Germany's interests - and those who can help realise them

The Security and Stability of Europe, its Neighbourhood, and other Regions of the World

The security and stability of Europe are highly relevant to the Federal Republic of Germany. They therefore need to be given priority in German foreign and security policy.

Status quo

The security and stability of Europe are highly relevant to the Federal Republic of Germany. They therefore need to be given priority in German foreign and security policy. As a result of the European integration process of the past 30 years, Germany’s security interests have become largely congruent with Europe’s security interests. Due to the close political and economic relationships and interdependencies of the European states, German security policy can only be thought of and shaped in at the European level. This has become particularly clear in light of the assumption made in the 1990s that Germany was surrounded only by friends and was thus able to capitalize on a kind of “peace dividend”. Europe, on the other hand, has for some time not been surrounded only by friends. Over the past ten years, the regions in the immediate vicinity of Europe have clearly moved away from peace and stability, freedom and democracy. As a result, while it is the countries on the southern and eastern European periphery that are directly affected by this, Germany, in a unified Europe, is also no less affected, unlike 30 years ago.

It is thus of vital interest to Germany to preserve peace and stability within Europe and make sure that this radiates out to the countries in Europe’s vicinity as well. Peace and stability are the foundation of freedom, prosperity and the basic democratic order of the European states. The fact that this order in Europe has now been challenged was made clear not least by Russia’s annexation of Crimea on 21 March 2014, which violated international law. The realization that borders can again be violently changed in the Europe of the 21st century , represents a profound turning point in European policy. The renewed symmetrical showdown in Central and Eastern Europe, along with Russia’s hybrid warfare, are forcing NATO to make a strategic turnaround. It also leads to a balancing act between addressing new challenges, such as cyber warfare, and returning to traditional alliance defence concepts while continuing operations (such as the Resolute Support Mission for training, advising and supporting security forces in Afghanistan). Great Britain’s exit from the EU, which represents the loss of the EU‘s most important member state in terms of defence policy, also contributes to great uncertainty in Germany and Europe; for the first time in the history of European integration, a member state has left the Union, thus clearly rejecting the idea of an ever closer union.

From North Africa and the Sahel region via the Middle East and Turkey to Ukraine and the Baltic States, Europe is surrounded by an arc of crisis. Wars, conflicts, disintegrating national structures and, as a result, refugees, migration and the continued threat of terrorist organisations represent the key challenges to German and European security policy. The impact of the Covid pandemic will also be devastating in these regions, producing instability, humanitarian disasters and fragile states, including the possible collapse of state structures. It is in the interests of Germany and the EU to help establish peace and stability in these regions, because doing so directly contributes to the security of Europe. With regard to countries such as Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, there is also a pressing need to take action in terms of humanitarian and development policy, to which Germany feels particularly committed.

Even though focusing on security and stability in the immediate vicinity of Europe is of particular importance, Germany must nevertheless direct its attention increasingly towards regions further afield. Many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are gaining strategic importance in the competition between the Russian, Chinese and Western systems. Germany should strive to establish and expand partnerships in these regions. As a nation whose prosperity depends to a large extent on exports, free trade and secure sea routes, Germany has a great interest in the stability of areas that are of key importance for world trade. These include the Horn of Africa with the entrance to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf with the Strait of Hormuz, and the South China Sea with the Strait of Malacca. Against a background of growing competition between systems and increasing rivalries among major powers and in order to offer alternatives to the Chinese or Russian model of society and state, Germany should expand its relations with regions of the world that are particularly affected by these developments. In view of the increasing pressure exerted on the rules-based liberal international order, Germany should maintain partnerships and contacts with nations (beyond the EU and NATO) that share Western values and should protect and strengthen multilateral organisations. These specifically include Japan, Australia and New Zealand, but also India and South Korea.

The global security policy situation has fundamentally changed in recent years. This has an existential impact on Germany and Europe. Russia’s revisionist foreign policy, which has been clearly evident since at least 2014, has fundamentally changed the situation in Europe. In addition, China’s political, military and technological rise has been the biggest geopolitical challenge of recent years. The associated change in Beijing’s political stance from foreign policy restraint to self-confident and sometimes aggressive imperial ambitions (especially in the Indo-Pacific region), including exerting more global influence, is the second fundamental change in terms of security policy.

