Monthly Mind October 2013 - German power and German responsibility

Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

Fortunately, the worries that some of our neighbors had some 20 years ago, namely that Germany may have to be feared again, have not come true. And yet, as Timothy Garton Ash said at the Munich Security Conference in 2012, we have “a European Germany in a German Europe.” This European Germany is today, without a doubt, the central economic power in Europe. However, in terms of security policy, Germany does not play an active and formative role commensurate to our size and potential. Our partners’ expectations for us are not exaggerated – and criticism that Germany sometimes gladly shies away from the action, particularly when things get difficult, does not always seem entirely unfounded.

We Germans have lived quite comfortably with the status quo. We do not want change; we would prefer to be left alone to enjoy our continually growing prosperity. It was not always like that. Before reunification – as was also set out in the German Basic Law – the old Federal Republic of Germany was an “anti-status quo” power: we had the objective of overcoming the status quo of the division of Germany and Europe. Since 1990, the desire for change has dissipated. We would have liked to freeze the course of history. Of course, the belief that we could isolate ourselves from the world's problems, rather like an overgrown Switzerland, is a fatal misconception. The wheels of change are turning around us in a spectacular way, and we are called upon not only to face this challenge, but also to actively take it up.

The “rise of the rest,” i.e., of countries like China, Brazil, and India, means that the world order is becoming less clear-cut and international actions and decisions are becoming more complex and complicated. The relative influence of Germany and Europe (and the West as a whole) will decrease; by 2050, Europe will make up no more than about seven percent of the world's population.


In the future, the US will devote more attention and resources to eastern Asia and be less involved with Europe and its neighboring countries. This does not mean that the US will “abandon” Europe. However, Europe will need to become more independent in terms of security policy. We do not yet seem to have understood what this means for us.

And whether we like it or not, Germany has become the key country of the EU. For the foreseeable future, Germany will remain Europe's “indispensable nation,” as Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski put it in his historic speech in the fall of 2011 in Berlin. The creative drive coming from Berlin, or the lack thereof, will be a decisive factor for whether and how Europe is made viable for the future.

Fundamentally, this means two things. First, we must “Europeanize” our activities in foreign and security policy much more. There is no longer any viable alternative to further integration and more joint action. Does anyone seriously want to claim, in the face of the monumental global changes, that we Germans can achieve anything on our own? Paul-Henri Spaak's famous words are even more true today than in the past: “There are only two types of states in Europe: small states, and small states that have not yet realized that they are small.”

Second, we Germans must not be afraid to take on joint leadership responsibility. This does not mean that we should act as Europe's hegemon, or even indulge in arrogant flights of fancy. It means, however, that we should learn and practice “generous leadership” – also because this is in our fundamental best interest. However, leadership – broad-minded leadership – is never entirely free of charge.

In the coming months we will have to put our cards on the table about the type of Europe we want. Up to now, for tactical reasons, mainly limited questions – rescue packages, banking unions, etc. – have been on the agenda. However, the big questions can no longer be avoided if we want to develop the EU further and keep the euro afloat. A stronger Europe is only possible with a strengthening of the European institutions, in particular the Parliament and the Commission. The basic principle should be: find intergovernmental solutions only as often as required; strengthen European institutions as significantly as possible. The new German government and the French government now have a window of over three years before the next elections. The current Polish government, for instance, would offer strong partnership in identifying the path to a stronger EU and to a political union.

A key area in which significant progress in integration is necessary and possible in Europe is in security and defense policy. In December, the European Council will, for the first time in years, deal primarily with questions of security and defense.

The necessity of finally also bringing the concept of integration to bear on security and defense policy is clear: It is scandalous how little bang for the buck we get in Europe. The defense expenditure of all the European countries together totals just under 40% of US expenditure, but the actual power only makes up a small fraction of that of the US. At the same time, the EU countries have six times as many different weapons systems as the US. In view of the high fixed costs of arms, this fragmentation is irresponsible.

