. How is this understood, by the Germans?

In my opinion, the Germans are trying to indicate, or even suggest, that a necessity emerges to change the definitive paradigms upon which the modern EU is based. Up until recently, the integration project was based upon a shared system of beliefs or values. However, this model is gradually becoming obsolete, due to increased migration in Europe, and due to the emergence of a cultural melting pot. Germany places its economic interest at the top when it comes to its policy, but the political structure makes the expansion of influence much easier. Here one may indicate the possibility of signing international agreements and engaging in foreign policy - which already is a thing in the EU but still lacks transparency. Who is responsible for what?

Defining the EU as a geopolitical project calls for major changes within the EU's political system. Above all, the current treaties would need to be reviewed. As it is a German practice to pursue its own, national interest under the EU agenda, a statement as such is by no means a surprising one. Angela Merkel has been masterful in this art of camouflage - it was really difficult to spot references to Germany's national interest here. The former Chancellor always pointed to the best interest of the EU, its citizens, and member states. That did not stop her, however, from taking care of the interest of their own country. In my opinion, the term "geopolitical project" is used to pave the way for the Germans to gain more global influence. Political reinforcement of the EU as an international player may be the means to that end. I would expect some new proposals soon, coming from the German decision-makers, regarding political reforms in the EU.

Olaf Scholz
Photo. Bundesregierung/Steffen Kugler

Reading the Strategy, I noticed that the Germans want to take responsibility for peace, security, and climate, but in both global and regional dimensions. At the same time, the Germans have plans and ambitions, as the Strategy reads, to become permanent members of the EU Security Council, within the framework of a broader reform of that organ. This has been a surprise for me.

This is a very good remark, a unique development that needs to be noticed. So far, in German policies, especially with Merkel being the Chancellor, the actions taken by Germany were not referred to as German actions, they were viewed as European ones. The new document views the German role as a player, in regional, or global dimensions - and names Germany a major player. This stems somewhat from the internationally emerging voices, asking Germany to take political responsibility for the situation in the area. So here we are dealing with pressure inflicted internationally. So far Germany was reluctant to take on such a role, remembering the WWI and WWII experiences. Hence, the nickname for Germany: a giant with clay feet. Gerhard Schröder was somewhat trying to implement changes to that narrative. He was the first of the post-war German leaders who were courageous enough to perceive Germany as a superpower. This was toned down by Angela Merkel, who did not want to provoke other nations. Olaf Scholz's term may mark a new stage of self-definition for Germany - thus it remains worth following the rhetoric adopted by the German politicians closely.

What is the highlight of that strategy, in your opinion? What surprises you, what is a big advantage, and what is it that has gone missing?

Assessing the strategy I would not start with the substance, I would begin with the adopted approach. One needs to emphasize the fact that the National Security Strategy is the first document in German history, developed in so a comprehensive manner. Here I am referring both to the subject matter, as well as to the entities, organs, and persons involved in the preparation of this strategy. The multi-aspect approach and the indication of the fact that security should be understood broadly shall be viewed positively. And that understanding goes beyond the context of external threats, as internal threats are also important. This includes the overlap between processes and phenomena emerging in the globalized world.

That holistic approach should not be surprising, as Germans like to perceive certain matters integrally. It may be surprising though that only now it has happened, and that it happened concerning the Strategy. Nonetheless, the fact that a new approach towards policy was adopted, inspired a lot of emotions among the politicians. It is also a great advantage, but also a great deficiency of this Strategy. When speaking of a whole, it is difficult to find space for details. There are some concerns, regarding the specifics then. The above primarily refers to the funding needed to undertake actions envisaged by the Strategy. That matter has not been mentioned within the document.

Photo. Bundeswehry/Maksymiliana Schulza

I was surprised and satisfied by the mention of the outer space. So far that domain was being marginalized, even though business and high-tech industry were suggesting that that subject matter should be taken into account. If the regulations regarding space exploration remain fuzzy, this may be the shortest route towards a new, international conflict.

