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November 26, 2022

The burden of strategic decision: Germany’s case (I)

When the three Western states carried out, on 14 April 2018, a missile strike on the military sites of the Assad regime in Syria – as a general warning that the use of chemical weapons in internal or external conflicts has become a red line beyond which the international community’s punishment intervenes – it was noticed that Germany was not a participant alongside its allies.

Moreover, German chancellor Angela Merkel was ‘reprimanded’ by her party partner Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Bavarian wing of the Christian-Social Union (CSU), so far known as showing little interest in the foreign policy domain, who said the following: “I would have used my veto.” This position referred to the fact that Berlin, via Angela Merkel, had expressed its solidarity with the action of its allies, but also that Germany thus appeared to be abandoning its role as European leader.

This episode was just one of those that have occurred in recent months, in which Germany is seen as losing its interest in major international developments, an impression that is strange even more so since these developments concern the very future of the European continent. Numerous events that have occurred in recent months tend, in the opinion of many experts, to coalesce an effort to construct a new international order, other than the one built after the Second World War and consolidated after the end of the Cold War.

Thus, apart from the mentioned allied raid in Syria last month, Germany was and is sufficiently non-combative regarding the proposals launched by French President E. Macron regarding the reforming of the European Union and the process to strengthen the euro currency, not to mention the evolution of the Ukraine crisis or the low-key position in connection with the consolidation of trans-Atlantic relations. Regarding this latter aspect, it is obvious that French President Macron has adopted – possibly in connivance with Angela Merkel? – the main role, trying to convince the U.S. President not to give up on the nuclear agreement with Iran (2015) or even to return to the accord on global warming. At least this was the impression created by the French Head of State’s visit to Washington last week, a visit paid at the invitation of D. Trump. Impression strengthened by the visit – with inconclusive results – paid immediately by German Chancellor Merkel on 27 April 2018, immediately after the magnificent welcome extended to President Macron at the White House.

It is thus a legitimate preoccupation for the observers of the international scene to scrutinise what Germany’s position will be in the great dossiers of the contemporary world. In other words, to identify whether Germany has chosen to be an international presence of a secondary role – and what would be the reasons for this orientation? –, in contradiction with its status as the most important actor of the European Union in terms of economic weight and political calibre. Especially since, if we refer to previous positions, not too distant – such as the one expressed by Angela Merkel in September 2017, namely that it is time “Europe takes its fate in its own hands” –, such an involution of the grand strategy devised by Berlin seems of little credibility. Especially knowing how cautious and responsible with words, and with her positions in general, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, currently on her fourth term in office.

It is suspected, based on solid reasons, that Germany’s attitude in recent months has been certainly burdened by the long period of inaction following the general legislative elections of September 2017, period in which the new Government formula was negotiated. From ‘Jamaica’ to the ‘Grand Coalition’ months passed during which it was obvious, faced with the avalanche of international events – from the nuclear accord with Iran, under pressure from the U.S. to be replaced with the alternative of reintroducing sanctions, from the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, from the events in Syria to the official answers expected from Berlin to the proposals of the Macron offensive in Europe –, that the answer to them was a distinct compartment of these negotiations.

The governing programme of the ‘Grand Coalition’ maintained the fundamental stature that Germany has undertaken in the international arena, namely that of being a ‘soft’ power capable – through its economic weight of playing a mediating role in the great global conflicts, and its position toward the raid carried out last month in Syria by Germany’s three great allies has already shown the shortcomings of this orientation in the absence of changes of substance. Shortcomings that range from the lack of a rapid decision for action – because of the government’s legal restrictions and parliament’s domination in big external decisions – to the absence of a flexible and efficient military body, but also to the difficulty of its potential commitment abroad, the national parliament having the last say in this case too.

Two dossiers of significant international weight are in Berlin’s crosshairs in the near future, and the response given in each of them will reveal the role and the place that Germany takes in Europe and the world. The first is the answer to the European offensive of the French President, launched last year – establishing an EU Finance Minister, reforming the single currency, forming a joint budget of the organisation etc. –, that tends to thus also draw the solidarity of the members separated by various stages of economic evolution, so necessary against the backdrop of the implementation of Brexit. Hence, the relaunch of the process of reconsolidation of the European Union and of transforming it into an actor of global scope.

The German press already outlines that while two years ago Germany was the one that had initiatives – see the ‘Normandy format’ in the Ukraine crisis, and Merkel was the one who undertook the agreement known as Minsk-2 in February 2015, as part of this framework – on the Old Continent, hence in line with its economic weight and tradition to mediate intra- and inter-state conflicts, now Macron plays the main role not just in the reformatting of the EU for survival and development, but especially in what concerns the trans-Atlantic relationship and the West’s overall orientation.

The German response to the Macron plan for Europe can no longer wait without thus strengthening Euroscepticism and stoking what the French President called two weeks ago, before the continental parliament, “the European civil war.” Namely the clash between the liberal and illiberal values, already started and which must be settled through “the authority of democracy.”

On the other hand, Germany must impart consistency simultaneously on its overall orientation in the international arena and as part of the West. Will it settle for its passive role in what concerns liberal interventionism or will it seek to accommodate to the new paradigm of power expression on the international plane, a paradigm adopted by U.S. President D. Trump. Linked to these decisions are the future developments in the external arena in which a united and dynamic West will have to generate stability and predictability in an era of uncertainty.

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