Is Germany’s Foreign Policy in Need of an Extreme Makeover?

Foreign policy is really quite simple. It is the sum of all a nation’s activities directly related to the relationships with one or more foreign states. The tools and means of foreign policy are contracts and treaties, alliances, participation in international and supranational bodies, in other words sets of internationally recognized standards. Obviously, all this is done with elegant and eloquent diplomacy.. And the country’s top diplomat, the creator of foreign policy, is most often the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Germany’s number one diplomat is none other than Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

German foreign policy

But who actually determines what our diplomats do in the world beyond Germany’s borders? Does German foreign policy just happen as a matter of course? Is it self-perpetuating? What are the parameters? The Foreign Office’s website states:

“Germany’s foreign policy is value-oriented and interest-led. Its foreign policy agenda revolves around Europe, the transatlantic partnership, working for peace, new players and managing globalization.“

That all sounds reasonable enough so what else is there to talk about? Germany is, after all, the world’s most popular country in the eyes of some. Germany’s place in the world and its tireless support for peace, for justice, for freedom and democracy seem to be beyond reproach. So everything is just fine! Isn’t it?

Why change anything?

The winds of change and a new zeitgeist could be felt in Germany, or at least the need to start thinking seriously about change could be clearly felt one evening three years ago, back in 2011 during the height of the eurozone crisis when Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski came to Berlin to deliver an astonishing message to Germany: lead! Germany had long been reluctant to show too much leadership in Europe due to its past, and more accustomed to „leading from behind“ if necessary. But Sikorski told Germans that this wasn’t good enough anymore. „I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity..“

Sikorski’s dramatic appeal had an instant impact and it seemed to be precisely what German leaders needed to hear. The famous „German question“ has been, in various guises, a recurring theme throughout European history since the mid-15th century. But today it seems to have faded. Instead, the question now seems to be the increasing international expectations on Germany and whether it can or will rise to meet those expectations? Germany’s role in the world and the public perception of its foreign policy seems to have changed quite considerably during and in the wake of the eurozone crisis.

A fresh look at Germany’s foreign policy

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been doing a lot of thinking about the question of whether Germany’s role actually still fits in today’s changed world. The country’s post-war foreign policy — a modest and quiet approach on the world stage — suited the early post-war mood perfectly. But does that still work in the 21st century? Do the tools, means and resources still fit the bill? The observers who follow Germany got the chance to see Steinmeier’s new thinking at the Munich Security Conference earlier this year.

OK: So which path should Germany take? Should it play a bigger role? Or rather not? And what would that be? Four in five Germans would like to see their armed forces take part in fewer military missions abroad and almost two-thirds think Germany should remain cautious on foreign affairs and stay clear of foreign entanglements, a poll found. About half of those polled said that they thought Germany’s Nazi past was reason enough to show restraint.

Review 2014

Frank-Walter Steinmeier started a public dialogue called Review 2014. He wants the future of Germany’s foreign policy to be widely discussed. Is it true that „Germany could no longer watch from the sidelines,“ as he remarked in Munich? There were many places where Germans argued the pros and cons of Steinmeier’s comments and intensively discussed these issues. In a town hall meeting in Berlin Frank-Walter Steinmeier will answer questions and discuss thoughts and opinions.

Huffington Post is partnering with Germany’s Foreign Office and Facebook for this event. On our platform experts will outline their views and opinions. We will start with Thomas Bagger, head of the Policy Planning Staff in the Federal Foreign Office and Kofi Annan, the long-time UN Secretary General.

What’s your opinion?

And now it’s your turn: What would you ask Germany’s Foreign Minister? How should Germany engage itself in foreign affairs? Should we just ‚go with the flow‘? And send more German military missions abroad in the future? Or should we continue to take a more soft-pedal approach, in light of our belligerent history? Is Germany better off being a sleeping giant? Many of these questions are in the air and will be discussed openly and with great intensity.

We’ll pick the best and most important questions from those submitted and I’ll personally pose your questions to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. I’m looking forward to reading the questions on your minds!