Since 2014, Germany has been going through a learning process regarding foreign policy and defense. This has included a tense relationship with Russia and the breakdown of order in the Middle East, as well as the expectations of European partners that Germany assume a leadership position in the alliance.
Still, Germany has faced vehement criticism of its refugee policy, and terrorist threats have made it clear that the borders between foreign and domestic policy are becoming increasingly blurred. Moreover, in light of the upcoming elections, Germany is realizing for the first time that it won’t be able to count on U.S. leadership.
Of course, not everything will change: The European Union will remain the most important framework for German foreign policy, and the U.S. will still be the strongest partner in the E.U.’s trans-Atlantic alliance. European security cannot be guaranteed outside this alliance, and is also only conceivable for Germany in pan-European terms – including Russia and eastern Europe. Also, the United Nations will remain the most important platform for joint action, particularly in an increasingly multipolar order.
But this structure has been disrupted: Following the election of Donald Trump, the U.S. has become an unpredictable protagonist, replacing orientation with uncertainty. And we in Germany and the European Union have always previously depended on the U.S. as a guide, despite various differences of opinion in political and military spheres.
For this reason, we need an E.U. capable of strategy and action. Currently, the E.U. has turned its gaze inwards due to Brexit, and the uncertain outcomes of upcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Italy. This is compounded by a possible resurgence of risks in financial markets and controversies regarding solidarity and minimum democratic standards. Nonetheless, the E.U. provides Germany with more international weight – something that is often overlooked here at home. And even if there are major problems to be addressed, the E.U. strengthens the security of all its members.
Germany’s necessary strategic capabilities are less a matter of deciding on headquarters and weapon systems than of defining its own interests and priorities.