DGAP: Recommendations and action plans for a new German foreign policy: „Smart sovereignity“-its realities and narratives
The German Society for Foreign Policy/Gesellschaft für Deutsche Außenpolitik (DGAP), in addition to the Foundation for Science and Politics/Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) , the largest and most influential German think tank for foreign and security policy, has published a strategy paper that has formulated recommendations for action for the coming German government.
The next federal government should initiate a turn to a more offensive, risk-taking foreign policy and create “social acceptance” for it. This is what a group of experts, coordinated by the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP), calls for over a period of ten months in a strategy paper that has just been published. International politics will be dominated by the “power struggle between the US and China” for the foreseeable future, the paper says; “Vulnerability” has “become normal”: “The boundaries between war and peace are blurring.” The Federal Republic has lost influence over the past few years; The goal must now be „to prevent another strategic déclassement“. The DGAP paper lists the internal quarrels in the EU and the escalating crises beyond the EU’s external borders as examples of the loss of influence. In the future, Berlin must be ready to “make decisions even under great uncertainty”. Important impulses for the paper came from ministries and politicians from the Christian Union, SPD and the Grenn Party. „
he strategy paper with the title “Smart Sovereignty” was created in a process that started at the end of 2020 and lasted around ten months by an expert group as part of the “Ideas Workshop on German Foreign Policy”, a project of the DGAP (German Society for Foreign Policy). It contains ten “action plans” which are explicitly declared as “recommendations for action to the next federal government” and which not only propose goals for German foreign policy, but also instruments and alliances with which they are to be achieved. The expert group met under the chairmanship of DGAP Research Director Christian Möller and the former (until April 2021) DGAP Director Daniela Schwarzer; Several university professors and specialists from various think tanks from Europe and the USA worked together in it. The work of the expert group was accompanied by a “Policy Board” which, as it is called, provided “important food for thought”. His members included the head of the foreign policy department in the Federal President’s Office, Thomas Bagger, the head of the management staff in the Federal Ministry of Defense, Nico Lange, and politicians from the CDU / CSU, SPD and Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen. The project was funded by the Mercator Foundation.
As the expert group states in its strategy paper, “the power struggle between the USA and China … will remain the most important international development for the foreseeable future”. China, but also other states such as Russia, set up “their own, mostly regional regulatory structures that allow them to maintain and increase their power,” the paper says. At the same time it is evident that numerous other states – “including Germany – are losing their creative power”. This process should now be stopped. “The aim is to prevent another strategic déclassement”, explain the authors: “Germany should not have to take on the goals of others in central areas, but should enable itself to define and implement its own goals.” To this end, the future federal government must “use the increasingly limited power resources in a targeted manner in such a way that it prevents any further loss of leeway and influence”. “New options for action should be opened up through cooperation”. The DGAP group of experts describes the method of securing one’s own global influence not as a classically sovereign nation state, but in – quite changing – alliance constellations as “smart sovereignty”.
The authors of the DGAP strategy paper initially indicate two specific areas in which German foreign policy has suffered serious setbacks in recent years. For the group of experts there is absolutely no question that the Federal Republic of Germany is dependent on the weight that the EU gives it in international politics. However, “Europe’s ability to act externally … is directly linked to the ability to act internally”. “Cohesion in the EU” has “decreased in the past few years”: “Inside the EU there is not only fighting for economic cohesion, but also for the rule of law and liberal democracy.” Because of the ongoing conflicts – not only – with Poland and Hungary, the next federal government must “strengthen cohesion in the EU”; „Both divergent constitutional standards and hurdles in foreign and security policy decision-making“ should be on their agenda, says the DGAP paper. The EU has already been “weakened” by Brexit. In fact, apart from the immediate weakening of the EU by Brexit, the AUKUS Pact, which damages France and with it the EU, could hardly have been concluded without the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU.
In addition, Berlin’s efforts to create a safe buffer zone of stable, cooperative states around the EU have failed. Eight years ago, a strategy paper published on the occasion of a federal election (“New Power, New Responsibility” demanded that German foreign and military policy should “primarily” focus on this “Increasingly unstable European environment from North Africa across the Middle East to Central Asia”. On the other hand, the DGAP expert group now states: „The arc of conflict that extends from east to south around the EU has expanded and intensified in a very short time.“ The “number of crises which today or in the foreseeable future question the European way of life and security” has “increased”. In addition, „many states in the immediate vicinity of the EU … are increasingly dependent on Russia, China or Turkey“. This is the case in more and more countries in North Africa , the Middle East  and even Southeast Europe . “As a result, Germany is losing more and more room for maneuver nationally and internationally,” says the strategy paper.
