The three-party coalition government under the leadership of German Chancellor Scholz was officially established on December 8, 2021, and has been in power for more than half a year. When the new government was established, it was “smug”, but when it took office less than 100 days ago, it encountered the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, a major geopolitical event that changed the international pattern, and its foreign and security policies faced enormous challenges. In the past six months, the foreign policy of the new government has mainly revolved around the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and major adjustments have been made in this regard, with many breakthroughs in history. Whether German diplomacy can inherit the legacy of the Merkel era and make new achievements has attracted wide attention from the outside world.
Foreign policy turns tough
The Russia-Ukraine conflict can be described as one of the most significant geopolitical events in the world since the end of the Cold War. In his first government statement since the outbreak of the conflict, Scholz called the Russian-Ukrainian conflict a “turning of the times” and that Germany must adopt a tougher foreign policy to deal with the challenges under the changing circumstances.
After the conflict broke out, the German government made a quick decision, changed its traditional foreign policy of relative prudence and restraint, and made two historical breakthroughs.
One is to implement “remilitarization”. Germany announced that starting this year, its military spending will reach the standard set by NATO (2% of GDP). This means that Germany’s military spending will increase from the current 50 billion euros to 75 billion euros a year, making it the largest military spender in Europe and the third largest in the world. At the same time, due to Germany’s decades of military self-restriction, its armament situation is very old. After the outbreak of the conflict, Germany announced that it would set up a “special fund” of 100 billion euros to be dedicated to improving armaments. This plan has been voted by the Bundestag to legally confirm it in the form of constitutional amendments. The purpose of the “special fund” mainly includes: cooperating with European partners to promote the research and development of a new generation of equipment, such as the joint development of new artillery systems and ammunition with the United Kingdom; continuing joint research and development of next-generation fighters and main battle tanks with France and Spain; and the Netherlands to jointly develop new Frigates, etc., this investment can reach 34 billion euros; a larger share of funds will be invested in the acquisition and updating of Bundeswehr equipment, such as 20 billion euros for replenishing ammunition, and more than 15 billion euros for updating old “Eurofighters” “As well as unmanned aerial vehicles, heavy transport aircraft, 3 billion euros to update the army’s digital communication system, 600 million euros to transform the “Patriot” air defense system, etc.; will also spend 2 billion euros to purchase the “Arrow-3” jointly developed by Israel and the United States. “The missile defense system, this arms purchase project has been approved by the United States and Israel. Compared with Merkel’s government, enhancing military “hard power” has become the government’s top priority.
The second is to change the decades-old tradition of not sending lethal weapons to war-torn areas. On the third day of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Germany decided to provide Ukraine with 1,000 anti-tank rocket launchers, 500 “Stinger” surface-to-air missiles and multiple howitzers, which was a major breakthrough in Germany’s post-war foreign security policy. Since then, as the conflict has escalated, NATO has stepped up its efforts to send weapons to Ukraine. On April 26, the United States held an international defense ministers’ meeting at Ramstein Air Force Base in Frankfurt, Germany. Defense ministers from more than 40 countries attended the meeting to coordinate and jointly provide weapons to Ukraine. This has formed a certain binding and stimulating effect on Germany. On April 28, the Bundestag, with an overwhelming majority of 586 votes in favor and 100 against, authorized the government to provide Ukraine with heavy weapons, which created a new history. At the end of June, Germany officially handed over the first batch of heavy weapons to Ukraine while training Ukrainian soldiers locally.
At the same time, Germany has become more active in overseas military operations. On February 7, when the situation in Russia and Ukraine was becoming increasingly tense, Germany announced that it would send more troops to the German-led NATO multinational force in Lithuania and send more fighter jets to Romania to strengthen the defense of NATO’s eastern flank. Under the strong promotion of Germany, the European Union issued the “Strategic Compass for Security and Defense” on March 21, proposing the establishment of a flexible and independent rapid response force of 5,000 people, and Germany promised to provide the main force. On May 26, Germany sent frigates to participate in the defense mission of NATO’s northern flank.
Step up the adjustment of relations between major powers
The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict means that Germany’s foreign policy goal of “stabilizing its neighbors and shaping the world” has suffered a severe setback, and its policies toward Russia, China, and the United States also need to be adjusted accordingly.
Germany’s long-standing pursuit of easing relations with Russia has been fundamentally challenged. After the conflict broke out, the German political circles deeply reconsidered their policy towards Russia. President Steinmeier, who has always been moderate to Russia, publicly admitted that “the construction of the ‘Beixi-2’ natural gas pipeline was a mistake”, and the Merkel era continued to increase its dependence on Russia for energy. The approach has also been widely criticized. In this context, the new government has pushed the energy “disengagement” from Russia at all economic costs. It has not only stopped the Nord Stream-2 certification process, but also made an exception to support the EU in imposing unprecedented severe sanctions on Russia, including financial sanctions and coal, Oil embargo; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Harbeck urgently went to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East countries to seek gas, and went to the United States to negotiate the purchase of liquefied natural gas; the President and Prime Minister visited Africa successively and established energy partnerships with South Africa, Senegal and other countries; Japan, India and other countries have cooperated in the development of new energy such as natural gas and hydrogen. Scholz also visited Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to send a signal to Ukraine as a candidate for the EU, demonstrating “EU-Ukraine unity”. Although Germany has not given up its efforts to dialogue with Russia, as Scholz said, “As long as Putin is in power, it is impossible for German-Russian relations to return to normal.”
