German foreign policy and its extraverted pillars

Germany is highly integrated into the regional and global world. Germany is an extraverted country due to its focus on multilateralism and its share of European and Western identity. To better identify its perception of its global stance, I will refer to German decision-makers’ discourses, which will already show how do they orient their foreign policy strategies into objective factors. Germany might be framed as “semi-hegemon” or “reluctant hegemon” when it comes to the European framework, but such hegemony is not present in global politics. Therefore, German foreign policymakers already understand that multilateral, reciprocal, and on the European level, the integrational stance is necessary. The main dynamics of international politics for German foreign policy might be understood in three pillars: Rise of China, “decoupling” of Transatlantic partnership, and a necessity for a united, strong Europe, which needs a new Ostpolitik and Africa policy.

China is seen as a partner (having cultural, scientific, and people to people relations) and a competitor (in free and fair trade) (Michaelis, 2020). However, as Niels Annen (2019), Minister of State in Germany, also stated, the Chinese ambition is not to be “rule-taker” but to be a global “rule-maker”. When Merkel visited China, the Chinese representatives stated that “for 1700 of two thousand years A.D., we were the leading economy. Don’t get upset, all that’s going to happen is that we will return to the place where we always were. It’s just that you haven’t experienced it in the past 300 years.” and Merkel implied that now Europeans, the Chinese and the US all are together the leaders now, so there should be a sensible solution not to “descent the situation into the struggle” and weaken all sides (Merkel, 2019). Merkel is aware that Germany has an only central position in Europe but not in the world, in terms of capacity, and moreover, she is aware that there is no gain from any tensions or conflict. She claims that even if Germans can be hard-working, impressive, or super, but with 80 million people, it is not possible to keep up if China no longer wants to maintain its good relations with Germany (Merkel, 2019). Germany’s “shaping power” and partnership with new key players in shaping globalization might be read in this context. It is possible to see leverage of China’s rise in the German Nord Stream 2 project too, which is mainly driven by the internal needs of Germany but might also be read through Germany’s attempt to keep Russia closer to the European continent. Merkel argued that “Do we want to make Russia dependent on China or rely on China to import its natural gas? Is that in our European interests?” (Merkel, 2019).

Such extraversion is not only confined to the material basis, but it also has ideational ground, which includes shared rule-base order and liberal values. One of the main concerns of German decision-makers about China is its otherness to liberal values. Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (2018) once stated that: “China is developing a comprehensive systemic alternative to the Western model that, in contrast to our own, is not founded on freedom, democracy, and individual human rights.” Similar discourse came from Secretary State Andreas Michaelis (2020) repeating the European perspective that China is a systemic rival because of its challenging elements of law-based international order and human rights. This showed itself mostly in the tensions about the security law regarding Hong Kong but not confined to it. Germany will inevitably have to take a more certain position towards China due to the pressure coming from the public. Another challenge that the Chinese pose to Europe, so to Germany, is that they implement power politics and try to build the world depending on their own image (reviving the old Silk Road and repeating Zheng He’s adventure to Africa might be given as an example). Chinese investments in Europe have increased tremendously and have already bought more than 350 European companies (Zeneli, 2019). Countries neighbouring China, who share liberal values, have crucial importance. Maas stated that “Germany and Japan need to stand shoulder to shoulder because they share the same values” and EU-Japan signed an Economic Partnership deal eliminating trade barriers and stressed “rules-based connectivity” (Maas, 2018a; Pandey, 2019). It is also evident in recently published “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, which contains some veiled criticism of China’s power politics, and stress on partnership in the matters of rules-based trade, multilateralism, strengthening human rights and rule of law.

For Transatlantic relations, German foreign policy aims to establish a “balanced partnership” with the US through cooperating where the values and interests are common, “counterweighting” the US where it is crossing red lines and assuming responsibility through European framework in areas where the US is withdrawing (Maas, 2018b). For decision-makers, the first parameter creates problems due to the US’ “America First” stance, which made the consensus on shared values “off the rails” (Maas,2019c). For the second parameter, the European reaction towards US sanctions to Iran and companies working with might be given as an example. Germany and the EU objected to such decisions and protected their companies legally. The last parameter, geographically, is related to areas like the Middle East, Western Balkans, and Africa, where the EU has economic and security interests, institutionally, WTO, and the UN (Maas, 2018c). Repeating former defense minister Peter Struck’s opinion that German security was also defended in Hindu Kush, Maas (2020a) stated that “today, also in Iraq, Libya and in the Sahel — and also at the negotiating table in New York, Geneva and Brussels” are included in this. There are two main policy orientations of German foreign policy today in the Atlantic pillar: the first is assuming more global responsibility through European framework in the areas where the US is withdrawing and trying to convince the US to have a common and more certain position with Europe to keep up a multilateral, stable and rule-based international order against the Chinese and Russian threats. The power vacuum created by the US’ withdrawal and diminishing shared consensus led German decision-makers to argue there is a need for more responsibility, and they boost efforts for a common European response.