A study conducted by McKinsey in conjunction with the Munich Security Conference calculated that European countries could save up to 30 percent per year – that is 13 billion euros per year – if they worked more closely together in their weapons procurement.

Finally, from the point of view of especially many younger officers, this fragmentation is also far removed from the operational needs they have experienced in Afghanistan and other missions over the past ten to fifteen years. For them, having served together with many NATO partners, interoperability on the ground is absolutely essential. Effectively, we are failing our soldiers so far in this regard.

The European governments are aware of the ineffective and inefficient use of defense expenditure. They are just as aware of the conclusion that significantly greater cooperation on defense is the only way of addressing this problem. This realization is reflected in the initiatives ofPooling and Sharing in the European framework, and Smart Defense in the NATO framework. Hardly a talk is given or a declaration signed where the importance of more cooperation is not stressed.
For example: The Franco-German declaration of February 6, 2012 states that “[i]n times of strategic uncertainty and limited resources, strengthened defence requires common procurement. As a consequence, we must be ready to take the necessary decisions.“ But what are the “necessary decisions?” Where are the ideas? Who is moving ahead? Up to now only one thing is clear: that not nearly enough has happened.

In certain areas – the European Air Transport Command EATC is a good example – progress has certainly been made. But why not think bigger? Why not, for instance, have a European fleet in the Baltic?

Of course, we are still a long way from far-reaching decisions regarding specialization or full integration. Ultimately, this affects an area that has, for centuries, been at the heart of national sovereignty – and one that brings with it many difficult and uncomfortable questions.

And yet to conclude that we should forgo all ambition, strikes me as too short-sighted. The Dutch Defense Minister, Jeanine Hennis- Plasschaert, a significant voice in the European debate, posed the question correctly at the 2013 Munich Security Conference: “Should we really fear the loss of sovereignty? Or should we rather define the concept of sovereignty in a less traditional way?” In other words: What is the worth of sovereignty, traditionally understood, if an individual European state is no longer in any way capable of action on its own? This would really be meaningless sovereignty, wouldn't it?

If just a tiny step forward is made at the European Council meeting in December, this will be too little as far as European defense integration is concerned. We need ambitious goals. The European Council should also commission, in particular, an EU white paper on security and defense policy. The world – and we Europeans – want clarity about the goals, instruments, and methods of European security policy. Moreover, the German government could and should push ahead courageously in questions of majority decisions concerning foreign policy. After all, we have absolutely nothing to fear from the majority of the small EU member states – quite the opposite.

Finally, none of this means that our alliance with the US will be any less meaningful in the future. The US is making it clear how important a functional and united Europe is for them, too. To quote Vice President Joe Biden, from his speech at the Munich conference earlier this year: “[A] strong and capable Europe is profoundly in America's interest, and I might add, presumptuously, the world's interest.”

Making Europe stronger and more capable, that would truly be a worthwhile slogan for the new German government. Incidentally, the preamble of the German Basic Law still provides the best basis for German foreign and security policy today: “to promote world peace in a united Europe.”

The CDU’s electoral program from 2013 states: “In the long run, we strive for the establishment of a European army.” The Social Democrats take a similar view, as indicated, for instance, by Sigmar Gabriel's speech to the German Armed Forces Staff College in Hamburg in July 2011, when he said: “We should push forward a concrete project […]: a joint European army.” Just because a goal is “long-term” does not mean it can be put on the back burner.“

The new German government now has an excellent opportunity to emphasize and push this very issue, beginning at the European council in December, and to keep it high on the agenda. That would not only be beneficial for Europe. It would also be a clear and very welcome sign that Berlin is ready to further accept its central responsibility for peace in and around Europe.


Wolfgang Ischinger was State Secretary of the German Federal Foreign Office and German Ambassador in Washington and London. He is Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Global Head of Governmental Relations at Allianz SE. This text is based on parts of the “capital city” speech given at a Zukunft Berlin (Berlin Future) Foundation event, Allianz Forum, Berlin, September 26, 2013.

31 October 2013, by Wolfgang Ischinger