In connection with Russia’s revisionist policies and the nightmare scenario of a strategic alliance between Russia and China, it has become clear that, in the medium term, the U.S., on its own, will not be able to contain both rivals at the same time. The comfortable advantage that the U.S. armed forces enjoyed in 2000 (in both qualitative and quantitative terms) over the Russian and especially the Chinese armed forces (especially with respect to modern weapon systems) has shrunk significantly. The fact that the enormous use of resources by the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq is one of the key factors for this development is shrugged off by many Europeans, but has a significant impact on current strategic thinking in Washington. In the future, the U.S. will be focusing more on a potential military conflict with China, and on supporting its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. They expect the Europeans to assume responsibility for mitigating Russia‘s conventional military threat on their own continent, as well as playing the main role in stabilising the neighbouring Middle East and North Africa region (with a focus on disintegrating state structures, refugees, migration and terrorism). Alongside Russia and China, the volatile situation in the Middle East and North Africa is the third major foreign and security policy challenge for Germany and Europe, especially because the consequences of war and chaos have a direct impact here.

In addition to conventional threats from inter or intra-state violence, new challenges for security policy have been emerging for some years now, such as hybrid warfare, dangers arising from cyberspace, and the emerging technological revolution in warfare resulting from the development of autonomous weapon systems. This raises questions about the degree of human control over future weapon systems, the ethical dimension in the deployment of autonomous weapons, implications for international law, possibilities for limiting the proliferation of innovative armament technologies and, ultimately, the resilience of states and societies to new types of weapons. There are also overarching issues such as the impact of epidemics and pandemics on security policy (as the Covid crisis clearly shows) and the consequences of climate change and demographic changes.

The pressure on the multilateral liberal international order, which is the basis and a stable framework for Germany’s foreign and security policy, has increased tremedously. A rules-based international order is in Germany’s national interest, being a middle-sized power. The impending disintegration of this order would have a devastating effect on German foreign and security policy, given the fact that hardly any other country in the world has adapted to the rules-based multilateral order as well, or benefited from it to the same extent, as Germany.

German security policy is based on three strategic pillars. A cornerstone of German foreign and security policy is its European orientation, with a strong Franco-German component at its core. European integration, institutionalised in the EU, forms a central framework for German foreign and security policy. Important steps in the area of European security and defence integration have been taken in recent years in order to increase the capacity to provide security and stability in and around Europe. This should always be understood as an addition to the European pillar of NATO (“remain transatlantic, become more European”) and as a European contribution to fairer burden-sharing.

Moreover, despite all security policy changes and global shifts in power, Germany is firmly anchored in the transatlantic alliance. NATO and the transatlantic security guarantees remain indispensable to Germany and Europe for the foreseeable future , forming the backbone of German security policy. However, even if the Europeans were to make further progress in defence integration, the U.S. is currently, and probably for years to come, the only nation that is able – and prepared, under certain conditions – to protect Germany and its European allies effectively against threats of any kind. Against this background, Germany must maintain its political commitments to defence spending and play a leading role among the European states in restoring the ability to defend itself and the Alliance.

The third pillar of German security policy is the multilateral liberal order, which was created largely by the United States after the Second World War and which is codified in the United Nations Charter. Liberal norms and rules, multilateral institutions such as the UN with its numerous specialized agencies, as well as NATO, the G7 and OSCE, form the core of this world order.

Since the Munich Consensus of 2014, at the latest, Germany has been discussing a “decisive, earlier and more substantial” foreign policy engagement in the world. This is closely connected with the debate about greater responsibility in security policy and the use of military options. The far-reaching geopolitical changes of recent years (especially Russia’s revisionist policy, the rise of China and instability in the MENA region) call for a Europe that is more firmly committed to its own security, the stability of the countries on its periphery, and to strengthening the multilateral international order. As the largest and economically strongest nation in the centre of the continent, Germany plays a key role in this context. In addition, Germany, as a globally connected export nation, has benefited to a high degree from stability and security as well as from the rules-based multilateral order, guaranteed largely by the U.S. and others, but has itself made only a very limited contribution to the security of Europe and the neighbouring regions. In order to strengthen Germany’s and Europe’s ability to act in terms of security policy, Berlin should establish and expand partnerships with anchors in regional stability, make structural adjustments, increase investment in the defence sector and, in particular, meet the promised two percent target while promoting the culture of strategic thinking at home.

