Stepping Into America’s Footprint

Germany: a country with a grown-up foreign policy

In October, Britain slunk ignominiously out of Afghanistan. The United States is also itching to get out. “The bottom line is, it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in May 2014, sticking to his self-imposed withdrawal deadline of 2016.

But there is one country in no hurry to leave: Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants America to extend the nato mission beyond 2016, German newsmagazine Spiegel reported on October 12, citing anonymous sources. Chancellor Merkel reportedly told a parliamentary committee that she doubted that local security forces will be competent by the time German soldiers are scheduled to leave.

Meanwhile, Germany is investigating the possibility of sending soldiers to Iraq. And the Green Party—one of the nation’s most pacifist political groups—has called for German boots on the ground in Syria as part of a United Nations mission.

America’s foreign policy is becoming increasingly disastrous. Meanwhile, Germany’s is becoming more assertive. As America retreats from the world, Germany is starting to fill the footprints it has left behind.

Policing the Middle East

Britain’s politicians may be trying to convince the public that Afghanistan is a job well done, but Germany’s are not. The best German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier could bring himself to say in an Oct. 12, 2014, newspaper column was that, compared to Iraq and Syria, “the results in Afghanistan are fairly respectable” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung).

But Steinmeier didn’t just denounce the mission with faint praise. He also implicitly campaigned to extend it. He warned against “hastily leaving the country, like the Americans did in Vietnam in 1975”—and have been prone to do ever since.

With Britain drawing its forces down, Germany could become the second-largest foreign force in Afghanistan. The German force has come a long way during 13 years of war there. Berlin began the mission as a finicky partner to the U.S., undertaking only certain missions and pointing to its pacifist constitution and reluctant public. Yet now Germany is America’s most dependable ally—the one least likely to cut and run. In fact, the Germans seem more dependable than the Americans themselves. It would not be inconceivable for Germany to stay put even after America adds Afghanistan to the list of countries it has messily left behind.

Meanwhile, Germany has sent a team to Irbil in Kurdistan to decide whether the Bundeswehr should deploy there to train the Kurds. Germany has already joined America, Britain, France and other Western nations in arming the Kurds, and has flown some Kurdish soldiers back to Germany for training. Berlin has deployed a handful of soldiers to Iraq to train the Kurds and is now considering a more substantial deployment. Steinmeier said he’d received “signals” from other European Union nations that they may be interested in joining such an effort.

Germany is also considering going beyond Kurdistan and training Sunni fighters in Iraq as well. On October 31, Chancellor Merkel said, “If we were asked, we would consider training Sunni soldiers, not just Kurds.” Merkel said the Sunnis had been “badly treated” by the previous Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, oppression that has given Islamic State terrorists a strong following among Sunnis.

Overall, Germany’s foreign policy seems to be quickly coming of age. For example, Germany wants to confront the Islamic State and bring order to the chaos in Iraq—but not in such a way that hands the whole region over to Iran. Therefore Merkel suggests that Germany work with Iran’s Sunni adversaries. America’s shortsighted thinking means it usually focuses only on the crisis at hand. Here Germany is thinking of the future.

Confronting the Islamic State has support from across Germany’s political spectrum. Even the Green Party, which can usually be counted on to oppose any use of the German Army, favors the mission, given the right conditions. “[The Islamic State] can only be beaten militarily,” Greens parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on October 13. Germany “must be prepared to deploy the Bundeswehr in an operation,” she said. She was clear that she wanted a United Nations mandate for a mission—but still, for the Green Party this marked a rare call to arms.

Steinmeier ruled out any German deployment to Syria. But boots on the ground is not the only option. The Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (swp) think tank, which advises the German parliament, has called for the establishment of a no-fly zone.

Wise Restraint

Of course, a mature foreign policy doesn’t mean sending in the army at every sign of trouble. When it comes to withholding its military, Germany has also proved wiser than Britain and America.

In 2011, Britain, France and America led a military intervention in Libya, enforcing a no-fly zone in the air and deploying special forces on the ground. Germany, by contrast, refused to get involved. In many circles within Germany’s current government, that was viewed as a mistake. Immediately after the attack, Germany’s nato allies labeled it as “an unreliable partner,” and America and France lost trust in Berlin.

Now, however, trust lost has been regained. Look at the disastrous results of the Libyan intervention. Muammar Qadhafi was a brutal dictator, but at least he opposed radical Islam. His fall turned all of North Africa into a new battleground in the war against terror. Terrorism surged in Algeria. The West had to step in to prevent Mali being completely overrun. Radical Islamists gained control of some of Qadhafi’s advanced weapons. And Libya is still suffering under civil war—a deadly no-man’s land and playground for terrorists.

The whole region would be far better off had the West followed Germany’s lead, not America’s.

Pushed to the Limit

In January 2014, Germany’s top leaders announced a new direction for the nation’s foreign policy. “[W]e Germans are advancing towards a form of responsibility that has not yet become routine for us,” German President Joachim Gauck told the Munich Security Conference. “In my opinion, Germany should make a more substantial contribution, and it should make it earlier and more decisively if it is to be good partner.”

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Steinmeier made similar statements. It was a call to action, and even a call to arms, from the top decision makers in German government.

The change in Germany’s foreign policy was not immediate. It was not as simple as turning the German foreign policy switch from “off” to “on.” But nearly a year down the line, there is a clear difference in Germany’s military complexion.

