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Germany unveils first national security strategy to address growing threats, singles out Russia

A 76-page document outlining the strategy states that ‘today’s Russia is, for the foreseeable future, the greatest threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a press conference on June 14, 2023, to present the German government's national security strategy for the country.MICHELE TANTUSSI (AFP)

The German government said Russia is the greatest security threat “for the foreseeable future” and advocated a balanced approach to China as it unveiled its first comprehensive national security strategy Wednesday. The strategy was part of an effort to address what Germany views as growing military, economic and social risks to the country. Germany’s biggest opposition party criticized the government’s position as “anemic.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the new strategy, which his three-party governing coalition pledged to draw up when it took office at the end of 2021, had gained added importance since Russia attacked Ukraine almost 16 months ago.

The war in Ukraine has heightened anxiety in Germany about the preparedness of its own armed forces, prompting Scholz to announce a “turning point” on military spending.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Feburary 2022 demonstrated “what many of our neighbors in Eastern Europe have warned us about — that Europe is vulnerable,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters at a news conference in Berlin also attended by Scholz and other top officials.

A 76-page document outlining the strategy states that “today’s Russia is, for the foreseeable future, the greatest threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

It also warns that some countries are “trying to reshape the existing international order according to their view of systematic rivalry,” an oblique reference to the threats of disinformation, cyberattacks and economic pressure from major powers such as China.

The document makes several references to security threats posed by climate change. These include a heightened risk of famine, disease and conflict around the globe, as well as extreme weather events and damage to critical infrastructure in Germany.

It sets out Berlin’s general approach, but doesn’t go deep into details — including the strategy’s potential foreign policy consequences. Officials plan to draw up more specifics at a later stage.

The German government is also preparing a specific strategy on China. Scholz declined to say when it would be published. “We’ll be ready when we’re ready, but soon,” he told reporters.

The document released Wednesday came out a week before the German government sits down for high-level talks with senior Chinese officials in Berlin that are expected to touch on numerous sensitive issues.

Germany has traditionally hesitated to antagonize Beijing due to the importance of China as a market for German exports and a source of key commodities.

Still, the document underlined Berlin’s view that China is “a partner, competitor and systemic rival,” noting that “elements of rivalry and competition have increased in recent years; at the same time, China remains a partner without which many of the most pressing global challenges can’t be solved.”

Asked what practical implications the new strategy would have, Baerbock said the government will look closely at areas where Germany is most vulnerable due to its dependence on China. She said they include raw materials and components for the energy, telecommunications and medical sectors, for which Germany is actively trying to diversify its sources.

Scholz noted a recent declaration by leaders of the Group of Seven major economies calling for a “de-risking” rather than a “decoupling” from China. Creating new supply chains for crucial commodities can take decades, he said.

Trans-Atlantic relations with the United States have reached “a new quality and level with President (Joe) Biden that we couldn’t wish to be better,” the chancellor added. “This is of greatest important for security in Europe and our security.”

The government said it will also produce a strategy to increase Germany’s ability to counter hybrid threats, which would entail strengthening the analytical capacities of its intelligence services.

However, the idea of creating a National Security Council, akin to those in the United States and Britain, was shelved.

The government also resisted calls for Germany’s military spending to go above the NATO-wide goal of 2% of gross domestic product.

Opposition leader Friedrich Merz said the new security strategy was “anemic in terms of substance, strategically irrelevant, without operational consequences” and had been drawn up without consultation with Germany’s allies.

“It has no value, no substance, no significance. … It is a big disappointment,” he said.

Another top opposition politician, Alexander Dobrindt, complained that the strategy had the wrong priorities.

“Just as an example, it contains the word ‘climate’ 71 times and the word ‘China’ six times,” he said.

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