Despite dark past, Germany must now contribute to global security
The nation has the money and resources to play a more prominent role in defence, including the fight against Islamic State
Germany is Europe’s wealthiest and most populous country and a respected member of the international community. Yet for all its economic might, it punches well below its weight when it comes to diplomacy. A defence white paper issued earlier this month accepts the need for a changed approach, envisaging a military able to better contribute to peace and security on the continent and elsewhere. It is a role that the nation has an obligation to embrace.
A Nazi past and the Holocaust have made Germans reticent about contributing to overseas military missions. Germans harbour deep pacifist instincts and as a result, have let their defence forces become weak. Not until 1994 did the country’s highest court allow participation in multinational peacekeeping missions and since 1999, soldiers have been sent to conflict zones from the Balkans to Afghanistan. But there remains a reluctance to not get too involved, as on plain show in 2011 with a decision not to join Nato in its Libya bombing mission.
But times have changed and Europe and the world need Germany as never before. The European Union perceives Russia as an ever-growing military threat to its eastern borders, the Islamic State group is causing instability far beyond its territory in northern Iraq and Syria and the refugee crisis remains daunting. The US is scaling back its German presence and expects Berlin to take up the slack in Nato. The chequebook diplomacy that Germans once favoured as a means to contribute to international defence operations is no longer acceptable.
The white paper envisages Germany as one day being part of “a common European security and defence union”. There is an acceptance among politicians that the nation needs to step up its engagement in diplomatic and military affairs. It pledged at the recent Nato summit in Warsaw to station rotating battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. While no combat role has been taken against Islamic State, surveillance aircraft and refuelling jets have been contributed to the fight. The military’s budget has been boosted and there are plans to recruit 20,000 new personnel over the coming seven years, the first increase in the force’s size since the end of the cold war.
Germany is no longer feared by its neighbours. Unlike Japan, it has won respect for renouncing its wartime past and gained trust for the way it has conducted itself in Europe and internationally. The nation has gained economic and political stature and now has a responsibility on security policy.