Germany Defense and Foreign Policy

By | January 11, 2021

Foreign policy and defense

Germany is a nation in Western Europe. Its capital city is Berlin. As Germany has come to play an increasingly strong economic role in Europe and the world, expectations among European countries and the US have increased that the country will also take greater responsibility for peace and security in the outside world. In recent years, the German government, in conjunction with having to deal with conflicts in the immediate area such as in Ukraine and the refugee crisis, has also begun to pursue a more active foreign policy.

germany military spending and defense budget

After the reunification in 1990, Germany retained much of the former West Germany’s foreign policy priorities. Striving for peace and democratic values ​​as well as human rights are still important guiding principles as well as multilateral cooperation. German governments have invested in collaborating within the EU, NATO and the UN to achieve foreign policy objectives. Acting alone has not been talked about and hardly taken on a leadership responsibility – much a consequence of the lessons learned after the country’s role in two world wars, its Nazi past and the pacifist attitude of the Germans.

Relations with the United States have continued to be important. As long as the Soviet Union was perceived as a threat, West Germany was one of America’s most loyal allies in Europe. After the end of the Cold War, attitudes toward the United States became more skeptical, and relations were severely strained at the end of 2002 as a result of Germany’s opposition to the US plans to attack Iraq. Relations between the United States and Germany improved when Angela Merkel took over as Chancellor, but the revelation in 2013 that the US intelligence organization NSA had intercepted Merkel’s cell phone led to great upset in Germany. But official cooperation was marginally affected and the United States continued to highlight Germany as one of its main allies.

EU and France

Promoting European cooperation is another of Germany’s foreign policy cornerstones, which is also enshrined in the Constitution. Here, the relationship with France is of great importance; European integration has been driven forward by the so-called Franco-German axis. As a rule, the President of France and the German Chancellor have met each year to strengthen relations between the countries and, despite differing views in some areas, work out compromises that have often been transformed into EU policies. In 1987, the countries formed a joint military force, the Franco-German Brigade, which then developed into the multinational Eurocorps force.

At the time of the German reunification, not least France was worried that a larger Germany would become too dominant and focus its interest on Central and Eastern Europe. The then Chancellor Helmut Kohl then highlighted Germany’s loyalty to the EU by “sacrificing” the popular German D-mark and supporting the implementation of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), which was entered into the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Germany was a driving force when countries from the former Eastern bloc became members of the EU in 2004 and 2007, and when several of them gained access to the Western Defense Alliance NATO.

During the euro crisis (see Modern History), the Merkel government found support for its line that the problems of crisis-stricken euro countries should be solved with budgetary discipline and reduced government debt, with the then President of France Nicolas Sarkozy. Since the spring of 2012, the presidential post of Socialist François Hollande, who was opposed to the austerity policy, has succeeded in bilateral relations. After that, however, the governments have again cooperated on major issues, such as the fight against terrorism after the Paris attack in 2015, and by the middle of the 2010s, both countries wanted to work together to deepen defense cooperation within the EU.

At the suggestion of French President Emmanuel Macron, in June 2018, ten European countries – including Germany, Britain, Spain and Portugal – agreed to form a joint military force, the so-called European Intervention Initiative. In this way, army forces in several European countries should be able to coordinate and jointly deploy in emergency crises. The initiative will allow countries to act outside NATO, and not have to depend on the United States, which has been updated in light of President Donald Trump’s signaled diminished interest in defending European countries. Since the defense initiative is also outside the EU, it allows the UK to participate after Brexit (see UK: Current policy). German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her support for the initiative in the fall of 2018 and also suggested that a European Security Council be formed to coordinate defense and security policy in Europe. According to Merkel, “only a stronger Europe can defend Europe”.

A new friendship treaty between Germany and France, a continuation of the 1963 Elysee Treaty, was signed in 2019 in the German city of Aachen. The agreement would lead to deeper cooperation in a number of areas including foreign, defense and security policy and also highlighted the important role that France and Germany play in European cooperation.

An active foreign policy

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for Ukrainian separatists during the civil war in Ukraine meant that Germany’s century-long traditions of close ties to Russia were strongly questioned. Berlin has had an active mediator role to put a stop to the war. Despite the German dependence on Russian gas and oil imports and significant German exports to Russia, Germany was actively involved when EU countries decided to impose sanctions on Russia in 2014–2015.

The Ukraine crisis, the Syrian war and the refugee crisis in 2015 (see Current policy) helped to further push the development towards a more active German foreign policy. At the beginning of 2014, German Federal President Joachim Gauck gave a distinguished speech in which he called for Germany to act more actively and vigorously in the outside world and he was supported by the defense and foreign ministers. In the summer of 2016, a new white paper for defense policy was published, which stated, among other things, that Germany has “a responsibility to actively influence the global regime.” But the German government has a hard time earning its line among the Germans, where a majority still thinks that Germany should have a restrained foreign policy and not to a greater extent engage in actions abroad.


In 2011, compulsory military service was abolished. Instead, a professional army was supplemented with voluntary military service. As in Sweden, the objective has been changed from an invasion to a defense operation with international tasks.

Foreign forces have been stationed in Germany since the Second World War, but their size has declined sharply. In 2015, the NATO countries reduced their forces to about 62,000 men, including 40,000 Americans.

According to a previous interpretation of the Constitution, Germany could not send its own troops outside the NATO area. The issue has been sensitive to domestic politics due to the history of the 20th century and strong pacifist currents within the country. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in 1994 that military operations abroad did not violate the Constitution, provided that it is the question of peacekeeping or peace-making operations based on decisions by the UN Security Council. In each case, the covenant day must decide on the intervention.

Following the ruling in the Constitutional Court, the German military has participated in several operations. In 1996, the Bundestag decided that Germany should participate in the NATO force in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the same conditions as other countries. When German troops oversaw the evacuation of foreigners from riots in Albania in 1997, German soldiers opened fire on a hostile force for the first time since 1945. During the NATO bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo conflict in the spring of 1999, which did not build on any UN decision, Germany set off with 14 Tornadoes. The largest, and most politically controversial, effort was made in 2001, when Germany sent troops to the NATO-led ISA forces in Afghanistan.

In August 2014, the German government decided to send weapons to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and provide military training to support their fight against the Islamic State. In December 2015, Germany (following a federal day’s approval) decided, as a response to a plea from France following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, to contribute six Tornadop plans for surveillance as well as over 1,000 military and technicians in the fight against IS.

In December 2015, 2,700 German soldiers participated in military operations abroad, including Kosovo, Lebanon and Mali.

In 2012, the Constitutional Court decided that Germany’s armed forces should in the future be able to use weapons against terrorist attacks in German airspace and on German soil in exceptional cases, if the country is subject to attacks of “disastrous proportions”. The military is not allowed to use weapons to gain control over demonstrations, nor is it allowed to shoot down hijacked passenger planes. A decision by the federal government is required for the military to use weapons at all.

READING TIPS – read more about Germany’s foreign policy in the UI’s web magazine Foreign
magazine : Aachen Treaty – New force in German-French cooperation? (2019-01-24)


Army: 60 900 Men (2017)

The air Force: 28 300 men (2017)

The fleet: 16 300 Men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.2 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 2.7 percent (2017)