The Irish Times view on German foreign policy: the Scholz transformation

Whether the Scholz administration can retain political and public support for what is to come depends on finding a compelling narrative of necessity

When Vladimir Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine a month ago, the initial reaction in Berlin was one of deep shock, shot through with self-pity over shattered Russian illusions.

A month on, with unspeakable human suffering just hours from Germany’s doorstep, the Scholz administration in Berlin is driving a remarkable – historic – transformation. Shaking off post-unification complacency, and wishful thinking that tyrants can be partners in business and democracy, a new Berlin approach is emerging.

Just three days into Putin's war in Ukraine, Bundestag MPs gave Chancellor Olaf Scholz a standing ovation with a promise to boost annual military spending to meet Germany's Nato obligations. Kickstarting this new era with a one-off €100 billion fund, Scholz added: "What has to happen for peace in Europe will happen".

Since then his coalition – barely 100 days in office – has begun reshaping Germany's postwar status quo at warp speed. A new Russian gas pipeline to Germany lies, unused and empty, beneath the Baltic Sea as Berlin seeks out new, non-Russian sources of energy. Taboo-breaking German arms exports to Ukraine, unthinkable six weeks ago, are the new normal.


But that was the easy part. Keeping up the momentum, and managing partners’ expectations, will be infinitely more difficult. Rebuilding Germany’s neglected defence forces is a timely task. But ending a funding shortage does not fix Germany’s broken military procurement system.

A new poll by the Allensbach institute found just 19 per cent of Germans are optimistic for the next 12 months, the lowest level since polling began in 1949, with 76 per cent feeling threatened by Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

Berlin is facing a similar military-morality moment to 1999, when the Schröder government pushed to join the Nato war over Kosovo. Germany's first foreign military deployment since 1945 caused uproar, in particular at a Green Party conference, where pacifist delegates pelted their foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, with paint bombs. Nursing a perforated ear drum, he delivered a furious piece of oratory: the obligation of Auschwitz is not to avoid war forever, as his critics claimed, but to intervene – if necessary militarily – to avoid even greater human suffering.

With an eye on their anxious voters, not all government MPs – blindsided last month by the Scholz “watershed” military spending plans – are fully on board. The temptation in Germany to retreat into its shell is always there.

Whether the Scholz administration can retain political and public support for what is to come depends on finding a compelling narrative of necessity. Without that Olaf Scholz could yet lose his country – and Europe its indispensable partner – to anxious navel-gazing.