The expert group coordinated by the DGAP urges “courageous political innovations” and judges that the upcoming coalition negotiations offer “a chance” to “prepare the way for them”. “Vulnerability” has “become normal”, says the strategy paper; “Sectoral and cross-border shocks” would “not be avoidable” in the future: “The lines between war and peace are blurring.” The Federal Republic must therefore “move away from a reactive ad hoc policy”, which is concerned with “limiting damage”, towards a “proactive policy”. This means “also a willingness to share risk and the ability to make decisions even under great uncertainty”. However, this can only succeed if “there is social acceptance for it”. Therefore, it is “one of the greatest tasks of the next few years to promote an active German foreign policy among the citizens, civil society and business” and to defend it “against attacks”. The new “active” foreign policy must be “defended” not only against “attacks from … outside”, it says in the strategy paper, but also against “attacks from within”.
Further suggestions, especially for “internal formation” read something like General Ludendorf’s “The total war” or recall Xi Jinping’s “protracted war” on all levels of society, an internal mobilization from the media to municipalities, including a National Security Council or an increased social debate about foreign and security policy, which is nowadays rather marginal and rather limited to the usual suspicious insider circles and indeed makes sense.
The expert group takes up demands that have been put forward for some time, including the establishment of a kind of National Security Council and the establishment of an EU intervention force (“European Joint Force”). Particular attention is paid to digital technologies, which are categorized as a “decisive factor” for economic strength. The DGAP strategy paper for China policy calls for a radical change. Plans for a comprehensive propaganda formation of civil society play an important role. For example, a “rating agency” is to be created that “evaluates” the media for alleged “factual accuracy of reporting”. One of the measures proposed by the expert group is first of all the establishment of special structures and processes that should make it possible to “become more capable of acting” in the future, even in the event of “parallel, multi-layered crises”.
In particular, the Federal Security Council, which currently has to approve arms exports, “is to be upgraded to the central foreign policy coordination framework of the federal government”. This corresponds to the demand for the establishment of a National Security Council, which has been put forward again and again for years. The Federal Security Council is to be formed from a “Cabinet Committee” and a “Secretariat”, which in turn will bring together officials and experts. It is said that at the beginning of each legislative period it must present a “foreign and security policy strategy” and “accompany its implementation”. In addition, the group of experts advocates making “an annual report” before the German Bundestag “on the‘ situation in Germany and the world ‚”compulsory. Last but not least, new “occasions for involving civil society” would have to be created – for example “in the form of an annual national security week of the Bundestag”.
In addition, the authors of the DGAP strategy paper propose specific measures for arming and preparing society for further crises and wars. The reasons given are “dangers and threats to Germany’s security”, the first of which the paper lists “China’s global dominance strategy” and “Russia’s territorial revisionism”, as well as “wars, crises and internal conflicts” not just outside the EU -External borders, but also “in Europe itself” (Ukraine, Eastern Mediterranean). The authors advocate not only “enabling a qualitative leap in the dovetailing of the EU and NATO”, but also building a new military unit (“European Joint Force”, “EFJ”). This should – as a “visible political, military and technological focal point” – “provide 50 percent of the conventional capabilities required for collective defense in Europe and military crisis management”. In order to make society crisis-proof, possibly even war-proof, “regular exercises and simulation games should be held at all levels (federal, state, local) and with all actors (civil, military, state, private)”. For “institutions that are classified as critical”, a “regular stress and functionality test” is planned.
The strategy paper pays special attention to a field that is becoming increasingly important for global power struggles – technologies. Technologies, “especially in the digital area”, are today, according to the paper, not only “drivers of innovation”, but even “the decisive indicator for (future) competitiveness, economic strength and resilience”. Everything must be done to strengthen the development of own technologies in Germany and the EU. This applies not least because “digital technologies … also play an important role for security authorities and the military”. The expert group warns that the matter is extremely sensitive. For example, “building up one’s own technological capabilities that reduce dependency on US companies is … not realistic in the short term” and is also “associated with high risks and costs”. An attempt, in turn, to “define a separate path between the USA and China together with European partners” will “make Germany and the EU permanently the playing field for the confrontation between Chinese and American interests”. “A closer alliance with the USA in the technology sector” but “inevitably leads to sharper confrontations with China”.
