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Baerbock Heads to Washington via Kyiv (and Texas)

Robin Quinville

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently visited Texas and Washington, D.C. following a visit to Kyiv. In this article, our Program Director Robin S. Quinville outlines the significance of this visit to the ongoing transatlantic support of Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visiting the German Air Force Tactical Training Command at the US Air Force Base in Wichita Falls
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visiting the German Air Force Tactical Training Command at the US Air Force Base in Wichita Falls

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits Washington this week with two key accomplishments behind her: Germany’s first National Security Strategy (released in June) and Germany’s new China Strategy (issued in July). Negotiations over both documents within Germany’s three-party coalition were tough, pushing back an earlier rollout. Concerned about possible erosion of the Foreign Ministry’s independence and power, Baerbock ably defended her Ministry’s lead against proposals for an overarching National Security Council. Still, Baerbock can credibly argue that both strategies are proof of Germany’s new direction.

Three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the dramatic change in Germany’s threat perception as a Zeitenwende – a watershed moment. But eighteen months later, the word describes more than a moment; it is an on-going process of change. Scholz’s speech quickly reoriented Germany’s defense and security priorities; the two strategies released this summer embed the new direction across the German government. 

The National Security Strategy emphasizes an ”integrated security” that is robust, resilient and sustainable. It rightly acknowledges the need to strengthen Germany’s army and defense spending with a €100 billion infusion. And it recognizes Russia as the most significant threat to peace. Germany remains committed to multilateral coordination with Europe and the US but is re-committed to strengthening its own capacity and determination to act. This is evident in Germany’s hastening of its procurement process to allocate €60 billion in defense spending by the end of the year. 

Germany’s China strategy sees China as “simultaneously a partner, competitor and systemic rival.” By stating up front that Germany’s China policy is rooted in the EU’s policy, it is less ambitious than the National Security Strategy. It does, however, underscore the need for change given China’s approach in the region and beyond. The China Strategy is a delicate balancing act; given heavy investment by Germany companies in China, emphasizing EU top-cover gives more (domestic) room for maneuver. Germany’s China strategy will be more visible in how it shapes the EU’s approach than in its bilateral initiatives.  

Both strategies give Baerbock street cred with her Washington counterparts – showing Germany is tackling long-standing issues and changing its course on a long-term basis. But she’s not coming to the US for a victory lap. Baerbock’s visit comes immediately after her September 11 trip to Kyiv. In Kyiv, Baerbock called for expanding air defense for Ukrainian critical infrastructure. And she underscored German support for Ukraine’s European future. “Ukraine is defending the freedom of us all with great courage and determination. Just as Ukraine is standing up for us, it can also rely on us and on our understanding of EU enlargement as a necessary geopolitical consequence of Russia’s war. And on our firm support for Ukraine on its path towards the European Union.” Her message was an important signal ahead of the European Commission’s latest assessment of EU candidates in October.

In Washington, Baerbock will underscore that transatlantic support for Ukraine is essential. She spent a couple of days in Texas before arriving – not only due to German economic investment there, but also because German fighter pilots train at the US Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. Baerbock’s travel beyond the beltway shows her political savvy as she weighs the beyond-the-beltway strength of support for Ukraine. Like many Europeans, she will be asking herself: will it change? 

About the Author

Robin Quinville

Robin S. Quinville

Director, Global Europe Program
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Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program is focused on Europe’s capabilities, and how it engages on critical global issues.  We investigate European approaches to critical global issues. We examine Europe’s relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. Our initiatives include “Ukraine in Europe” – an examination of what it will take to make Ukraine’s European future a reality.  But we also examine the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE, Europe’s energy security, transatlantic trade disputes, and challenges to democracy. The Global Europe Program’s staff, scholars-in-residence, and Global Fellows participate in seminars, policy study groups, and international conferences to provide analytical recommendations to policy makers and the media.  Read more