Germany's Civilian Power Model—Modification or Termination?
Germany Struggling with the War in Ukraine

Toshiya Nakamura


Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was a great shock to European countries, which had conducted intermittent talks with Russia until just before the aggression. Germany is drastically reviewing and shifting its foreign and security policy.

German Chancellor Scholz addressed the Bundestag on February 27, 2022, three days after the Russian invasion, defined the invasion as Russian "imperialism," and explained government responses. 1 Specifically, he announced the following measures: (1) review the existing policy of not transferring weapons to any conflicting party and provide Ukraine with portable surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank firearms; (2) increase defense spending to over 2% of GDP; (3) dispatch or increase the number of Bundeswehr troops to front-line countries facing Russia; (4) cooperate with NATO allies to ensure their security and strengthen NATO's defense systems; (5) exclude major Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), an international interbank payment network, as part of economic sanctions against Russia, and (6) suspend the procedure to certify Nord Stream 2, the natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany. Thus, the responses were so comprehensive as to include not only diplomatic and security measures but also economic measures, including economic sanctions.

This meant that Germany would review its postwar foreign and security policy principles. It is generally recognized that since Germany, like Japan, is the defeated nation in World War II, "anti-militarism"2 or distrust of military institutions prevails in German society. At the time of the 1990-91 Gulf Crisis and War, Germany, like Japan, instead of meeting requests from the United States and other allies for cooperation, did not go beyond financial support—which was criticized as "checkbook diplomacy." Germany amended the interpretation of the "Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany," equivalent to a constitution, thereby opening the way for deployment outside the NATO treaty area. Subsequently, Germany participated in various NATO missions in Somalia, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Afghanistan. Defining itself as a "civilian power" to contribute to the non-military civilian field, the country vigorously evolved its activities. Thus, Germany has gradually amassed a record of civilian contribution in conflict areas, appealing to the international community.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that the policy of seeking "change through trade (Wandel durch Handel)," which the Schröder-Merkel administrations pursued toward Russia and China, has failed. This policy, aiming at encouraging changes through economic exchanges with countries failing to share such values as democracy and liberalism, emulated the concept of "change through proximity (Wandel durch Annäherung) advocated by Egon Bahr in association with the "Ostpolitik (Eastern diplomacy)" that the Brandt administration promoted from the late 1960s to the early 1970s to seek active discussions with the Soviet Union and the communist countries in Eastern Europe. The "Ostpolitik," which was in line with the international trend toward détente, has been highly evaluated in Germany as it resulted in the Treaty of Moscow and the Basic Treaty between East and West Germany, bringing about the accession of the two Germanys to the United Nations. However, the Ukrainian crisis has revealed that even deep economic interdependence did not dissuade Russia from foreign aggression. The distance between Berlin and the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv (Kiev) is some 1,300km (almost equal to the distance between Tokyo and Kagoshima), which is supposed to make the German people feel the war is near home.

This paper examines Germany's foreign and security policy shift in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and assesses its policy significance. First, we will review the foreign and security policy principles that Germany has maintained since the end of World War II. Next, we will review the cooperation requests to Germany from the United States, NATO allies, and Ukraine in response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine and discuss discrepancies between Germany's existing policy and the responses that Germany took based on those requests. We will also examine what policy changes the Scholz administration has made to fill the discrepancies and which of those changes have so far been realized and how German domestic public opinion has reacted to this policy shift. Lastly, we will look at the future of Germany's policy response.

1. Pillars of Germany's Security Policy

The "Civilian Power" Model

After the East-West unification, Germany, as a member of NATO and within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (EU CFSP), participated in activities outside the territory of NATO allies, including military responses to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and deployment to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Thus, Germany has increased the participation of Bundeswehr forces in internationally coordinated actions. At the time of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Germany participated in an air campaign to deter the conflict in Kosovo. Nonetheless, the country focuses on civilian activities 3 such as post-conflict peacekeeping and the rebuilding and maintenance of social capital. In considering the deployment of Bundeswehr forces under such international frameworks, Germany, as a civilian power, 4 upholds three principles as policy pillars.

