SecurityKey TopicPolitics

A holistic approach to security

12. February 2024 - from Dr Theodor Benien

After a prolonged tug-of-war, Germany finally has a National Security Strategy. In it, the German government is propagating a policy of integrated security. In the future, potential threats are to be countered through improved inter-ministerial cooperation

A compass for Germany’s security

In its white paper, the German government analyses the political and strategic param­eters in Europe and defines the country’s security interests. The strategic building blocks and their objectives are as follows:

The ability of Germany to defend itself. The ability of Germany to defend itself. This encompasses, for example, a credible ability to deter aggression and to defend the country; expansion of NATO’s European pillar; and strengthening national and Alliance defences.

Resilience. The liberal democratic order must be protected against espionage, sabotage, disinformation and cyberattacks in order to bolster faith in a “democracy that can defend itself”. According to the strategy, great innovative strength is decisive in assuring the ability to resist and compete. Technological and digital sovereignty are therefore fundamental components of integrated security.

Sustainability. The very first sentence of the subchapter on this building block of strategy sums up succinctly its most important message: “Global climate, environmental, food and resource policy are security policy.” The framework for political action relating to this building block is Agenda 2030 of the United Nations with its global sustainability goals.

The complete Strategy Paper is available here

The ability to defend ourselves, resilient, sustainable and looking ahead. That is how the German government envisages its new long-term policy of “integrated security”. This was one of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s most important messages when he presented the country’s National Security Strategy in Berlin on 14 June 2023 together with four ministers from his cabinet. Variously described as “integrated” or “expanded”, the new approach to national security took shape in recent years, and now extends far beyond the traditional rubrics of internal and external security.

The Strategy Paper represents a departure in German security policy. In fact, this is the first time that the Federal Republic of Germany has ever had its own security strategy. It thus comes as no surprise that drawing up the strategy document was no easy task and ultimately the outcome of political horse trading. Due account had to be taken of the divergent priorities of the German government’s three coalition partners, as did the various interests of the Federal Chancellery, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Interior Ministry.

If you read the Strategy Paper carefully, one thing quickly becomes apparent: the expression “integrated security” takes centre stage. Henceforth, security is no longer to be conceived of in terms of internal and external security alone but will instead include significantly more dimensions. What does “integrated security” mean? The 74-page document defines it as follows: “We understand it to be the interaction of all relevant actors, resources and instruments which interlock to maintain the security of our country in full and strengthen it against external threats.”

In the view of the German government, security policy is “more than the sum of diplomacy and military power; it must bring together all the strands of policy.” Therefore, in addition to external and internal security, it encompasses inter alia cybersecurity and space security as well as energy and climate security, food security and security of supply, and social security.

No sooner was the Strategy Paper published than a political debate erupted, with critics assailing the failure to anchor a new national security council in the Security Strategy. The conservative Christian Democrats wanted this, as did the market-minded Free Democrats. But the coalition partners and relevant ministries were evidently unable to agree on this – due perhaps to the existence of the Bundesicherheitsrat, or Federal Security Council. Forming a second body might have led to bureaucratic turf wars.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and four members of his cabinet presented the Security Strategy at a government press conference in Berlin on 15 June 2023. (Image: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler)

Does security have to be A TOP executive matter?

Furthermore, some political observers found fault with the fact that the Foreign Office took the lead in drawing up the security strategy rather than the Chancellery, Ministry of Defence or Interior Ministry. After all, they complained, security strategy is a top executive matter and hence the province of the Federal Chancellor, who not only sets the policy agenda but, in times of war, is commander-in-chief of the German armed forces under the country’s constitution.

No matter how one views the criticism, the main thing is that Germany finally has its own National Security Strategy, though the Federal Republic, unlike the United States, Great Britain or France, has never had a tradition of “strategic thinking”. It was therefore admirably frank of Annalena Baerbock, the country’s foreign minister, to admit in her introduction to the Strategy Paper that “The text is not an end point, but rather a beginning.” Thus, the Strategy Paper is seen as a work in progress which will be continu­ously improved and updated.

Facts instead of feelings

Regarding the public in Germany, it would be desirable if the National Security Strategy would prove to be something more than just a way of keeping security experts busy in government agencies. Instead, it should contribute to a rational, fact-based discussion of strategic policy in Germany, and thus help strategic thinking in Germany to at least inch forward.

A sensible step here would be the creation of chairs of strategic studies or security policy at German universities. The fact that there is not a single, regularly funded chair in this field in Germany is an obvious deficit and one that politicians urgently need to address. The Kiel-based political scientist Joachim Krause quite rightly pointed this out in an article he penned for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Otherwise”, he wrote, “Germany, the perceived leading power of Europe, will continue to suffer from strategic blindness.”


Dr Theodor Benien

worked for over 30 years as Head of Communications in various divisions of the Airbus Group and was most recently Vice President Communications in the Eurofighter consortium. Since 2020, he has been working as an independent communications consultant with a focus on international security and defence policy.

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