quarta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2015

Germany learns to look beyond its borders

Germans think any plan that is put on paper should be executed — which is why the country’s approach to government strategy has been a strong preference for not writing things down at all. So a report published yesterday in which the German foreign ministry reviews its own guiding principles represents a break with usual practice. It is as though, while hurtling towards a tornado, the pilot and crew of an airliner decided to rewrite their operating manual, publish it and invite comments from peers.

Germany has become the pivotal power of Europe, with Berlin as the EU’s crisis management centre. It was not planned this way. When Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition took office in December 2013, Europe’s sovereign debt crisis was in abeyance and Ukraine was an obscure, faraway land.

These days Berlin is often harangued for not doing enough to counter the problems of the day: the eurozone’s stagnant economy; Britain’s drift away from continental europe; the adventures of President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The recent turbulence had barely begun when Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, set in motion a year-long process designed to be a model of transparency, deference to outside opinion and democratic inclusiveness. It involved town hall meetings across the country and an internal review. Officials also commissioned expert views (I was among those asked to contribute).

Reality promptly whacked officials over the head. Violence in Kiev’s Maidan Square presaged Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and now open war is being waged by Russian-backed “separatists” in eastern Ukraine.

Then came a deadly Ebola outbreak, the terror threat from Isis, and a Greek election that threatens to exacerbate economic crisis in the eurozone. And who could have foreseen that Paris, London, Warsaw, Stockholm and Rome would be absent or ineffectual? Germany is the leader of Europe, no doubt — but a leader by default.

Given this confusing landscape, the report does a crisp job of articulating three priorities for German foreign policy. The first is to understand that crises are a byproduct of globalisation. The foreign ministry’s answer is a massive upgrade to its ability to understand and manage crises. It promises greater German participation in European and international peacekeeping missions.

Crises, it warns, can happen “close by or at home” (for which read: in Ukraine — on our doorstep). These are our own problems, not other people’s. So Germany needs to invest in resilience, too.

The second priority is to preserve an open, rules-based international order. A globalised economy has helped Germany thrive, says the report. The country must now invest in institutions, and help protect public goods and humanity’s common spaces such as outer space, the seas and the internet. If Berlin wants to shape events instead of merely reacting to them, it must improve its ability to act.

Finally, European integration is Germany’s crucial source of power and leverage. It enables Berlin to influence events within the EU. And, by contributing to the collective strength of European nations, it gives Germany influence beyond the EU’s borders. The alternative — cutting loose from Europe and trading with China on any terms — is a dead end. That means that Germany needs to look after the interests of its EU partners more. Athens will be interested to hear it.

What is missing? A stauncher commitment to democratic transformation in Europe’s neighbourhood would have been reassuring — not least for Ukraine and its neighbours.

On the use of force, the report is circumspect (more answers might come from the defence ministry, which has just started its own “white book” consultation process). Yet the foreign ministry report notes that “to buttress political solutions, military means may be called for or unavoidable”. By German standards, that is strong stuff.

Will the country’s voters be willing to follow their diplomats? Survey data suggest they remain cautious about a more active role. At the same time, however, large majorities now support a tough response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But there are already signs of a more assertive approach. Germany has been breaking new ground in many places: arming the Kurds in Iraq, holding together a fragile European consensus against Russia. It is worth watching what we do, not just what we write.

Constanze Stelzenmüller is the Robert Bosch senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington