Germany-NATO: A Unique Alliance

Sifat Tasfia is an undergraduate student from the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. An enthusiast in global politics and development, she dreams to be a policy maker someday to initiate development in the remotest places in the world.

** Winner of Best Engagement Essay Award **

Bangladesh | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay

The history of Germany and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are intertwined with one another. Being at the epicentre of the two world wars and later the Cold War, Germany has been crucial for the North Atlantic Alliance, which was created to counter any Soviet aggression. With the birth of a united Germany and the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War ended while changing the fate of the world forever, especially that of Germany. In this new global system, Germany had its challenges redefined. Under severe circumstances, it strived to fulfill the commitment of collective defense it once made to NATO, putting the Germany-NATO alliance in a unique position.

Consolidating and strengthening the military response of the Western Allies for a possible invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact was NATO’s primary goal since its inception. In the early and mid-1950s, the negotiation of West Germany’s admission to the alliance was a massive concern for NATO. The mere possibility of rearmament of Germany predictably faced overwhelming debates and skepticism in Western Europe, but the potential of the country had been known as a promising one to protect Western Europe from a possible Soviet invasion. West Germany finally joined NATO in May 1955 which urged the Soviet Union to form the Warsaw Pact, an alliance in Central and Eastern Europe that same year. The Bundeswehr (German Federal Defence Force) was the cornerstone of NATO’s conventional defense network throughout the Cold War. It had a total strength of 495,000 military, almost twice the reserve strength of NATO. The fear of a Nuclear Mass Destruction principally dictated the years of the Cold War. In the mid-1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in the Soviet politics and economy.

By the late-1980s, he had given tacit approval to non-commmunist governments in Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow’s withdrawal of grip over Central and Eastern Europe and the subsequent disbandment of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 implied the dissolution of the security threat previously posed by the Warsaw Pact to Western Europe. This led to questions on the necessity to retain the North Atlantic Alliance as a military organization. In October 1990, the reunification of Germany and its retaining of the North Atlantic membership gave NATO an opportunity and need to emerge as a more devoted political alliance for preserving peace and stability across Europe. By the time the Cold War ended, about 900,000 troops — almost half of them coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Canada, and the Netherlands — were deployed in Germany.

With the end of the Cold War, the East-West divide was replaced by the North-South divide. In this new setting, the terrorist attack of 9/11 in the United States brought in yet another turning point for NATO, an event for which Article 5 of the Washington Treaty was invoked for the first time. Consequently, since then, NATO has been conducting military operations in Afghanistan to fight terrorism, its largest operation till date, under a mandate from the United Nations. Contributing troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and later, the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) operating in Afghanistan is a priority for all member states. For Germany, participation in the ISAF was the first time since World War II that it faced an assembled enemy.

Currently, the RSM comprises approximately 16,000 troops from 38 members and partners. The contribution of Germany to the RSM is the second-largest with 1,300 troops. It conducts assistance and training activities to enhance the efficiency and accountability of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and various other institutions of the country. It also works on leadership growth, fighting potentiality, prevention of corruption and other sectors. Training natives to fight against the Taliban terrorists, promoting human rights and female education are also some of the key roles played by the Bundeswehr on the Afghan soil. Till now, 59 German soldiers and about 250 service personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan. Besides, Germany has made notable grants of troops to NATO in other countries and regions. Below is a list of its contributions to NATO as of 2019:

LocationNumber of Troops
Middle East400

The Bundeswehr is also committed to the NATO Support Mission in the Aegean Sea and Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean Sea to maintain security and fortify the southern wing of the alliance.

However, NATO’s current impression of Germany is not entirely positive. There have been debates on the inadequate role of Bundeswehr in Afghanistan and doubts about Germany investing its agreed 2% of GDP in defense. But considering the constitutional obligations in light of the history of disarmament of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has done a tremendous job convincing the Bundestag in committing troops in Afghanistan. Consequently, the Bundestag agreed to mostly deploy Bundeswehr in the relatively non-hostile regions in Kunduz. For practitioners of International Relations, this is an ideal example of Neo-Classical Realism, where domestic factors are seen to have an impact in the broader global scenario. Moreover, the fact that the United States contributed 8,000 troops out of the total 15,937 troops to the RSM and pursued diplomatic pressures upon the other states to commit the rest, probably questions the reliability of NATO itself. Indeed, how global is the American rhetoric of the “global war on terror”- is something worth a thought.

The background and realities of the Germany-NATO relations make it a unique one in the world. In course of time, like every important alliance, it has had its ups and downs. Understanding the internal variables and actors before making any judgment is a crucial aspect of any partnership. It is expected that Germany and NATO would both come to common grounds to handle global issues and have a more effective outcome in the days to come. 

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343 thoughts on “Germany-NATO: A Unique Alliance

  1. Nusrat Jahan Meem says:

    It was a great read! Very informative and very articulately described. Actually got more interested to further know about the Germany- NATO alliance. Thanks for writing such a piece!


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