Poll results on Germany's foreign policy preferences

"Frage 9: Bundespräsident Gauck und Außenminister Steinmeier haben kürzlich gefordert, dass Deutschland in Zukunft international mehr Verantwortung übernehmen soll. Was denken Sie: sollte sich Deutschland künftig bei internationalen Krisen stärker engagieren oder sollte sich Deutschland weiterhin eher zurückhalten?"

(Question 9: Federal president Gauck and foreign minister Steinmeier recently demanded that Germany shall assume more responsibility internationally in the future. What do you think: should Germany become more involved in international crises or should Germany continue to hold off?)

Deutschland sollte sich stärker engagieren /
Germany should become more involved

Deutschland sollte sich weiterhin eher zurückhalten /
Germany should continue to hold off

Link to source
(Translations are mine, the source is all-German.)

My interpretation is that Germans simply don't believe so much into the effectiveness of interventions and influence through foreign policy. The national experience is that prosperity can be achieved even under adverse conditions through productivity - especially in the manufacturing sector. That's a field of activity where popular support is no doubt great.

Countries which attempted to exert much influence in distant parts of the world have not exactly delivered stellar resumes for a more influence-emphasising foreign policy. The claims about great utility are mostly claims that certain scenarios were averted - which is by definition impossible to prove and thus an unfounded claim.
Just think about it: No doubt, there were many people willing to agree that the U.S.Army protects the peace in the world back in 2001. Not two thirds of the army - the army.
Fast forward to 2003, a substantial share of the U.S.Army is fixed in Iraq - and no war broke out elsewhere. Now that's evidence, and it doesn't support interventionism.

Likewise, there's little evidence that years of trying to exert diplomatic influence in the PR China in favour of human rights has achieved much. North Korea even built a nuke or two (or kind of) despite (or because of) intense pressure.

Moreover, Luxembourg - a tiny country - is known to be the richest one in Europe. The famously neutral Swiss are on their heels. The not exactly interventionist Scandinavians lead in regard to many quality of life and similar studies. So even IF a more ambitious and more assertive foreign policy did yield net benefits - you can evidently still do great without. Germany isn't facing unsolvable challenges itself either.

Now there's the inevitable backlash from people who believe in the 'free rider' argument concerning Europe. Well, all they have is their assertions, and they cannot prove them. What can be proved is that greater activity incurred substantial costs to some countries.

Finally, there's history and the scars it left. The assertive imperial era (pre-1914) foreign policy wasn't exactly successful, and mostly driven by demographics which had turned nationalistic (the socialists weren't nationalistic until the SPD agreed to fund the war in 1914). There's simply no myth or ideology about how important and useful an assertive German foreign policy in the world is. Other countries have such an ideology/mythology or an equivalent (such as France's links to former African colonies).

This was a 'bit much' interpretation for a mere two figures, of course.Register it as a comment on the greater topic of what Americans might call 'German isolationism'.



  1. "(such as France's links to former African colonies)."

    As far as I'm concerned, it's hard to believe that this "link" extends much further than the (upper) political leadership's bubble, as the man on the street certainly couldn't care less.

    And in regard to now thanksfully defunct Françafrique neo-colonial backyard, hindsight shows that those "links" stank of corruption and cronyism, flowing both ways.

    Some "opex" certainly have been (more) justified (than others), Chad, Mali more recently, or the regularly occuring rescues/evacuations/safeguardings of expats in times of unrest, when severe violence of all kind is a very real hazard, with Kolwezi as the most dramatic and caricatural example...

    But, still, overall, those "links" have cost France a lot, financially, and military; today's armed forces format is just a joke, especially with its emphasis on such "projection", even though that capacity actually has declinded over the years, and I agree with your take that this "small wars" addiction likely leads/will lead to bad habits and false assumptions.

    And this with not much in return, even in the moral arena, cf. the "French as co-genocider" Rwanda slander/narrative that is accepted gospel in much of the English-speaking world.

    Case in point, the current CAR lose-lose situation; an ill-defined goal that is neither peace-keeping nor the standard '"in and out" mission, a manpower and logistical imprint undersized in regard to the task at hand, and a situation on the ground that would requier an actual "Nation-(re)building" that certainly cannot be achieved.
    The moral justification might have been there, but it's thankless (the other African peacekeepers are not exactly uninterested parties).
    This for a country from which France parted for good 20 years ago on not very amiable terms, which has no business value whatsoever for French interests (Chinese, OTOH...), no cultural ties with nor significant migrant community in or expats from France (as opposed to Mali),... nothing, but those "links".

    German "isolationism" sure does look interesting, here.

  2. Germany, as with all nations, should make decisions based upon the interests and wishes of their respective citizens, however the "free rider” assertion is indeed valid and it is highly disingenuous to state otherwise.

    Only four out of 28 members of NATO actually comply with the technical requirement for membership by spending at least 2% of GDP on defense.

    So yes, the 24 non-compliant members are receiving a disproportionate benefit from NATO membership – ergo they are free-loaders.

    If a nation decides that NATO is no longer worth the costs and wants to withdraw, that is fine – bonne chance!