The most significant extraverted dimension of German foreign policy is seen in its European identity. “We Germans, perhaps like others as well, like to think of ourselves as the best Europeans… We also like to believe that we have learned the lessons of European history more thoroughly than anyone else.” said German President Steinmeier (2020) in the 2020 Munich Security Conference. Germany seems to act through its European identity in world politics, and perceive changing dynamics in terms of such. Germany is a country that has a principle “to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe.” in the preamble of its constitution. Germany perceives itself as the “quilting point” of Europe, who embodies and gives meaning to Europe, connecting all European elements in its own body, but without European followership, it is weak globally. Its “biggest responsibility” is “namely to hold the united Europe together.” (Steinmeier, 2020). However, today, Europe is facing “economic divergence, not convergence.” (Steinmeier, 2020). The coronavirus showed such divergence more significantly. The member states suddenly dealt with their own problems rather than giving response with solidarity. Just as it is usual, Germany did not agree with the Southern countries’ demand for the financial effects of coronavirus. However, as such effects seemed to be much more serious than what is thought, and the decision of the German Constitutional Court pushed Angela Merkel to initiate a new Franco-German economic cooperation to ease such effects through burden-sharing with massive recovery funds. There is not just an economic division, but also even political disagreement of one member might create problems for common response in some areas. For instance, because of one member’s reluctance to involve, the Council of the EU could not give a common response to the recognition of Juan Guaidó as an interim president in Venezuela. As a result, every member state issued their own separate statement, and some did not do it at all (Maas, 2019d). Europe seems to encounter with the dilemmas once Henry Kissinger mentioned: “Given its history, how much diversity must Europe preserve to achieve a meaningful unity?”; “In a world where continental structures like America, China… have already reached critical mass, how will Europe handle its transition to a regional unit?” (Kissinger, 2014, p.48). The period of the Council Presidency of Germany is witnessing massive efforts towards European unity and towards creating a consensus in Europe to be able to stand stronger in the global arena. The English and French versions of Germany’s slogan for its Presidency denotes recovery and revival. However, the German version has a different connotation, and it summarizes everything: “Gemeinsam. Europa wieder stark machen” (Together, making Europe great again).

Kissinger’s (2014) definition of Europe’s global role focused on three scenarios: to enhance Atlantic partnership, to adopt a neutral position, or a “tacit compact” towards a non-European power or group of them. German foreign policymakers seem to desire all at once. For enhancing transatlantic partnership, as I already referred, German policy-makers refer to the withdrawal of the US in terms of Atlantic partnership: “the global policeman has withdrawn to headquarters, from where he is now aiming sanctions and tariffs at his opponents and rivals in the world.” (Maas, 2019e). The effects of the US introversion damaged Europe in terms of tariffs and breaking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, created a geopolitical gap in European security and interests, and also loaded burden on Europe by diminishing support to important institutions that are reinforced by multilateral treaties such as the Paris Climate Agreement (Maas, 2019e). China and Russia have benefited from such a power vacuum, and especially China is economically and politically exploiting it. German policy-makers understand that “China has not only become an economic superpower”, “but is also using its influence to divide the EU” (Maas, 2019f). The Chinese attempts of 17+1 format and investing Eastern and Central European countries created concerns in the EU, especially among German policy-makers. Thus, throughout the EU, a common European China policy will be the main concern of the German Presidency. Merkel’s thought to export arms to Africa might be understood from the extraverted perspective of increasing Chinese military (and economic) influence in Africa: “I ask myself, is it in our interest if Africa is armed by Russia, or perhaps China or Saudi Arabia?” (Shelton, 2019). Merkel’s efforts to boost economic cooperation with Africa through the EU might be a result of interpreting such objective factors. During the German Presidency, besides EU-China Summit, there will be also Africa-EU Summit, and the fact that two have proximate dates is not a coincidence. Merkel said: “…China is very active in Africa. We want to step up our engagement, and we hope that we can maybe find common benchmarks that will help the respective countries develop their own economies.” (Merkel, 2020). Another policy objective of German foreign policymakers is the new European Ostpolitik. This new European Ostpolitik “aimed at overcoming the current minimal consensus in the European Union’s policies vis à vis its Eastern neighbours.” (Maas, 2018d). It has internal and external dimension: inside the EU, there is a “need a culture of common, coordinated action” in “approach to our Eastern neighbourhood”; outside the EU, relations with Russia, partly because of geography and partly because of security of Europe (Maas, 2019a). This Ostpolitik also “Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Southern Caucasus, the countries of Central Asia and South-Eastern Europe” (Maas, 2019a). Drawing upon this picture, it might be said that Germany canalized its Ostpolitik from a German dimension to a European dimension depending on geographic realities. However, Germany will have to decide between its Ostpolitik and Nord Stream 2 project.

The first Nordstream project of Schröder was not a temporary decision that had personal orientations. The Merkel government continued her predecessor’s policy with implementing a new version of it despite all the criticisms of its neighbor and other EU members. About a concern regarding Denmark’s rejection to use its territorial waters and continental shelf, although Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (2019a) mentioned it does not mean that Germany and Russia were going their own way, he said: “…even if Denmark does not grant authorisation, there is already an alternative route through international waters which does not need Danish approval. And who’s to say it won’t be possible to find other suppliers who would build the pipeline anyway, just a bit later.”. The remarks made by Foreign Minister Maas actually show that Germany is committed to pushing for its case even if it is against objections of some member states and the US, and it even was not advocated by the EU Commission (Janjevic, 2018). Yet, the recent Navalny case seems to put heavier pressure on Nord Stream 2 project. However, this will only increase the tension between German interests and being an embodying signifier for Europe.

Germany is at the center of Europe, and it will be the bridge between the east and the west, a quilting point which gives meaning to the European project which has to be a global actor in the future to cope with “global realities”. Germany did not choose this responsibility, but it has found itself at the center of it, and it is crucial for Germany to uphold such a quilting point role. The more Germany becomes the quilting point of Europe, the more Germany gives form to Europe, but the more it loses its German content, in other words, its subjective factor will create more pressure on policymakers. Nevertheless, Germany cannot adapt to new global realities with an introverted approach; as also German politicians are aware, only an extraverted Germany can exert its influence in international politics which has become increasingly multipolar with emerging powers such as China. Thus, German foreign policymakers will face evermore contradictions while dealing with the obstacles in the domestic and international level.

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