Berlin’s Foreign Policy Dilemma: A Paradigm Shift in Volatile Times
Photo credit: Tobias Koch
Germany’s foreign policy over the last decades has been a paradox. An economic powerhouse with the potential for a key leadership role in Europe, Germany has often been accused of being too cautious or uncooperative in addressing European and transatlantic challenges. At the same time, expectations for German leadership have only grown as numerous internal and external crises plague the continent. In response, Germany has significantly stepped up its foreign policy posture, providing new leadership in European affairs and reliable partnership in transatlantic endeavors. From the Ukraine conflicts to the refugee crisis, even Berlin’s harshest critics concede that there has been a notable change in Germany’s policy.
However, the context in which Germany operates has dramatically changed within the past several months. The Brexit referendum and the election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States have reinforced an almost tragic dilemma for Germany. After decades of caution and restraint, German political elites are mostly converging on the need for a stronger German leadership role in foreign and security policy. Yet, the institutional order in which Germany can exercise leadership is at risk of crumbling away. The EU, with centrifugal and populist forces on the rise, has become an increasingly fragile and contested architecture. And now, following the U.S. elections, the transatlantic space appears to be in danger of its liberal hegemon abandoning its long-held role as the guarantor of the existing order.