Germany tends to avoid the spotlight in contentious geopolitical issues, but it is now taking bolder actions. Chancellor Merkel already clashed with Donald Trump at the G7, and recently did so again at the NATO summit over military spending as well as Germany’s energy plans for Nordstream 2 with Russia. Merkel also strengthened ties with China, speaking out for multilateral cooperation with premier Li Keqiang. Finally, Germany is also taking bold action on migration, both through minister Seehofer’s plan for stricter rules and with its Marshall plan for Africa.
During the postwar period, Germany did not pursue an independent geopolitical strategy. Instead, it focused on soft power and economic diplomacy. This began to change following the eurocrisis, when it was pushed into the role of informal leader of Europe. We have described before how this task will become more difficult as three cores will emerge in the continent. Overall, however, German foreign policy will continue to mature: After being forced to lead, in the face of growing challenges, the country will henceforth actively pursue a geopolitical strategy.
Trump has derided Europe for free-riding on U.S. military spending. Although this is correct, the flipside of this has been that Europe has always acquiesced to American foreign policy. As Europe increases its own military spending, it will also follow a more independent foreign policy. Whereas America’s primary focus in the future will be its rivalry with China, Europe will orient itself more on the instability in its direct vicinity (Russian resurgence, Middle Eastern conflict and African migration). Germany will increasingly lead Europe in this direction and will thus clash with the U.S. more often.