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Germany, Russia, and the Rise of the Geo-Economics

Germany, Russia, and the Rise of Geo-Economics by Stephen F. Szabo. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, 200 pp.

Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy and longtime expert on German foreign policy, shatters many comfortable assumptions often held about post–Cold War German foreign policy in his excellent new book, Germany, Russia, and the Rise of Geo-Economics. For decades the academic and policy communities tended to focus upon and emphasize the unique features of postwar German policy, especially foreign policy. For many, West Germany was seen as the reticent ally, who because of sensitive lessons learned from history was not willing to project military power or even identify as a military power. West German policymakers focused instead on the ability of West Germany to succeed as an economic power, although one that was well-integrated into western institutions. This idea of the reticent ally carried over into post–Cold War history as well. Indeed, there is much evidence that Germany remains reticent in projecting military power abroad, which was recently manifested during NATO military operation Unified Protector in Libya, from which Germany abstained. Szabo does not reject the resilience of the reticent German security culture, or what he calls Germany the civilian power. Instead, he refocuses the causality argument about German motivations and behavior in foreign policy. He argues persuasively that the foundation for German foreign policy resides in its economic interests and identity as an economic power. German foreign policy is primarily driven by Germany Inc.

Decades of success in expanding its trading base through bilateral and multilateral forums have ensured Germany's role as a dominant global economic power. These experiences have also fostered a new sense of national identity in successive generations who are further away from the identity of guilt after the Second World War. Instead, Germans now pursue national interests more unabashedly than previous generations. They are no longer recalcitrant in the projection of military power because of the direct link to the past. Instead, they are recalcitrant about projecting military power because projecting economic power works better for German interests. Export-oriented businesses are major stakeholders in German foreign policy and influence heavily the direction taken by the government. As Szabo observes, “the key concerns of political leaders are with prosperity and competitiveness, not with security in the central global core” (p. 8).

Szabo's book is going to have a huge impact. He forces German specialists to rethink the importance of the culture of reticence. Germany is still the NATO ally least willing to revert to the use of military power to resolve conflict. Szabo's critical insight is that this proclivity is no longer the best indicator in explaining the source of German behavior and motivation. The country is a confident and successful economic power that projects this power as it best sees fit, whether it is in taking advantage of the emerging trade opportunities of globalization, pursuing new advantages in bilateral relationships, or using its power to impose its will on EU allies. Szabo's book also forces analysts in international relations to eschew one-dimensional theoretical claims concerning realism and liberalism. Germany has redefined its national interest over half a century of postwar history. It has emerged as a global trading state and is willing to pursue its own economic interests aggressively in an increasingly zero sum world.

As the Russian threat re-emerges and ushers in a new period of East-West tensions, it behooves Germany's allies to understand that Berlin will no longer play the same role that Bonn did in the Cold War. Economics will be the driving force in Germany's relationship with Russia. Russia presents Germany with multiple foreign policy and security problems, but the deep-rooted economic relationship will drive German foreign policy in a way that does not hold true for US-Russian relations. The somewhat fractured Western approach to Putin's aggressive Russia is explained by the diverging perceptions of the threat that have emerged among Western allies. For the United States, the Russian threat is understood in terms of the potential military threat it could pose. For Germany, the Russian threat has been handled diplomatically and economically, with an eye to refocusing Putin on economic interdependencies. Despite the corruption and continued rejection of democratic values that have increasingly typified Putin's Russia, “German business will continue to lead on Russia policy” (p. 80).

In short, Szabo introduces a new paradigm that describes and explains German power. The ideas expressed in the book should force a rethinking of the sets of relationships that involve Germany and through which Berlin has defined its postwar rehabilitation and success. The policy implications of Germany Inc. need to be understood by US decision makers and observers of Germany. Germany Inc. and its impact on the NATO relationship deserve particular attention. It should no longer be assumed that US and German grand strategies will converge. American policy makers and policy analysts would do well to read Szabo's book.

Mary Hampton, PhD
Air Command and Staff College


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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