The first is to avoid unilateralism, "Not going alone", and to emphasize multilateralism. Germany's emphasis on multilateral frameworks is due to the historical fact that, needless to mention under Nazi Germany, the country acted alone (Alleingang), confident in its special way (Der deutscher Sonderweg), and invited tragic results more than once. Since the time of West Germany—a divided state on the front line confronting the eastern camp—, multilateral frameworks have been essential for the country to survive.

Second, with the background of Nazi Germany's devastation of Europe by its military aggression, Germany abides by the principle of "No more war", taking it as its duty never to start a war again. The constructivists claim that with remorse for the wars of aggression through bitter experiences in the two world wars, the German people came to harbor a sense of aversion to military organizations and anti-militarism. 5 To speak more precisely, the principle of "No more war" is not incompatible with the use of force for national defense. Under this principle, however, Germany does not consider the use of force as a legitimate policy measure. 6 Due to its sense of self-restraint against the use of force, Germany tends to choose economic sanctions, such as the freezing of assets, humanitarian aid, and civilian assistance, when addressing foreign policy issues.

Third, with profound remorse for its inhuman and violent past, including the massacres of Jews, foreigners, and physically disabled people that Nazi Germany perpetrated in concentration camps represented by Auschwitz during World War II, Germany is determined to break with those past actions ("No more Auschwitz") and to not tolerate such carnage as occurred at Auschwitz. 7 For their atonement of past wrongs, Germans are also resolved not to overlook human rights violations. On the other hand, a genocide committed by a third country is likely to place Germany, if involved, in a position contradictory to its principles mentioned above. Imagine a regional conflict where an ethnic group attempts to exterminate another ethnic group and commits a massive massacre under a policy of ethnic cleansing. If Germany becomes involved and uses force to stop the mass murder, such action will violate its second principle of no more war. Conversely, if Germany prioritizes its "No more war" principle and does not participate in the use of force, the carnage in question may continue, prolonging human rights violations. The result is that the third principle is not respected.

Based on these principles, Germany has appealed to the international community through its activities as a civilian power. However, as mentioned earlier, during NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia in connection with the Kosovo conflict, Bundeswehr's Tornado fighters also participated in the air campaign, thereby joining military attacks against a third country outside the NATO treaty area. In Afghanistan, where the Bundeswehr troops went to maintain peace, the security situation subsequently deteriorated, and they faced armed conflicts. In this way, Germany gradually overcame diverse challenges, self-imposed restrictions, and taboos related to military action and continued to expand the allowable range. This approach was known as "Salami Tactics." 8

Germany's Arms Export Policy and Regulations

Germany has for years adopted the policy of not exporting or transferring arms to conflict areas to avoid, as much as possible, expanding or becoming involved in any military conflict. Article 26 (2) of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany states that "Weapons designed for warfare may be manufactured, transported or marketed only with the permission of the Federal Government. Details shall be regulated by a federal law." Among the arms export regulations under federal law are the War Arms Control Act regulating the import and export of weapons as well as their manufacture, transfer, sale, and transport; the Foreign Trade and Payments Act regulating arms export controls; and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance that stipulates the items subject to export controls. Although Germany is the world's fifth largest arms exporter 9 after the United States, Russia, France and China, these regulations have in principle banned the export or transfer of weapons to countries involved in conflict or at risk of conflict. The reasons behind this policy are the country's remorse for having caused World War II and its current position as a pacifist nation.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, military assistance, including the provision of arms to the attacked Ukraine, emerged as an important international issue. As mentioned earlier, Germany's initial hesitation over the supply of weapons was due to the above background. Looking back at the past, however, Germany made exceptions in response to requests from allies and friends. In 2014, for example, it provided anti-tank missiles to Kurdish combat troops fighting the Islamic State terrorist organization. Over the issue of whether or not to provide arms to Ukraine, Germany's principled position gave rise to major friction with the United States and other allies.

