Strategic Comments

JIIA Strategic Comments (2022-05)
Germany and Changes in the European Security Environment

Asako Takashima (Research Fellow, JIIA)
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JIIA Strategic Comments (2022-05)

Papers in the "JIIA Strategic Commentary Series" are prepared mainly by JIIA research fellows to provide commentary and policy-oriented analyses on significant international affairs issues in a readily comprehensible and timely manner.

1. "Changing Germany"

When Russia proceeded with its military invasion of Ukraine, including Kyiv, on February 24, Europe once again saw a war on the continent. The change in the European security environment has naturally affected the security policies of European countries, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's declaration on February 27 to provide arms to Ukraine and to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP is seen as a prime example of these changes1.

Germany's response to the Ukraine crisis had long been criticized. The decision in January to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine in the face of rising tensions met particularly strong criticism2. On the other hand, a German poll conducted from January 31 to February 2 showed that 71% of the population took a negative position on arms transfers to Ukraine and supported the German government's policy3. This public opinion was quickly reversed when the invasion began on February 24. Demonstrations calling for support for Ukraine are now taking place throughout Germany, and polls show support for the "new policy" of the Scholz administration4.

2. German "antimilitarism"

To note "change" in Germany, one must consider Germany before it changed. For a long time, an "anti-militarist" culture has characterized German security policy. With the end of the Cold War and the reunification of East and West Germany, Germany became a European superpower in both name and reality. On the other hand, the prediction of some scholars at the end of the Cold War that a reunified Germany would acquire military power commensurate with its economic power was long afterward belied5.

Cultural theorists focused on these policies, explaining Germany's security passivity in terms of anti-militarism6. According to them, memories of World War II and subsequent education had led the German people to accept norms that abhorred war, a culture that would not change with the end of the Cold War. This anti-militarist culture and the policies based on it were cited as characteristic of German policy. It can be said that the tendencies of the German people as indicated by these studies were also revealed by the public opinion polls conducted just prior to the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. German policies toward China and Russia were also often described in combination with this culture as policies of avoiding direct confrontation and hoping that engagement would get the other party to change.

This German policy has been criticized for being too "soft" on China and Russia. On the other hand, when the Trump administration came to power in the United States, this "non-confrontational" attitude of Germany (and especially of former Chancellor Angela Merkel) toward China and Russia was described as the last bastion of liberal democracy. In any case, this German foreign policy stance is often understood as a distinctive culture, which has sometimes been criticized and sometimes praised.

3. German "Humanitarianism"

Hans Maul further developed this cultural-theoretical study. He characterized Germany as a "civilian Power," a nation that, unlike most great powers, abstained from the use of force abroad7. Maul explained that Germany's foreign policy included the two principles of "never again" (i.e., pacifism) and "never alone" (i.e., multilateralism). His analysis showed that a third principle, that of "never again Auschwitz" (i.e., humanitarianism), was newly added at the time of the NATO aerial bombing campaign of Kosovo in 1999.

This "never again Auschwitz" is based on a statement made in 1999 by Joschka Fischer (Alliance 90/The Greens), who served as foreign minister under a red-green coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Alliance 90/The Greens. At that time, the Greens were at a crossroads. The Cold War had ended but Germany's inherent "pacifism" had not changed, especially in the Greens, who had their origins in the student movement known as the '68 Movement. On the other hand, the fighting in Kosovo saw recurring acts of inhumanity. Against this backdrop, Foreign Minister Fischer came up with the phrase "Nie wieder Auschwitz (never again Auschwitz)"8.

In other words, there are lives that cannot be saved by stubbornly adhering to the principle of "never again". Fischer's main point was that the German government has a humanitarian responsibility to save the lives of innocent people because the Nazis had historically committed such heinous crimes against humanity. NATO's aerial bombing campaign during the Kosovo War satisfied the "never alone" principle and the newly-added "never again Auschwitz" principle, despite violating the principle of "never again", and this was used within Germany to justify the military action9.

The above shows that it is impossible to satisfy all three principles simultaneously. If one is oriented toward multilateralism and humanitarianism, as was the case with participation in the bombing of Kosovo, one must give up the anti-war principle. However, it is clear from German public opinion up to February 24 that German pacifism has not disappeared, as noted earlier.

