08 April 2022

A National Peace and Security Strategy after the “Turning Point”

Military or Human Security?

On 18 March 2022, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock launched the process of developing a national security strategy. In her speech entitled “The Security of the Freedom of Our Lives”, she made repeated use of terms such as human security and the extended concept of security. At the same time, the “historic turning point” alluded to by Chancellor Scholz marks a movement towards a militarised security policy. Do these developments fit together, and what are the right answers to the security policy issues of this century? In addition to military conflicts and wars, these issues also include the climate crisis and pandemics. Last but not least, the Foreign Minister has repeatedly emphasised that “every tenth of a degree reduction in global warming is a contribution to human security”. Looking at the developments in recent years shows that a purely military response without an overall concept certainly cannot be the right answer. In this article I will be arguing that military armament has been happening not just since the so-called “turning point” and that the mistakes made by the previous government are being covered up as a result. Ultimately, a better equipped Bundeswehr alone cannot lead to sustainable peace. The concept of human security and a national security strategy raised by the Foreign Minister must not be based on a purely militarised concept of security. The Federal Government ought to align its actions accordingly.

The speech on the “historic turning point” – militarisation as an impulsive Eurocentric reaction?

In his speech before the Bundestag on 27 February 2022, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) spoke of the fact that we are experiencing a “turning point in the history of our continent”. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, we in Europe could no longer rely on compliance with the basic rules of international law. In response to this turning point – as heralded by Russia’s aggression – much more needs to be invested in the security of our country in order to protect our freedom, our democracy and our prosperity. According to Scholz, the yardstick for this should be that Germany must do everything that is in its power and that is necessary in order to secure Europe. To do so, the Bundeswehr needs new, powerful capabilities.

The German government’s initial reaction to Russia’s war of aggression is understandable in foreign political terms. In adopting an armament response, Chancellor Scholz is following the supposedly justified logic that military deterrence stands for improved defence capabilities. The economic plans are still missing, and with them the details of the planned armament programme. However, it is already certain from the draft bill that a special fund of 100 billion euros is to be created for the Bundeswehr. Among other things, the stealth fighter aircraft F‑35, made by the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin, is to be purchased, an aircraft that is certified to deliver nuclear weapons. According to the draft bill, the money in the special fund is tied to the purpose of alliance solidarity and defence capabilities.

The European “Strategic Compass”

Parallel to the German “turning point”, the so-called “Zeitenwende”, the “Strategic Compass” was published at a European level at the end of March, which is meant to replace the “Global Strategy” of 2016. Although the paper recognises the concept of “human security” as a guiding principle, it is strongly military in its orientation, also in the context of climate protection and energy security. This is demonstrated by the following examples:

  • The Strategic Compass envisages expanding the EU Battlegroup concept with 1500 troops that was created in 2007, to an EU Rapid Deployment capacity of up to 5000 troops.
  • The European Peace Facility (EPF) is to be reinforced, i.e. a mechanism for financing Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) measures that cannot be paid for from the EU budget because of their defence implications. Among other things, the Peace Facility supports operations with military implications and the armies of EU partners.
  • Climate change also plays an important role in security policy discussions. However, in the context of the Strategic Compass, there is a lack of concrete proposals for action with regard to preventing conflicts in times of climate crisis. The proposed measures for saving energy and reducing emissions laid out in its own Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions, as well as supporting disaster responses and humanitarian aid following climate disasters, are not able to resolve the global challenges.
  • Furthermore, the pilot project of the Coordinated Maritime Presences concept (CMP) in the Gulf of Guinea, launched by the Council of the European Union in January 2021,1) has been extended. This is not a structured EU military mission, but rather coordinates the military operations of the member states in the Gulf of Guinea – one of the most dangerous regions in the world for pirate attacks, but also a “hotspot of climate change and insecurity”, as a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) highlights. In 2021, the European External Action Service recalled that the Gulf of Guinea is “an important shipping zone transporting oil and gas”.
  • Last but not least, the “Strategic Compass” lists cooperating with NATO ahead of the partnership with the UN or the OSCE.

All these are above all defence policy measures, leading to an increasingly military European security policy.

