SPD is striving for Germany to play a leading role in foreign policy

Berlin The SPD wants to realign its foreign policy. A key aspect of this is that in future Germany should assume more responsibility within Europe, but also internationally. This claim to leadership is justified by the fact that the Federal Republic has “worked out a high degree of trust” in recent decades.

In many foreign policy debates, Germany is increasingly at the center and is an important partner for many countries around the world, according to a strategy paper by the SPD leadership, which is available to the Handelsblatt. “And that’s exactly why they expect Germany to show more initiative and take a leadership role at the international level.”

The 21-page paper was drawn up by the party’s “Commission for International Politics” (KIP) and, as the headline says, is intended to provide “social-democratic answers to a world in transition”. The commission is headed by co-party leader Lars Klingbeil. The SPD presidium wants to deal with the new foreign policy strategy on Monday. The paper is to be decided at a party conference at the end of the year.

According to the SPD, Germany should also show more strength in Europe in the future. “Not least because of its size and economic strength, our European partners expect Germany to live up to its responsibility and play a leading role,” the paper says. This means involving partners, providing impulses, giving orientation and at the same time relying on the mediation and balancing of interests.

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The authors of the policy paper also derive the increased responsibility for Germany from the changed foreign policy situation caused by the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, which the paper describes as the “so far most brutal breach of fundamental principles of the international order”.

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The SPD does not skimp on self-criticism. Germany in particular has “for too long relied exclusively on a cooperative future with Russia and failed to develop scenarios for dealing differently with Russia,” the paper says. “This would have been urgently needed after the Russian invasion of Georgia, but at the latest after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.”

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Because of the special German-Russian history, the focus was also placed too much on what unites them, which “blurs the view of what divides them”. In addition, Germany has not reacted sufficiently to Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in foreign policy. Instead, Germany has become unilaterally dependent on Russia in terms of energy policy.

As a consequence of the mistakes in dealing with Russia, the SPD experts propose a forward-looking foreign and security policy with “thinking in scenarios”. “We have to recognize trends early on and identify possible courses of action accordingly.” Behind the approach is the effort to also focus more closely on the military capabilities of the security and defense alliances.

For the SPD, this also means that the Bundeswehr must be equipped in such a way that it can “fully” fulfill its tasks in cooperation with the EU and NATO “at all times”. The party sees the EUR 100 billion special fund for the troops as a clear message to the alliance partners that Germany is ready to “take more responsibility for the implementation of our common interests in the sense of a value-based peace order”.

F-35 fighter jets

The aircraft from US production are among the Bundeswehr’s largest procurement projects.

(Photo: dpa)

The SPD combines this with the promise to invest two percent of German economic output in defense in the future. However, the party also sees a need for action at European level, because the aspirations and reality of a defensible EU are still far apart. In particular, the term of office of former US President Donald Trump has clearly shown that Europe must position itself more sovereignly and invest more in its own security.

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In concrete terms, the SPD wants to strengthen the European pillar in NATO and expand the EU’s military capacities and capabilities. The prerequisite, however, is that the European Union “overcomes the inefficient and ineffective fragmentation in its defense policy”. It has been “long since out of date” that the 27 EU member states all have their own procurement system, own a large number of different weapon systems, supply their own armaments companies with orders and negotiate with them about the weapons of the future.

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Rather, what is needed are common, European defense efforts and more cooperation in production and procurement. The foreign policy experts see the German government’s initiative to set up a European air and missile defense system as groundbreaking in this respect.

The so-called European Sky Shield Initiative, launched last year, is intended to help close existing gaps in the current protective shield for Europe. The reason for this is the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. According to NATO, Russia’s actions require additional efforts in air defense. So far, missile defense in Europe has primarily been aimed at possible threats from Iran.

In addition, the SPD experts consider it necessary for Europe to be able to defend itself conventionally against attacks, including those of a hybrid nature, below the threshold of an armed attack, and to have the appropriate deterrence capabilities. In addition to joint procurement, common minimum standards for arms export controls, coordinated defense spending, a rapid reaction force and “a real EU headquarters for a clear management structure” are also necessary.

“De-Coupling”: SPD rejects a total solution from China

German relations with China also play a decisive role in the SPD’s foreign policy realignment. A “de-coupling”, i.e. a complete solution by China, is not the right answer, according to the foreign policy paper of the party leadership. “Instead, we need a European resilience strategy that reduces risks (de-risking), also with a view to protecting critical infrastructure in Europe.”

Economic dependencies on China must be minimized, “for example in the procurement of raw materials according to the principle ‘China plus one’, where we always have an alternative supplier in addition to China,” it says. German companies must be given incentives to expand their value chains and sales markets to other countries. According to the German supply chain law, it must also be prohibited at European level that products resulting from forced labor may be imported.

The party leadership’s view of China is therefore much more critical than it used to be. Beijing is striving for economic and military dominance in the Indo-Pacific region and wants to restructure the international system in China’s favour. “The dialogue with China should be sought and conducted in a robust and constructively critical manner,” the paper therefore demands.

Human rights violations and protectionism must be addressed. Although the one-China policy remains, Beijing must be made aware that the Taiwan issue can only be resolved by peaceful means. The democratic island nation of Taiwan is viewed by China as a breakaway province.

At the same time, a common European China policy is being called for. “Europe must not let itself be divided by Beijing, but must use its geopolitical power and speak with one voice for Europe’s interests and values.”

More: The current developments in the Ukraine war in the Newsblog

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