Rabia Akhtar

The concept of Zeitenwende, or “turning point,” in Germany refers to the significant shift in German foreign and security policies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This term was coined by Chancellor Olaf Scholz during his speech to the Bundestag on February 27, 2022, where he outlined measures to enhance Germany’s defense spending and military readiness.

The Zeitenwende marks a notable departure from Germany’s post-War foreign policy, which emphasized military restraint and commitment to multilateralism. After the Cold War, Germany aimed to play a more active role on the global stage, primarily through economic and diplomatic means. However, the Zeitenwende represents a return to a more traditional German foreign policy, with a renewed focus on military strength and national security.

Zeitenwende: Why Now?

Timing is critical. There are several reasons why Germany introduced the Zeitenwende at this time. Firstly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered the security order in Europe that was established after the Cold War. This demonstrates that the threat of war is still present, and Germany can no longer rely on others for its security. Secondly, the Zeitenwende is a response to the rising power of China, which is challenging the established international system. As a major economic power, Germany needs to be capable of safeguarding its interests amidst growing Chinese competition.

The Zeitenwende thus marks a pivotal shift in Germany’s approach to the world. Its impact and endurance as a major policy shift are yet to be determined. However, the following key elements of the Zeitenwende contribute to its significance:

1. Germany has pledged increased defense spending and commits to allocating a minimum of 2% of its GDP towards defense, a notable increase from the current 1.5%.

2. Germany aims to strengthen its military presence in Eastern Europe and plans to deploy additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank.

3. Germany aims for closer collaboration with the United States and NATO allies and vows to enhance cooperation with allies to counteract Russian aggression. While the Zeitenwende elicits diverse reactions, with some recognizing it as a crucial measure for Germany’s security, others condemn it as a perilous departure from the country’s traditional foreign policy. The long-term consequences of the Zeitenwende are yet to unfold, but it indisputably represents a significant turning point in German foreign policy.

The German Exploration for Diversification in Asia

Germany’s need to broaden its partnerships in Asia stems from the transformative Zeitenwende, reshaping its relations with China. Concerns over China’s economic and military growth have prompted Germany to reconsider its heavy reliance on China. Consequently, the United States’ increased alignment with Germany offers new possibilities for engagement in the Asian region.

To diversify its alliances, Germany can explore strategic partnerships with several countries in Asia. South Korea and Japan, both staunch allies of the United States, share Germany’s concerns regarding China. Additionally, India, a rising power and a democratic nation, presents an attractive prospect for Germany. These countries offer alternative markets for German goods and services and can aid in balancing Germany’s relationship with China.

While the full impact of the Zeitenwende on Germany’s partner diversification is yet uncertain, it is clear that this transformative phase has the potential to shape Germany’s approach to engaging with Asia in a more balanced manner. The following countries present numerous advantages for Germany’s diversification efforts: South Korea, Japan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. With all these countries, Germany can achieve partner diversification in Asia by forging stronger trade and investment links. Additionally, collaboration on issues of mutual concern, such as climate change, security, and human rights, can further cement these interstate relationships.

Germany’s interest in diversifying its partners in Asia reflects a strategic response to the evolving global landscape. By leveraging the potential of countries like South Korea, Japan, India, and others, Germany can balance its engagement with China, tap into new markets, and foster collaborations in areas of shared interest, reinforcing its global position. As the Zeitenwende continues to unfold, Germany’s approach to diversification in Asia will require careful observation and analysis.

Pakistan and Germany’s Quest for Diversification

Pakistan’s contribution to Germany’s diversification can be achieved through multiple avenues. Expanding trade and investment ties between the two nations would be mutually beneficial. Pakistan’s growing market, coupled with its young and educated population, complements Germany’s status as a major economic power with a robust manufacturing sector. By forging stronger trade and investment links, both countries can capitalize on each other’s strengths.

