Strategy Recommendations for the Next German Government (I)

German think tank demands a more offensive foreign policy, willing to take greater risks: "Blurring the boundaries between war and peace."

BERLIN (Own report) - The next government should initiate a shift to a more offensive foreign policy, willing to take greater risks, and seek the necessary "public approval." This demand has been raised by a group of experts in their newly-published strategy paper. The group had been coordinated over a ten-month period by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). For the foreseeable future, international politics will be dominated by the "great power competition between the USA and China," the paper notes. "Vulnerability" has become the "normal state of affairs," the "boundaries between war and peace are becoming blurred." Over the past few years, Germany has been losing influence in this development and must, therefore, seek to "prevent further strategic déclassement." The DGAP paper lists conflicts within the EU and the escalating crises beyond the EU's external borders as examples for this loss of influence. Berlin must be prepared "to take decisions even amid great uncertainty." The paper received an important input from ministries and politicians of the CDU/CSU, SPD and the Greens.

"Smart Sovereignty"

The strategy paper, entitled "Smart Sovereignty," was drawn up by a group of experts in the course of ten months beginning in late 2020, within the framework of the "Ideenwerkstatt Deutsche Außenpolitik" (reflection workshop on German foreign policy) - a project by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). It contains ten "plans of action," explicitly designated as "strategy recommendations for the next German government," proposing, not only objectives for Germany's foreign policy, but also the instruments and alliances for achieving them. The group of experts was chaired by DGAP Research Director Christian Möller and former (until April 2021) DGAP Director Daniela Schwarzer. The group includes several university professors as well as specialists from various European and US think tanks. The work of the group was accompanied by a "Policy Board," providing "important impulses."[1] Its members included Thomas Bagger, Director of Foreign Policy in the Office of the Federal President, Nico Lange, Chief of Staff at the Federal Ministry of Defense as well as politicians from the CDU/CSU, SPD and the Greens. The project is funded by the Mercator Foundation.

"Preventing Further Déclassement"

As the group of experts notes in its strategy paper, the "great power competition between the USA and China ... will remain the most important international development for the foreseeable future." China as well as other states, such as Russia, will establish their "own, mainly regional, regulatory frameworks, allowing them to maintain and increase their power," according to the paper. At the same time, it becomes clear that numerous other states, "including Germany, lose their policy-shaping power." This development should now be stopped. "The goal is to prevent further strategic déclassement," explain the authors: "Germany should not have to pursue the objectives set in key areas by others, but should be in a position to define and achieve its own objectives." To this effect the future German government must "systematically use the dwindling power resources in such a way as to prevent a further loss of its scope for action and influence." "New options for maneuverability" should be opened "through cooperation." The method for securing one's own global influence, not as a classical sovereign nation state, but in - possibly varying– constellations of alliances, is what the DGAP refers to as "smart sovereignty."

Marked by Crises

Initially, the authors of the DGAP's strategy paper point to two concrete areas of Germany's foreign policy, which have suffered serious setbacks over the past few years. For the group of experts, it is totally out of the question that Germany relies on clout provided by the EU in the domain of international affairs. However, "Europe's capacity for foreign action ... is directly linked to its capacity to act internally." "The cohesion within the EU," has, however, "diminished over the past few years." "Internally, the EU is not only struggling to maintain economic cohesion, but rule-of-law and liberal democracy, as well." Due to persisting conflicts - not only - with Poland and Hungary, the next German government must "reinforce the EU's cohesion." "Both divergent rule-of-law standards, as well as foreign and security policy hurdles for decision-making" should be on the agenda, advises the DGAP paper. The EU has already "been weakened by the Brexit." In fact, besides the EU's direct weakening by Brexit, the AUKUS pact, which is damaging France as well as the EU,[2] could hardly have been concluded without the United Kingdom’s having left the Union.

Surrounded by Crises

In addition, Berlin's efforts to establish a secure buffer zone of stable, cooperative countries on the periphery of the EU have failed. A strategy paper ("New Power, New Responsibility" - reported [3]) published eight years ago - also on the occasion of parliamentary elections - had recommended that German foreign and military policy be "primarily" concentrated on the "instability growing at the European periphery, from North Africa via the Middle East to Central Asia." Now the DGAP group of experts notes that "the arch of conflict, extending from the EU's east to its south, has rapidly expanded and intensified." The "number of crises, today and in the foreseeable future that will challenge the European way of life and security" has "increased." What's more, "many countries in the EU’s direct neighborhood ... are developing a growing dependence on Russia, China or even Turkey." This is the case of a growing number of North African countries,[4] the Middle East,[5] and even Southeastern Europe.[6] "As a consequence, nationally and internationally, Germany is increasingly losing its maneuverability," the strategy paper notes.

"Willing to Take Greater Risks"

The DGAP-coordinated group of experts strongly recommends "bold political innovations" and considers that the upcoming coalition negotiations offer "an opportunity to pave the way." "Vulnerability" has become the "normal state of affairs" the strategy paper complains. In the future, "cross-sector and transnational shocks" will "be unavoidable." "The boundaries between war and peace are becoming blurred." Germany must therefore "abandon an ad hoc reactive policy," designed for "damage control," to assume a "proactive policy." This also means, "a willingness for shared risks and the ability to take decisions even amid great uncertainty." This can only be successful, if "there is ample social acceptance." Therefore, "one of the greatest tasks over the next few years, is to promote an active German foreign policy among the citizenry, civil society and the business community," and to defend it against "counter-attacks." The new "active" foreign policy must not only be "defended" against "attacks from abroad," the strategy paper explains, but also from "domestic attacks."

Plans of Action

The group of experts has compiled a total of ten "Plans of Action," outlining central guidelines for Germany's future foreign policy. will soon report.


[1] This quote and those that follow are taken from: Ideenwerkstatt Deutsche Außenpolitik: Smarte Souveränität. 10 Aktionspläne für die neue Bundesregierung. DGAP Bericht Nr. 16. September 2021.

[2] See also Der AUKUS-Pakt und die Fregatte Bayern.

[3] Neue Macht, neue Verantwortung. Elemente einer deutschen Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik für eine Welt im Umbruch. Ein Papier der Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) und des German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Berlin, Oktober 2013. See also Die Neuvermessung der deutschen Weltpolitik.

[4] See also Die zweite Berliner Libyen-Konferenz, Nicht mehr alternativlos and Russian Flags in Bamako

[5] See also Keine Ordnungsmacht.

[6] See also Strategic Rivalry over Eastern and Southeastern Europe.