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Germany’s Reckoning

When German Chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed a fundamental reorientation of German policy in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there had been no public debate on the matter. But in the year since, German society has been grappling constructively with the questions that will define its future.

BERLIN – Germany’s recent decision to furnish Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks may have taken longer than most of its allies wanted, but it nonetheless represents a major breakthrough. It is in keeping with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s proclamation of a dramatic policy reorientation – a Zeitenwende – made just days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

If this reorientation is implemented in full, Germany will emerge as one of the world’s top military spenders and arms exporters. Its economic interests will be much more bound up with security concerns, and its approach to foreign affairs will grow more assertive. Germany will be not just Europe’s largest economy, but also its largest military power.

Yet German society remains basically pacifist and comfortable with its status as a peaceful democratic country in the middle of Europe. And the Zeitenwende announcement was not preceded by debate in the Bundestag (parliament) or among the public. Like the Russian invasion itself, Scholz’s pronouncement came as something of a shock. Suddenly, longstanding principles seemed to have been shattered, raising questions about the country’s traditional foreign-policy narrative and new prevailing realities.

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