On 14 June 2023, the German Federal Government adopted the first National Security Strategy in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. On this topical occasion, renowned international experts discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the strategy as well as the steps to follow from it with Minister of State Tobias Lindner in a joint webinar. Daniela Schwarzer, a Member of the Executive Board of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, and Christian Mölling, Deputy Director of the Research Institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), hosted the event and contributed their views.

From Winston Churchill comes the recommendation: “However beautiful the strategy, from time to time, one should look at its results.” The tenor of the digital discussion round, which took place just hours after the National Security Strategy (NSS) had been released, sounded very similar. At the invitation of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), renowned figures in foreign and security policy from various countries shared their thoughts on this policy document of the German government. Their quintessence: The strategy is a step forward for Germany – but it is now important to follow words with deeds. Or, as the title of the event already asked: “Germany’s first National Security Strategy – what is next?”


Tobias Lindner, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, began by explaining the main features of the NSS. It pursues a holistic approach that takes into account both internal and external threats to the country’s security.

Aspects of classical defence policy are included, as well as the resilience of German democracy against disinformation and populism, the supply of raw materials, the protection of critical infrastructure (e.g. energy, communication), financial stability, cyber security, climate protection and biodiversity, as well as global health crises.

“We want to provide answers to a new world”

“We want to provide answers to a new world. We were already convinced of the need for a holistic approach before the Ukraine war,” Lindner emphasised. In addition to the threats posed by the Russian aggression, the relationship with China also plays a role. Lindner pointed out that more concrete positions could be expected from the announced China strategy.

“Robustness, resilience and sustainability” – these are the three pillars on which the strategy is based, the Minister of State explained. The anchoring in the collective security policy of the EU, UN and NATO remains the basis for Germany, but at the same time, the German government seeks to look for new partners in the world.

The representatives of the allies USA, France and Poland in the round were largely unanimous in their fundamental judgement. “It was worth waiting for this strategy,” said Frenchman Camille Grand, Distinguished Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and former Deputy Secretary General of NATO. On the one hand, he said, it was consistent with previous German foreign policy. On the other hand, “Germany is now more willing to articulate its own national interests. That is a big step forward.”

The strategy is characterised by “clarity and an optimistic tone”, said Heather Conley, President of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) in the USA. She also praised the commitment to EU enlargement. “The paper underlines Germany’s ambitions to assume more responsibility in the world, which is good,” stated Slawomir Debski, Director of the Polish Institute for International Affairs (PISM), who critically noted that Poland was not mentioned.

More concrete statements on dealing with China desired

However, the three discussants also made clear on which points the paper falls short of their respective expectations. “The strategy is more of a snapshot and does not look far enough into the future. The USA will keep a close eye on how it deals with China in particular,” Heather Conley emphasised. Camille Grand also missed more concrete statements on China, as well as on German export policy.

Furthermore, he expressed doubts about the German government’s commitment to permanently raise military spending to NATO’s two per cent target. Slawomir Debski also expressed his curiosity “whether the announcements will be followed by deeds and the defence budget will be increased”.

Debski also expressed disappointment that the German government did not make any statements on the relationship with the partner countries on NATO’s eastern flank. However, he appreciated “the clear language regarding the threat from Russia”.

Daniela Schwarzer praised the comprehensive depiction of domestic danger factors and for our society, especially in comparison to the security strategies of other countries. “This is a holistic view of the challenges Germany is facing,” Schwarzer said. To implement it, however, the federal government would have to coordinate many ministries and closely coordinate with the governments of the federal states in several policy areas, which would not be an easy task.

Overall, she welcomed the more ambitious role that Germany is striving for on the international stage after chancellor Scholz’s “Zeitenwende” speech. But her assessments also indicated that dealing with China could become the litmus test for the strategy. “On paper, China is now seen more as a competitor and rival and less as a partner. How this will affect individual political decisions remains to be seen,” said Schwarzer.

Significant role of climate protection for more security

The German government has presented an “evolutionary strategy at a revolutionary moment in world history”, was the assessment of Christian Mölling. Much will depend on whether the various instruments for prevention and defence can be effectively dovetailed – especially when it comes to the impact of external influences on internal affairs.

In his view, the paper’s biggest shortcoming: “The strategy lists many challenges, but hardly any political priorities.” In his conclusion, DGAP Director Guntram Wolff pointed out the great importance the document attaches to climate change for issues of national as well as international security. “The word ‘climate’ appears 70 times in the strategy, while ‘Russia’ only appears 20 times. For the young generation in particular, climate protection is the best protection against threats.”

These are precisely the ones that will now have to show up in the day-to-day political business – not least because of the limited financial resources, according to the consensus. “The work begins where the strategy ends,” Daniela Schwarzer emphasised. “The process is only really starting now,” Slawomir Debski also cautioned. “Such papers are never finished,” Heather Conley clarified. “The strategic journey for Germany has only just begun.”

This text is an English translation of the German event summary on the Bertelsmann Stiftung website.

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