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The First German National Security Strategy on the Table

Jun 21, 2023

The announcement of Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz a year ago of a new phase in German security policy following the Russian full scale invasion of Ukraine (Zeitenwende) has now been followed up by the publication of a national security strategy. It contains an effort to communicate to German citizens and indirectly to the world that it is time to change perspectives on security, that the entire mentality when discussing security issues in Germany needs to be fundamentally altered. In order to be able to defend itself and its interests (to be “Wehrhaft” – a central concept in the document) Germany needs to adopt an integrated security policy, something which has been discussed on European level for several decades.

As the old German phrase has it ”der Teufel steckt im Detail” – the devil is in the detail. Initial comments to the strategy in this regard point to the lack of implementation provisions in the document. The claim that the strategy will be implemented in budgetary terms in accordance with the priorities set in the document (“We will include the projects described in this Security Strategy in the relevant ministerial budgets within the federal budget by means of prioritisation, should funds not already have been allocated to them”) is likely to be very difficult to substantiate.


Others note the lack of a geopolitical map with some more detail than a large number of references to EU, NATO, Russia and a few mentions of Ukraine, France, China, and the United States. As regards Asia, for instance, searches for Taiwan, India etcetera return no results.


In addition, which is notable for a Swedish reader, the text is devoid of references to the situation in the northern part of Europe (with the exception of a picture illustrating Baltic Air policing), including the Arctic, and just a few short observations about conflict risks in the south. Indeed, it can be argued that the approach is mainly thematic and that is also why it is difficult to clearly discern to what extent the German approach will include an important level of cooperation in the Northern dimension.


In this sense the document should be important for Swedish considerations about its security policy orientation. At a minimum, it seems prudent not to overstate the potential for bilateral German solidarity, as long as Sweden is not an integral part of NATO. In this sense, however, the German document is not very different from the voluminous British integrated Review which was published in in 2021 and updated in 2023. The Nordic region remains a relatively small part of the overall strategic perspective of these major regional powers in Europe.


Also for a French reader, the document is probably sobering. While it commends the historic importance of French-German cooperation after the Second World War, it does not explicitly endorse the French focus on the need for European strategic autonomy. Rather it focuses on getting rid of one-sided dependencies. This is in a sense, however, not really a new thought since Germany, as Finland already during the Cold War, has seen its relationship with Russia as an interdependent exchange of goods and services of importance to both sides. What the new policy means is rather that Germany will have to try to stay away from any important form of dependencies on Russia.


In this regard the strategy is clearer than the balanced formula characterising German-Chinese relations (China is a partner, competitor and systemic rival). What this formula means, in practice, is of course difficult to interpret and that is most likely the intention. Germany needs flexibility in order to navigate between its own economic interests and geostrategic requirements pushed by the United States. At some point we will know more since Germany is also preparing a dedicated China strategy.


There are, however, certain clear statements in the document, for instance when it comes to Germany and extended deterrence:

”As long as nuclear weapons exist, maintaining credible nuclear deterrence is essential for NATO and for European security. Germany will continue to do its part in nuclear sharing and will constantly provide the dual-capable aircraft this requires”

But in many other areas it is difficult to visualise the overall priorities that will be implemented, since the spectrum of issues and challenges covers a number of major areas including climate change, development policy and pandemics as well as requirements in innovative sectors, including space policy. For an integrated security policy that is perhaps as it should be. Still, in order to avoid that priorities in reality will be defined in the budget, more clarity would probably have been required. The strong criticism from CDU and its leader Friedrich Merz was predictable. Unlike Sweden, the German government has so far stayed away from explicitly setting up a national Security Council. What this means in practice, given the already existing considerable set up in the Chancery of Mr Scholz it’s difficult to say.


Still the strategy signals more attention to security in relation to economy than before. This also sends a clear signal to the private sector that geopolitical considerations will play a more important role in German external trade for the foreseeable future. As one observer has noted (Roderick Kefferpütz):


Germany is realizing that burgeoning trade ties and diplomacy alone don’t provide security. Peace comes through strength, and Germany’s first national security strategy rightfully emphasizes the importance of credible deterrence and lists the goal to make the Bundeswehr one of the most effective conventional armed forces in Europe.

Lars-Erik Lundin