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A Security Strategy for Germany

4:07 PM, May 10, 2008 • By ULF GARTZKE
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Earlier this week, Germany's ruling conservative CDU/CSU parliamentary group boldly called for the creation of a new "National Security Council." The German NSC would be tasked with coordinating the country's various ministries and agencies as they manage foreign and security policy challenges at home and abroad. In essence, the new NSC -- to be attached to the German Chancellor's office -- would be a much beefed-up version of the existing "Federal Security Council," a largely obscure inter-agency cabinet-level grouping headed by the Chancellor that normally meets only on an ad-hoc basis, primarily to approve military export licenses. Among other things, the CDU/CSU paper also made a renewed push to loosen current constitutional restrictions on the use of military forces inside Germany in the event of a major terrorist attack or large-scale natural disaster.

For far too long, in other words, German political leaders shied away from communicating a comprehensive strategic framework that defines the country's national interests and addresses responses to the various threats. The conservative strategy paper defines Germany's national interests in terms of five issue areas: (1) the fight against terrorism; (2) nuclear proliferation; (3) energy and pipeline security; (4) climate change; and (5) the prevention of conflicts.

The CDU/CSU initiative triggered massive criticism from both their left-wing SPD coalition partner and the major opposition parties; all of whom view the proposed NSC as a brazen attempt to diminish the role of the Bundestag and to unduly centralize foreign and security policy making inside the Chancellery. For example, SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier -- the most likely challenger to Angela Merkel in the 2009 general elections -- charged that the U.S. NSC had been a failure. Steinmeier said that in the run-up to the Iraq war, the NSC had "suppressed all counterarguments" to the 2003 invasion. "This cannot be the model for us," he said. The co-chairwoman of the Greens, well known for her headline-grabbing statements, even went as far as saying that the CDU/CSU paper amounted to a "de-facto declaration of a state-of-war in Germany."

For the past several days, German media have been abuzz with talk about the proposed National Security Council. Unfortunately, major newspapers such as the center-left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung largely followed the opposition's rationale for line of attack against the new initiative. The fierce reaction to the CDU/CSU security strategy -- which had been in the works since late 2006 but was kept largely under wraps until this week -- seems to indicate that the initiative took the SPD leadership and the opposition parties completely by surprise, and that it is also seen by them as a potential political vulnerability. With their bold new initiative, CDU/CSU have managed to define the terms of the national debate with a first-strike. While the strategy paper provides no specific guidance as to how to implement the proposed reforms, conservative analysts in Berlin believe that a relatively simple change in the governing rules and regulations of the Federal Cabinet would suffice to stand up the new NSC.

Chancellor Merkel, for her part, is very supportive of the CDU/CSU initiative, which was also developed in coordination with her national security staff at the Chancellery. At the same time, though, she has tried to calm the waves (especially vis-à-vis her SPD coalition partner) in stating that the proposed national security strategy for Germany was not on the political agenda for the remainder of her term. Still, it's clear that the CDU/CSU will attempt to build on their newly-unveiled national security strategy as they try and turn it into a campaign issue in the 2009 general elections. And so far, neither the SPD nor any of the other opposition parties in the Bundestag have even tried to formulate an adequate response to the mounting security challenges facing Germany both at home and abroad.