BERLIN – Germany’s first national security strategy was supposed to create a more unified foreign policy So far this has mainly given rise to squabbles and turf wars between alliance partners.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz made the announcement about a year later deadline In a sea change in Germany’s foreign and security policy, his government planned to present an ambitious strategy at the Munich Security Conference in the Bavarian capital this month. Yet that plan is now dead but the ruling coalition of Scholes’ Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) cannot agree on the fine print of the document.
At the heart of the debate is a bitter dispute between Scholes and the Greens’ foreign minister, Annalena Bierbock, over who should set the tone for German foreign policy.
The two politicians have repeatedly clashed in the new German government’s first 13 months over issues such as arms supplies to Ukraine and the correct approach to China, but now their dispute boils down to a key institutional question: Where should a key element of security be located? Strategy — a new committee to streamline the foreign and security policy decisions of various German ministries, called the National Security Council — will take its seat?
For Scholz and his SPD, the answer is straightforward: “The National Security Council can only be located in the chancellery and that should be clear to everyone,” Social Democrat Michael Roth, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, told Politico.
Beerbok and his Green Party, however, are pushing back hard. They see a power grab by the chancellery, which has already assumed important decision-making powers, for example, on EU policy under former chancellor Angela Merkel.
While senior Greens acknowledge that Scholz’s office will play a key role in the planned Security Council, they want to avoid an SPD plan to establish the council as an entirely new department headed by a larger staff base in the chancellery and the chancellor. The powerful right-hand man, Wolfgang Schmidt.
“The SPD wants to establish a shadow foreign ministry within the chancellery. It won’t happen to us,” Jürgen Trittin, the Greens’ foreign policy spokesman, told Politico.
The Greens instead proposed a slimmed-down Security Council, with only a small secretariat and an alternate leadership structure that would rotate between the chancellery and the foreign, defense or interior ministries. However, several rounds of talks between high-level officials in recent weeks – and Scholz and Bierbock directly – have so far failed to produce a compromise.
The disagreement is also delaying a much-anticipated China strategy, which is supposed to follow a national security strategy but is plagued by disagreements among ruling parties. Both techniques are supposed to be publicly available once agreed.
Hard power vs. soft power
A third coalition partner, the FDP, has already called on the Social Democrats and Greens to come to a quick deal in their turf war. “We have to take a decisive step towards better coordination of foreign policy,” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the FDP’s foreign policy spokesman, told Politico. “We should not lose ourselves in jealousy, but decide with courage.”
However, even if an agreement on Security Council leadership can be reached, there are other contentious issues that are holding up approval of a broader national security strategy.
A key issue is Germany’s military spending: While the SPD wants to integrate the NATO goal of spending at least 2 percent of national economic output into strategy, Bierbock and his Greens want to create more flexibility because defense spending can vary from year to year. The approach is also driven by the perception that Germany is on track to miss the 2 percent target this year and next despite a 100 billion euro special fund for military arms, while officials are hopeful that Berlin will spend more than 2 percent next year.
The SPD’s Roth, however, stressed that “it is important to set a clear target” on defense spending in the security strategy.
Even more contentious is the Greens’ demand to increase spending on soft power measures – such as development and humanitarian aid, crisis prevention, and diplomatic and cultural engagement – to the same extent as the defense budget. Merle Spellerberg, a Green foreign and security policy lawmaker, argued that the ruling parties had already agreed in their coalition agreements that such civilian spending “should increase on a 1:1 scale compared to the increase in defense spending.”
The Greens’ foreign policy spokesperson Trittin also emphasized this: “For us Greens, this is a key issue that forms an integrated security strategy.”
Such a joint increase in defense and civilian foreign policy spending, however, is problematic for the FDP and its Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who has pledged to rein in public spending and respect Germany’s constitutionally protected debt brake. The FDP’s Lambsdorf said defense spending should rise to 2 percent of GDP, but civilian spending should be only half that, “0.7 percent for development and 0.3 percent for diplomacy.”
Last but not least, internal-security issues continue to clash between the federal government and Germany’s 16 regional states, particularly when it comes to who should have expertise in disaster management and prevention.
“Our state interior ministers should have been able to contribute more actively,” said Katja Leckert, a lawmaker from the main opposition party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
A government spokesman said last week that talks on national security strategy were “still ongoing and will continue” and sought to minimize infighting between coalition partners, particularly Scholz and Bierbock. “We work closely and in a spirit of trust with the federal government,” the spokesman said, adding that the national security strategy should be finalized before the end of March.
Meanwhile, further friction has already arisen over China’s next strategy, with some involved in the drafting process saying the chancellery is trying to water down the foreign ministry’s draft strategy due to concerns about naming risks and issues emanating from Beijing. Very open.
Yet there is something positive in the debate, argued the SPD’s Roth. “I am glad that we are finally debating foreign and security policy in depth – until now, in Germany it was more about labor-market or social policy,” he said.
“Now politics and society are working on this issue very intensively. This sometimes leads to conflict and controversy over substance,” Roth continued. “That’s a good thing. I am sure we will find a reasonable solution.”