Establishing and Developing Partnerships into Anchors of Regional Stability: Germany should strive to strengthen relations with countries that are important as anchors of regional stability for Europe and Europe’s neighbours. In this way, Berlin can make a specific contribution to stabilising countries in and around Europe and in other regions of the world on the one hand, and – given the geopolitical changes and increasing competition between systems – offer countries a real alternative to Russia or China on the other. Through an improved partnership with Algeria and more support for the country, Berlin can have a stronger impact on the Sahel region, the Maghreb and West Africa. In security matters, the country is integrated into the region through bilateral or regional cooperation and is a suitable key player for Germany’s interest in stabilisation. Another important partner for the stabilisation of the Sahel and West Africa is Nigeria. If this populous country does not get its very considerable security and economic problems under control, it will have a massive impact on the entire region (as well as on Europe). Germany should support Nigeria so that it can develop further and, as the largest economy on the continent and an important player in security policy, help stabilise the entire region. In addition to these countries, which are important for stabilising the arc of crisis around Europe, Germany should also develop and expand partnerships with anchors of stability in other regions of the world, for example Mexico for Latin America and Kazakhstan for Central Asia.

Structural Adjustments: In view of the changes in the complex threat scenarios, it would be advisable for Germany to adapt its own security structures in order to be better prepared for the tasks of the 21st century. The Federal Security Council (BSR) should be further developed in order to improve its own strategic capability in foreign and security policy, allowing it to act quickly and in an efficiently integrated way in the event of a crisis. It should promote a networked security approach and involve representatives from different ministries, including from the health care and environmental sectors, in order to take into account the security policy implications of epidemics, pandemics and climate change. A security council should also be set up at the European level to strengthen the EU as a player in foreign and security policy. A European Security Council would facilitate a clear and rapid EU response to crises and security developments and would ensure that the EU, together with the existing institutions and offices, is speaking with one voice.

Strengthening the Strategic Culture: The majority of the German population is skeptical about Germany’s more active role in security policy and especially about deployment of the German Armed Forces abroad. German decision-makers are also quick to say no when it comes to deploying military resources. Strategic questions should not only be raised among foreign and security policy elites; these matters should also be discussed and reviewed with the German public at large. Civic education programs and intensified public debates on security policy issues can help people become more engaged with strategic issues.

Reliable Investments in Security and Defence: In order to achieve a fairer sharing of security and defence policy burdens and in view of the massive level of threat, Germany should urgently honour its NATO commitment to spending two percent of its gross domestic product on defence by 2024. Although Germany has significantly increased its defence spending since 2014, it is not sufficient to be simply moving towards this goal. The massive spending by the Federal Government to mitigate the consequences of the Covid pandemic is also no reason for reducing the defence budget. On the contrary: the pandemic shows how important investments in prevention, early warning, and response are in terms of a comprehensive security concept. The German Armed Forces, among others, are also playing an important role in coping with the crisis. A credible and reliable foreign and security policy, which also has a direct impact on Germany’s success as a leading nation in business and innovation, must keep its repeated promises to its important partners and allies, without making any excuses.

Nils Wörmer is head of “International and Security Affairs” in the Analysis and Consulting Division;
Daniela Braun is Policy Advisor for Foreign and Security Policy in the Analysis and Consulting Division.

Last update: August 24th, 2021



as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood and other regions of the world

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as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood and other regions of the world

In terms of area, Algeria is the largest country in Africa and a key security player in the Sahel. Algeria works intensively with the countries of the region on security issues. This is undertaken within the framework of the respective bilateral relations as well as via regional mechanisms, such as the Nouakchott Process of the African Union (AU), which supports the security policy cooperation of eleven states in West Africa, the Maghreb, and the Sahel.


as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood and other regions of the world

With a population of around 200 million, Nigeria is not only the largest country in Africa, but it has also been the continent’s largest economy for some years now. The country is rich in oil and gas and is one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Nonetheless, Nigeria faces immense security and economic problems, which are worsening as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and could further destabilise the entire region in the medium to long term, posing major challenges for Europe. This applies both to the European interest in supporting the Sahel states in their fight against terrorism and to reducing irregular migration from Africa.


as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood and other regions of the world

In connection with organised crime, drug trafficking, and the penetration of the state by criminal groups, Mexico – a regional leader and member of the G20 – is facing major challenges that affect both internal and regional security. In view of the cross-border effects of organised crime in Mexico, which extend far beyond the American continent, migration from Central America and other regions of the world through Mexico towards the USA, the significant economic potential as a production location with a well-qualified workforce and privileged access to the US market via the North American Free-Trade Area, Mexico is of great importance for the stability of the region.


as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood and other regions of the world

The Expo 2017 world exhibition, a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (2018), the peace talks on Syria: no country in Central Asia is as oriented towards Europe and Germany as Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, much of what has happened recently in Kazakhstan and Central Asia has remained below Germany’s threshold of perception.