2. Germany's Policy Responses to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Next, we will review what policy response Germany decided to take; what expectations it faced from the international community, its allies and friends, and Ukraine and what response it actually adopted.

Chancellor Scholz addressed a special session of the Bundestag three days after the Russian invasion, defining the invasion as Putin's imperialism and announcing the following responses. First, reversing the long-standing principle of not transferring weapons to conflicting parties, he expressed readiness to provide arms to Ukraine. In addition, to help NATO allies strengthen their frontline defense against Russia, he announced (1) the reinforcement of Bundeswehr troops in Lithuania, which was hosting a NATO multinational battlegroup; (2) the extension and expansion of Bundeswehr troops' participation in air defense missions in Romania; (3) the creation of a new NATO unit in Slovakia; (4) the dispatch of additional German naval vessels to secure safety in the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Mediterranean Sea, and (5) the strengthening with anti-aircraft weapons of air defense cooperation among allied countries in Central and Eastern Europe. 10 On the 26th, the day before his speech, Chancellor Scholz tweeted that Germany would provide Ukraine with 1,000 rounds of anti-tank ammunition and 500 "Stinger" portable surface-to-air missiles to target enemies at close range. 11 Furthermore, to strengthen the Bundeswehr forces, the Scholz administration announced plans to raise defense spending, which had previously been around 1.1% to 1.5% of GDP, to over 2% by 2024, and to create a 100 billion euro fund (equivalent to about 14 trillion yen) for the modernization of the Bundeswehr forces. It also disclosed plans to promote the joint development of fighter aircraft and tanks with France and other European partners.

On the other hand, as part of economic sanctions against Russia, Germany decided to suspend the procedure to certify the recently completed gas pipeline "Nord Stream 2," banned the export of cutting-edge technology to Russia, and restricted the issuance of visas to Russian government officials. On top of these measures, it announced the exclusion of major Russian financial institutions from the international funds settlement network SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). Germany has, in this way, parted from its policy of "change through trade."

Ukraine's Request for Support and NATO's Response

Ukraine welcomed support from Germany, European NATO members, EU countries, and the United States, but from time to time, it showed mixed feelings toward Germany. In late January 2022 when pre-invasion tensions were rising, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Baltic States, Poland, and the Czech Republic announced in succession their provision of arms to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Germany refused to adopt a similar move out of concern that the supply of weapons would exacerbate tensions, announcing that it would provide 5,000 helmets. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht remarked that it was a "very clear signal" of solidarity with Ukraine. Yet, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko expressed disappointment, saying he became "speechless" at the offer of helmets from Germany. Klitschko did not conceal his irritation at Germany's lack of awareness of the situation. 12

As symbolized by this episode, Ukraine expressed its expectations for arms, civilian supplies, and financial assistance from the West; but it often failed to receive support from Germany as anticipated and, as a result, expressed irritation with the country. Despite the wartime situation, Germany was cautious about arms provision or other forms of military aid, holding fast to its civilian power-type state model. It was generally recognized that Germany was careful about its support for Ukraine out of consideration for Russia, with which it had established close economic ties, importing more than half of its crude oil and natural gas supplies.

For this reason, Ukrainian president Zelensky addressed the German Bundestag online on March 17, 2022, and criticized Germany's policy of prioritizing its economy and of carrying on the "Nord Stream 2" pipeline project with Russia without understanding Ukraine's efforts to escape Russian influence. He requested support from Germany, stating, "Give Germany the leadership you deserve... Stop the war." 13 In addition, President Zelensky rejected a visit scheduled for April 2022 to Ukraine by German President Steinmeier, who had planned to visit Ukraine with the presidents of Poland and the Baltic States to show solidarity with the invaded country. The Ukrainian president expressed his displeasure with President Steinmeier, who has had close ties with Vladimir Putin. 14 Ultimately, the German president's visit to Ukraine took place in October of the same year. Nonetheless, the distrust and displeasure Ukraine harbored toward Germany, which had established close economic ties with Russia, was profound.

