Last year I blogged about former plagiarism defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's New York Times op/ed piece where he complained that despite Germany's economic power it played no significant role in geo-politics; its was, in his words, a powerless "pygmy", standing by while other nations did the heavy lifting.
Well, things may be changing in Berlin. Last week Germany's federal president Joachim Gauck opened the annual Munich Security Conference with a powerful speech (English / Deutsch) which outlines a new, more robust and muscular role for Germany in the world. No longer would Germany just be a sanctimonious "observer" as global crises play out:
We cannot hope to be spared from the conflicts of this world. But if we contribute to solving them, we can take a hand at least in shaping the future. It is thus worth Germany’s while to invest properly in European cooperation and the global order.
And there are times - for example, to prevent genocide - where military intervention is called for:
Brutal regimes must not be allowed to hide behind the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. This is where the concept of "responsibility to protect" comes to bear. This concept transfers to the international community the responsibility to protect the people of a given country from such atrocities when their own government fails to do so. In the very last resort, military means can be used, after careful consideration and a weighing up of the consequences, upon authorisation by the UN Security Council.
And, with respect to the NSA spying scandal which has resulted in spasms of anti-Americanism in Germany, Gauck has a more balanced perspective:
We feel surrounded by friends, but hardly know how to deal with diffuse security threats such as the privatisation of power by terrorists and cyber criminals. We rightly complain when allies overstep the mark when they use electronic surveillance to detect threats. And yet, we prefer to remain reliant on them and hesitate to improve our own surveillance capacities.
Gauck's words were echoed in follow-on comments by defense minister Ursula von er Leyen and foreign miinister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as the New York Times reported:
Ms. von der Leyen, the first woman to hold the defense minister post, spoke days after telling the newsmagazine Der Spiegel that Germany might send more soldiers to bolster the French presence in Mali, meant to prevent the disintegration of a country that has been a growing base for Islamist militants.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who held the same job in Ms. Merkel’s first coalition, weighed in on another dispute on Saturday, reiterating a demand that President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine fulfill his promises to protesters seeking a closer bond with Europe.
Mr. Steinmeier cast that call as part of a new German role in Europe. Echoing United States officials and other foreign policy makers who have encouraged Germany to act in accordance with its status as Europe’s largest and the world’s fourth largest economy, he added, “Germany is really too big to just comment from the sidelines.”
Predictably, the German left reacted with outrage at Gauck's speech, labeling the former Protestant minister a "war-monger". Writing in Der Spiegel, Jakob Augstein suddently found nice things to say about outgoing foreign minister Guido Westermann, a man Augstein has repeatedly savaged over the years:
Auf einmal wird klar, was dieses Land an seinem Außenminister Guido Westerwelle hatte, der für eine "Kultur der militärischen Zurückhaltung" stand und der dafür nun von den Zeitungen gescholten wird.
Augstein and others would prefer to remain comfortably on the sidelines - pointing fingers at the United States, blaming the US for they Syrien civil war, the Israeii- Palestinian conflict, the turmoil in Egypt. Let's face it, the US is responsible for all the problems in the world.