How can Germany secure its future? What strategy does the federal government have with regard to allies like the USA, and which towards Russia or China? The traffic light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberal FDP had already set out to formulate a comprehensive strategy and plan in the coalition agreement of autumn 2021. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has given the issue a whole new level of explosiveness. But such a strategy is not yet complete. The details contain a lot of potential fuel for the three governing parties.

Germany has never had a comprehensive, clear and binding description of its own security interests. Action has always been determined by short-term and, above all, economic considerations, not only in the current government but also in many of its predecessors, for example in dealing with China. The closest thing that came to a general plan for security and defense policy were the Department of Defense’s so-called “white papers”.

But now everything should be different: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) in particular has in mind a description of German security interests, if possible supported by all ministries. She commissioned a paper of around 60 pages, but it still lacks general approval, for example from the Chancellery.

In the government headquarters, the criticism of China in particular is considered to be too strong. Now representatives of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), von Baerbock and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) are to vote on the present draft, if possible in such a way that the strategy goes through the cabinet before the start of the important Munich Security Conference on the third weekend in February. But it cannot be ruled out that it could take longer, they say.

It is probably primarily about the course towards China. Will Germany pay particular attention to economic interests in the future, as in the past, or will the government formulate a line that focuses more strongly than before on human rights and the ongoing Chinese pressure on Taiwan?

There is also a dispute with the SPD-led Defense Ministry, which wants to see the strategy anchored in the principle of permanently spending two percent of gross national product on defense. The ministry also wants assurances that armaments projects that are being considered with the European allies will, in principle, be approved by the government. The Greens in particular see this critically.

The opposition demands that Germany needs a clear definition of its own interests. Roderich Kiesewetter told DW that three German lies should be cleaned up: “cheap security from the USA, cheap value chains from China, cheap energy from Russia”. The foreign expert from the conservative CDU/CSU parliamentary group explains: “The strategy must therefore present concrete political instructions on how to enable the Bundeswehr to defend the alliance and the country, diversify our energy supply and reduce dependence on China.”

Unlike the government, the CDU is calling for the United States to follow its example: “That’s why we urgently need a National Security Council that is not bound by instructions and is staffed independently. Regardless of the government constellation and opportunity costs, this is the best way to check the actual implementation of the national strategy, to evaluate it regularly and thus finally to implement a strategically forward-looking security policy in Germany.” Unlike the USA or Lithuania, there is no such policy in Germany independent national security council.

There are also reservations about the draft from the Federal Foreign Office in the Ministry of Finance and in the federal states. The Ministry of Finance, led by FDP leader Christian Lindner, is missing clear statements on problems such as money laundering and international defense against terrorism.

The federal states feel ignored. “I wonder how a sensible national security strategy can be developed in Berlin without the participation of the federal states, even if it is supposedly about foreign policy,” North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) told the newspaper “Welt”: “The big ones Security-related topics, whether cyber security or the fight against terrorism, are also being worked on in the federal states.”

The federal states were particularly upset that Baerbock spoke to many non-governmental organizations about their draft, but not to the interior ministries of the states. The FDP-led Federal Ministry of Justice also feels left out because it was not involved in the departmental coordination.

China remains the crux of the matter: the Greens and the FDP in particular are demanding clearer statements about human rights violations in China and about the aggressive course the leadership in Beijing is taking towards Taiwan.

The Chancellery under Prime Minister Olaf Scholz still wants to focus on economic relations with China. Last year, for example, the Chancellery approved the participation of a state-owned Chinese company in an important container terminal in the port of Hamburg, despite considerable concerns from the Greens and the FDP. A national security strategy should actually rule out such conflicts from the outset.

However, it is uncertain whether this can actually be presented at the Munich Security Conference, as the government had planned. This week, representatives of the responsible ministries want to meet again in the Chancellery to clarify controversial issues.

Author: Jens Thurau

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The original of this article “Germany’s security: dispute over strategy” comes from Deutsche Welle.