We have all been plunged into a historical watershed for European security due to Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine – and democracy. Germany, like its European and American allies, has responded with strength and resolve. On Sunday, February 27th, Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a remarkable speech in the Parliament announcing a robust new security policy for Germany: what is necessary for peace and security in Europe will be done.
Members of the German Bundestag Verena Hubertz (Vice-Chair, Social Democratic Party of Germany, Parliamentary Group) and Metin Hakverdi (Social Democratic Party of Germany; Member of the Committee on the European Union) joined American policy experts Dan Baer (Acting Director, Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and Heather Hurlburt (Director, New Models of Policy Change, New America) for a conversation moderated by Jen Kirby (Foreign and National Security Reporter, VOX). It was made clear that Germany’s new security policy is not a temporary response to acute and tragic events in Europe, but a true Zeitenwende – a watershed to address the geopolitical realities we now face.
“Zeitenwende is the term Chancellor Scholz used when describing this policy, because in Germany, we believed firmly in diplomacy, we believed in bringing people to a table and discussing – but Putin and Putin’s war are something you cannot discuss. So, if times are changing, we also had to adapt and change our foreign and defense policy.” Verena Hubertz noted. “What we see now… this war and the sanctions with Russia are interconnected with the gas and oil we need from Russia. …We need to be faster with renewable energy in order to be independent from countries like Russia, and this is an area for transatlantic cooperation.”
We witnessed [with Scholz’s speech] what Americans might call ‘leadership’
“We witnessed [with Scholz’s speech] what Americans might call ‘leadership’,” Metin Hakverdi argued. “Without this war, we would be talking right now about what it’s like having a ‘traffic light’ coalition with three parties, what it’s like to have a coalition agreement with nuclear sharing in it, where you have two sentences about Nord Stream 2 – and you could have told a long story about how those sentences got into the treaty, but nobody cares about them now. …In theory, having the foreign policy capabilities of the executive split in a three-party coalition could be a disadvantage, but it has turned into the exact opposite, a strength.”
Dan Baer noted that “it’s clearly a watershed moment. Notwithstanding recent history – both democratic and republican administrations [in the United States] have pushed all allies to meet the 2% GDP threshold for NATO. …Many people have pointed out that Vladimir Putin has managed to be the most persuasive argument for meeting that spending goal. But as an American I am most struck by – not just the speech by the chancellor […] but by how much we as allies are hanging together.”
Jen Kirby asked whether Germany’s decision to invest in defense would be a strong and lasting choice.
“This is just the beginning.” Hubertz responded. “The [transatlantic] alliance needs to be strong and lasting. Now is the time for NATO to be our alliance... Now we need to come together with a European perspective to ask ‘what does security mean to us in the 21st century?’ What is cybersecurity, disinformation, how does it all come together?”
Hakverdi responded that “I don’t see any possibility where we could return to the status quo ante” concerning a step-back of defense and security spending or strategy.
What is our shared vision of what the lasting foundations of a European security order have to look like?
Heather Hurlburt noted that “an interesting question for us here [in Washington] and in Berlin is, what is our shared vision of what the lasting foundations of a European security order have to look like? Which institutions have to be involved – can there be new institutions or existing ones? What arms control or existing measures do we need to see?”
Regarding the ways the 100 billion euro investment might be used, Hubertz argued that “it’s not about materiel only… there’s been a lack of investment [in the German military] over the last 10, 20 years, so we need to work on the structures and not only the materiel. And this will be a parliamentary process. …It will involve a sharing of knowledge and where we build our expertise.”
Metin Hakverdi summed up the conversation in bold strokes: “we have to be honest about the debate – what is NATO for? What is an army for? Not only in Germany – but especially in Germany – we were struggling with this international position after WWII, after reunification about what our role is. But this has been decided now. This was the very last step to be decided. It will change something within our society, and we will not dis-integrate security-wise from the European Union, or from security with the United States and NATO. We will spend that money on our soldiers… on future technology to be developed for deterrence and prerequisite to take responsibility to form a new security order in Europe. And I have a feeling the Americans will be at the table as well.”
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