German defensive capabilities

There is therefore a strong tendency to focus more on military security and strength on the national and European level – while obscuring the fact by using terms such as “peace facility”. On the one hand, is this really new? And on the other hand, is it really the appropriate response to the so-called turning point described by Olaf Scholz? That is doubtful, because focusing on more defence policy initiatives at the European level and a well-equipped Bundeswehr alone will by no means secure peace in Europe – let alone our democracy and our freedom in Europe. Investing solely in “defensive capabilities” or alliance solidarity is neither an appropriate response to the actions of the previous federal government, made up of the CDU and SPD, in terms of foreign, security and peace policy issues, nor an answer to the criticism of the lack of strategic foreign policy of the last federal government or its military restraint. There was simply no clear basic concept for the Bundeswehr. After the Bundeswehr had been turned in the 1990s into an army for overseas missions, such as those in Afghanistan or Mali, it is now supposed to be used also for national and alliance defence purposes once again, following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The existing shortage of materiel for the latter is also to some extent due to the fact that previous federal governments set other priorities rather than to cost-cutting measures aimed at the Bundeswehr.

In addition, the procurement system of the Bundeswehr is dysfunctional – there have been years in which the funds approved by the Bundestag have not even been spent. According to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, freedom, democracy and prosperity are now to be safeguarded and defended by investing 100 billion euros and acquiring nuclear weapons delivery systems and combat drones. So far, however, all this has been done without first presenting the promised national security strategy and thus without an adequate analysis of what is really needed in order to confront the autocrats of this century. According to a recent study by the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC), the European NATO states (excluding the USA and Canada in 2020) spent almost five times as much on defence as Russia. This would make the planned 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr a waste of resources at the current time.

The Bundeswehr does not need more money

Massive armament efforts are not new. Even today, before the “historic turning point”, the Bundeswehr already has the seventh largest military budget in the world. Over the past seven years, the Bundeswehr’s budget has increased by around 50 percent, from 32 billion euros (2014) to 47 billion euros (2021). The fact that Germany has pursued a military focus in its foreign and security policy is also reflected in its arms export policy to date. Over the past 30 years, the arms export policies of German governments have helped destabilise countries. Germany approved the export of weapons and armaments to countries at war and in crisis, to nations with human rights violations and to regions of political tension. Joint ventures were established to supply German arms technology to countries and regions prone to conflict and tension. It is precisely there that German arms exports are helping to boost the armament dynamics and thereby increasing the risk of existing conflicts escalating and turning violent. In September 2014, for example, police in Mexico used G-36 assault rifles supplied by Germany to violently crack down on student protests, shooting and killing numerous students. According to SIPRI data, Germany was the most important supplier of armaments to Brazil between 2006 and 2019, ahead of the USA and Russia (all details can be found in the study by Greenpeace and the Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research: German Arms Exports all over the World, 2019, see here). A militarised security policy and continuous armament will exacerbate military imbalances and aggravate conflicts at the regional or global level (see similar Guidelines of the Federal Government: Preventing crises, managing conflicts, promoting peace, 2017, p 88; White Paper, 2016, p 40).

Is there any reason to hope for a new security policy?

The so-called “traffic light” coalition must not miss the opportunity of realigning its foreign and security policy. The coalition agreement contains concrete points of reference: it states that three percent of the gross domestic product are to be spent on defence, international affairs and development assistance. This three-percent block is also meant to include funds for “international climate finance”. It seems there has been no agreement so far as to exact distribution of the funds or the speed with which this budget is to be expanded. However, the Scholz government could set concrete accents here. Because if this three-percent block led to the defence budget being reduced to one percent while increasing spending on climate, development assistance and diplomacy, then that would give hope for the implementation of the concept of human security – a concept that is not only found in various strategy papers issued by previous federal governments, but that was also recently picked up by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in her opening speech on the National Security Strategy (Guidelines of the Federal Government: Preventing crises, managing conflicts, promoting peace, 2017, p. 83; White Paper 2016, p. 62). In times of climate crisis and a pandemic, all government measures must be based on the concept of human security.

Thinking and implementing the security of people for people

This concept of human security can counteract the military imbalance mentioned above and be conceived as a response to the various forms of insecurity (see UN GA Resolution 66/290). The idea is that areas such as human rights, peacekeeping, human development and conflict prevention should be thought of together. This means that governments need to address the root causes of threats and it draws attention to emerging risks such as climate change, poverty and discrimination. The focus lies on preventive measures. In order to secure peace, the needs of the people must be put first, not those of the state. This also includes an intact environment. A sustainable security policy focusing on human security must therefore focus first and foremost on empowering the civilian population, strengthening rule-of-law structures, measures against the climate crisis and global pandemics, as well as diplomatic cooperation.