At the beginning of the establishment of the new German government, the outside world expected that its China policy would show a more hawkish side. After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Germany’s reliance on Russia for energy prompted Germany to reflect, and its desire to seek to get rid of its dependence on China became stronger. Since Germany is highly dependent on China for raw materials, upstream parts and services for industrial production, it is worried that its relations with China may also deteriorate due to some uncontrollable factors, which will affect the stability of its supply chain. Accordingly, since Scholz took office, he has changed from Merkel’s era of making China the first country to visit Germany in East Asia. He first went to Japan, and then held government consultations with India. He frequently stated that he would “balance the layout of the industrial chain.” “Avoid being too dependent on a single country”.
In order to deal with the “challenges” brought by China and Russia, Germany’s most important object of reliance is naturally the United States. When Scholz visited the United States for the first time after taking office, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine had not yet erupted. He expressed ambiguity on issues such as aid to Ukraine and sanctions on the “Beixi-2”. After the outbreak of the conflict, Germany and the United States showed unprecedented “solidarity”. Germany’s “re-militarization” has been appreciated by the United States. Germany has also abandoned its original principle of equipping European fighter jets, and is preparing to purchase a large number of US-made “F-35” fighter jets and heavy transport helicopters, increasing its security policy. . Germany and the United States frequently coordinate their positions through NATO, the G7, the Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council and other mechanisms. In addition to directly assisting Ukraine in dealing with Russia, they will also join hands to strengthen cooperation in high-tech and standard setting to ensure the leading edge of the West. not be surpassed by China.
Forging a new balance in diplomacy
Against the background of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, many new changes in Germany’s foreign and security policy, especially a series of rearmament practices, have raised concerns that Germany will take the path of “military hegemony”. How should we evaluate the diplomatic performance of the Scholz government, and whether the diplomatic legacy left by the Merkel era can be continued?
First, in the face of the crisis, the new government has shown a willingness to change, adopted a relatively tough attitude and measures, and its foreign policy tools have become more diverse. The new foreign minister Bell Burke said, “If the world is changing, our politics must change.” Germany used to boast of “civilization power” and “normative power”, and has always emphasized the use of soft power, rules and constraints in international affairs. Sanctions, force and other coercive means are very restrained. But gradually, Germany realized that this had constrained its policy flexibility to deal with the crisis and had to adjust. In this Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Germany imposed financial sanctions on Russia at the expense of economic costs and promoted energy “de-Russia”. In the future, Germany will use the latter more in the balance between “normative” and “coercive” forces, and Germany’s diplomatic transformation will be further extended. The historical decision made by the Scholz government on military issues in a short period of time is an important manifestation of the comprehensive practice of Germany as a “normal country” and its independent diplomacy. Although this change is the result of the crisis, once Germany has taken the first step, it is possible to speed up the process of military autonomy in the future. Of course, Germany’s so-called “remilitarization” is not a one-day achievement, and its general attitude will remain cautious, mainly relying on the United States and NATO, while making more efforts within the alliance system, and doing its best in this process. Improve the strategic autonomy of itself and the EU.
Second, pragmatism and balance are still the fundamental starting point of the German government’s foreign policy. Merkel has been in power for 16 years and has been praised by the outside world for her pragmatic and balanced diplomatic style. At present, the new government is also making moderate adjustments on the basis of inheriting Merkel’s legacy, rather than “completely subverting”. Confrontation itself is not Germany’s intention, and dialogue and diplomacy are still its main propositions. After Scholz’s June 16 visit to Ukraine, he insisted that dialogue with Russia is necessary anyway. On the issue of sanctions, Germany still attaches great importance to maintaining an appropriate balance between “ideal and reality”. Although sanctions are inevitable, Germany still tries its best to resist the pressure of the United States, Central and Eastern Europe and other countries, and opposes the implementation of a comprehensive energy embargo against Russia and the immediate cut off of natural gas trade ties with Russia. When public opinion continued to put pressure on the government to provide heavy weapons to Ukraine, the Scholz government emphasized that it “must not push forward” and “coordinate with its allies”, and opposed Germany’s “reckless advance” and “special path” on this issue. Even if the Bundestag authorizes the government to provide Ukraine with heavy weapons, the federal government is “delaying if it can” and is not active. In terms of cooperation with China, Germany still emphasizes that it “needs China” in the fields of climate change and trade.
On February 7, 2022, Germany announced an increase in troops to the German-led NATO multinational force in Lithuania. The picture shows the first additional German troops arrived in Lithuania on February 14, 2022.
Third, Germany’s leadership role is weaker than in Merkel’s era, and in the future, Germany will rely more on the Western alliance to exert its “collective strength”. The cabinet members of the new government are basically newcomers to the political arena, and even veterans like Scholz have rarely participated in international political and security issues before. In the process of mediating the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Germany obviously gave way to France. French President Emmanuel Macron acted as the “EU spokesperson” and communicated more frequently with Russian and Ukrainian leaders than Scholz. In the entire conflict process, Germany’s role was not prominent. Scholz, who responded cautiously, was repeatedly criticized by the outside world, and even ridiculed as an “invisible man”. It can be seen that Germany is still more in the Western alliance, speaking with its allies and emphasizing concerted action. Therefore, in the long run, Germany under the leadership of Scholz will mainly exert its external influence through the Western alliance and enhance its status within the alliance, and the ideological nature of its foreign policy will be more distinct.