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One year on: Rethinking Germany’s defence and foreign policy

Article by Dr Ed Turner

February 24, 2023

One year on: Rethinking Germany’s defence and foreign policy

For anyone interested in contemporary Germany, the war in Ukraine has had a huge impact.


First and foremost, Germany has had to rethink some fundamental tenets of its post-war foreign policy: a sense that prioritising peace in Europe meant prioritising peace with Russia no longer worked, and the idea that change could be achieved by trading with Russia has also been comprehensively discredited (posing some difficult questions for Germany’s policy towards China, too). 


Germany has shown a willingness to send heavy weapons to Ukraine – it has exported arms in the past, but not with the expectation of them being used against Russia. The German-favoured division of labour amongst NATO members, where Germany was more engaged in diplomacy and economic support for nations in conflict rather than tasked with a harder military edge, has come to an end. 


There remains debate, however, about the extent to which Germany has really had a rethink: the domestic opposition, and countries to Germany’s east, are sceptical about the extent to which the country has lived up to the expectations raised by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s “watershed moment” (Zeitenwende) speech in the federal parliament after war broke out.


The crisis has also posed other challenges: to Germany’s economic model, arguably dependent upon cheap energy supplies from Russia; and on domestic political cohesion and indeed on keeping the ruling coalition together (with Scholz’s SPD more cautious towards Russia than his partners in the liberals and Greens). Lastly in the sphere of public opinion, the old divide between eastern and western Germany has been exacerbated, with easterners more sceptical about supporting Ukraine than their counterparts in the west.

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