The Strategy also includes a single mention of AI. In my opinion, this is not enough for such a document, given the threats entailed by the AI technologies that are being discussed already. The general nature of the approach towards this matter may be worrying. In my opinion, this is one of the most important matters, maybe even more important than cyber-security. Marginalization of that matter is a major mistake, in my view. Maybe Germany wants to prepare some extra strategy or guidelines in that area, but so far, there is no information suggesting that this could happen. The civilization-cultural threat thread is also missing. Germany does not notice this set of problems, as we mentioned before. And one should remember that any coin has two sides - and it may be too late for the Germans now.

Olaf Scholz i Jens Stoltenberg
Photo. Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz/Twitter

I also noticed the general nature of the strategy - especially within the context of allocating 2% of GDP to defence spending. No clarification has been provided, as to how Germany would be willing to obtain those funds. The German releases mention balancing the budget, and cuts. Where the money could come from?

Nobody knows. We are still going back to the critique of the Strategy. The aforesaid 2% of GDP translates into EUR 54 bn. This is a huge amount, hence the worries expressed by the German politicians, regarding the source of those funds. So far, this has been a rhetorical question.

Coming back to the strategy, another problem emerges here. Some politicians see a necessity to introduce common military mobilization, both for men, and women. This would also entail extra costs.

However, another statement that is becoming more and more common in the German narrative is interesting: speaking of security as a process involving every citizen. This refers to the establishment of common awareness and responsibility for the environment, and wise management of that environment, at every level.

Isn't the German society worried about extremism becoming a part of the German Armed Forces? AfD is enjoying more and more support among the members of society. Will the cultural differences brought in by the migrants become a problem in the Army, when the migrants become German citizens?

Solely the German citizens can access the army these days. When it comes to the remaining uniformed services (such as the Police), that may generate some conflicts, as the migrants are already being recruited, due to personnel deficits. Of course, every candidate needs to go through selection and verification - as experience shows, these processes are not effective.

When it comes to conscription, the required citizenship is the first filter on the way to becoming a soldier. So far, getting German citizenship has been a major challenge. However, the Germans decided to modify the law in that area, and the path to citizenship has become much simpler. If Germany decides to open the Army towards migrants to a broader extent, they would need to consider the potential consequences. This vision, however, is not realistic, due to the formal requirements. The experience gathered during the recruitment of the Police should be food for thought. The critical voices regarding the strategy also referred to the ignored concerns of the Bundeslands that had a lot to say, when it comes to the Police. This is yet another deficiency of the document - even the leadership of the Bundeslands speaks about it with regrets, and loudly.

The strategy also discusses cooperation with the US and France. Poland seems to be missing. NATO and the EU are listed more often. The Germans yet again fail to acknowledge the existence of Poland and the "Eastern Flank" - there is not a single mention of it. What is the reason for that?

This is not a surprise for me, for the reason that I have already mentioned: the Germans do not see us. They look at the world from the point of view of a superpower, noticing other superpowers, such as Russia or France. Poland has never, or rarely been considered as a peer. First, we are smaller, secondly, our definitions of national interest and domestic policy remain different. The Poles look at the world primarily through the lens of values and their own identity. For the Germans, the economic parameters are far more important - and this is the key criterion in seeking partnerships.

Kanclerz Scholz, prezydent Duda, prezydent Macron
Photo. Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz/Twitter

Secondly, no longer do the Germans want to deal with intermediaries in regional relations, they perceive themselves as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe. Some time ago Poland was considered to be that bridge. Today Germany prefers direct contact with individual states, and they stand by that principle.

Thank you for the conversation.

_Monika Maria Brzezińska, Ph.D. - Political Scientist at the Department of International Relations and European Studies of the Institute of Political Science of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. For many years, she has been working as a coordinator of the Polish-German Summer Academy in Berlin. Author of numerous articles on German and European matters. The scope of interest of hers includes the position and role of Germany in the international arena, the shaping of the German identities, since the moment of the German Reunification until today, Deutsche Frage, and the perception of Germany as a superpower, in Europe, and around the world. President of the Management Board at Collegium Interethicum, since 2019. _