Berlin currently has the Bundeswehr deployed in 16 foreign missions. Most recently, Germany agreed to deploy up to 100 soldiers to Senegal to combat the spread of Ebola. With 1,537 soldiers in Afghanistan, 677 in Kosovo, 290 fighting piracy off the coast of East Africa, 145 patrolling southern Lebanon, 251 manning missile batteries in Turkey, 151 training soldiers in Mali, 4 conducting a similar training mission in Somalia, 247 patrolling the Mediterranean, as well as many other smaller deployments, the German military is being stretched to its limits. It is a military developed in the Cold War to fight Russian tanks in Europe. It was specifically designed not to be deployed abroad. Though the reform process has begun, Germany is clearly struggling to meet the demands being made of it.

Nonetheless, in just under a year, Germany has gone from being a reluctant military power to one just as willing to use force as any other. German leaders revealed recently that they are investigating a new military mission every few weeks.

To this point, however, the nation has made this transformation without increasing its military budget. Germany is doing more with less. And the only way it has managed to do so is by cutting back on maintenance.

The result has been a series of embarrassing breakdowns. Only 42 of Germany’s 109 Eurofighters and 38 of its 89 Tornados are flightworthy. Only 70 of the army’s 180 armored vehicles are operational. Its navy has similar problems: Only 7 of its 11 ships and a quarter of its submarines are combat-ready.

Defense Minister von der Leyen was so concerned by the problems that she commissioned external auditors to examine the state of the Army. The auditors concluded that the military cannot handle any more missions.

Yet Germany keeps pushing on. In addition to the possible new mission in Iraq, it is now considering sending drones and 200 soldiers to Ukraine.

Fixing the Weakness

These maintenance troubles are prompting a national debate about the military budget. Once again, former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has led the way, writing in the September 3 Wall Street Journal, “It is appalling that Germany recently decided to cut military spending by about €800 million (us$1.05 billion) in 2015.”

By the end of the month Germany’s whole political class was “pondering aloud the possible revision of what has long been a political no-go: raising the budget for defense spending,” as the New York Times put it (Sept. 29, 2014).

“Now I am being asked whether we should spend more money,” German defense expert Thomas Wiegold said. “That has never happened before” (ibid).

America has the resources, the army and the power to take responsibility for many of the problems around the world. But it lacks the will.

Germany doesn’t have the same resources as America does, yet. But it has will and foresight that America lacks.

Of the two, the shortfall in equipment is far easier to make up for.

As we enter 2015, Germany seems poised to upgrade its military to match its foreign-policy ambitions. Once it commits to spending the money, Germany will not take long to solve its maintenance troubles. It is far easier to order the spare parts of a bunch of planes than to order new squadrons. And Germany has an even more powerful option on the table: military-sharing.

If Europe’s militaries work together, they will have the necessary resources to replace America in their neighboring regions of North Africa and the Middle East. And Germany is leading the way in this cooperation. The Dutch Airmobile Brigade has already been subordinated to the German Army, and one of its mechanized brigades is preparing to follow suit. On Oct. 29, 2014, von der Leyen signed an agreement with Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak to tie the Polish Army more tightly to the German Army.

Under the agreement, a Polish battalion will serve under a German brigade, and vice versa. The two armies will conduct training and exercises together, exchange officers, and develop common rules and standards so they can integrate more closely in the future.

“The hour has come, finally, for concrete steps towards a European army,” Hans-Peter Bartels, chairman of the German parliament’s defense committee, said this past summer. “Germany is driving the European army project,” wrote Die Welt at the time.

Germany’s army may be struggling to keep up with the nation’s foreign policy, but, at the same time, it is welding entire brigades onto itself.

The Vital Importance of Wise Diplomacy

“Of all the factors that make for the power of a nation, the most important, however unstable, is the quality of diplomacy,” Hans J. Morgenthau, one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers on the subject of international relations, wrote in his book Politics Among Nations.

To Morgenthau, diplomacy meant more than polite niceties and getting along with other nations. When he used the term diplomacy, he was talking about the nation’s decision making, its foreign policy, how it uses the resources at its disposal and how it confronts problems.

“All of the other factors that determine national power are, as it were, the raw material out of which the power of a nation is fashioned,” Morgenthau wrote. “The quality of a nation’s diplomacy combines those different factors into an integrated whole, gives them direction and weight, and awakens their slumbering potentialities by giving them the breath of actual power.”

“[A] competent diplomacy can increase the power of a nation beyond what one would expect it to be in view of all the factors combined,” he wrote. “Often in history the Goliath without brains or soul has been smitten and slain by the David who had both.”

Diplomacy “will tap the hidden sources of national strength and transform them fully and securely into political realities,” he continued, since it gives direction to the national effort.

This gets to the heart of America’s weakness and Germany’s strength. America has abundant resources and has spent vast amounts on its military. Yet it is wasted because of the childish diplomacy at its head. Germany lacks the resources and the huge army, air force and navy. Yet it is much better at handling what it has.

We are witnessing the rise of one power and the fall of another. Great powers that act foolishly do not last long. Meanwhile, Germany is already acting like a great power, even though it does not yet have the world-class military of one.

This is a reversal the Trumpet has forecast for years. During that time, Germany has gone from being a divided nation and the sick man of Europe to the undisputed leader of the Continent.

This rise, and this transformation into a power willing to take responsibility for its neighborhood with military force, is one of the top trends to watch in 2015. The changes we have seen in the last few months are certain to accelerate. But biblical prophecy reveals the ultimate outcome of this development. It will be a repeat of the role Germany has frequently played throughout history: that of instigating war. The next time, though, that war will unfold on a horrific scale, eclipsing anything the world has experienced before.

To read about this prophesied war, request our free booklet Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.