At the Munich Security Conference, German President Joachim Gauck called on Germany to play a bigger role in international affairs. This is the right step - and it's been long overdue, writes DW's Michael Knigge.
Since the Libya conflict, at the latest, Germany's established allies have regarded German foreign policy decisions with some suspicion. In 2011, on the order of former Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Germany abstained from voting on a military intervention to protect civilians against the Gaddafi regime at a UN Security Council meeting. This decision was of major significance as it saw Germany side with Russia and China instead of its traditional partners France, the UK and US. Westerwelle claimed that the risks involved were too great but wished the allies good fortune in the planned venture. He added, however, that the decision did not mean Germany wasn't ready to accept international responsibility.
But it was exactly this message that was conveyed to Germany's allies. Germany will head for cover when things get difficult. Now, with his speech at the Munich Security Conference, President Gauck has initiated the necessary readjustments to the path of German foreign policy. While he is by no means the first politician in Germany to call for a stronger German international presence, the way in which he substantiated his claim, as well as his special status in the political landscape, lend more weight to his statements.
With convincing rhetoric, Gauck explained why Germany, as a highly globalized nation, cannot afford to be insular. He said there was no "right to look the other way" for a country that benefits from international connections to such an extent as Germany.
The stronger global role Gauck outlined can also include military intervention. However, he made it clear that this was not a general call to send more German troops to conflict zones abroad. At the same time, he pointed out that military measures can never be completely ruled out in advance. This last statement reflects German foreign policy of recent years - including the decisions pertaining to Libya - and the sensitivities within the German mentality.
Gauck's appeal has been welcomed by the international community. His message - which will hopefully trigger a long-overdue debate within Germany about its role in the world - is already a truism for the country's international partners. The economically powerful but politically shy Germany no longer satisfies their demands.
This does not mean that Germany now has to get involved in every situation that crops up anywhere in the world - it cannot do so and nobody expects it to. But Germany also cannot continue making things as easy for itself as it has in recent years.