The Berlin expert group is calling for a radical change of course vis-à-vis Beijing. „The new federal government should fundamentally change Germany’s China policy,“ says the strategy paper; Otherwise the Federal Republic threatens on the one hand to become “from an innovator to a market for Chinese future technologies”, but on the other hand it also threatens to “lose its importance for a central ally, the USA”. In future, China policy must “be dealt with in the expanded Federal Security Council,” demand the authors; “Before each meeting, the specialist departments of the respective ministries should consult”. In the EU, a “China pioneer group” should define a common approach; Beyond Europe, on the other hand, Berlin must coordinate with “like-minded people”. „Like-minded“ acts primarily as a cover word for rivals of the People’s Republic (Japan, Australia, India). The DGAP strategy paper also provides for a comprehensive propaganda formation of civil society for the conflict with China. For example, “China information exchanges” are to be created, which “develop targeted information, advice and educational offers for different social groups” – from municipal administrations that are confronted with Chinese investment offers ”to schools. The propaganda offensive should also contain “an information offer” for “Chinese abroad” – “for example [for] students”.
Finally, the DGAP strategy paper attaches great importance to the internal formation of society, which is described under the keyword “resilience”. It is primarily about measures that are intended to fend off “targeted disinformation and propaganda campaigns”. What counts as such a “campaign” depends on the point of view of the defining person or institution. The authors of the strategy paper propose, for example, to create a “non-governmental rating agency” which – “based on criteria such as factual accuracy of the reporting” ”- carries out an“ evaluation of the media offerings ”. “Such an agency”, it is said, must of course “avoid the impression” of acting as Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth”; it should therefore be “independent of the state”. The federal government should, however, “increasingly use the possibilities and reach of social networks in the future” – of course only “in order to provide the citizens with trustworthy content”. Last but not least, „a structure comparable to the EU East StratCom“ could be created in Germany, the aim of which was to „uncover and combat foreign disinformation and propaganda“. The East StratCom Task Force has the task of exposing and combating alleged “Russian propaganda”. In the past she has already classified criticism of the EU as “disinformation” that must be vigorously defended against.
The group of experts has drawn up a total of ten “action plans” in which they outline the central principles for future German foreign policy. It can be assumed that the DGAP strategy paper will have some influence, especially since it also draws on preparatory work by the Christian Union, the SPD and the Greens, as well as in cooperation with the Mercator Institute, which is likely to be very influential in the recommendations for action against China Despite the somewhat martial drum of war, there are also thoughts worth considering. E.g. inclusion of the Western Balkans in the EU internal market, creation of a Southeast European economic community without immediate political EU membership. As a 2-step model- Macron and France could probably live with that too.
However, it is not enough to use catch phrases as „global“ or „smart“ or „souvereignty“ , „new cohesion“and other labels on a new suppopsed strategy, if the realities don´t fit to the slogans and narratives. Especially if Ben Hodges says that it is also a question of narratives , but thinks there could be one narrative, while General MItchell thinks each country has to formulate its own narrative. The reality is, that both are right and wrong in their own way. There won´t be the old narrative of globalization, freedom, human rights, etc. for all or a spliited narrative for each nation will also have no effect and lead to no new cohesion. That is binary thinking: The West should have a minimal consensus of a narrative, but not that dogmatic that it leaves no space for other interpretations and local adaptions. And the most powerful narrative and hard core of the opponents like China and Russia is not spreading some fake news, but the real hypocracy of Western double standards and the own history of support for human right violations, Islamism, .globalization, neoliberalism,, wars of aggression, etc. which made the populism and neoautotarism and neototalirism in Russia and China , but aslo with Trumpism and his international followers possible.
Maybe the new narrative is: The West due to its hybris at the time of globalization fever made an imperial overstretch which brought suffering to the wolrd, we apologize for it and want to learn from it and prevent that the next imperial overstretch is that of a Chinese or Russian hybris that will harm most parts of the world.
However for such a narrative it is not enough to offer apoplogies and protection, but it much more important that you offer soemthing like the Chinese New Silkoroad or new free trade agreements-common global goods. As the latter is not possible at the moment due to US neo protectionism and nobody wants the old free trade agreements anymore neither in the USA or Europe as it was a material loss for most parts of the middle and working class in the name of global freedom and neoliberalism and created Trumpism and Sanderism, while China is manyfold in all directions and free trade agreements , the new narrative is also about offering global common goods from infrastructure to vaccanization which the Biden administration already realizises in some parts. China is acting by its United Front, its declaratiion of new free trade agreemnets and that after the RCEP it wants to become another free trade nation within the TPP successor, builds its military muscle and pushes its New Silkroad and vacanization programs. Beyond the free trade agreements, Biden already reacted. The main question will be if the US and the West can mobilize financial resources for a Western New Silkroad in Eurasia and Africa.and overcome the ideology that this contires are all “shithioles” and that the USA and Europe should only invest in itself.
Global Review will soon take a closer look at the entire study and its 10 action plans. The DGAP report can be read and downloaded from: