A New Germany: How Putin’s Aggression is Changing Berlin

By Sudha David-Wilp & Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Foreign Affairs

Within a week, Germany has undergone a dramatic transformation, shedding its reluctant and dovish foreign policy and committing itself to drastically increase defense spending. The shock of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine spurred Berlin to send thousands of antitank and antiaircraft weapons to Kyiv. A country that has been criticized by its allies for doing too little, too late has jumped to the front of the pack to take on a leadership role in European security. Germany now seeks to isolate and punish Russia after decades of appeasing and accommodating it. What is more, Germany will strive for energy independence from Russia by creating new domestic energy sources while it weans itself off its Russian supply.

“It is clear that we must invest much more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy,” said Olaf Scholz, the newly minted chancellor, at a special session of the parliament on Sunday. With a single speech, Scholz ushered in an era of monumental change for a country that has been comfortable with the status quo for three decades. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “perhaps on this day, Germany is leaving behind a form of special and unique restraint in foreign and security policy.” The ugly legacy of German military aggression during the twentieth century had produced a mindset that viewed dialogue and multilateralism as the key and, often, the only tools of foreign policy. An unhealthy dose of fear-of-self was at the heart of German skepticism toward hard power. Alliances were meant to contain others just as they reined in Germans, who dreaded nothing more than a renewed temptation toward armed unilateralism.

The announcement of this U-turn in German policy was met with cheers and standing ovations from members of the mainstream parties in the parliament. “Enough is enough. The game is over,” proclaimed the leader of the conservative opposition, Friedrich Merz, addressing Putin directly.

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Picture: Scott, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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