In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, international efforts established the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, consisting of more than 40 countries—30 NATO members including the United States, EU member states, and non-member states such as Japan and Australia. The Group's first meeting was convened on April 26, 2022, at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Until the time of this writing, the Group held eight virtual and online meetings; the last meeting convened on January 20, 2023. Through discussions, the countries concerned have coordinated the specifics of assistance bound for Ukraine. Arms assistance Germany has provided to date or plans to supply is as follows:

14 Leopard 2A6 tanks (Under planning)
Five MARS II multiple-rocket launch systems
Iris-T SLM air defense system
500 Stinger portable surface-to-air missiles
2,700 Strela surface-to-air missiles
1,000 rounds of anti-tank ammunition
50 Dingo armored all-protected transport vehicles
14,900 anti-tank mines
100,000 hand grenades
28,000 helmets

(According to the German Federal Government's website as of February 8, 2023.) 15

Since around September 2022, Ukraine has called on European countries, including Germany, to transfer tanks. Germany refused the request out of concern that sending tanks would escalate the conflict and did not agree to European countries' providing Ukraine with Leopard tanks in their possession. As a result, Ukraine became frustrated, and the foreign ministers of the three Baltic States simultaneously sent out tweets calling on Germany to consent to their provision of tanks to Ukraine. 16 Germany faced increased pressure from different sectors. In January 2023, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd James Austin III met with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. The former asked for the provision of German tanks, and the German side agreed on condition that the United States should likewise provide the M1 Abrams tanks for Ukraine. Finally, Germany came up with a plan to provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks while agreeing that European countries would supply the invaded country with the same model tanks in their possession. 17 Furthermore, Germany, along with the Netherlands and Denmark, announced that it would provide Ukraine with 178 older Leopard 1A5 tanks from industrial stocks, thereby changing its policy direction. 18

3. Reaction of German Domestic Public Opinion

How did German domestic public opinion evaluate the Scholz administration's response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine? We will examine German citizens' views on Russia and the United States; NATO's response; and the issue of arms provision, using the results of a public opinion poll published in 2022 by the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the German Armed Forces (Potsdam), "Turning point in the Public Opinion on Security and Defense Policy." 19

According to the report, German citizens' views of Russia worsened sharply in 2022, with 67% of respondents perceiving Russia as a threat to Germany's security, up 28 points from the previous year. 20 High percentages of respondents perceive the following as threats to Germany's security: Russian military buildup (67% of respondents, up 28 points from the previous year); Russian foreign and security policy (66%, up 31 points); Russian aggression in Ukraine (65%, up 31points); and Russian cyber attacks (60%, up 10 points). 67% (up 30 points) of respondents believe that Russia is not a reliable partner, while 65% (up 2 points) of respondents believe that Russia and Germany do not share common values. In contrast to the previous year's results, the majority of respondents favor restricting economic relations with Russia (67%, up 40 points), whereas 12% oppose. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of respondents (78%) are supportive of escaping dependence on Russian gas supplies, while just 7% are not supportive.

These perceptions of German citizens differ strikingly from those concerning Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014. Facing Russia's unilateral annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, the Merkel administration did not change its fundamental foreign policy. At that time, 49% of public poll respondents thought that Germany should serve as a mediator between the West and Russia, whereas 46% of respondents believed that Germany should keep in step with the United States and other Western countries. German citizens recognized their country more as a mediator between the United States and Russia than as a member of the West.

