“More security and less dependence”: Germany’s national security policy
German Chancellor Scholz

Germany's Chancellor Scholz has launched the new German national security strategy

Written by

Peter Jennings

The Economist magazine greeted Germany’s June 14 release of the country’s first national security strategy with the snide headline “Big Words.” The document “does not make for exciting reading” the Economist declared. It is true that the statement is cautious and, particularly around Defence planning, lacks detail. But Australians should not be dismissive. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ government has delivered something Canberra seems incapable of producing: a single, coherent expression of national security interests and priorities. The document says: “Security policy is more than the sum of diplomatic and military means; it must integrate our actions across all policy fields. The Federal Government will therefore pursue a policy of Integrated Security.”

With the English title of “Robust. Resilient. Sustainable: Integrated Security for Germany” (hereafter: the ‘ISG’) the policy offers a framework for developing national security in a federal system by a centre-left government. That should surely spark some interest in the Albanese government. Here are my top take-aways from the ISG statement.

A watershed moment on Russia

Chancellor Scholz’s introduction says: “With the watershed moment that Russia’s war of aggression signifies, we have decided to finally equip our Bundeswehr appropriately. So that it can perform its core task also in the future: to defend our country and our allies against each and every possible attack.” Responding to Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine forces the decisive moment for Germany to rethink its national security. The ISG makes clear that many new actions flow from this development, not least that “in just a few months, we have liberated ourselves from dependence on Russian energy and created alternatives. This path towards more security and less dependence is one we are resolutely following.”

It is difficult to see how Germany can ever return to the days of building energy dependence on Russia, but the ISG highlights many policy problems that flow from this decisive change. The statement caveats long term plans for defence spending “We will allocate two percent of our GDP, as an average over a multi-year period, to reaching NATO capability goals.” The whole ISG is supposed to be implemented at “no additional cost to the overall federal budget.” That is not quite as full throated as Germany’s allies might have hoped for, but nor does it back away from Scholz’s commitment to a 100 billion Euro Special Fund for the Bundeswehr.

An awkward NATO – EU security balance

Germany and at least some of its European partners struggle to reconcile the central strategic role of NATO, which of course involves the United States, versus a potentially more autonomous security role for the European Union. The ISG’s language is revealing. France is mentioned five times and on three occasions described as having a “profound friendship” with Germany. The United States is mentioned three times in the context of having a somewhat cooler “close partnership.” NATO is the “cornerstone” of European security including importantly Germany’s continuing support for its role in backing nuclear deterrence. Invariably when the ISG talks about strengthening Germany’s security it is in the context of doing more with the European Union. Germany “will contribute more to security on the European continent.” It will do this by ensuring “that the European Union (EU) is able to act geopolitically and to uphold its security and sovereignty for the coming generations.”

There is a long history to this debate, but I would suggest Berlin has more to gain by sustaining United States engagement in Europe than in aligning with France, which will always plot its own course on security.

Lack of Defence detail

There is little detail in the document on defence planning, other than maintaining the commitment, over time, to build to the NATO spending benchmark of two per cent of gross domestic product. Notable commitments made include:

  • “Germany will continue to do its part in nuclear sharing and will constantly provide the dual-capable aircraft this requires.”
  • “The Federal Government will make the Bundeswehr one of the most effective conventional armed forces in Europe in the coming years, one that is able to respond and act rapidly at all times.”
  • “The Federal Government will expand its cyber and space capabilities, as well as its space situational awareness capabilities, so that these capabilities can play a major role in collective deterrence and defence in NATO.”
  • “The Federal Government will promote the development and introduction of highly advanced capabilities, such as precision deep strike weapons.”

A bet each way on China

“China is a partner, competitor and systemic rival. We have observed that rivalry and competition have increased in the past years. China is trying in various ways to remould the existing rules based international order, is asserting a regionally dominant position with ever more vigour, acting time and again counter to our interests and values. Regional stability and international security are being put under increasing pressure and human rights are being disregarded. China makes deliberate use of its economic clout to achieve political goals. At the same time, China remains a partner without whom many global challenges and crises cannot be resolved. That is why we must grasp the options and opportunities for cooperation in these fields in particular.”

Like every country in the world, Germany tries to balance the mix of risk and opportunity China presents, but a Germany which remains true to the values articulated in the ISG will find it impossible to deliver both parts of this paragraph. Beijing will continue “time and again” to act in ways that Berlin will be forced to resist. It remains to be seen how Germany manages to be both a partner and a competitor. That too is Australia’s policy goal under the guise of maintaining a ‘stabilised’ relationship after Beijing abandoned its shouty wolf warrior diplomacy. The Australian lesson for Beijing is surely that any form of economic dependence on China will be used to shape political compromise which Berlin will find compromising and uncomfortable.

