Germany’s New Strategic Policy, Expertise in Building Resilience, and Technological Edge at the Heart of Lawmakers’ Visit to Berlin, Hamburg, and Kiel

28 September 2023

Germany continues to press ahead with the implementation of the Zeitenwende (historic turning point) announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz in February 2022 after Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine.  A delegation of members of the NATO PA’s Committee on Democracy and Security and of the Science and Technology Committee visited Berlin, Hamburg and Kiel from 18 to 21 September to discuss this major shift in the country’s security and defence policy and gather information about how it tackles a broad range of security challenges. 

Germany has a crucial role to play in bolstering NATO’s defence and deterrence capabilities for the long haul and as a leader in fostering resilience and preserving the Alliance’s technological edge. This is the main message that senior German government officials and independent experts conveyed to the 26 parliamentarians from 13 NATO member countries in the delegation led by Agnes Vadai (Hungary) and Rodrigue Demeuse (Belgium). 

Germany’s security and defence policy shift in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine        

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has had a profound impact on Germany's security and defence policy, shattering many of the tenets of its post-Cold War approach and prompting the country to reevaluate its posture. According to Pia Fuhrhop from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the Zeitenwende echoes a major shift in perception among German policy makers and the general public with the realisation that security requires a renewed commitment to collective defence. This change is reflected in the country’s first ever National Security Policy in June 2023.

The implementation of Germany’s new defence and security policy will, however, depend on the country’s ability to make long term investments in its defence sector, cautioned experts who briefed the delegation. They suggested that the special 100-billion-euro fund allocated to modernising the Bundeswehr and acquiring off-the-shelf defence equipment is only a first step in the right direction. Officials and independent experts agreed that ensuring sustainable defence and credible deterrence in the long run requires more collective procurement schemes and transatlantic burdensharing, with European Allies needing to invest more in their defence industries. 

Germany’s renewed commitment to transatlantic security is mirrored in its foreign policy. Responding to the threat posed by Russia’s revisionist and imperialist agenda is one of its main priorities, explained Dr Jasper Wieck, Political Director at the Federal Ministry of Defence. He particularly emphasized the importance for Germany’s security of sustaining its military and political support to Ukraine and of maintaining a credible deterrence. 

Upgrading Germany’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of China’s growing influence and assertiveness and seeking innovative approaches to engage with the African continent are also front and centre of Germany’s foreign policy. 

In March 2023, Germany adopted a “feminist foreign policy”. Class-Dietrich König, Head of the Human Rights and Gender Division at the German Federal Foreign Office, told the delegation that the country’s policy was all about inclusivity – first and foremost for women, but also for traditionally marginalised groups. Germany’s new policy seeks to mainstream feminist principles into its different policy areas, from humanitarian engagement and peace negotiations to harder security issues. He repeatedly emphasised the importance of female representation, particularly in government agencies and traditionally male-dominated spaces, to achieve positive and sustainable long-term change.  

Experts at the IfW also provided an overview of Allied nations’ military and civilian support for Ukraine. According to the institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker, Europe’s total promised assistance to Ukraine (including EU institutions and EU member states) now amounts to twice that of the United States. However, the U.S. still provides the bulk of military assistance to Ukraine. Germany is the largest EU donor of military equipment to Ukraine and has set up a credit scheme which allows Ukraine to acquire weapons produced by the German defence industry, the delegates learned. 

At the IfW, Hendrik Mahlkow considered the Western sanctions against Russia as rather effective. Russia’s commodity sector has been most affected. For example, since 2022, Germany has successfully reduced its dependency on Russian oil and gas and fully supported European sanctions against Russia. Regarding the trade of Western goods and “sanction busting”, he said that according to the analysis of the IfW, about 15-20% of sanctioned trade flows are rerouted via other countries (which import Western goods on the sanctions lists and export them to Russia). However, approximately 80% of the sanctions work, Mr Mahlkow assessed. The IfW does not, however, have data from China, he cautioned and added that the bigger the coalition the more effective the sanctions.

