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Germany Steps Up

WASHINGTON, DC – Since the start of his first administration, US President Barack Obama has repeated a simple mantra concerning other countries: “With power comes responsibility.” France has demonstrated repeatedly that it understands and accepts this responsibility; Germany may now be following suit.

Several weeks ago, German President Joachim Gauck’s opening address to the 50th annual Munich Security Conference reflected on the Federal Republic’s evolution over those five decades, a period that gave rise to “a good Germany, the best we have ever known.” And, because Germany benefits more than most countries from the current open, value-based international order, it has, Gauck said, a greater responsibility to defend and extend that order.

Gauck’s speech reflected the thinking in an important new report, entitled New Power, New Responsibility, released by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The report – the product of several months of debate within the German foreign-policy and security community – identifies Germany’s current values and interests as a commitment to “human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and to an international order that is based on universal norms.” As Gauck proclaimed, Germany’s “overriding strategic objective” must be the “preservation and continued adaptation” of this order.

To achieve this objective, Germany must become a “shaping power,” a state with the ability to solve problems and resolve conflicts affecting all or part of the international community. The traditional determinants of states’ power relative to other states – geography, demography, economic heft, and military might, coupled with the availability of resources and technological proficiency – remain important; but they are often insufficient to confer actual influence in international politics. A shaping power builds relationships and invests in institutions that allow it to work well with others and to create and mobilize “coalitions and networks of like-minded states.”