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Germany Needs a National Security Council

Although German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced a sea change in his country’s security policy, it remains to be seen what the new strategy will look like, and whether it will command broad public support. Long proposed but never implemented, a German National Security Council could help to settle these questions.

BERLIN – After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the newly reunited Germany became a champion and leading exponent of the emerging liberal international order. Germany saw itself, and presented itself to the world, as an economically open democracy with a “welcoming culture” (Willkommenskultur) and a commitment to human rights. Yet while its economic might put it near the top of many international rankings of soft power, decades of underinvestment in the Bundeswehr (armed forces) meant that it punched far below its weight militarily.

Before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine, Germany’s foreign policy rested on an ever-deeper European Union, fully integrated transatlantic relations, a belief in Wandel durch Handel (change through trade), international dialogue, and military restraint. But while this approach generally worked well, the military component had become an irritant to allies long before the current war. US presidents since George W. Bush have complained about Germany’s low defense spending, and the United States and other EU member states have regarded Germany’s approach as a combination of fence-sitting and free-riding.

Moreover, Germany during this period was turning itself into one of Russia’s and China’s biggest trading partners. As it did business with autocrats around the world, it paid little mind to its growing energy dependency on Russia. From Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the 1990s to Chancellor Olaf Scholz today, German leaders have consistently believed that commerce and dialogue will ultimately bring countries closer together, alleviating the need for hard power.

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