5 April 2015

German Power and the Ukraine Conflict

The Ukraine crisis has revealed both the strengths of German foreign policy—diplomatic skill and economic power—and its weakness—a lack of military muscle.

In the course of the Ukraine conflict that erupted in 2014, Germany has for the first time taken the lead on a major international crisis. The main center of Western action and coordination hasn’t been Washington, Brussels, Paris, or London, but Berlin. The crisis has illustrated the strength of Germany’s foreign policy: its skilled use of economic power and diplomacy. But the confrontation has also demonstrated Berlin’s weakness: the lack of a military dimension to German power. 

Germany has become a leader in the Ukraine crisis for three reasons. First, German power has grown since the country’s reunification in 1990. Germany not only has the biggest economy and the largest population in the EU but also lies geographically at the center of the union and is deeply embedded in EU structures. Second, the crisis is of vital importance for Germany because the entire geopolitical order to the country’s East is at stake. Third, there was no one else to take the lead. Paris has weakened in recent years. London is increasingly disconnected from the EU. Washington has taken a step back from European affairs. And Brussels lacks the capability to lead the EU on foreign policy.

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