Pakistan-German collaboration on infrastructure projects also presents an opportunity for economic growth and job creation. Leveraging Germany’s expertise in infrastructure development, Pakistan’s need for advancements in roads, railways, and power plants can be addressed. Such cooperation would not only boost economic progress but also solidify the partnership between the two countries.

Further, joint research and development endeavors can yield technological innovation and new job opportunities. Pakistan’s vibrant pool of scientists and engineers, combined with Germany’s global prominence in research and development, creates a fertile ground for breakthroughs. The combined efforts of both nations would not only boost economic growth but also foster societal advancement. Lastly, fostering cultural exchanges can facilitate mutual understanding and cooperation. With Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage and Germany’s appreciation for culture, promoting cultural exchanges between the two countries can build bridges and strengthen ties.

In addition to these approaches, Pakistan’s contribution towards Germany’s diversification can also be realized by providing access to new markets. Pakistan’s free trade agreements with various Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries enable German businesses to tap into untapped markets and diversify their sales. Moreover, Pakistan offers a skilled workforce. Its young and growing population, coupled with a high literacy rate, provides German businesses with access to a skilled workforce capable of delivering high-quality products and services.

Finally, Pakistan’s lower cost of living compared to many other countries presents an opportunity for German businesses to reduce operating costs and enhance profitability. German investment in the Special Economic Zones under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will also be welcomed by Pakistan. By leveraging these various means of cooperation, Pakistan and Germany can achieve diversification and establish a stronger relationship.

The German Submarine Deal with India and Pakistan’s Security Dilemma

On June 7, an MoU was signed in Mumbai to establish a collaboration between India’s renowned shipbuilding yard, Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL), and the esteemed German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS). This partnership aims to construct cutting-edge submarines in India as part of the long-delayed P-75I project, also known as Project-75. The signing of this MoU signifies a significant step towards bolstering the Indian Navy’s diminishing underwater platform capability.

For Pakistan, Germany’s sale of submarines to India can be problematic due to several reasons. Firstly, the acquisition of these submarines will grant India a significant advantage in the Asia-Pacific theater. Given that the Indian Ocean serves as a crucial shipping route, this augmentation of India’s power projection capabilities could potentially be perceived as a threat to Pakistan’s security.

Moreover, the sale of submarines may exacerbate the ongoing arms race between Pakistan and India. With a history of conflicts and numerous instances of near-miss incidents in recent years, such a transaction has the potential to facilitate the acquisition of more sophisticated weaponry by both countries, consequently escalating the risk of conflict.

Furthermore, the sale of submarines has the potential to trigger regional destabilization. As the Indian Ocean Region is characterized by volatility, this transaction may heighten the likelihood of conflict between India and other regional players, including China. Consequently, regional stability could be adversely affected.

Zeitenwende’s Potential for Destabilizing Asia

Zeitenwende may potentially have destabilizing effects on Asia in various aspects and it is useful to at least consider three main ways in which it can have a negative impact:

1. Increased tensions with China: Germany’s amplified defense spending and active role in global affairs might be perceived as a challenge by China, leading to heightened tensions between the two nations, and subsequently destabilizing the region.

2. Shift in power balance: Germany’s increased engagement in Asia could result in a shift of power equilibrium within the region. This shift might impose a sense of caution upon China’s actions, yet simultaneously intensify competition between both nations.

3. Emergence of a new arms race: The escalated defense spending by Germany may instigate a new arms race in Asia. This could potentially heighten instability in the region and augment the risk of conflicts. A case in point is the increasing German defense cooperation and arms export to India which will have a direct impact on Pakistan.

To comprehensively assess the impact of the Zeitenwende on Asia, several factors need to be considered: the speed and extent of the shift, the responses of other regional countries, and the broader security environment. However, the Zeitenwende holds significant potential to profoundly influence the region.

Dr. Rabia Akhtar is Editor, Pakistan Politico, and Director, Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR), The University of Lahore.