Strategic Rethinking in Berlin (II)

CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation proposes an expansion of German military activities in the Asian-Pacific Realm. Power struggle against China threatens to dangerously escalate.

BEIJING/BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) – The CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation proposes that Germany expand its military activities in the Asian-Pacific realm. Admittedly, the Bundeswehr already has much on its plate with the reinforcement of “NATO’s European pillar,” involving the preparation of “three combat-ready divisions with eight to ten combat brigades.” But the Bundeswehr could additionally orient itself toward “a significant permanent military engagement in the Indo-Pacific,” for example with the dispatchment of German warships, “on a rotating or a permanent basis.” The “more frequent and substantial participation“ of German troops “in military exercises in the Indo-Pacific” should contribute particularly toward “improving the interoperability and exchange of information,” according to a strategy paper just published by the foundation. The document also names activities to be undertaken by the EU in cooperation with the riparian countries of the South China Sea – with the objective that “these form a counterweight to China.” Because the intensified confrontation with China could lead to hefty upheavals, the paper advises that this must be “explained to the German public.”

Power Struggle against Moscow

In its current strategy paper, the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation sees mainly two options for the fundamental orientation of the Bundeswehr. One consists of prioritizing the “reinforcement of NATO’s European Pillar and strengthening the Alliance’s military capability” – in the power struggle against Russia.[1] “To accomplish this, all of the stipulated military contributions in the Bundeswehr’s capability profile must be fulfilled,” the foundation demands, – “particularly the three combat-ready divisions with eight to ten combat brigades, 25 battleships and eight submarines, along with four multinational combat squadrons,” promised to NATO, and to be readied for intervention by 2032, at the latest. “With this – still to be assembled – troop contingency,” Germany could “become more engaged in the forward deployment in NATO’s Central Eastern European countries,” the paper continues. Up to now, the German government has agreed to upgrade the German-commanded NATO battlegroup in Rukla, Lithuania, to a combat brigade of altogether a 15,000-troop armored division on call for an eventual engagement there, also to station Patriot anti-aircraft missiles along with the necessary military crew in Slovakia, expand participation of air-policing on NATO’s eastern flank and to focus Germany’s Navy on the Baltic Sea.[2]

Power Struggle against Beijing

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation compares that scenario with a second, wherein Berlin “[aspires] to a significant, lasting military engagement in the Indo-Pacific” alongside the rapid arms buildup on NATO’s eastern flank. This could mean “that Germany dispatches, together with its NATO partners, battleships to the Indo-Pacific – on a rotating or a permanent basis,” explains the foundation. “To generate a deterrence effect,” the NATO units must, at times, sail through “the Taiwan Strait and participate in Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea.” This would constitute a serious escalation of German provocations. It is true that last year, the German government sent the frigate Bayern on a training cruise in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where it not only participated in maneuvers with diverse warships, for example from the USA, Australia, and Japan.[3] On its Asian-Pacific cruise, the Frigate crossed through the South China Sea as well, however it restricted itself to the usual sea routes without additionally harassing China. According to the Adenauer Foundation, an escalation of the provocations, however, requires, as prerequisite, a massive arms buildup, above all, “more frigates must be added, or the weaponry upgraded on the existing units.” To achieve this, the foundation calculates that a “time horizon of from ten to twenty years” is indispensable.

Maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific

Supplementary to both scenarios, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation outlines proposals for Germany’s NATO policy, in reference to the power struggle against China. Accordingly, Berlin could work “to reinforce and expand cooperation with the Indo-Pacific partners” of the western military pact. “Indo-Pacific partners” refers to Japan, South Korea; Australia, and New Zealand – the four countries that NATO resolved to cooperate more closely with in the future at its June summit in Madrid.[4] The foundation writes, that the strengthening of cooperation, could initially consist of regularly inviting ministers and the heads of states and governments of all four Asian-Pacific NATO partner countries to NATO meetings. “Cooperation should also be stepped up at the military level,” it continues, “such as with more frequent and more substantial participation of (German) NATO units and troops in military exercises in the Indo-Pacific,” especially “to enhance the interoperability and exchange of information.” In the future, India, China’s greatest Asian rival, could be drawn closer to NATO. Berlin is already trying to expand its armaments and military cooperation with New Delhi.[5] Additionally, “an unambiguous rhetoric in relationship to Peking” is in consideration, writes the foundation, evidently meaning a much more aggressive positioning.

“Counterweighting China”

Also, for the EU, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation proposes that a “coordinated maritime presence be established in the region.” This, according to the foundation, could have a supplementary character. It states that the “maritime presence” could, above all, facilitate the “creation of a consolidated appraisal of the situation in the region.” Here the EU could contribute its share, while formally distinguishing itself from NATO. Furthermore, states the foundation, “the riparian countries,” for example at the South China Sea, have been investing in their defense capabilities. What they often lack are capabilities in the areas of intelligence, surveillance, locating and targeting, as well as reconnaissance.” This is where the EU could, In the future, “begin with targeted measures for military cooperation and training.” That would particularly involve a more intensive cooperation with Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, with the objective of “regionally counterweighting China.”

“Explain to the Public”

As the Konrad Adenauer Foundation admits, taking a more aggressive position toward China, would have as a prerequisite “a strategic rethinking in German politics.” It would be particularly, necessary to move away “from the mantras ‘partner,’ ‘competitor,’ and ‘rival’.” That triad had formulated Germany and the EU’s official policy toward the People's Republic of China until now, openly expressing economic competition (“competitor”) as well as the strategic rivalry, while still leaving room for the extremely profitable economic cooperation (“partner”) with China, particularly for German companies.[6] Moving away from the “partner” element would cause serious losses for numerous powerful German companies. It would probably be in conjunction with serious economic collapse. Moreover, this must “be explained to German public opinion,” writes the foundation, referring to expected upheavals. Besides, the German Navy does not see itself – at least at the moment – in a position to adequately meet these increased demands. Just recently, in relationship to the German Navy’s planned prioritizing the northern flank, particularly in the Baltic Sea, Germany’s Naval Inspector Jan Christian Kaack declared that “a reassessing the deployments in the Mediterranean“ is necessary, because the Navy has limited capacities, therefore there must be a “flexibilization or termination” of these missions.[7] With this background, it remains unclear where the military capacity for larger operations in the Asian-Pacific realm are supposed to come from.

To Australia and Hawaii

In spite of this, the Bundeswehr is already intensifying its activities in the Asian-Pacific realm. Subsequent to the Frigate Bayern’s Asian-Pacific cruise, a German Air Force squadron will be dispatched to Australia for maneuvers in September. Currently the Bundeswehr is participating in the RIMPAC 2022 combat exercises – the largest naval maneuvers in the world. RIMPAC 2022 is taking place in the Pacific off the coasts of California and Hawaii.[8]


For more information on this theme: Strategic Rethinking in Berlin (I).


[1] For these quotes and those that follow: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung: Das Ende der Naivität – Deutschland und die EU im globalen Wettbewerb zwischen den USA und China.

[2] See also Combat Brigades instead of Battlegroups and At the Center of the Risk of Escalation.

[3] See also Maneuvers in East Asia (II).

[4] See also Die NATO am Pazifik.

[5] See also Deutschland im Indo-Pazifik (III) and China's Counterpart (II).

[6] See also Between the Frontlines of the Cold War.

[7] Inspekteur der Marine Vizeadmiral Jan Christian Kaack: 100 Tage im Amt: „Kursbestimmung 2022“. In See, 27. Juni 2022. See also The Summits’ Results.

[8] See also Die NATO am Pazifik.