28 March 2022

A Strategic Culture Must be Part of the National Security Strategy

Russia’s illegal war of aggression has resulted in the outbreak of a war that was already being waged in the form of a hybrid war for years. All of the diplomatic efforts in recent years, such as the Normandy Format, the Minsk Agreement, and thus diplomacy as a whole, have failed. Even the diplomatic marathon in different formats and with different interlocutors could not stop Putin from his long-envisioned and well-orchestrated plan to, through the force of the strongest, conquer a Russian empire with the use of weapons. International organisations and institutions are reaching the limits of their effectiveness.

Diplomacy in crisis

Recently, diplomacy as a whole has been in crisis. In Syria, Yemen, Israel and in many other conflicts including now in Ukraine, diplomacy has not been able to permanently resolve crises and instead usually assumes a mere moderating role. Diplomacy of course accompanied these conflicts, but it was not capable of containing or resolving them. Now and then, negotiations have been successful, but often important decision-making bodies are blocked. This is due to members of the UN Security Council themselves being conflict parties or for reasons pertaining to diplomatic structures and institutions such as majority decisions in the EU not being achieved or proceeding too slowly. If international or supranational institutions do not present a united front, they lose credibility.

The realities of security policy have also made new approaches to diplomacy necessary. For example, in Afghanistan, after the failed withdrawal, one was forced to negotiate with the Taliban about escape corridors.

The failure of diplomacy in Ukraine

The erosion of the rules-based international order in Europe began in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine, both of which were in violation of international law. This was an attack on the very heart of any state: sovereignty and territorial integrity. Both were promised to Ukraine, at that time the third largest nuclear power, in 1994 by Russia in the Budapest Memorandum in return for Ukraine´s surrender of its nuclear weapons.

The Minsk Agreement, agreed upon in the Normandy Format after 2014, was subsequently seen not as an agreement between equals but as a triumph for Putin. Russia soon sent separatist leaders to the negotiating table, making further talks and negotiations unacceptable for the Ukrainian side.

In October 2021, when the largest troop deployment since the end of World War II became apparent, the EU continued to hesitate. Massive troop deployments had already been registered in the summer. European states, however, were preoccupied with upcoming elections, internal problems and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus lay on internal affairs; a comprehensive global perspective was missing. It was not until January 2022 that the diplomatic marathon began in various formats: Normandy, OSCE, NATO-Russia Council, bilateral talks, Weimar Triangle. However, by then Putin’s decision to invade had long been made. With the war of aggression which began on the 24th of February, Russia entirely abandoned the international rules-based order.

Soft, Hard and Smart Power

In international relations, a distinction is made between soft power and hard power approaches. Hard power describes military capabilities and economic strength as well as independence, e.g., to employ sanctions. In addition to conventional capabilities, military deterrence also includes the capability of nuclear escalation or the use of nuclear deterrence to assert interests. Soft power, on the other hand, is understood to be the assertion of interests through persuasion, clever diplomacy, development cooperation, value commitment, and involvement in international institutions. Smart power is often referred to as the combination of hard power and soft power strategies. It is seen as an approach which emphasises the need for a strong military, but invests equally in alliances, partnerships, civil society and institutions at all levels in order to expand one’s influence and establish the legitimacy of one’s actions.

The West’s purely diplomatic and soft power approach has failed. Liberal value-based and rules-based policy approaches do not match with autocracies like Russia or China, which rely on hard and smart power.

Diplomacy without hard power

In September 2021, the EU Parliament adopted a recommendation on the orientation of relations with Russia. Among other things, it named Russia as an aggressor and pointed out the increase in authoritarian tendencies, manifested through disinformation, cyber-attacks, killings and attacks such as the poisoning of Nawalny. The EU Parliament went further by calling for the preparation of an exclusion from the SWIFT system, the independence of European gas supply, and the strengthening of defence capabilities, all of which represent very strategically thought-out points.

However, these approaches have only been partially implemented by EU governments so far. Even Germany, which has been put in a special position due to its unilateral dependence on Russia caused by the states’ economic relations, did not fulfil its pivotal function.

In May 2021, the European Council condemned Russia’s actions, but left it at verbal condemnation without substantially underpinning this with hard power approaches. In Germany and other EU states, the idea that economic interdependence can lead to political rapprochement and trust still prevailed: “Change through trade“. In the diplomatic marathon, the focus was on soft power until the end. A turning point in security policy regarding relations with Russia should have taken place much earlier! “Change through trade” has only led to increased German weakness through dependence.

The soft sanctions and diplomatic attempts after the Crimean crisis in 2014 were perceived by Russia as weakness on the part of the West which encouraged it to take further steps. Russia, like other autocratic states that systemically oppose the international rule-based order, only understands the language of strength: it thinks in terms of hard and smart power approaches.

Insofar, in retrospect it was a strategic mistake to reject NATO’s MAP (Membership Action Plan) for Georgia and Ukraine in 2008. It was primarily France and Germany that opposed the accession of Ukraine and Georgia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned at that time against unnecessarily irritating Russia and risking the destabilisation of Eastern Europe.

If Ukraine were a member of the EU or NATO today, Putin’s calculations would have changed significantly, and Ukraine would presumably not be the venue for a Russian war in and with Europe. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine’s application for NATO membership was rejected once again. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, when asked whether he would find Ukraine’s NATO accession helpful, replied: “You should be careful not to add fuel to the fire with certain decisions.

