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. 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.

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 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, it is not only the regions in the immediate vicinity of Europe that have clearly moved away from peace and stability, freedom and democracy. With Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, a clear violation of international law, war as an instrument of interstate conflict has made a comeback right in the middle of Europe. This is now a fundamental threat for Germany and its allies.

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 countries This order has not just been under massive attack since 24 February 2022, but was already threatened by the annexation of Crimea and the covert Russian invasion of the Donbass region in 2014 and by the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. The realization that borders can again be violently changed in the Europe of the 21st century, represents a profound turning point in European policy. Russia’s attack on democracy as a form of government and social model are forcing the community of democratic nations in EU, NATO and beyond to make a strategic U-turn. The increasing rivalry between China and the US is adding more urgency to this trend and will replace the conflict with Russia as the major challenge in the coming decades. At the same time, there are persistent threats caused by terrorism, migration and crumbling state authority on Europe’s southern and eastern periphery. These developments lead to a balancing act between addressing new challenges, such as cyber warfare, and returning to traditional alliance defence concepts while continuing international crisis management operations – such as the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA for stabilising and securing peace in Mali.. 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, because, 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. Global trends, such as the impact of climate change, will be particularly devastating for these regions and will prepare the ground for instability, humanitarian disasters and fragile states, including the possible collapse of state structures. It is in the interest 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 providing military and political support to Ukraine and the East Central European partners in EU and NATO vis-a-vis Russia, there can be no doubt that Germany has an essential interest, apart from a moral obligation, to vehemently defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of these allies With a view 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 therefore make efforts 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 has fundamentally changed the situation in Europe. In addition, China’s political, military and technological rise has been the biggest geopolitical power shift in the international order in recent years. The parallel 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. Even Washington‘s massive commitment following the Russian attack on Ukraine, part of which has been the first-ever re-deployment of more than 100.000 US troops in Europe, must not hide the fact that the US will focus more strongly on a possible military conflict with China and on supporting allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region in the future. The US expect the Europeans to assume responsibility for mitigating Russia‘s conventional military threat on their own continent, as well as for 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 upheavals.

By now, the multilateral liberal international order, which is the basis and a stable framework for Germany’s foreign and security policy, is openly attacked by Moscow and Beijing. A rules-based international order is in Germany’s national interest, being a middle-sized power. The looming 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. 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 countries 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. Clearly, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine must have opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that an unconditional appeasement policy, confidence in economic interdependence under the banner of “change through trade“ and the hope of being able to integrate Russia and China into the rules-based world order have failed. Europe needs to acknowledge that it is more threatened than before and needs to make greater efforts for its own security, the stability of the countries on its periphery and for strengthening the multilateral global 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 re-dedicate itself to national defense and to defending the alliance as the core mission of security policy. To this end, Germany needs to make adjustments, including structural ones, and strengthen its strategic culture. Equally necessary are establishing and expanding partnerships with regional stability anchors. 

Re-dedication to national and alliance defense: in order to protect Europe, Germany needs to restore all forces, capabilities and actions necessary for deterrence and defense that are required to meet the challenge of a potential conflict. Ultimately the deterrent effect that ensures that war will not actually be waged and that the security as well as stability of Europe and its neighbours will be preserved will only be achieved in this way. For this purpose, Germany needs to upgrade its Federal Armed Forces as best as possible for the coming two decades in view of the fundamentally changed threat scenario and the rapid progress in weapons technology and needs to enable them to conduct highly intensive battles in all dimensions of warfare – on land, at sea, in the air and in the cyber- and information space. The target to be achieved by 2032 is to provide all military contributions defined in the capability profile of the Bundeswehr, especially the three operational divisions that are part of the NATO commitment including eight to ten combat brigades, 25 combat ships and eight submarines as well as four multinational fighter squadrons. In order to meet this requirement, the material combat readiness of the Federal Armed Forces needs to be upgraded, by using the announced special fund of 100 billion Euros for investment into spare parts, ammunition and personal equipment as well as the procurement of modern weapon and battle management systems. In addition, policymakers need to define, in the medium term, new methods of recruitment for the Bundeswehr, in order to achieve the self-imposed goal of a troop strength of 203.000. 

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. 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, speaks with one voice.

Strengthening the Strategic Culture: the majority of the German population is still skeptical about a more active German 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. The war against Ukraine has prompted many in politics and in the general public to question old beliefs and has led to a cautious move away from this skeptical view of security policy and from long-held positions, such as the categorical rejection of supplying weapons to conflict regions. This momentum should be used for widening the debate on strategic questions to include the general public, rather than keeping it limited to foreign and security policy elites. Civic education programmes and intensified public debates on security policy questions can encourage people to become more engaged with strategic issues. 

Establishing and developing partnerships into anchors of regional stability: Germany should strive to strengthen relations with countries that are important as anchors of 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 China or Russia on the other. This applies especially to countries mentioned in this collection, with which cooperation in security policy, bilateral debate and empowerment initiatives should be expanded. Such intensified cooperation with potential partner countries would make a contribution to strengthening and reassuring them and, at the same time, ensure that their perspective becomes a more important factor in German policy formulation and that Germany learns from these countries‘experience.

Nils Wörmer was head of “International and Security Affairs” in the Analysis and Consulting Division.

Philipp Dienstbier is policy advisor for transatlantic relations in the Analysis and Consulting Division.

Daniela Braun was policy advisor for foreign and security policy in the Analysis and Consulting Division.


Last update: 14 May 2022



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

As the largest country in Africa in terms of land area, linking the MENA region and the Sahel zone and as an immediate neighbour, Algeria has a natural relevance for Germany and Europe. The army enjoys a high status as an institution and defense spending is stable at 6% of GDP.


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

Jordan has been considered an anchor of stability at least since the Arab Spring, which shook many countries in the region to their foundations. Maintaining this stability is of paramount interest to German foreign policy.


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

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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

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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

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

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