New German security strategy – Going it alone?

CDU’s new draft National Security Strategy is a useful document but one that seems to be ignoring the benefits of being part of the EU

Last week, Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) unveiled their concept for a national security strategy. The timing for the announcement appears odd. Even though German troops are deployed in Afghanistan and the Balkans, the country is not considered under any renewed threat. Elections are still a year off, so it is unlikely to work as an electoral ploy even though much of its content stands in contrast to the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) recent initiatives.

Could it be as a reaction to the publication in London, and preparation in Paris, of a National Security Strategy and a Defence White Paper, respectively? Or is it in response to the recent Franco-British ‘Schulterschluss’ on European defence, to show that Berlin is not lagging behind? Or, alternatively, could it be seen as a preemptive move by Berlin to determine the content of the European Security Strategy, expected to be revised under the French EU Presidency.

Whatever the motivation, the move should be seen as a sign of Germany’s coming-of-age. For the first time ever, a political party has launched a debate on German security – without the trigger of crisis or an imminent decision, for example on the deployment of German troops to a warzone.

This initiative is, in many ways the culmination of a longer-term development by which Germany’s policy on international military operations has changed. During the Gulf War in 1991, debates about the armed forces’ role in international military operations showed traditional German reluctance towards participation. By 1999, Germany took part in NATO’s Kosovo operation, thus setting a unique precedence in its post-war foreign policy and confirming the desire to become, henceforth, an active partner in NATO. CDU’s strategy — taken together with Berlin’s quest for a UN Security Council seat – can be seen as the last element of this paradigmatic shift in German policy on international military participation.

The conservative strategy paper defines Germany’s national interests in terms of five issue areas: (1) the fight against terrorism; (2) nuclear proliferation; (3) energy and pipeline security; (4) climate change; and (5) the prevention of conflicts. In this, the document does not stray far from the British and French versions.

Where the strategy fails is in explaining that Germany will not be able to do much, by itself, in countering many of these threats. No country, however, large and resource-rich can nowadays “go solo”. It is also unclear how the CDU thinks that Germany’s security can be enhanced by working through a revamped, post-Lisbon EU, which will see not only a re-drafted ESS, but a permanent President of the European Council, an EU “Foreign Minister” and European diplomatic corps – the External Action Service. The SPD have been clearer, recently hosting a conference on how to build a “European Army”.

Perhaps most obviously, the CDU paper did not deal with the issue of “hard power”, neglecting to say under what conditions the German Army should intervene in other countries to prevent genocide or – as is now the case in Burma – to alleviate natural-made, but regime-enhanced mass suffering.

In a number of areas, however, the CDU document goes much further than anything seen before. It recommends not only the right to deploy the army at home in the case of national emergencies – a brainchild of Wolfgang Schäuble, Minister of the Interior – but also that the Bundestag should not have such a direct say in the deployment of German troops. It also recommends a US-style National Security Council.

At a time when many European allies have begun seeing Germany as the 21st century’s Sweden – militarily capable, but, by choice, absent from European security debates – the decision to give more power to the Bundeskanzlerin will be greeted positively abroad (even if it is unacceptable to German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier). As such, the CDU proposal is positive in many respects. Bringing Germany’s house in order will be crucial if Berlin is to play a bigger role on the world stage.

But to be truly useful, the document will have to be amended, especially as it concerns Germany’s role in Europe. For the idea of focusing on a National Security Strategy makes little sense in our modern, interdependent times. Anything that is a serious threat to Germany – i.e. terrorism and climate change – is a serious threat to Germany’s neighbours, too. And Germany can only resist such threats by working together with its allies, primarily, although not exclusively, among the EU-27.

A German National Security Strategy should therefore explain how Berlin intends to work through the EU to safeguard its citizens.


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow
ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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