Germany is an economic giant. It has the fourth biggest economy in the world, and its export volumes rival those of the United States. Its foreign policy, however, speaks quietly. But that might be about to change, and what's more, it should.
Start with military spending. Donald Trump wants NATO members to pull more of their own weight on military spending. If Germany were to go from spending its current 1.2% of GDP to the NATO target of 2% of GDP, that would mean EUR 26 billion of additional military spending every year, the equivalent of the entire Italian army. But a more militarised Germany raises big questions. Traditionally an inward facing Germany has been just fine with Germans, and with the rest of the world. Germany saw its foreign and military policies through a European lens. This is no longer going to work. Germany is too big, Europe too indecisive, and the US is no longer the sheltering hegemon it once was. In the age of Brexit, Trump, and resurgent European nationalism, many observers are looking to Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, to be the leaders of the Western democracies.
But this is not going to work either. Germany is still too constrained by its membership in the European Union and its past. Somewhere between being merely part of Europe and leading the free world, Germany has to find a middle way. Germany should indeed spend more money on security, but it needs to be security defined broadly to include, for example, funding for a proper EU border force, or stabilisation funds for North African countries, such as Libya. Germany is also the only country with the clout to make sure that the West maintains its firm stance towards Russia. It should flex its muscles in this department, particularly in Washington. Similarly, with the odds of an acrimonious divorce between Britain and the EU increasing, Germany can be an important voice for a rational compromise.
Germany is rich, and it commands worldwide respect for its liberal values. It needs to be more imaginative, independent, and outward facing in its foreign policy. That is FT view.