    However, it is absurd to be a member of a military alliance and not meet the minimum agreed upon requirement for defense spending. Worse it is absolutely crass for that nation, or group of nations, to then argue that they are not free loaders.

    This position is outrageous and is exactly why there is a growing movement in the USA to tell NATO and the EU to stuff it.

    The willingness of Europeans to fight to the last American soldier is well understood in North America and one day that attitude may well be rewarded with “good luck with that” when help is needed.


    1. I already told you on April 6th that there is no such 2% requirement:
      Your whole case is thus invalid.
      (You may not read my replies, but I can tell you I won't publish and refute your wrong assertion a third time.)

      The North Atlantic Treaty demands compliance with the principle of non-aggression, referencing the Charter of the United Nations. The last violation of this requirement happened in 2003 (by three members), and Germany wasn't an offender (it was in '99). Hint: The USA was an offender back then.

      Your assertion that the other members benefit from the excessive and inefficient U.S. military spending is a mere unproven assertion.There's no self-evident benefit at all. You would first need to prove that European military spending doesn't suffice on its own, but it does easily - unless we want to wage war on the USA.

      On the 'free riders' assertion in general:

      Besides, the American attitude of considering Europeans as auxiliaries for stupid military adventures is well-understood in Europe.

    2. "The willingness of Europeans to fight to the last American soldier is well understood in North America and..."

      Actually, I don't find North Americans understand much of anything about Europe or anywhere else on the planet so ...good luck in Nigeria.

    3. Childish temper-tantrums do not change the fact that NATO is weak because its member nations lack the resolve and commitment. Yes defense funding is evidence. And yes the USA should leave the alliance.

      This blog represents the common European blather on about soft power and other nonsense (how did that work for you in Syria?), but defense ultimately depends upon the *willingness* and *ability* to effectively employ military force.

      The lack of European willingness, and capability was shown to be limited in the Balkans, was wholly inadequate for Libya, and has been utterly non-existent in the Ukraine.

      Call it what you want, but when one European power redraws the map and annexes territory with over 2 million European inhabitants and 27,000 square km with no *effective* response from Brussels, that is pretty substantial evidence of impotence.

      As to the “nothing happened” while the U.S. Army was in Iraq position, I find it curious that this blog failed to mention the Russia–Georgia war. Likely because it does not fit your logic.

      It must sting to be weak, and know for your weakness, but this will not be the last time Europe suffers humiliation. It will not be long before the Balkans re-ignites in response to the new power calculus on the continent, and what will you Europeans do when secular Turkey falls to extremists?

      Probably continue to prate on about the evil USA… good luck with that!


    4. So much nonsense...feel invited to not visit this blog anymore, GAB!

      (1) "NATO is weak" = delusional BS

      (2) Defense funding of European NATO is much more than all neighbours including Russia combined; you're writing nonsense and are (intentionally) oblivious of the facts.

      (3) We don't care much about Syria, nor does the U.S.. That's why neither intervened substantially. You're unable to see that the U.S. effectively does shit about Syria - despite its insane military spending.

      (4) We didn't care much about Libya or the Yugoslavia either. Totally different league than collective defence.

      (5) We don't care about Ukraine's hold over the Russian-majority Crimea either.

      (6) The U.S. Army even of 1989 had no capability to save Georgia in a two-weeks war. Elements of the 82nd and B-2's were the only forces which could have intervened in time. It's thus an irrelevant example in this case.

      (7) We're not "weak", but you're not connected enough to reality to see it. We're relaxed because there's no substantial threat and we have more European military strength than necessary.

      (8) We don't care much about Turkey. Turkey is the business of the Turks. What will the U.S. do when Turkey turns (more) extremist? Nothing.

    5. Thanks GAB for proving my point! (I'm the second anonymous; hereinafter known as anon 2)
      I'm in Canada so just call me a weak canook.
      Sorry we missed that oh so wonderful Iraq War!

      And man, Libya, what a joke... well don't talk about Putin being imperialistic then.

      anon 2

  3. As the leading country in Europe, Germany should take a more assertive in international affairs.

    But said assertion should not take the form of attacking other countries for no good reason, nor should it take the form of hectoring other countries over their internal affairs.

    The prosperity of many of the countries you highlighted is underpinned by globalization. Without open international markets underpinned by the USA-led liberal order, they would not necessarily be able to able needed markets and raw materials. Germany in particular is very poor in natural resources.

    That is not to say it would be impossible--trade would continue and Germany makes valuable products other would be happy to trade their resources for. But without a liberal international order (which need not be USA-led), access is uncertain. This was a major factor in the development of the Second World War, particularly in Japan's case.

    It has now been so long that some prosperous European countries have concluded that an assertive foreign policy is always unnecessary. That isn't the case, it's just that America's post-Cold War foreign policy has been exceptionally foolish.

    A good example of an active foreign policy which benefited Germany was Schroeder's relationship with Russia. Thanks to his vision and leadership, the Nordstream pipeline was constructed. Access to Russian markets and raw materials is important for Germany's future, and here is where a more active foreign policy should be conducted. China is now going to purchase Russian gas at a lower price than Germany is able to. That should cause outrage in Berlin, but no one seems to care.