By Farzad Bonesh
The relationship between Germany and countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Egypt in the Middle East goes back centuries. Various variables such as the First World War, Nazism, the Second World War, and then the reunification of Germany influenced the view and approach of Germany’s foreign policy towards the Middle East in the 20th century. In the past few decades, with the increasing role of Germany in Europe and the world, Berlin has paid more attention to the Middle East.
The political and geopolitical position of the Middle East
Olaf Scholz’s appointment as Germany’s chancellor in December 2021, the end of “Merkelism”, crises such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the change in the situation in the Middle East have had an impact on Berlin’s geopolitical view of the Middle East.
In fact, it seems that despite the uncertainty of the future of the international system, the leadership of the United States, and increasing tensions between global players, Berlin as a major power in Europe is willing to accept greater international responsibility. also, while the US is withdrawing from the Middle East, the expectations from Berlin to deal with the geopolitical and expanding role of China and Russia in the Middle East have increased.
Although, Germany’s foreign policy is within the framework of the European Union, ideas such as Germany’s complete non-reliance on the United States, a more important role in the defense of Europe and NATO, European leadership in line with its national interests, and being as an anchor of stability for the Middle East region have been strengthened in Germany.
Instability in the Middle East has far-reaching consequences for Germany. Therefore, Berlin has considered approaches such as mediation, greater participation in the diplomatic solution, and greater preparation to deal with the crisis in the Middle East. Berlin previously approved policy guidelines on preventing crises, conflict resolution, and peacemaking to make its approach to crises more consistent.
Part of Germany’s geopolitical and security interests is avoiding the inevitable dangers of Middle East conflicts, especially the revival and achievement of peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict and supporting the Abraham Accords. In fact, Berlin feels a responsibility towards Israel and its security and recognizes the right of Palestinians to determine their own destiny and their efforts for their country.
Therefore, Berlin recommends the only two-state solution that can lead to lasting peace. In this regard, Germany considers various relations with Israel, and besides that, it pursues the approach of aid to Palestine. Also, Germany is trying to pay more attention to the position of Egypt due to its important Arab role in Libya and the Middle East peace process in the region.
On the other hand, Germany is still part of the negotiations on the nuclear agreement with Iran. In this regard, the quick end of negotiations and adherence to commitments, and reaching a better agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, are important parts of the approach of the current German government. Many in Berlin, say that the failure of nuclear negotiations with Tehran, a nuclear Iran, extensive cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, and the occurrence of a conflict between major players in the Middle East are angerous .
The military and security position of the Middle East
Earlier, Chancellor Olaf Schultz announced a defense fund of 100 billion euros to upgrade the German armed forces. In fact, Germany reluctantly supports the use of military force to fight terrorism. But in the past years, in the framework of participating in the global coalition against ISIS, NATO mission, participating in some exercises, supporting freedom of navigation, etc., Germany pursued its military and security approach in the Middle East.
In fact, Berlin does not want the insecurity of terrorism or organized crimes in the Middle East to cause issues such as uncontrolled migration to Europe. Also, it seems that considering the previous presence of German jihadist fighters in the Middle East, the exchange of information and anti-terrorism cooperation with the important governments of the region is still considered by Berlin.
In another dimension, due to the quality of Germany’s technology, it has always been one of the top arms exporters to the Middle East. In the meantime, despite the challenges such as the more detailed regulation of arms exports and the embargo on exports to the countries involved in the Yemen war, Berlin sees the export of weapons as one of its priorities.
Human rights and the social status of the Middle East
In fact, although most countries in the Middle East are authoritarian, from the point of view of the German Chancellor, respecting human rights is as important to Germany as energy security. Therefore, Germany tries to pay attention to democratization, and reforms and encourages civil society actors in the Middle East. Meanwhile, despite pragmatism, Berlin seeks to promote the discourse of human rights to reduce criticism of its approach in the region.
On the other hand, Germany focuses on countries in the Middle East such as Syria and Yemen, which are a serious threat to Germany’s economic and social security. Berlin relies on multilateral diplomacy and helps Syria and Yemen, but it still considers reducing the threat and protecting its interests. From this point of view, it is desirable to support an immediate and stable ceasefire and return to the political process, mediation projects and confidence-building measures between the conflicting parties in Yemen. In fact, Germany wants to show itself as pacifist and neutral, not taking sides in wars, supporting freedom of navigation in the region, and encouraging dialogue between all parties.
In addition, Berlin deals with immigration. Instability in the region has direct consequences for Germany. Controlling immigration is the main factor in looking at the Middle East crises. in fact, the Middle East is also important for Germany in implementing the “climate partnerships” policy, reducing CO2 emissions and dealing with the consequences of climate change.
From this point of view, cooperation with the countries of the region can reduce crises such as water shortages or become uninhabitable, and climate change in the Middle East. In fact, Berlin is trying to better coordinate with regional actors to manage migration, education, and social resilience in crisis countries, help reduce armed conflicts and the economic crisis in the Middle East, and prevent the recurrence of the migration crisis .
Economic status of the Middle East
The basis of Germany’s foreign policy, as the largest economic power in Europe and one of the main economic powers in the world, is mainly economic interests. Therefore, in line with Germany’s national interests and further economic growth of the country, countries that have greater potential for economic interaction are more important. Germany is currently one of the main trading partners of most Middle Eastern countries.
However, what has given more importance to the position of the Middle East in the eyes of Berlin is the events of the last year in the global energy market. In fact, the outbreak of the Ukraine war caused Berlin to pay more and more attention to imports and investments in the field of energy and diversify its partners in the Middle East without depending on a single source.
In the meantime, while stable access to energy is one of Germany’s main needs, Berlin wants to become redundant from Russian gas as soon as possible in interaction with its energy-owning Middle Eastern partners. Therefore, with the current and future energy contracts and greater interaction with actors such as Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Iran, etc., it is both looking for the stability of the global energy markets and meeting its current and future needs.
Also, the countries of the Middle East with the power of renewable energy and green hydrogen production are suitable options for Germany. Therefore, by developing new collaborations with Middle Eastern energy suppliers, Berlin is looking to diversify energy paths, reduce dependence, and implement programs such as carbon neutrality by 2045. In this direction, it has even given priority to profitable contracts in the field of economy and energy, instead of human rights.
Has the Middle East become more important for Germany?
The Middle East is one of the regions visited by leaders and foreign ministers and Germany’s chancellor. However, according to various political, security, geopolitical, economic, and social variables, it seems that the position of the Middle East has been strengthened for Germany. Apart from the complementarity of most regional economies with Germany, Berlin’s need to overcome the energy crisis after the Ukraine crisis has doubled its attention to the Middle East.
In addition, it is likely that the increase in security, military, and geopolitical opportunities and threats with the regional actors and the attempt to replace part of the vacuum of the US presence in the Middle East has strengthened Berlin’s attention to the region and will continue to do so.