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Analysis by Marina Henke: The German security strategy is fooling citizens

In a guest article published this week in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Professor of International Relations and Director of the Centre for International Security lays out her perspective on Germany's new National Security Strategy. 

The article, originally published in German, is reproduced here in English with permission from FAZ.

To dive more deeply into what a German grand strategy should look like, watch Henke's recent interview on RHI Contexte - 'Is Germany missing a grand strategy?' (in German). 


Wish list without priorities: 

The security strategy is fooling citizens

Prosperity and security, economic interests and value policy: Germany's first National Security Strategy promises too much. On window dressing and other mistakes - a guest article.


Germany has taken the plunge and developed a national security strategy - a process that is already routine for other G7 countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and even Japan and Canada.

National security strategies are among the most complicated undertakings of any government: the highest form of statecraft. At its core, a national security strategy involves thinking through in detail how a state can most efficiently use all the tools at its disposal - military, economic, diplomatic, technological, cultural - to ensure the security of its people.

In this thought process, a state must address the following questions: What is the world we want to build for future generations? Which challenges could prevent us from achieving our declared goals? What political, economic, social, or psychological drivers foster potential threats? What resources can and should we deploy to address these challenges? States that incorporate these scenarios into their national security strategy are not only responding to crises, but actively shaping global politics.

There are just not enough resources

Studies show that a good strategy combines three elements above all. First, prioritizing; second, systematically thinking about threats and analyzing what drives those threats; and, third, developing countermeasures based on a deep understanding of one's own strengths and weaknesses, also taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of antagonists.

Unfortunately, the first security strategy in German history has some major shortcomings on these points. First and foremost, the security strategy is not really a "strategy," but rather a wish list of goals that Germany is striving for: security, democracy, prosperity, limiting the climate crisis, a strong Europe, and a close relationship with the United States. The German national strategy ignores the fact that it will inevitably have to make compromises. A strategy is necessary precisely because there are not enough resources to achieve all the goals. One must prioritize: what is important, what is not?

If we want to feel safe in Germany, there is a price to pay: less social spending, cuts in climate protection, and so on. Cheap Russian gas has subsidized the German economy for decades, but Germany has also made itself dependent on Russia and vulnerable. The consequences of this strategic compromise, which was agreed upon by the governing coalitions of the last decades, however, have hardly been discussed in public. This explains, at least in part, the current backlash from citizens who are watching rising energy prices in disbelief.

The same error as before

The new German security strategy makes the same mistake. German citizens are promised that everything is possible: prosperity and security, interests and value politics. The result: an ever-increasing lack of understanding as soon as reality sets in. When it becomes clear: Germany cannot have it all.

The German strategy also fails to describe the causes of the threats and to derive appropriate measures from them. For example, it is not enough to portray Russia as a threat; Germany must also ask: Why does Russia act as it does? Only such an analysis allows sustainable proposals for action to be made.

At this point, reference should be made to George Kennan, probably the most famous American security strategist. Kennan succeeded in 1946 in analyzing in detail why the Soviet Union acted as it did. He found that the Soviet regime needed a justification for oppressing its people. The capitalist West was a perfect scapegoat for this.

Friendly relations with the USSR would thus have been futile. The United States could best achieve its goals by setting clear limits to the Soviet sphere of influence. From this, Kennan derived the future American security strategy: the containment strategy. However, a similar thought process is only reflected in a very limited way in the German document.

What is needed now is a public discussion of the weaknesses - and admittedly also the strengths - of Germany's first security strategy.

Strategy development is a science: There is research that allows us to distinguish good from bad strategies and that provides insights on how to develop and implement them. Research in this area needs to be revived at German universities. The more challenging the circumstances, the more value Germany should place on the intellectual work involved in developing a meaningful security strategy.

Read the original article in German here

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More about the expert

  • Marina Henke, Professor of International Relations | Director, Centre for International Security