TWQ: Germany as a Geo-economic Power - Summer 2011

  • Jul 11, 2011

    Berlin’s March 2011 abstention on the UN Security Council vote on military intervention in Libya has raised questions about Germany’s role in the international system. By abstaining on Security Council Resolution 1973, Germany broke with its Western allies and aligned itself with the four
    BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Whether or not the decision signals a weakening of what Germans call the Westbindung, it illustrates the strength of Germany’s ongoing reluctance to use military force as a foreign-policy tool even in a multilateral context and to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Over the past few years, as the number of German and civilian casualties has increased in Afghanistan, the German public has become more skeptical about the mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in particular and about the deployment of German troops abroad in general. Like Germany, other EU member states such as France and the United Kingdom are cutting their defense budgets, but Germany shares few of their aspirations to project power beyond Europe.

    The abstention was particularly striking—and, for many people, surprising—because it follows a period in which Germany had appeared to become more assertive in its use of economic power within Europe. Under huge pressure from the German public, which blamed others for the eurozone crisis and fears the creation of a “transfer union” (in other words a European Union in which fiscally responsible member states pay for fiscally irresponsible ones), Chancellor Angela Merkel last spring
    was initially reluctant to bail out Greece, which was in danger of defaulting. She then insisted on tough conditions for the rescue package that was eventually agreed to in May, including the involvement of the
    International Monetary Fund. Some saw in Merkel’s response to the Greek crisis a return to classical German great power politics.

    However, as the threat from the crisis moved from the periphery closer to the center of Europe in the second half of last year, Germany was paradoxically also criticized for showing too little “leadership.” The central difficulty of explaining German foreign policy is how to understand this apparent contradiction between the harder edge of Germany’s pursuit of national interest within Europe and its continuing—and perhaps even increasing—reluctance to use military force or even to project power in a traditional sense in the wider world. The foreign policy of the post-reunification “Berlin Republic” increasingly seems to be qualitatively different from that of the pre-reunification “Bonn Republic.” But Germany is not simply returning to a pre-World War II mode of power—not least because the nature of power in international relations and particularly within Europe has changed so much since then. Rather, Germany seems to be emerging as a particularly pure example of a new form of power in international relations: a geo-economic power.