Germany did not begin addressing the issue of policy coherence in its responses to external crises and conflict management until the late 1990s. Thus, the government was rather late to jump on a train that had already started a long journey within the UN, EU or OECD-DAC frameworks and that had resulted in advanced concepts in the UK and the Netherlands (Weiss, Spanger and van Meurs 2010). Thereafter, Germany’s ‘networked approach’, as it is now called, evolved in two phases, each reacting to profound changes in the security environment. In the beginning, the agenda was driven by the many secessionist and civil wars that followed after the end of the Cold War and, in particular, the threat of international terrorism so vividly embodied by 9/11. Then, in the mid-2010s, the rise of the Islamic State and the wars in Syria and Iraq, in particular, drew fresh attention to this issue. The ensuing so-called migration crisis, which prompted Germany to take in roughly 1 million refugees in 2015, made conditions in Africa the focus of political and public attention in addition to putting the government under massive pressure to limit the flow of refugees and migrants.
Germany’s almost unconditional supra- and multilateral orientation has also had a strong influence on the country’s coherence agenda and its priorities. For the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg), the strategy developments within NATO – which adopted its own ‘Comprehensive Approach’ in 1999 to justify out-of-area operations to manage crises and conflicts – were essential. For its part, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) closely followed the related discussions within the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate (OECD-DAC). The latter’s work on fragile states and its recommendations on the ‘humanitarian-development-peace nexus’, to which Germany contributed, were of particular importance. On the other hand, the conceptual thinking of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office (AA) was guided by the security and peace strategies adopted in the EU, OSCE and UN, which Germany, as a member of these organisations, has undertaken to implement.
Germany has adopted a rather instrumentalist approach to joining multilateral efforts to respond to conflicts and crises. The reasons for this can be found in two casually related factors: a mindset forged by historical events and concrete constitutional limitations that this mindset gave rise to in the immediate postwar years.
Regarding the first factor, Germany has been described as a “post-heroic society” that rejects military values and, ultimately, heroism (Muenkler 2015). Indeed, the pledge ‘Never again war, never again Auschwitz’ is deeply engrained in the collective consciousness and severely limits the use of force other than in territorial self-defence (Weiss 2016). Such sentiments have made Germany’s federal government feel obliged to comply with the ‘do no harm’ principle. The first fundamental policy shift (or watershed moment) in the German postwar doctrine only came about with the first deployment of German troops outside of NATO, during the Kosovo War in the late 1990s. Externally, embracing a strategy of policy coherence was viewed as useful for showing Germany’s international partners that it was willing to take on more responsibilities. And, domestically, the strong emphasis that this approach laid on peacebuilding and the civilian side of conflict management made it easier to frame to a public reluctant to see its soldiers back in action abroad.
Turning to the second factor, one can say that the shadow of history does not only manifests itself in German society’s widespread rejection of everything military. At the instigation of the Allied occupying powers, the German constitution (or Basic Law) contains a multitude of checks and balances whose impact reaches all the way to embrace attempts to pursue a networked approach. In order to prevent any renewed concentration of power – and, thus, the possibility of its abuse – the departmental principle (Ressortprinzip) gives federal ministers a very large degree of autonomy. No chancellor can command his or her ministers to do anything, and the chancellor’s authority to issue directives does not change this fundamentally.
What’s more, Germany’s system of proportional representation legally reinforces this legislative effort to prevent any concentration of power by making it practically impossible to gain an absolute majority while at the same time granting small and medium-sized parties a right to participate in politics (provided they surpass a relatively low hurdle). As a result, postwar Germany has always been governed by coalitions of parties rather than any single party. However, as another result, the ministries of foreign affairs (AA), development (BMZ) and defence (BMVg), which are the most important bodies for a networked approach, have never been in the hands of a single party, which in turn creates a political environment that effectively promotes rivalry rather than cooperation. Furthermore, the distribution of ministries along party lines during coalition-forming negotiations is also the reason why the chancellor’s authority to issue directives is a blunt sword. In fact, once drawn, the result is almost inevitably the collapse of the governing coalition.