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German Zeitenwende and Its Security Strategy: A new political culture?

Ilke Toygür

6 mins - 26 de Junio de 2023, 07:05

On June 14, Germany released its first Nationale Sicherheitsstrategie, or national security strategy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced it as a major step in setting the tone for "integrated security," a concept that refers to a holistic approach to global challenges. Defining the world as increasingly multipolar, the strategy mentions Russia as the most important threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area, underlines the importance of the systemic rivalry that exists between the United States and China and the geoeconomic challenges facing Germany and Europe today. 

People that are familiar with German foreign and security policymaking state that there are not many surprises in the document, but the mere fact that it exists is such an important step forward. Germany, as the biggest economy and founding member of the European Union, has a special responsibility for guiding the Union and providing solutions to 21st century challenges.

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This document follows the country’s Zeitenwende, or moment of watershed, a concept the Chancellor has used in his speech in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, just days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The traffic light coalition’s constitutional agreement already included the idea of writing a security strategy, but the recent challenges gave it another impetus.
The zeitenwende, the security strategy, together with all the economic, political, and military actions in the EU following Russia’s invasion, are clear demonstrations of a new political culture in Germany and Europe. Other countries with a long tradition of writing national security strategies, like the US, for example, internationalize strategic long-term thinking. These documents state national priorities for a domestic and international audience. They should be followed up, however, with an honest conversation about the ways to achieve these goals and all the resources that are needed. Painting the picture is surely important, but providing a roadmap to get there is just as essential.

Integrated security: A holistic approach
The war on the continent had its toll on Germany. The country had to make significant changes, starting with its energy decoupling from Russia and investments to renew its Bundeswehr armed forces. However, it was not just that. The challenges caused by climate change, new and disruptive technologies, and the great power rivalry between the US and China were all reasons to rethink the security and well-being of citizens. The conceptualization of the document is similar to American thinking about foreign policy for the middle class, which links challenges at home and abroad.

The concept of "integrated security" that is at the heart of the strategy is an important step forward. It mainly has two dimensions: Policies stand at the nexus of different areas and, for that reason, require the involvement of different actors, starting with the ministries and different parts of the administration and civil society, while collaborating extensively with external partners.

With the green and digital transitions, all the critical raw materials that are needed for the former and already existing tech dependencies when it comes to the latter have become issues of internal and external affairs. This is why a holistic approach is more than necessary. Connecting the existing challenges to the systemic rivalry is also a crucial first step in defining what role Germany—and the EU—could play.

China debate and the transatlantic gap
In addition to the conceptualization of integrated security, the security strategy underlines the multipolarity in the world. The rising Sino-American rivalry is at the centre of any conversation in Washington, D.C. – so there is an ever-pending transatlantic conversation. It is extremely important for the Europeans to understand reality and come up with policy options. Germany, a historically strong believer in Atlanticism, has a key role to play in setting the tone and paving the way to a nuanced the conversation. It should, however, go beyond the narrow economic interests of its key sectors for the sake of the long-term restructuring of its economy and European cohesion. The upcoming China strategy has the potential to provide a more complete picture.

The road ahead
Overall, Germany’s Zeitenwende and first-ever security strategy are demonstrations that the country is moving forward in defining the challenges that shape the world and responding to them. Having the right picture is surely the first step toward defining action. Integrated security is a good start in a world where the challenges are cross-cutting.
The largest economy in the European Union, however, should also think about the resources that are needed to provide solutions to these challenges. There should be a fair and open debate about existing and future resources and their use when it comes to policy priorities. Every policy is a prediction and has an opportunity cost. Thinking about the gravity of the structural challenges facing Germany and the Union, focusing on the citizens’ wellbeing will be a crucial starting point.

Germany’s government, which is led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), is in a privileged position when it comes to further elaborating on the idea of foreign policy for improving citizens’ welfare. "Peace, security, prosperity, and stability" are four key terms used by the strategy to define Germany’s responsibility towards Europe. Securing them should also be perceived as the key to defining the European Union’s role in the years to come.
The already existing difficulties in commanding the first-ever three-party coalition in the country are visible. Sometimes the parties’ goals related to social justice, the green transition, and decreasing debt are not necessarily compatible. That being said, national and international (geo)political realities have to coexist. Thinking about the upcoming elections in the European Parliament next year, demonstrating to citizens that Germany is able to provide solutions after years of hardship will be the key.
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