German citizens put less trust in and were critical of the United States under the presidency of Donald J. Trump (2017-2021). However, the inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021 improved Germany's view of the United States. In 2021, 54% of respondents (23 points up year-on-year) considered the United States a "reliable partner for Germany," and 63% thought the same in 2022. The number of respondents in favor of US involvement in European defense also increased—56% of respondents (up 11 points from the previous year) in 2021 and 63% in 2022. 21 In addition to the departure of President Trump, who had been reluctant about US engagement in European defense, Russia's invasion of Ukraine appears to have led to a rapid recovery of the credibility of US engagement.

Fig. 1: Germany-Russia Bilateral Relations (Unit: percent) 22

Source: "Turning point in the Public Opinion on Security and Defense Policy" released by the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the German Armed Forces

Fig. 2: Germany-the US Bilateral Relations (Unit: percent) 23 Source: the same as in Fig. 1.

As for NATO, respondents are as much supportive as ever of Germany's engagement with NATO and NATO membership. 73% of respondents (up one point from the previous year) think that Germany should maintain its NATO membership for its security; 58% of respondents (up three points) believe that Germany should engage with NATO on the security and defense policy front. 24 The German government has received public support for its position that the nucleus of its security and defense policy is to respond as a NATO ally.

According to the same poll survey, 49% of respondents (up 13 points year-on-year) support strengthening NATO's military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, 22% oppose, and 24% are inconclusive. 25 53% of respondents (up as much as 22 points year-on-year) support the idea that Germany should offer military assistance to the Baltic States for defense from Russia, 16% oppose, and 27% are inconclusive. 50% of respondents favor Germany's massive military involvement in defense of NATO's eastern frontiers, 20% oppose, and 26% are inconclusive. German public opinion favors strengthening defense cooperation on the east front in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A sharp rise is noted in the percentage of respondents favoring the Bundeswehr's mission to defend NATO's eastern front. 51% of respondents (up 14 points year-on-year) are supportive of the deployment of Bundeswehr troops in Lithuania, whereas 48% (up 12 points year-on-year) are supportive of the mobilization of Bundeswehr troops to enhance air support for the Baltic States. 26 It seems that the awareness is growing among German citizens of the importance of strengthening the defense of NATO's eastern front.

Fig. 3: Germany's Engagement in Security on NATO's Eastern Front (Unit: percent / Source: Ibid.)

The German public's recognition of arms provision significantly changed between before and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, 36% of poll respondents were unsupportive of Germany's arms supply to friendly countries as its foreign and security policy, while 33% were supportive. In 2022, the percentage of respondents favoring the arms supply rose to 48%, surpassing the 21% who opposed the idea. 27

Fig. 4: Pros and Cons on Germany's Arms Supply to Friendly Nations 28 (Unit: percent / Source: Ibid.)

However, according to an ARD poll "DeutschlandTrend" conducted in January 2023, when the provision of German-made Leopard 2 tanks became a reality, the public split into two opposing camps. 29 46% of respondents supported sending the tanks to Ukraine, 43% opposed, and 11% inconclusive—the pros slightly surpassed the cons. Characteristically, in the former West Germany region, 50% of respondents are for and 38% against the provision of the tanks, whereas, in the former East Germany region, 32% are for and 59% against it. Thus, the pros outweigh the cons in the former West Germany region, while the cons outweigh the pros in the former East Germany region. 30 By age group, a large portion of younger and middle-aged respondents oppose the provision of tanks; 37% of those surveyed aged 18-34 are supportive, and 52% are opposed. The more advanced in age, the more supportive respondents are of the provision of tanks; 52% of those surveyed aged 65 and older are supportive, while only 36% are opposed.

The above results indicate that the relatively older age groups in the former West German region showed more support for the supply of tanks. Given that these citizens witnessed the NATO-centered Western alliance during the Cold War and the political-economic integration of Europe or the formation of the EU, under which the unification of Germany came true in the lead-up to today, it is natural for those people to think that efforts to strengthen the solidarity of NATO against the imminent military threat of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to actively engage in continued military support to Ukraine on the war front will help ensure Germany's security.

