At this year’s security conference in Munich, where 11 years ago pacifist-turned-foreign minister Joschka Fischer told US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld “excuse me, I am not convinced” about the war in Iraq, Germany promised its knee-jerk reaction would no longer be a ‘no’ to overseas missions.
“In my view, to be a good partner Germany should get involved more quickly, more decisively and more substantially,” said head of state President Joachim Gauck, in a message that was reinforced by the German foreign and defence ministers.
“Germany is too big to only comment on world politics from the sidelines,” said foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Seven decades after the defeat of the Nazis, Germany still feels constrained by history, and public shows of patriotism like flags at football matches are a fairly recent phenomenon.
The Americans and Germany’s close neighbours have long urged it to provide more decisive leadership for Europe — beyond prescribing austerity during the eurozone crisis — and play a more prominent geopolitical role, leveraging its trade relations.
“Leading, I say respectfully, does not mean meeting in Munich for discussions, it means committing resources,” US secretary of state John Kerry told the 50th annual Munich Security Conference this weekend.
Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who said in 2011, “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity“, told Reuters in Munich that in the Ukraine crisis, “Germany is taking its role, I’m glad to say.”
So far, that has involved chancellor Angela Merkel issuing firm condemnations of President Yanukovich’s crackdown on protesters and phoning Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A more robust diplomatic posture alone is unlikely to erase what US Republican senator John McCain described in Munich as the “embarrassing” moment in 2011 when Germany declined to help its Nato allies support the Libyans fighting Gaddafi.
McCain told Reuters Gauck’s speech had been important but acknowledged that the president “didn’t commit Germany to anything that was specific or large”. McCain limited his expectations to a bigger military role in disaster and humanitarian relief.
One senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said German officials in Munich showed an interest in a more “expeditionary” international security policy.
The source cited the French-led intervention in Mali, where about 100 German military personnel provide support such as troop transport flights and training, and an upcoming European mission to the Central African Republic, where Germany has said it may again provide logistical support — but not firepower.