Liberal Foreign Policy

The FDP has played a major role in shaping the foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany, having provided the country’s Foreign Minister from 1969 to 1998, with an interruption of barely three weeks. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in particular, has played an outstanding role in this, as he was also involved in the preparations for and the decisive moment of reunification.

Since then, however, it has been quiet about liberal foreign policy. Only Guido Westerwelle has held this office once more, but the memory of it is disappointing. Apart from the generally unpopular government work of his party, for which he was jointly responsible as party leader, the Libya Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council also sticks in the memory. Unlike its allies France, Great Britain and the USA, Germany did not agree to go to war against the then ruler Gaddafi and abstained from voting. Despite plausible arguments against the deployment, this was seen by many as a lack of loyalty to the alliance. The fact that Westerwelle subsequently wrote an article justifying the decision, among other things, by saying that China and Russia had also abstained from the vote, made the bad impression even worse.

The party reached a low point in liberal foreign policy in 2017 when it left the coalition negotiations, making Heiko Maas Germany’s foreign minister.

As a motto for their international orientation, the party calls for more “German courage” instead of the “German fear” they often criticise. In return, they want to approach foreign policy with the “networked approach”, which aims to implement a coherent international policy according to a holistic principle. As far as possible, the various policy fields and different regions should no longer be considered separately, but from a general point of view and with objectives that can be related to the individual issues. Similar to the SPD and the Greens, there is a strong focus on the EU as a foreign policy actor, which one would like to develop into a “real global player”.

As a consequence of the networked approach, external and internal security are to be tackled simultaneously, more strongly than before. To this end, the party calls for the establishment of a National Security Council based on the US model. In addition, the party wants to invest three percent of GDP in “international security”, which includes the areas of development, diplomacy and security. In doing so, the FDP emphasises that it will keep its contractual obligations to its NATO partners. It is probably the only party in the Bundestag that credibly adheres to these obligations.

With regard to the USA, the programme emphasises friendly relations, the enormous importance of the alliance with the USA (and NATO) as well as the chance for a new beginning through Joe Biden’s presidency. In other words, there is agreement between the major parties on this issue. At this point, however, it should be mentioned that the FDP is also seeking cooperation with the “democratic partner states of the Indo-Pacific region”. This is a pleasant contrast to the general regional focus in German political debate, without drifting into the abyss of Wilhelmine world politics.

They want to maintain close relations with Great Britain, but the reference to a possible re-entry of the country into the EU shows that the liberal camp has probably not yet come to terms with the Brexit and is clinging to lost hopes. Turkey, on the other hand, should be treated differently than before, no longer as a candidate for EU membership, but as an important NATO ally and security policy and economic partner. The FDP is thus the only party to have clearly identified strategic aspects and to have presented a realistic alternative to the current EU-Turkey relationship, even if only in brief.

The party is very critical of Russia, and relations with the Eastern superpower are to consist primarily of dialogue on security policy issues. Thus, the Nordstream 2 project is linked to other issues and a moratorium on its further construction is demanded. Not too much can be expected from the FDP in the Federal Republic’s relations with Moscow.

There is a desire to deepen economic and civil relations with China, but the country is also described as a “system rival”. In addition, reference is also made to the concept of the “one-China policy”, which deprives Taiwan of the possibility of becoming a full member of the UN as a state in its own right. Below this threshold, however, there is support for the island state to be integrated into international organisations as much as possible. In order to be able to develop a coherent China strategy, the party strives for close cooperation within the European Union, with the USA, but also with partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Whether such coordination can be achieved will be one of the most important questions in world politics in this decade.

With regard to Israel, the programme first emphasises the provisional responsibility for its security and right to exist. Interesting is the remark that this right concerns Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. So would the country be supported on the path to “Jewish purity”? Or would the country’s right to exist be revoked as soon as it ceased to be a democracy? The FDP has expressed itself very unhappily on this and it is not clear to me what exactly they were thinking. If they are in government and the Middle East conflict escalates, this sentence will probably be highlighted again. The party has achieved the feat of making itself vulnerable to attack from practically all sides with the help of just two words.

Africa occupies a much larger place in the Liberals’ draft programme than in the other parties’. It emphasises the opportunities that lie in particular in sub-Saharan Africa for Germany and Europe, which can become a new, large trading partner for us. Cooperation in the field of security policy is also mentioned, albeit very cautiously.

The FDP’s programme has a much broader view, both geographically and in terms of content, than the programmes of the other major parties and can thus stand out pleasantly. A second major plus point is the expressed awareness that Germany itself can no longer be regarded as a global pioneer in many areas, which also protects against moral self-aggrandisement. This is also reflected in the proposal to appoint “innovation ambassadors” who are to be sent to the “centres of concentration of the IT and high-tech industry” to network with and learn from them. This form of humility and the resulting will to learn, even from countries that were clearly inferior to us just a few years ago, is urgently needed. The FDP is also the only party with a geostrategic perspective that is needed in the German debate.

Despite all the positive approaches, however, the example of “Jewish and democratic” Israel also shows that the party sometimes lacks diplomatic finesse, and one inevitably feels transported back to the times of Guido Westerwelle. Great strategies are of little use if the craft is not understood.

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