Conclusion: The Failure of the "Change through Trade" Policy and the Limitation of the Civilian Power Model

As we have seen above, Russia's invasion of Ukraine compelled Germany to rethink its foreign and security policies.

Postwar Germany has long been maintaining a "culture of restraint" (Kultur der Zurückhaltung) or refraining from strong self-assertion associated with foreign and security policies, as the country learned from the defeat in World War II that an assertive position would politicize issues otherwise kept off the agenda. 31 In the international community, as mentioned earlier, Germany has appealed with its position of a civilian power that cooperates and contributes mainly in the non-military civilian sector and has accumulated achievements. Germany has largely maintained this posture, except for joining an air campaign in Yugoslavia to deter the Kosovo conflict.

On the other hand, the unification of Germany required tremendous amounts of money for the economic restoration and reconstruction of the former East German region; Germany was even called "the sick man of Europe" in the 1990s. The country managed to rebuild its economy by strengthening economic ties with Russia and China. At home and abroad, many argued that Germany should take a firm stand on human rights issues and on the suppression of democratic activists in Russia and China. In addition, there were voices pointing to the dangers of deepening economic ties with those authoritarian states. 32 However, the Schröder-Merkel administrations did not change their policies even in the face of a strategic shock such as Russia's annexation of Crimea. Undoubtedly, close economic relations with China and Russia brought economic benefits to Germany. But it is difficult to admit that Germany has succeeded in "changing" those countries "through trade" or arousing their interest in and sympathy for political norms such as respect for human rights and democratization. As if to confirm such criticism, Russia invaded Ukraine. The failure of the "change through trade" policy is evident as it could not change Russia.

The Scholz administration, reflecting on the fact that excessive dependence on Russia for natural gas and crude oil supplies, has led to price hikes and to other economic disturbances, is currently reviewing its relationship with China-Germany's largest trading partner. Specifically, the administration is revising its policy toward China by, among other measures, reducing its economic dependence on the country. 33 Now that the policy of encouraging changes in another country through economic interdependence to create orderly stability has failed, it is necessary to closely watch how Germany will revise its policy lines toward an authoritarian state.

Regarding support for Ukraine―military assistance and arms supply immediately after the invasion, in particular―there was an awareness gap between Germany and Ukraine and the allies about the situation and the war's progress. This partly stems from Germany's position as a civilian power that cooperates and contributes to the international community in the non-military civilian sector. It is undeniable that Germany, as such, was unable to deal effectively with the military aggression perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine.

Even before the Russian invasion, Chancellor Scholz met, more than once, with President Putin in Moscow. However, as accurately pointed out by former Japanese Ambassador to Germany Takahiro Shinyo, appeasement would be the only option available for Germany to find a peaceful and diplomatic solution with Vladimir Putin, a dictator who only understands the logic of military force. 34 In other words, the limits of the postwar German civilian power model have become evident.

Will Germany maintain its model of civilian power without regard to the reality of war? If affirmative, will it do something more than the modification of its course? Or will it aim to break away from the present model to a different one? German scholar Hanns W. Maull led and greatly influenced the "Civilian Power" policy. In their recent book based on findings in Japan, Germany, and the United States, "Reluctant Warriors: Germany, Japan, and Their U.S. Alliance Dilemma," Maull and his research team conclude that Germany and Japan remain "reluctant warriors" who tend to recoil from the use of force and combat operations. Germany's current policy of increasing defense spending to 2% of GDP and of providing military assistance and weapons to the allies and neighboring countries appears to seek a departure from the "culture of restraint" by lifting foreign and security policy constraints attending a civilian power and to strengthen military presence by operating conventional forces in the way the United States and other EU countries do. In other words, amid the Ukrainian crisis, Germany appears to begin taking the course of a "normal state." The fact that the United States and other European NATO members do not oppose this from a feeling of German threat, but welcome Germany's enlarged military roles is a boost in this direction.

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