PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Making Security a “Kitchen Table Topic” in Germany

Its about engaging the public which has been excluded from foreign and security issues too long dominated by the elites.

By Dr Alexandra Schwarzkopf

Seventy-five years after the end of World War Two, Germany is a major economic and democratic power. I think  it’s time for us to assume more responsibility worldwide.

And especially given our past, we should vigorously contribute to the defense of our allies and the democratic world order to which post-War Germany owes so much.

To do this we need a societal debate – a kind of citizens forums – about German foreign and security policy as part of a broader debate about its strategic role in the world of the 21st century. The most populous and biggest economic power in the EU cannot be a bigger version of Switzerland. Germany’s “strategic beauty sleep” must end.

Until now, both foreign policy, and even more so defense policy, have not been of particular interest to a large part of the German population. This is even true when German soldiers are deployed to a conflict zone. One can say this has never really been different. And besides, the average citizen has enough to do with family and work. 

Nevertheless, just because it has never really been different, it does not mean that it must always remain that way.  Take the enormous growth of the global climate change movement. Whatever one may think about it, it demonstrates that large parts of the population, and not only young people, do have time to deal with a complex topic which goes beyond their day-to-day challenges because they believe it affects their life.

So how can foreign-and-security policy become a “kitchen table topic” like the climate change topic has become?

In a number of ways. The first is communicating to citizens 

the importance of foreign policy and security matters to their personal situation. Once they really think about it, most citizens would probably not question that protecting one’s borders, trade routes and communication systems is crucial for their continuous prosperity and political stability.

That is why politicians of all parties, as well as experts and members of the Bundeswehr (armed forces), should go on the public offensive and make the population aware about foreign policy and security issues and their effects on the individual citizen. 

This could be done by meeting in town halls and other public places and not just confining them foundations and think-tank premises. And don’t forget about going to schools, colleges and universities. 

Also, larger numbers of professors and students should be included in security and foreign policy conferences such as the MSC. In other words, don’t have security and foreign issues dominated by the elites. The media has a super important role to play as well.

Secondly, to be become a real “kitchen table” the topic has to be framed in a more positive way. Its not only about focusing on threats. Its about trying to explain how foreign and security policy actually can resolve conflicts. If peace and security as an outcome of a successful foreign and security policy is more emphasized, maybe more Germans will be willing – despite our past – to accept military strength as one necessary pillar of security policy.

So once the debate on foreign policy and security issues is associated with safeguarding people’s physical and economic security, defending allied states and preventing genocides, security policy just might have the real potential to become a topic average citizens want to talk about at their “kitchen table”.

Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, citizens must be confident that once they get involved in these debates, their voice will be heard. If that is the case then unsettling and upsetting developments in foreign policy, higher defense expenditures or soldiers’ casualties might not cause them to turn their back on the topic and say “I don’t want to hear about it”.

Instead, there could be the realistic chance that citizens will “want to hear more about it”, and become active participants in the debate on foreign-and-security policy. It might even lead to a broader debate on Germany’s strategic role in the 21st century.