Germany’s Foreign Policy under Heiko Maas – Meaningless and Without Strategy

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has doubled down on his criticism of Defence Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer and said she was “damaging” German foreign policy.

Maas first criticised the Defence Minister’s call for a security zone in Syria. What is further proof of the volatility of the grand coalition on the one hand, is a statement by a Foreign Minister who carries his title in name only on the other.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) accuses Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) of having damaged German foreign policy with her push for an international protection force in northern Syria. Maas believes that the proposal had been “voted neither within the federal government nor within Kramp-Karrenbauer’s party,” Maas said in his latest statements, before concluding ‘it does not give a good impression, either inside or outside Germany.’

Previously, Maas had been facing fierce criticism for the way he conducted himself in Turkey. At Maas’ appearance there, he publicly stated, standing side by side with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, that Kramp-Karrenbauer’s plan was ‘not a realistic proposal and this is why we have taken the time to look at the issues that are important to the people of Syria now’. The FDP faction’s vice spoke of a ‘scandalous appearance’ of Maas here.

The rather unfortunate conduct of Maas on the international stage is not a new nor unique occurrence. The former Minister of Justice has held his current office for little over a year. For a competent Foreign Minister, these could be glorious times. With Pax Americana slowly but steadily eroding, China’s rise and the Middle East in flames, foreign policymaking has become as important as ever.

While Germany’s role has been that of a diplomatic power rather than a militaristic one, there are still plenty of opportunities for a German Foreign Minister to make an impact on issues. Heiko Maas does not seize these opportunities. Although he travels around the world diligently, hurrying from appointment to appointment, he does not leave much of an impression with anyone it seems.

Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal was a chance for Germany to make a difference on the international stage. Whether or not it would have made it through the U.N. is a different question, but at least Kramp-Karrenbauer attempted to establish a German identity – something Maas seems to have no understanding nor any interest for.

His actions are mainly based on urging states to adhere to agreements (e.g. Iran) or the rather uncreative call for peace in the Middle East (e.g. Israel and Palestine). Meaningful action? Nonexistent.

This criticism is not to be misunderstood for Germany to become a great power overnight, again. Germany’s membership in this exclusive club expired ages ago and the lack of military weight as well as not being a permanent member in the U.N.S.C. makes it challenging to negotiate world politics on the same level as the U.S., China or Russia.

However, Germany should expect more of his Foreign Minister than him attempting to be a highly paid Instagram model, while making statements on issues, an undergraduate with a background in international studies could utter also. A little less macchiato and just a nuance of Machiavelli instead would be appreciated not only by German realists but by allies alike. 

The bigger picture, a grand strategy for a German foreign policy, has been missing for a while. With the international stage continuing to change, Maas simply seems in over his head, and the fact that he remains a big believer in EU collectivism instead of German individualism and leadership offers little hope for change.

Germany’s politicians rightfully remind us of the responsibility Germany carries based on its most recent history. Talk is cheap, however, and the world is in dire need of a voice of reason. But a voice that is being heard and will not stay silent whenever the chips are on the table.