Resilience and sustainability: Germany’s response to emerging global security threats

Russia’s war in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of food security and moved the issue higher on Germany’s and other Allies’ foreign policy agenda, argued Bettina Rudloff from the SWP. Providing an overview of the likely long-term impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on global food security, experts at the IfW stressed the need to invest in more sustainable food production schemes. Moreover, to enhance the resilience of global food systems in the longer term requires diversification of import sources, delegates heard. In the short term, Allies should continue supporting Ukrainian agricultural recovery and provide humanitarian aid to countries and populations most affected by the deleterious impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine on global food supply. IfW experts also provided an overview of how climate change can affect food security and thus contribute to creating instability. Climate change is recognised as a major foreign policy priority in Germany’s new National Security Policy, delegates learned.

With Russia deliberately targeting strategic infrastructure in Ukraine, protecting critical infrastructure is also part of Germany’s new integrated vision of security. According to Dr Daniel Voelsen from the SWP, protecting critical maritime security requires a continental perspective. Critical maritime infrastructure ensures energy supply, food trade and communication across the world. In Hamburg, the delegation was given a tour of the harbour and received briefings from the Hamburg Port Authority. Officials told members about the key role of the Hamburg harbour in ensuring Germany’s economic security and the country’s efforts to protect port assets including through increased investment control.

Disinformation is another threat to Allied resilience and security which needs to be fended off. In recent years, Germany has upped its efforts to counter malign foreign influence operations. The NATO PA delegation went to the headquarters of Der Spiegel in Hamburg to learn more about how the German magazine is dealing with this issue. Marina Kormbaki, journalist at Der Spiegel, stressed that disinformation, by undermining trust in the existence of reliable and objective information, puts democracy itself at risk. Members discussed how to strengthen existing legislation and what role tech companies should play in this regard. 

Another threat to the foundation of Allies’ democratic societies is corruption, argued Daniel Eriksson, CEO of Transparency International. Emphasising the importance of effective democratic institutions, he also noted the importance of the civic space and the need to involve the population at large. Unfortunately, the threat posed by corruption has increased globally, including in countries of the “global north”, he said. Addressing this challenge is important, among others because political corruption is increasingly being instrumentalised by geopolitical rivals. Despite the war, Ukraine is making tangible progress in addressing corruption, the delegation learned.  

Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine has emphasised the importance of defending international law, argued Katja Keul, Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office. She informed the delegation about Germany’s multi-level efforts to fight against impunity by bringing Russia to trial for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. In this context she noted the importance of further strengthening the International Criminal Court (ICC). Germany is the second largest donor to the ICC and has spearheaded efforts to promote accountability for international crimes through the use of universal jurisdiction in recent years, she explained.

Germany’s scientific and technological edge

The delegation also received an overview of Germany’s Research and Development policy in the defence area. According to Maik Kammermann from the Federal Ministry of Defence, cooperation is a key element in building a strong and sustainable Allied defence, notably to increase interoperability and increase resource efficiency. Germany has bilateral partnerships with several NATO member nations and with selected partner countries and participates in several European procurement schemes. The importance of AI for future warfare was stressed by Gundbert Scherf, CEO of Helsing. 

In addition, the delegation received briefings on maritime security and autonomous systems. Representatives from Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems stressed the need for greater underwater domain awareness to ensure national security. Members were offered a tour of the shipyard, including the submarine production line, the new shipbuilding assembly hall and the Advanced Submarine Fuel Cell workshop. 

In Kiel, the delegation also met with Minister-President Daniel Günter and Interior Minister Sabine Sütterlin-Waack of Schleswig-Holstein, as well as with naval officers from the German 1st Submarine Squadron and representatives of the NATO-accredited Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters.

Photos of the visit © DBT /Stella von Saldern

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