No. 317: The global rise of German power / Adekeye Adebajo and Kudrat Virk / The Sunday Independent
16 November 2014
The commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall provides an opportunity to reflect on Germany's global role. This momentous event ended the division of Germany and Europe, and resulted in a more assertive, unified Germany that is still searching for its place in the world. Although much attention tends to focus on Germany's role in Europe, the future of its foreign policy may depend on its engagement with the "global south".
Germany has historically sought to act as a "civilian power" that relies on multilateral institutions and trade rather than military force, promoting democratic governance, peaceful conflict resolution, and sustainable development.
This has been criticised as an abdication of global responsibility by the world's fourth-largest economy, and Berlin must find a way to harness its Friedenspolitik to an enhanced political and security role legitimised by multilateral organisations in which it provides more active leadership.
German exports of machine guns, tanks, and submarines to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Indonesia also expose the contradictions of this policy. Berlin is now the world's third-largest conventional arms exporter after the US and Russia.
Germany has deployed troops to the Balkans and Afghanistan for more than 15 years, although a strong pacifism remains among its population. Today, 5 000 German soldiers serve in 13 missions globally.
Germany has increased its trade with Asia in the past decade, with China now accounting for about 38 percent of German exports to the region.
Africa is the world's fastest-growing continent, with a market of one billion consumers. Germany is playing a supportive military role in French-led EU military missions in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). Berlin can also reduce its dependence on gas imports from Russia by importing more gas from Algeria and Nigeria.
Germany has consistently sought to become a member of an expanded UN Security Council, in an organisation to which it is the third-largest contributor, while Berlin has long been the paymaster of the EU.
Emerging markets in Asia have increased in significance for the German economy, with the upward trend magnified by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.
Asia's imports from Germany have more than doubled from about 6 percent in 2000 to 16 percent last year.
With an exports-to-gross domestic product ratio of more than 50 percent, Europe's largest economy is heavily dependent on expanding market access for its automobiles, chemical and mechanical engineering, and high-end technology products to sustain its economic dynamism.
China has emerged as the second-largest destination for German exports outside Europe, only just behind the US.
Berlin is Beijing's largest trading partner in Europe, with bilateral trade of more than e140 billion last year. Strengthening economic ties have been accompanied by an expanding political relationship, with more than 30 continuing dialogues about issues and, since 2011, yearly intergovernmental consultations.
However, Germany must preserve the independence of its foreign policy, while maintaining the integrity of a common EU approach towards Beijing.
In 2013, Berlin opposed the European Commission's plan to impose punitive tariffs on China in a dispute about dumping that involved solar panels.
This case also illustrated the long-term risk created by German technology transfers in exchange for access to Chinese markets by enabling Chinese companies to compete directly with German manufacturers in an area of strategic importance to both economies.
Germany's economic diplomacy must focus beyond China and pursue a strategy of diversification in the region.
Berlin must continue to strengthen its economic and political relations with East Asian economies, particularly Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia.
Germany has primarily acted with and through the EU in developing its ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), although it has a history of bilateral development co-operation with individual countries, including a strategic partnership with Vietnam.
As a whole, the Asean region is the EU's fifth-largest trading partner. In particular, Indonesia expected to emerge as one of the world's top 10 economies by 2030 is one of Germany's five key global development partners.
Yet Jakarta does not have a strategic partnership with Brussels. Following its failure to conclude a free trade agreement with Asean after seven rounds of negotiations in 2007-2009, the EU has pursued bilateral free trade agreements with individual Asean countries that could form the basis of a region-to-region agreement.
Germany must further cultivate its bilateral and multilateral ties with all five member countries of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), which will have a key role to play in preserving not only Europe's future economic power, but also its ability to wield influence in an emerging multipolar international system.
The Brics countries account for about 25 percent of global GDP and more than 40 percent of the world's population.
By 2050, Brazil, Russia, China, and India's combined share of global economic output is expected to match that of the original Group of Seven industrialised countries, with China projected to eclipse the US as the world's largest economy by 2020.
Over the past 10 years, Germany's trade with these emerging powers has increased significantly: Brics' combined trade with Germany was more than R266bn last year.
In tandem, Germany has established strategic partnerships with China, India, and Brazil, while the Germany-South Africa Binational Commission has convened biennially since 1996.
However, Berlin's engagement with the Brics bloc as a whole is likely to remain limited by the inchoateness of the grouping, which lacks functioning institutions and is striving to give substance to a common agenda, as well as to build solidarity in the bloc.
Germany should therefore establish cohesion and complementarity between its bilateral forums and the EU's strategic partnerships with individual Brics countries.
The Franco-German axis that traditionally drove the EU has been replaced by the dominance of Chancellor Angela Merkel as the French economy stagnates and President Francois Hollande's unpopularity sinks to unprecedented depths.
Berlin's Africa policy has traditionally been conducted through the EU. Germany's bilateral trade with Africa reached e44.9bn last year.
However, there is a widespread feeling in Africa that Brussels has often adopted a heavy-handed unilateralism to trade negotiations.
The economic partnership agreements that the EU has in effect sought, since 2007, to impose on African governments have been accused of weakening integration efforts on a continent in which only about 12 percent of trade is intraregional.
Germany has, however, supported China's increasing trade role on the continent, with Beijing becoming Africa's largest single trade partner in 2009, and bilateral trade of more than $200bn in 2013.
Berlin must continue to ensure that the EU does not adopt a mercantilist approach that seeks to protect African markets from Beijing.
The EU has also sought to strengthen the capacity of Africa's regional bodies, and it provided e1.3bn between 2003 and last year.
In 2003, France led EU forces to support efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2006, Germany did.
Berlin was suspicious of parochial French agendas during these missions.
Germany was reluctant to join a French-led EU force to Chad and CAR, countries in which Paris had historically supported autocratic regimes.
A French-dominated EU force was deployed in both countries in 2008 and taken over by the UN in 2009.
Instability, however, continues in the DRC, Chad, and the CAR, suggesting that the EU forces did not contribute to sustainable peace-building efforts in these countries.
Germany must be more cautious about aligning itself too closely with the increasingly discredited French military role in Africa.
The recent French interventions in Mali, Ivory Coast and the CAR have reinforced Gallic neo-colonial influence in Africa.
There is widespread African opposition to the French presence, which many see as an attempt to multilateralise through the EU and the UN discredited unilateral interventions of the past.
Germany must also continue to work with the global south to push for reform of a 15-member UN Security Council that is increasingly losing its legitimacy.
Over the past decade, it has worked with India, Japan, and Brazil in the Group of Four to seek to expand the security council's membership.
Germany broke ranks with its Western counterparts in 2011 to abstain from voting on the UN resolution that mandated the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation intervention in Libya.
Berlin must be prepared, in future, to bear the responsibilities of being a great power by promoting regional integration and economic development effectively in Africa and Asia, and by helping to reform institutions of global governance.
Adebajo is executive director and Virk senior researcher at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.