Paper Tiger No More
Published a few weeks after the Brexit vote, the German security white paper has acquired a broader meaning than intended. Faced with multiple crises and rising euroskepticism across Europe, Europeans are under great pressure to show credible leadership and action. The EU Global Strategy and the mini-summits taking place in preparation for the Bratislava EU summit in September have all expressed support for enhanced defense cooperation, improved intelligence-sharing, and beefed-up border defenses, following the terrorist attacks in France that shook Europeans’ sense of security. In a recent Weimar Triangle meeting, France, Germany, and Poland committed to “reinforce the European Union and the foundations of European integration by demonstrating that the EU is able to act.”
Major crises are driving this push for a revitalized European project and a strategically responsible Europe. However, defense and security cooperation has been hampered for years by the Big Three’s diverging strategic mindsets, with the United Kingdom’s historical rejection of an independent EU military force outside NATO, France’s tradition of strategic autonomy, and post-World War II Germany’s posture as a European economic power reluctant to use military force in global conflicts. With the UK – which has the largest military budget in Europe – heading for the exit, Germany and France are now relaunching closer European military cooperation. The challenge will be to define a project that combines France’s historical role in developing the EU’s defense with Germany’s new active role in shaping it.
In the 2016 security white paper, Germany sees itself gradually assuming a larger defense role within the frameworks of NATO and the EU: “Germany is increasingly seen as a key player in Europe,” and is ready to “assume responsibility” and “help meet current and future security and humanitarian challenges,” the white paper notes. In summary, it states: “The country has a responsibility to actively help shape the world order.” This is a major shift for Germany, signaling a necessary normalization of the German strategic mindset to better match a changing international security environment. The combination of Russia’s resurgence, the spillover effects of the crises of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe (refugee flows, terrorism, Islamist radicalization,etc.), and the Brexit vote are eroding the EU’s – and also the United States’ – capability to project soft and hard power, and changing the way Germans think about the challenges of the world around them.
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This piece is part of a compilation of articles published on August 31st by the Berlin Policy Journal.