What Can the United States Expect from Germany after the Elections?

The German election is just round the corner and people are asking if the German people really want a change. The short answer is no, not really.

We can expect to see many familiar faces in any new government; it is quite likely that we will also see the familiar figure of Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly in the saddle for a third time. The German people and many politicians feel quite comfortable with the political status quo.

Having said that, Germany will change internally and continue to wield influence beyond its borders. Germany will also continue to follow the money and benefit from globalization and the challenges it creates. Here, Germany will not be content with the status quo, and this trend will impact German policy and public opinion.

Timothy Garton Ash rightfully observed that Germany today is very much in Europe’s driver’s seat. This observation took some time to come about following unification in 1990, but come about it did. Since unification, Germany has participated in the Kosovo intervention, joined its allies in Afghanistan, and is even engaged in Mali. German air defense assets are protecting Turkey, and German ships are patrolling off the coast of East Africa. This would have been unthinkable prior to unification.

Prosperity, which is all about following the money, is a driving force in Germany as it is a key ingredient in the Social Market Economy. This in turn provides stability, good governance, pensions, social security, and job stability. German prosperity is linked to the further development of the European Union — no other European nation has benefitted more from the European Union and the common currency than Germany. But, voters and the government are both currently blind to the fact that, increasingly, the stability of the European Union is linked to stability outside the Union, particularly when key markets, lines of communication, and strategic resources are involved. Germany will have to come around to the idea that global stability is very much in the interest of Europe’s largest and most powerful economy.

East Asia has become the world’s most dynamic and dominant region in terms of future global economic development. This region is crucial to Germany’s sustained development. It is also slowly dawning on both the German people and the government that this region is far from stable. East Asia is challenged by border issues, territorial claims and disputes, old animosities, and unsolved conflicts. America’s new interest in the region may result in new political risks and will result in increased competition for the markets in the region. All this will have a direct security impact on the European Union and thus also Germany. It is high time that Europe takes a more proactive role in this region not only on the commercial front, but also as a provider of security.

German-Russian relations over recent years have gone from good to bad. This has to do in part with the personal relationship between the political leaders; it also has to do with a new-found nationalism in Russia, which is not in tune with European mainstream political thinking. German-Russian trade relations are as crucial to stability in Russia as they are to German energy policy. It can be argued that, in this regard, Russia has Germany over a barrel — hardly the best position to be in if one wishes to influence Russian policy at home and abroad. Add to this the rising tension in North Africa and the Middle East, and one can see that the European Union — and Germany — is surrounded by a range of unstable and unpredictable countries and regions.

Germany will almost certainly not resort to military means in order to secure its aims and objectives. It lacks that strategic intent and would most certainly not have the popular or political backing for such a move. Germany has realized that nineteenth century gunboat diplomacy has been replaced by more subtle and complex means and methods. The real future battles, in the German view, will be geo-economic. Countries no longer protect their borders; today and in the future, countries will need to protect their supply chains, business systems, communications, financial networks, and know-how. These very developments bring particular A2AD[1] challenges to the fore, and in this regard, Germany is becoming increasingly better prepared in the relevant domains.

Since unification Germany has quietly reshaped its armed forces, police, intelligence services, and customs agency. German Special Forces and its small but highly effective fleet of modern submarines fit perfectly in the A2AD environment. Germany is one of the leading maritime nations and, with its share in Airbus, is very much on a par with the United States in the aviation sector. In space, Germany might be small when compared to the United States or Russia, but it compensates with quality. In the cyber domain, Germany is among the seven leading nations. Rather than deploying troops, Germany has had excellent results with its networked security concept, a mix of coercion agencies and forces, development aid, and industrial/technological support.

This concept has been put to the test since the beginning of the 1990s and has impacted the European Union—for example, EUROPOL,[2] EUROJUST,[3] FRONTEX,[4]—and even NATO[5] in the form of the PRT[6] concept. Germany has “exported” its police forces and their know-how both to European Union members and overseas. Germany has reorganized its intelligence apparatus in order to improve situational awareness via the collection and exchange of data by using common processes, procedures, and techniques.

What can the United States expect from Germany after the election? Germany will…

  1. Continue to lead the way in building both a sustainable, competitive euro zone and a stronger, internationally more credible European Union.
  2. Stay engaged in Southeastern Europe with regard to reinforcing stability and security in the region.
  3. Endeavor to enhance its economic interaction with Russia and thus contribute to stability and prosperity with this important neighbor.
  4. Increasingly engage in the Middle East. This will be mainly an economic engagement, which will have a positive impact on the security and stability situation in the region.
  5. Follow this path in North Africa.
  6. Enhance its footprint in Latin America, particularly in Brazil.
  7. Boost its overall performance in Asia, the most critical market outside Europe for continued German prosperity. This will also include a cautious course of promoting security and stability in the region.

Is this of interest to the United States?

Yes, as it is in the interest of the United States whenever global stability, security, and prosperity is strengthened. Historically, Germany’s problem has been a lack of strategic intent and thus an overly cautious approach to security matters. This is due to well-known and understandable historical reasons as well as sovereignty issues prior to German unification. Global pressures and the passage of time have contributed to a significant shift in this area, resulting in a less insular and more proactive economic, foreign, and security policy. This shift, much in the interest of the United States, could be reinforced, encouraged, and accelerated — in particular from the United States. We jointly should strive to…

  • Share the security burden in the Global Commons, — i.e. sea, air, outer space, and cyber space — thereby building on a comprehensive understanding of all instruments instead of focusing predominantly on defense budgets.
  • Share the management of challenges and tasks with global actors such as Brazil, China, the Gulf States, India, Russia, South Korea, and Turkey.
  • Continue to develop an appropriate and valid approach toward a fair and sustainable transatlantic partnership, which benefits all parties.

What we need is a little help from our friends.


About the author:           

Colonel (ret.) Ralph Thiele is Chairman of the Berlin-based “Politisch-Militärische Gesellschaft” (Political-Military Society) and CEO of StratByrd Consulting. In several decades of politico-military service he has gained an extensive broad political, technological, academic, and military background. Ralph Thiele studied business administration (MBA) and political science in Munich. In several commanding officer assignments he developed valuable operational expertise. As Commander of the Bundeswehr Transformation Centre he introduced Network Enabling Capabilities into the German Armed Forces. While serving in the personal staffs of the German Armed Forces Vice Chief of Defence Staff and the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and in the Planning and Policy Staff of the German Minister of Defence, Ralph Thiele was directly involved in numerous national, European, and NATO strategic, technological, and political issues.  In his academic assignments he has been Chef de Cabinet and Chief of Staff at the NATO Defense College in Rome and Director of Faculty at the German General Staff and Command College in Hamburg. He has also been involved in numerous national and European Security Research Programmes.

Ralph Thiele has published numerous books and articles and is lecturing widely in Europe, Asia, the U.S., and Brazil on current comprehensive security affairs, network enabling technologies, and historical issues.


1. Anti-Access Aera-Denial

2. European Police Office

3. The European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit

4. Frontières extérieures

5. North Atlantic Treaty Organization

6. Provincial Reconstruction Team

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.