For Konrad Adenauer the great misfortune of German history was that Germany had always lacked true friends. With his policy of European integration and consistent ties to the West, the first German Chancellor made a significant contribution to this state of affairs having fundamentally changed over the past 70 years. Today, Germany is an integral part of the European Union and NATO. Last but not least, Germany owes its freedom, security, and prosperity to a close-knit network of neighbours, friends and partners all over the world. Cultivating these partnerships, deepening European integration and strengthening ties to the West is thus just as important today as it was in Adenauer’s time. It is, however, not enough on its own.

At a time when the European Union and the transatlantic relationship are being challenged and strained, a time, when multilateral institutions and regulations are being questioned, a time, when the liberal world order is under pressure from inside and outside and many people are already talking about a new world order – at a time like this, German foreign policy must also focus on strengthening partnerships based on shared values beyond the EU and NATO. Some of these partnerships are already firmly established, while others need to be explored, re-established and expanded, because the liberal world order will only have a chance if we can gain a sufficient number of allies in the fight for freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Any yet, that too, is not enough.

In a complex, globalized world with manifold interdependencies, Germany often, in order to realise its interests, has to rely on working with partners who are far from sharing its values or being  its friends, be it with respect to pipeline construction with Russia, foreign trade with China, or security issues with Saudi Arabia. The contradiction between values on the one hand and interests on the other hand, which is often construed in German foreign policy discourse, is misleading insofar as realising certain values can, of course, also be an interest. However, it is also true that Germany’s foreign policy interests are not limited to values and that, at least with the current state of play, cannot be realized through an alliance of value-based partnerships and friends alone. Thus, in addition to strengthening transatlantic relations, deepening European integration and exploring new value-based partnerships, German foreign policy must also focus on identifying which interests can be implements with which partners.

To that end, this project has set itself the task of creating a Partner-Atlas for German foreign policy that is intended to serve as a reference work that explores which foreign policy interests can be realise with which international partners. The Atlas is intended to bring structure into the debate around Germany’s partners and interests and to provide political decision-makers and those around them with a tool to help find their way around different subject areas and regions of the world as quickly as possible.

An essential prerequisite in searching[i] for partners with whom key German foreign policy interests can be realized is to define the latter. The Partner-Atlas therefore defines the following five key interests of German foreign policy:

(1.) Strengthening a values and rules-based world order
(2.) Safeguarding our prosperity via free trade and innovation
(3.) The security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood, and other regions of the world
(4.) Securing essential natural resources and protecting the climate
(5.) Regulating global migration flows

The derivation and definition of key German foreign policy interests is an indispensable prerequisite for examining existing or potential partnerships for their benefit to one or more of these interests, but it is not the main focus of this project. That is why this definition is quite deliberately a definition of interests that is as consensual and relatable as possible and which can be broken down, very simply, into five keyword: values, prosperity, security, resources and migration.

On the basis of these five interests, the project sets out to explore which interests are most likely to be realized with whom, that is, with which partner countries. Countries that are members of the European Union and/or NATO are considered “natural partners” and are deliberately excluded from this investigation. Instead, the focus of the project is exclusively on partnerships beyond the EU and NATO.

The term partner is chosen very deliberately. It is intended to cover the broadest possible range of bilateral relations, from close value partnerships to strategic alliances. The structure of the project is based on the five above-mentioned foreign policy interests and on the following five world regions:

(1.) Europe and North America
(2.) The Middle East and North
(3.) Sub-Saharan Africa
(4.) Latin America
(5.) Asia and the Pacific

The project is designed in such a way that the content can be read both from an interest-based, i.e. thematic perspective (Part I of the publication) as well as from a regional perspective based on the different world regions and countries (Part II of the publication).

All potential partner countries are initially identified for each interest and for every region of the world. The subsequent analysis is then only devoted to one of these countries, which only serves as a case study for value-based partnerships in Latin America, security partnerships in Asia, or migration partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa, etc. The decision as to which of the potential partner countries is to be analysed is based on a wide variety of considerations and does not always allow conclusions to be drawn regarding the “importance” of the respective partner country. This applies in particular to the many potential partner countries that are mentioned in the project but not analysed in detail. They are not left out because other countries are more important or even better partners for the realization of German interests. They are left out, because a project like this inevitably has to make a choice, not least of all because it depends on finding the right mix: the right mix between the “usual suspects”, some rather surprising candidates, the “big players” of the respective world regions as well as the many “small players” that are oftentimes left in the shadow of the former.

Especially when comparing value-based partners on the one hand and partner countries that come into play for realizing the other interests, it is important to emphasise that the Partner-Atlas is not about dividing the world into good and evil. On the contrary. One of the project’s main tasks is to demonstrate how complex the network of different interests, values and eligible partner-countries really is for German foreign policy. The value of classifying individual countries into different categories is primarily heuristic, and should not, of course, be understood as a conclusive judgment.

The mention of additional potential partner countries and individual case studies that aim for complexity should also make it clear, that a category formation and a 5×5 matrix are not enough. Reality is becoming more and more complex and is in a constant state of flux and so it cannot be ruled out that a 2025 Partner-Atlas would differ significantly from the 2020 Partner-Atlas. The following analyses are ultimately nothing more than a snapshot, which nevertheless tries to shed some light on the tangle of values, interests and potential partners that make up German foreign policy.[ii]

Peter Fischer-Bollin is head of the Analysis and Consulting Department.

Sebastian Enskat is head of “Democracy, Law and Parties” in the Analysis and Consulting Department.

Laura Philipps is Policy Advisor for Multilateralism and Systemic Competition in the Analysis and Consulting Department.

[i] The basis for the definition of interests undertaken here is the discourse on Germany’s foreign policy since reunification, including relevant literature and the few official documents that deal explicitly with strategic questions and Germany’s foreign policy interests, especially the so-called White Papers of 1994, 2006 and 2016.

[ii] The final contributions to the Partner-Atlas were completed in June 2020.

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