In the end, Putin pushed through his interests with hard power, annexed Crimea, and, apart from a few weak sanctions, suffered no consequences for this breach of international law. After 2014, Ukraine only received military aid from the USA, France and Poland, while Germany continued to pursue Nord Stream 2, which was fatal from the perspective of security policy. By creating energy dependencies, Russia’s hard power (the potential for blackmail by using energy as a weapon) was simultaneously strengthened and Germany’s own hard power (the possibility of sanctions) weakened.

The past neglect of smart and hard power, as well as Germany’s naivety in security policy, make the new announcement of a “turning point” more necessary than ever.

A turning point in security policy

The handling and development of the war in Ukraine will be a test of the effectiveness of  Germany’s role in the EU and the world. The most important part of the turning point must be a return to Realpolitik and the development of a national security strategy based on smart power. The turning point in Germany concerns four areas in particular: 1) German armed forces (Bundeswehr) 2) strategic culture 3) National Security Strategy 4) strengthening crisis prevention and the development of a “civilian reserve”.

1) Bundeswehr

The core element of security is an operational armed force that can sustainably provide defence for the state and its allies. The planned special fund of 100 billion euros and the additional funds to achieve the 2 percent target of NATO are therefore sorely needed. The funds must be earmarked and prioritised for the operational capability of the Bundeswehr in national and alliance defence. The replenishment of ammunition stocks, the succession to Tornado warplanes needed for nuclear sharing, personal protective equipment, the procurement of a heavy transport helicopter and armed drones alone mean that the most urgent acquisitions already take up a large part of the Sondervermögen. Further capabilities and requirements must be derived from the National Security Strategy.

2) Strategic culture

As a parliamentary democracy, Germany must develop a strategic culture: our society must understand the importance of security in all its dimensions (external, internal, economic and social security) and be prepared to define interests and name priorities. This includes the regular evaluation of missions in parliament and the establishment of a security week in which interests, regions and necessary capabilities are debated. Further, it includes strengthening a Federal Security Council that takes a holistic approach to security and acts proactively and in the spirit of strategic foresight. We must create a connected societal understanding of security interests and bring the security policy debate to the centre of society. This is the only way to find acceptance for the necessary prioritisation of overall policy.

3) National Security Strategy

The development of the National Security Strategy must aim to define and develop smart power capabilities for Germany. In addition to military threats, it must therefore also address economic independence, energy diversification, technological development, climate diplomacy, strategic communication and strengthening the credibility of international organisations and instruments in order to counteract the loss of credibility.

To this end, Germany must swiftly implement previously deferred but urgently needed measures in the field of holistic security to develop smart power. This includes the development of European capabilities to strengthen the European pillar of NATO, energy policy diversification, resilience, burden sharing and transatlantic partnership, as well as the rapid establishment of the operational readiness of the Bundeswehr. For economic and security policy considerations, partnerships with “like-minded partners” must be pursued even more vigorously in the future.

4) Crisis prevention

Holistic security also includes crisis prevention and the resilience of the population through modern disaster preparedness, national reserves, safer supply chains (e.g. for medicine), and modern efficient administration with sufficient and skilled personnel in the security sector, in public administration and in the economy. The Bundeswehr is responsible for external security and cannot provide continuous administrative assistance, e.g. in health offices, or compensate for deficits in municipal or federal administrative structures. Therefore, in the interests of effective civil protection, it is necessary to create a “civilian reserve”. Intelligent strategic communication towards one’s own population also creates acceptance in the sense of strategic culture and takes aspects of social security into account.

Strategic culture as an essential building block of a national security strategy

The priorities and focus of a society are crucial to political endeavours. They shape election programmes and form coalitions, thus determining the priorities of politics. For a long time, Germany could afford to take a pacifist attitude, partly due to the terrible crimes committed by Germany between 1933 and 1945; for far too long, the focus was on economic security and not on strategic foresight. However, with the erosion of international rules and the end of European peace dividend, we must also rethink our own certitudes. We are not only surrounded by friends and partners. We must now be prepared to put comfort aside and provide for our own security.

Peace and freedom have value and we must be prepared to defend our values. In doing so, certain realities must be acknowledged. Diplomacy without toughness makes the West weak. Diplomacy must be underpinned militarily; we need smart power.

The development of a strategic culture is essential for the National Security Strategy and a prerequisite for the development of smart power.

Germany must learn to be strategic and interest-oriented if it wants to be considered a credible partner in Europe and the world.

The first contours of an emerging global bloc formation as the result of a new system conflict are already discernible. They are still blurred because they are strongly influenced by geopolitical and geo-economic realities and dependencies. However, one could see that at the vote on the UN resolution on 2 March 2022, only Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria were firmly on Putin’s side, while China abstained. In contrast, the liberal democracies have positioned themselves under the leadership of the USA.

In the future rivalry of systems, China is positioned as a systemic rival that asserts very clear interests through its Silk Road policy. Germany must therefore develop smart power to be able to form a counterweight with other liberal democracies. Foreign and development policy must reposition itself and likewise be seen as part of this smart power. Geostrategic and security-oriented approaches as well as smart diplomacy are needed to tackle major global challenges such as food shortages and climate change, not least a systemic rival like China.

SUGGESTED CITATION  Kiesewetter, Roderich: A Strategic Culture Must be Part of the National Security Strategy, VerfBlog, 2022/3/28, https://verfassungsblog.de/a-strategic-culture-must-be-part-of-the-national-security-strategy/, DOI: 10.17176/20220417-062107-0.

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