Der Spiegel reports on a change in German foreign policy thanks to the new Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier:
Steinmeier doesn’t want to push Germany into foreign military adventures. But he, like von der Leyen, has realized the damage Westerwelle did with speeches calling for a “policy of military restraint.”
Westerwelle’s stance was in keeping with the passive role West Germany played during the Cold War, before Germany attained full sovereignty with unification. Although his position was mainly motivated by domestic politics, it went along with a veiled accusation that London, Paris and Washington were too trigger-happy. And Germany’s partners didn’t appreciate that. Germany gained a reputation as a moralistic nation keen to wag its finger, but unwilling to get involved when things got dangerous.
It appears that a decade of other Westerners’ attempts to make Germans feel bad that they didn’t want to attack other countries is finally starting to have some effect. Germany’s unwillingness to participate in unnecessary foreign wars, and its opposition to them, has been one of the best things about German foreign policy in this century. The fact that other Western governments have been urging it to go in a more aggressive direction has been ridiculous. It is unfortunate that Germany feels compelled to change its position because its allies cannot seem to keep themselves out of one conflict after another. It is even more regrettable that Germany finds itself being dragged by France into supporting a more interventionist foreign policy, since France’s activism abroad makes it and Britain the clear outliers in Europe.
It would be one thing if Germany were shirking its obligations to defend its European allies, but that isn’t what has been happening. In every case over the last ten years, Germany has found itself opposing various wars of choice that its American and European allies wanted to fight, and somehow it is Germany that has been faulted for not wanting to go along. A typical criticism of this position is that the German government is too sensitive to public opinion, but surely it is better to err on the side of paying too much attention to the electorate than flatly ignoring and bypassing them as many Syria hawks wished that the U.S. and U.K. had done. Even if it keeps irritating other Western governments, Merkel would be well-advised to continue a policy of restraint.