The coalition agreement does not have much to say about peacekeeping: the coalition between SPD, Greens and FDP only promises a national security strategy. As the head of the ministry responsible, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made a lot of promises in her  speech launching the process of developing this national security strategy. The Foreign Minister is committed to the special fund and the defensive capabilities of the Bundeswehr. She does not turn her back on nuclear deterrence and supports strengthening the European defence industry. However, she acknowledges that implementing these decisions is closely linked to the question of how we need to think about security for the future. Securing livelihoods is important and there can be no security if the consequences of climate change, poverty, hunger and lack of prosperity lead to suffering. She therefore establishes important links to the concept of human security. However, there are no concrete proposals for its implementation. Furthermore, the climate crisis is said to be the main security policy issue of our time and investments need to be shifted from fossil fuels towards renewable and efficient energies. She says that there must be no dependence in economic and energy relations, especially with autocratic states.

The Foreign Minister’s speech contains many important clues, but must nevertheless be seen in the context of the current actions of the Federal Government. Whose security is at stake here? If an important next step were to end deals with autocratic regimes that are harmful to the climate, then the question arises as to why the Minister of Economic Affairs, Robert Habeck, is seeking long-term relations with Qatar. The question then arises why the Federal Government has decided to set up a special fund for the Bundeswehr worth 100 billion euros when, according to the Foreign Minister, a broad commitment is needed for the security of all of us, and foreign and security policy instruments need to be adjusted in the light of our times. Until now, there has been no precise analysis of what is needed to make the Bundeswehr capable of acting, or how the livelihoods of people affected by the climate crisis, especially outside Europe, can be improved – a climate crisis that was caused also by Germany. Germany must take responsibility for this by implementing concrete measures. These measures need to be specifically identified in a national security strategy and must not remain vague declarations of intent. A sustainable national security strategy that links real global challenges with national concerns must include climate protection and peace aspects and should also be described as such and receive the same funding.

Why only the broad involvement of civil society can ensure sustainable security in Europe

We live in a century in which peace policy must be considered together with climate protection, resource protection, social and global justice as well as security within and outside Europe. So when Minister Baerbock speaks of security for us, the first step should be to involve civil society in developing and implementing the national security strategy on an on-going basis. So when Minister Baerbock speaks of security for us, security outside Europe must not be ignored. We need actors who understand the connection between the security of people outside Europe and a national peace and security strategy. And there are a number of them in Germany and Europe. After all, where would we be today without PeaceLab, without Bündnis 1325, without the platform for civilian crisis prevention and other critical think tanks? Would the guidelines for civilian crisis prevention, a national action plan for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325, the Supply Chain Act or the conviction of high-ranking Syrian war criminals in Germany actually exist? The fact that there is now a process for an arms export control law is due not least to pressure exerted by civil society. And if the government had listened to voices in civil society, Nordstream 2 would probably not have existed after the annexation of Crimea and Germany would have become independent of Russian gas earlier.

Civil society in Germany has achieved a great deal. However, it is now also up to the new Federal Government to give these voices a platform and to actively involve them. By forming a peace and security council, for example, that not only contributes military expertise, but also civil society knowhow. Such a body could formulate an arms export law with a right enabling civil society organizations to initiate lawsuits, propose a ban on the import of fossil fuels from conflict regions as quickly as possible and focus on aspects of social development in bilateral development assistance – and not rely solely on encouraging investment. Concrete recommendations for action are needed as to what German security policy could look like in terms of human security. These must be developed together with civil society within the framework of the national security strategy.

Doing so will not allow us to undo Russia’s war of aggression. But we can thereby augment the one-dimensional military answer to the security question by adding, among other things, the aspects of climate, energy and human rights policy. So as to prevent the next war.


1 The purpose of the Coordinated Maritime Presence mechanism is to improve the EU’s capacity as a dependable partner and provider of maritime security, to enable increased operational engagement by Europe, to ensure a permanent maritime presence and reach in the maritime areas of interest identified by the Council, and to promote international cooperation and partnership at sea.