How is the international order changing and what does that mean for Germany? The answers to these questions are currently very different and it is not certain which conclusions will convince voters in the end. SPD leader Lars Klingbeil now dares to come out of the cover – and to the project Global Germany.
Public opinion is still in flux. It is therefore significant that Lars Klingbeil, the SPD co-chairman, commented on fundamental questions of German foreign and security policy. So what the turning point announced by Chancellor Scholz means from the perspective of the SPD.
This is an important task and Klingbeil deserves credit for taking on it. Because of the last three foreign ministers appointed by the SPD, there is not a single programmatic or strategic idea that could support or at least enrich a future SPD position. Not from the party either. The criticism that Klingbeil immediately received from the SPD – against the claim to political leadership, against the military ability to act – indicates a lagging factual discussion.
So Klingbeil starts almost from scratch, can build on little. However, it would have been good if he had gotten expert advice. Then he could have avoided peculiar vagueness and distorted formulations. In his last government statement, Chancellor Scholz presented a completely different assessment of the development of the international order. Now the federal government is not the SPD and vice versa. But when the chancellor’s party views fundamental foreign and security policy issues differently, that’s remarkable.
It is to be welcomed that Klingbeil calls for a more active German foreign and security policy and emphasizes the necessary military element. But why didn’t he put this into a convincing form, both linguistically and conceptually?
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For example, Klingbeil writes in the journal “Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft” that the world order will change because it is no longer poles (meaning world powers) but “centres” that will exert regulatory influence. What is the difference between the two? He writes: “Following, pressure and oppression are no longer decisive for the assignment, but beliefs and interests.” States would join the centers out of their own interests. Do people in China and Russia share Klingbeil’s view of the international order, that in the future one must be convinced that one’s own interests will be realized in cooperation with a center? This is currently not the case. And have alliances only consisted of “following, pressure and oppression”? no
Where does Klingbeil get the innocence of declaring power-political enforcement as historically obsolete, although later in the text he argues quite differently? He interprets the relations between Russia and China with other states in such a way that the three democracies of Brazil, India and South Africa have confidence in the other two BRICS states, Russia and China. “They [China and Russia] saw the interests of these countries and treated their governments with respect. That built trust.” How did he come to such misjudgments? India trusts China?! India has just upgraded an alliance against China with the US, Australia and Japan.
In this world of centers, Germany should become an international leader. “Germany must claim to be a leading power. After almost 80 years of restraint, Germany now has a new role in the international coordinate system. Our country has earned a high level of trust over the past few decades.”
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
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You have to pause for a moment: Anyone who follows the international discussions can hardly claim that trust in Germany is particularly high. Discussions about economic resilience, i.e. the decoupling of production and supply chains, are not exactly registered in the Eastern European countries, in France and the USA, and certainly not in Ukraine, South Africa or Russia – and in China.
The second thought – 80 years of restraint – is also hardly sustainable. Germany has neither held back on foreign trade nor otherwise hidden its interests, but has often pushed them through in the EU.
Well, it wasn’t aiming for an autonomous international leadership role. Perhaps the reason is that this would have been beyond one’s own abilities. That is why Germany will not be able to be a leading international power in the future either. This is just as unrealistic as Boris Johnson’s idea of Global Britain.
Assuming leadership in the EU is the task that German politicians have been confronted with for many years, but which they have refused because they found it more convenient simply to assert themselves over others. How did Klingbeil come to the project of international leadership, i.e. Global Germany.
Or is it about the EU, because later he writes that Germany can only be strong if Europe is strong. “As a leading power, Germany must massively promote a sovereign Europe,” writes Klingbeil. But what he means by that remains unclear. When it comes to Germany taking on leadership roles in the EU, why doesn’t he put it that way. Or is it Global Germany after all, because he criticizes how much the relationships with non-European countries have been neglected. This confuses more than it explains.
After all, it says: “For me, peace policy means also seeing military force as a legitimate political tool.” It is clear from the context that this means the right to defense against an attacking state. But then that is not a facet of the turning point. This has been the case since the United Nations Charter was adopted. So since 1945. Klingbeil is 77 years too late. And the way he phrased it, the sentence is at least misleading.
Military force, as agreed in the United Nations Charter, is not a legitimate policy tool at all, but a legitimate means of defense against attack. And a legitimate means of deterring threats of violence. If Klingbeil means it, why doesn’t he say it that way? As he says it, and taken out of context, the sentence gets a hundred points on the misunderstanding scale. In times of social media hysteria, this is at least one glaring flaw.
Despite everything: Klingbeil’s text is an important contribution and hopefully a starting point for the upcoming and necessary foreign and security policy discussions. The fact that he came forward with it required a certain attitude in the given situation. Hopefully he can prevent others from wanting to end the debate right away.
Going forward, it would be good to seek expert advice to present positions in a clear, coherent and understandable manner. Incidentally, the other parties are not much further along in this task.
However, if Klingbeil really means that the Global Germany project allows new means for politics to become legitimate in a world of different centers, then the SPD has opened up a completely new perspective for the development of Germany.