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Foreign policy boost

Kay-Alexander Scholz / sgb
January 30, 2014

The new German government wants a more engaged and higher-profile foreign policy. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, addressing parliament, told lawmakers that more German involvement was needed.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

The world has "changed significantly" in recent years, Steinmeier said, arguing for a more active foreign policy. Many crises have come closer to Germany. The "consequences of foreign policy action or omission" would always affect Germany. Europe had "completely focused on itself," while "wrestling with crisis." It should never lose sight of "what is happening beyond Europe's borders," he said.

And while Africa barely garnered a mention in the foreign minister's maiden speech on foreign policy principles, little separates him from Chancellor Angela Merkel, although they are from different sides of the political spectrum.

In her morning policy speech, Chancellor Merkel also said one of the four pillars of her policy would be that Germany would take on "responsibility in Europe and the world." For, if not, "we would be harming our partners and ourselves - politically, economically, and in terms of our values." After years of a "policy of restraint" she bestowed a new importance on foreign and security policy, which would bring together military and civilian expertise.

And if that was short on specifics, Merkel went on to announce what new Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had already called for a few days before in press interviews: that Germany would get more involved in two African conflict zones. It will intensify its deployment in Mali and support the French mission in Central Africa.

Current sources of conflict

Steinmeier, who was foreign minister once before in 2005-2009 in Merkel's first cabinet, went on to list the world's trouble spots. In first place: the Middle East and the Arab world, where "dramatic escalations" are being underestimated. And then, there was Ukraine, which had returned to a "form of lawlessness" that "we had thought there was no longer any room for" in Europe.

Afghanistan, Steinmeier said, should not "just fall back into the status of the conflict prior to 2001." East Asia must also be kept in mind: The dispute between China and Japan, which only seems to revolve around islands, is not without danger and a stronger "historical depth" is needed when assessing it.

Steinmeier explained his new understanding of foreign policy in terms of European realities. Germany is the largest, most populous and economically strongest country in Europe.

War in Syria (Photo: REUTERS/Yazan Homsy)
The Middle East, especially Syria, is the most problematic regionImage: Reuters

"If such a country kept out of things, conflicts would not be resolved, because there would be no reliable suggestions." It was therefore right, in the case of Syria, he said, to participate in the destruction of chemical weapons. Bombing would have been the wrong course of action and "more of a detour from political solutions." Syria was a good example of a policy of military restraint that should not be misunderstood as a "culture of keeping our nose out," Steinmeier went on to say.

Criticism from the opposition

The Left Party, successor to the East German communists, is sticking to its rejection of German foreign military missions, which its foreign policy spokesman, Wolfgang Gehrke, made clear in the general debate. The party is strictly against a military "as an instrument of foreign policy." All ongoing operations should be terminated, it said.

Frithjof Schmidt (Photo: (GRÜNE/EFA)
Frithjof Schmidt of the Green Party: Promises 'like double bookkeeping'Image: Foto: Europäisches Parlament

Frithjof Schmidt of the Green party criticized several foreign policy points that the governing parties retained in their coalition agreement. The issue of arms exports was being handled with "noncommittal rules," he said. And while the government was committed to a nuclear-free world, it favored a modernization of NATO's nuclear weapons - something he likened to "double bookkeeping." And there was also plenty of "political fog" in the discussion about armed drones, he added.

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