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Hawkish Feminism: Germany’s Foreign Policy Entanglement

At the heart of Germany's foreign policy dilemma lies a divisive conundrum that one often faces when thinking about international relations from a feminist perspective – is violence inevitable to achieve peace?

In an effort to inspire members of the European Council, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, recently expressed the need to “stand up and fight for” the “soul of Europe.” The minister’s appeal reflects Germany’s newfound commitment to expand and upgrade their military capabilities in a manner unseen since World War II. However, Baerbock has also vowed to reshape the way her country carries out diplomacy by introducing a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP). Her attempt to reconcile a feminist diplomatic project with a belligerent impetus to reinforce the military raises questions about the sincerity and viability of making Germany’s foreing relations ‘feminist.’


Germany is not the first country to introduce FFP. In 2014, Sweden introduced their own framework aiming to address the "barriers to gender equality." Similarly, Canada has also pledged to develop a feminist approach that understands the empowerment of women and girls as the most 'effective' means to "eradicate poverty."[1] Other countries, such as France, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, and Colombia, have followed suit and committed to developing policies through a gendered lens. However, what does it mean to address international challenges through a feminist perspective? How do rhetorical commitments translate into meaningful actions?


As Baerbock explained in a speech earlier this year, the overall focus of FFP is to recognize and examine entrenched power structures that have prevented marginalized voices from being heard. In particular, as outlined by this Federal Foreign Office report, Baerbock's agenda comprises ten guidelines designed to cultivate a 'feminist reflex' in the creation of foreign policy. These include integrating the perspectives of women and marginalized groups into peace and security negotiations, combating sexual and gender-based violence, deploying 100% of Germany's humanitarian assistance in a gender-sensitive manner, confronting reactionary pushback against feminism, recognizing the unequal impact of climate change, building networks to promote the participation of civil society, and a continual evaluation of the Foreign Ministry's internal structure to ensure gender equality, diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Baerbock has pledged to allocate 85% of project funding on a gender-sensitive basis by 2025.


So far, it seems as though Germany is getting ready to play a pivotal role in transforming international relations. A field that has been historically fueled by patriarchal, racist, and colonial forces or, as Carol Cohn describes it, “white men in ties discussing missile size,”[2] is now opening its doors to a more diverse set of peoples whose visions of the world drastically deviate from what, up until now, has been the status quo. However, Germany's adoption of FFP has coincided with the country's profound transformation of its security strategy.


A few weeks after Baerbock announced her intention to introduce FFP, Germany's chancellor, Olaf Scholz, delivered a groundbreaking speech to parliament (Bundestag). Emboldened by Russia's aggression, Scholz announced a historic turning point in the country's defence policy. The chancellor vowed to invest 100 billion euros to modernize Germany's military and promised to contribute more than 2% of the nation's GDP on defence spending.


Olaf Scholz evoked the idea of Zeitenwende to describe the 'tectonic shift' taking place in global politics. This shift entails the slow and disorderly demise of the United States as the uncontested global power and the emergence of a multipolar world where the distribution of power falls upon more than two states. However, the term Zeitenwende can also be used to describe Germany's history of military activity. Since World War II, the country has subjugated its fascist past by fomenting what some call a 'culture of peace.’ During the Cold War, many German citizens expressed their opposition to violence through widespread demonstrations. More recently, Germany's abstention from participating in the Kosovo War and its condemnation of the United States' invasion of Iraq has positioned the country among the most peaceful in the world. That is why the chancellor's recent announcement to increase defence spending and his defiant posture towards heavily armed aggressors can also be understood as a turning point or, as Scholz describes it, a Zeitenwende.


At the heart of Germany's foreign policy dilemma lies a divisive conundrum that one often faces when thinking about international relations from a feminist perspective – is violence inevitable to achieve peace?


A prominent German feminist, Alice Schwarzer, seems to have a clear answer: it is not. In May 2022, Schwarzer sent an open letter to Olaf Scholz insisting on the 'moral duty' not to use force and the 'cost' that using it would mean for human lives. Similarly, Amira Mohammed Ali, leader of the Left Party, declared that they "will not support big-scale rearmament and militarization." Their view reflects a long-standing tradition of feminist anti-militarism that identifies a connection between war and masculinity and understands that true justice will not be achieved by increasing the power of the military. However, feminism can take many forms; it has no fixed meaning or interpretation. Annalena Baerbock does not embrace an anti-militarist position. Instead, she believes that a feminist approach must be informed by the 'realities' of war and adopt a 'pragmatic' form, claiming that "our weapons…save lives."


To arrive at a conclusion can be difficult due to the political cleavages that shape the country's foreign policy. However, it may be useful to look beyond Germany, beyond Europe, and beyond NATO to find some clarity. Stemming from North and East Syria, the Kurdish Women's Liberation Movement has created its own feminist policies that reflect a deep understanding of the connection between women's political, social, and conscious liberation and the realization of peace, freedom, and democracy. They believe feminism in the Global North "has not overcome the dominant masculine system…it has not surpassed a Eurocentric positivist-orientalist point of view."[3] In some ways, this critique points directly to Germany's foreign policy dilemma. Without disputing the latent practicality of violence, Kurdish women condemn the ways in which capitalism and militarism interweave to industrialize the business of war and identify the rigidity of gender as an upholding force.


Today, Germany stands as the fifth biggest arms exporter in the world and, as outlined above, it plans to reinvigorate a war machine that has been dormant since World War II. Baerbock's adoption of a feminist framework may begin to scratch the surface of a highly unequal international system. Nevertheless, as long as gunpowder continues to dictate the country's foreign policy, it will not matter whether a man or a woman stands behind the trigger; the outcome will inevitably endanger the lives of those who FFP claims to represent.







[1] Thomson, J. (2020). What's feminist about feminist foreign policy? Sweden's and Canada's foreign policy agendas. International Studies Perspectives, 21(4), 424-437.

[2] Cohn, C. (1987). Sex and death in the rational world of defense intellectuals. Signs: Journal of women in culture and society, 12(4), 687-718.

[3] Gunaydin, E. (2021). Learn from Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movements to Imagine the Dissolution of the Nation-state System. Feminist Solutions for Ending War, 73-88.

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