Indo-Pacific recedes in priority

The ISG could be taken to imply a lowering of interest in the Indo-Pacific compared to September 2020 when Germany adopted a series of policy guidelines to underpin engagement with the region. The ISG notes simply: “In global terms, the Indo-Pacific, too, remains of special significance to Germany and Europe.” No country in the Indo-Pacific is mentioned by name as a partner. North Korea is identified as “a threat to regional security” because of its nuclear and missile programs.

The ISG’s welcome emphasis on human rights and (single) mention of the importance of maintaining “free trade routes” anticipates what should be key points of difference with Beijing. It is a shame that the policy did not extend the German concern for Ukrainian sovereignty to express a similar sympathy for Taiwan. This is an issue Berlin will not be able to duck, as Beijing’s threat of military action over Taiwan would lead to a globally catastrophic conflict.

Economics and national security

The ISG’s language on economics and national security is welcome and particularly relevant to Australian policy interests.

In her introduction to the ISG, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says: “Security also means having the freedom to be able to shape our lives, our democracy, our economy the way we want. Without political constraint, without economic dependencies. Protecting this freedom is the second dimension of our security. …That is why we are ending our dependency on energy from Russia. We paid for every cubic metre of Russian gas twofold and threefold with our national security. In future, we will focus more on security when it comes to decisions on economic policy.”

The policy has clear emphasis on the need to: “reduce current one-sided dependencies in the supply of raw materials and energy”; to apply stronger national security criteria for assessing foreign investment; to protect critical infrastructure and “systematically significant companies” and to establish a planning framework around food security and pandemic preparedness.

On critical raw materials, the statement says: “The Federal Government will support measures aimed at the strategic exploration, extraction, further processing and provision of critical raw materials by the business sector and draw up suitable conditions, including institutional frameworks, in support of their implementation. We will work with companies and encourage them through adequate incentives to strategically stockpile critical raw materials and to build up strategic reserves.”

Readers will identify many issues with which the Australian government is struggling. There is no single Australian policy statement that brings these security considerations together as effectively as the ISG.

No National Security Council – yet

Apparently one of the delays in releasing the ISG was that there was a major battle between the Foreign Ministry and Scholz’s Chancellery over which department would control a new National Security Council. The outcome, perhaps temporary, is that no NSC has been established. Nothing creates bigger bureaucratic fights than turf battles over new sources of power. Yet the logic of the ISG is that a National Security Council will be essential to implement an effective strategy across Germany’s federal political system. Watch this space.  Berlin will have to revisit the issue if the ISG is to offer anything more than just attempts to coordinate reluctant exiting departments.

A starting point for debate

The policy statement ends by saying that “this Security Strategy is also intended to contribute to the further development of strategic culture in Germany and to be the starting point for societal debate.” The document says that national resilience needs to be strengthened and that “civil preparedness is being fundamentally reviewed and enhanced.”

“The high level of interdependence between external and internal security means that Germany’s ability to act externally also increasingly depends on its internal resilience. This resilience is the joint responsibility of the state, the private sector and society. … The Federal Government, the Länder, the municipalities, the private sector and civil society organisations, but also each and every individual, can and should play a role in this.”

While Australian departments from Defence to Home Affairs are developing policy around national resilience, what is striking here is the absence of any public discussion led by the Federal government about the roles of States, businesses and citizens in Australian security. This is a critical gap which an Australian national security strategy could fill. Readers should note that the terms of reference for the Defence Strategic Review asked that “The Review must outline the investments required to support Defence preparedness, and mobilisation needs to 2032-33.” The report subsequently released by the Albanese government said not one word on mobilisation. The Australian government needs to do something to publicly address what in our system would be describes as ‘whole of nation’ approached to building resilience with State and Territory governments, the business community and Australian citizens. The German ISG offers one model of policy development which Canberra should consider.

Conclusion: re-energising Australian Germany relations

In June 2021 the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the then Morrison and Merkel governments met for the second “2+2 Security Policy Consultations” between Australia and Germany.” The participants signed an enhanced strategic partnership which, in the nature of these documents, set out a remarkably detailed plan for closer cooperation. Since then, changes of governments in both countries and the war in Ukraine have taken some focus away from bilateral cooperation. That’s a pity. Germany and Australia have a lot to gain from sustain closer engagement. Canberra should position itself as the trusted long-term supplier of energy and critical minerals Germany needs for its security. For its part Berlin should be Australia’s leading point of entry to Europe post-Brexit.

In any event, an obvious point of discussion between the two countries – should there ever be a third meeting of the 2+2 Security Policy Consultations – is Germany’s national security strategy. A great deal of hard work has been done to develop the ISG, much of it highly relevant to Australia’s security outlook. If the Albanese government is considering developing its own national security strategy, it should start by considering this useful German policy experiment.