I am a big fan of The Economist, but the latest article on Germany's foreign policy "The unadventurous eagle" leaves me a bit confused. The title suggests that Germany is not going on foreign policy adventures. That's good, right?
The subheading, however, is negative and asserts cautiously "Europe's biggest economic power seems reluctant to have a foreign policy to match." So what? Japan, China, South Korea, Brazil do not match their economic power with foreign policy commitments either. Besides, the US and especially Greece have a disproportionately high defense spending considering the current state of their economy. If the Economist would accuse Germany of lack of NATO solidarity and burden sharing in Afghanistan and defense capabilities and readiness, I would agree.
I would reject, however, an accusation of security free-riding in any debate about the Libya mission, because Khaddafi is not a threat to any NATO ally. The Economist does not make that accusation but points to several other theses and leaves me confused as to what the paper thinks about Berlin's policies. They might not know what to make of Germany. That's probably the point of the article.
The Economist refers to a paper by the European Council on Foreign Relations, which asserts that Berlin is pursuing a new "non-aligned foreign policy." Actively? That's a bit rich. I am siding more with Jan Techau from Carnegie Europe, who opines that the pro-West consensus that has underpinned European peace since the second world war is "slowly dissolving." The Economist adds "some analysts even speak of a Sonderweg, a new version of the 'special path' for Germany advocated by 19th-century reactionaries."
Then come wise words from Hanns Maull of the University of Trier: "The problem is not that Germany has made a strategic decision to downgrade its commitment to old alliances. (...) It is that Germany has no real 'grand strategy'. Instead, it reacts to situations as they arise." Yes, I think Prof. Maull gets to the bottom of Germany's foreign policy problem.
Let me explain to you in one paragraph what's going on in Germany:
In contrast to the Cold War, most Germans do not perceive any significant security threats and risks right now. They don't consider Berlin as capable of shaping international developments anyway unlike the "leader of the free world" and "la grande nation". We are also busy with domestic issues and getting our budget and economy in shape in order to maintain living standards for future generations considering our demographic troubles. Therefore Berlin does not have a foreign policy grand strategy and instead follows political instincts, which are against any kind of military mission and foreign policy adventures. This leads (passively) to a slowly dissolving pro-Western consensus, especially since liberal interventionism is en vogue again in London, Paris and Washington DC. From the outside this might look like a Sonderweg or non-aligned foreign policy, but that certainly is not our plan, because we don't have a plan. Just gut instincts, which is sad. Germans are not pacifists, but are tired of war after starting and losing two world wars. Germany is a huge arms exporter despite all the rhetoric of arms reduction, which is bad.
So, it's pretty simple, really. Germany is predictable. Though, the Anglo-Saxon press will probably continue to write op-eds about "the German question". Yawn.