From this perspective, it is not necessarily surprising that Germans feel a strong antipathy toward the current situation in which many innocent people have lost their lives because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In other words, the situation is one in which humanitarianism and multilateralism are once again respected, and anti-war sentiment is to some extent suppressed. The humanitarianism of the German public, with its strong concern for the loss of civilian life in Ukraine, could already be observed as early as 1999.

4. A Defense Policy for Self-Defense

Then, did the recent invasion of Ukraine bring any change to Germany? If there is anything new in Chancellor Scholz's recent remarks, it is the idea of a "defense-for-self-defense" policy. According to Scholz, "we must invest much more in the security of our country" "(i)n order to protect our freedom and our democracy10." Because it has taken care to ensure it does not fall prey to expansionism due to its World War II history, Germany has heretofore never been so aware of the "danger of being invaded".

On the other hand, it is clear to all that the idea of a "defense policy for self-defense" is not in itself entirely new. As per the UN Charter, all sovereign nations can have forces for self-defense and have the right to use those forces in times of emergency. In addition, the 2% of GDP target for defense spending that has been so extensively covered of late was set in a 2014 NATO member country agreement, and defense spending had been increased since 2017. This was a goal to be achieved by 2024, and defense spending was increased from 32.4 million euros in 2014 to 43.2 million euros in 201911, The increase in the budget represented a 25% increase, but a rise from 1.18% to only 1.36% in the percentage of GDP. A look at the proposed defense budget for 2021 suggests that the defense budget for 2024 was probably expected to be around 1.5% of GDP12. However, even the 1.5% of GDP figure was met with domestic criticism. For instance, "Given the size of the German economy, 1.5% of GDP is already militaristic defense spending13." Scholz's "new policy" strengthens and accelerates NATO commitments, and domestic criticism of this policy appears to have weakened.


The path of "change" in Germany is one in which principles are added one by one, and it is difficult to imagine that its foreign policy will suddenly do a 180-degree turn someday. In this sense, it would be premature to regard the recent reactions by the German government and public opinion this time as representing a move away from "anti-militarism". There are already reports that political parties are divided on how to allocate the increased defense spending14. Moreover, it is clear from the demonstrations that are taking place in various parts of the country that the humanitarianism that took root during the Kosovo War remains a major guiding principle for Germany's actions this time around. Added to this is the change in threat perception, which will probably become a new principle that will define Germany's foreign policy in the future.

(This is an English translation of a paper originally published in Japanese on March 24, 2022.)

3 Sonntagsfrage des ARD-DeutschlandTrends (03.02.2022)( Incidentally, support for economic sanctions against Russia was 43%.
4 Sonntagsfrage des ARD-DeutschlandTrends (03.03.2022)(
5 Waltz, Kenneth. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGrew Hill.
6 Katzenstein, Peter J., ed. 1996. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.; Katzenstein, Peter J. 1996b. Cultural Norms & National Security. New York: Cornel University Press.; Berger, Thomas U. 1998. Cultures of Antimilitarism. London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
7 Hanns W. Maull. 2000. German foreign policy, Post‐Kosovo: Still a 'civilian power?', German Politics, 9:2, 1-24
8 Fischer, Joschka. 2008. Die rot-grünen Jahre: Deutsche Außen politik vom Kosovo bis zum 11. September. Köln: Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
9 On the other hand, Gerhard Schröder, then Federal Chancellor of Germany, criticized Fischer's justification from that time. In his view, the right of collective self-defense was a natural right of any nation in the international community and did not require justification based on Germany's unique history.
10 Regierungserklärung von Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz am 27. Februar 2022.
11 Entwicklung und Struktur des Verteidigungshaushalts (; NATO. 2019. Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2012-2019).
12 Bundeshaushaltsplan 2021: Einzelplan 14
13 Kamp, K. -H. 2019. Mythen der Zwei-Prozent-Debatte, Zur Diskussion um die NATO-V
14 BR24. 2022. Parteien diskutieren über Bundeswehr-Sondervermögen.