Germany: Eras, their challenges and achievements

Grand strategies - or what was identified as such - did tend to last for centuries, but this time may be gone. Or at least what future historians might identify as a Western grand strategy of our time isn't really an interesting topic. What's much more interesting is in my opinion the strategy level which covers decades, or one "generation".

It's interesting to look at the challenges and achievements of the different eras or generations instead of at grand strategies.

Let's take Germany as an example:

From the mid-18th century to the very early 19th century the grand theme in Germany was the implementation of enlightenment to overcome absolutism, the perverse extreme terminal stage of feudalism. This period ended with the forceful implementation by Imperial France, which exported its overthrow of the nobles-clerics-peasants caste society. There was no real grand strategy, just some kind of persisting background noise common to Central Europe. The challenge and achievement of this period was to fatally weaken the nobility's power.

Then there was a short period of counter-Napoleon liberation warfare including an awakening of the common folks in general, the challenge and achievement of this period was to get rid of de facto foreign rule.

Chancellor von Bismarck
(c) Bundesarchiv
A setback followed during which the old order was re-established - at least superficially. Yet the industrialisation had begun and huge structural changes accompanied the huge improvements in productivity. The investment in infrastructure was huge during this time, particularly in the railroad network.
The revolutions in the late 1840's sealed the fate of the old order. Nationalism was on the rise and respect for the small, non-national, states waned. Eventually, Bismarck harnessed the nationalism for the small German solution; a unified Germany under Prussian leadership, with Austria (and Switzerland, obviously) and the Habsburgian dynasty on the sidelines.
The challenges and achievements of this period were many, and astonishing:
* Industrialisation with structural change and huge infrastructure investments
* Final defeat of the old order and introduction of regular elections, secularism and even constitutions
* National awakening and late national unification, albeit incomplete.

The next period were all about industrialisation and workers: This was kick-started by French reparations after 1871, though the reparations proved to be a straw fire. Germany rose to being the prime industrial power of Europe during this period. The workers suffered though - socialism became the principal bottom-up counter-movement to the suffering of the workers. Yet Bismarck was still in power and this arch-conservative royalist reacted by introducing counter-socialist legislation: Both oppressive laws and social insurance legislation. The latter was meant to make life for workers less miserable, and it worked.
Yes, social insurances such as retirement pay and government-regulated health insurances are anti-socialist in their nature!
The new, relatively infantile, emperor Wilhelm II finally fired Bismarck and led Germany into an infantile era including much attention (and resources) paid to toys such as a useless battlefleet and net recipient colonies. The foreign policy became more immature and cocky as well, and less successful and respected.
So the challenges were the continued investment in infrastructure and factories, as well as giving the workers a somewhat acceptable share of the prosperity and security. These were also the (partial) achievements, but the wasteful behaviour during 1898-1911 showed already a substantial deviation from a good challenge-achievement match.

The 1912-1923 period was coined by a short, intense arms race (army-wise in reaction to France's army build-up steps and navy-wise as part of the general dreadnought race) followed by the First World War and its immediate aftermath with one crisis following another.
This was basically a period of waste. It wasted a generation of men, it wasted material resources, it wasted time, it wasted attention, it wasted research and it broke the society. Nothing of note was achieved that wouldn't have been achieved anyway and yes, this includes aviation R&D. 
The level of wastage in this period shows that the nation went full retard. Never go full retard!

The 1924-1932 period was a failed attempt to get the republic and the post-war economy right, followed by yet another full retard episode and a subsequent rebuilding of the country's remnants till the early to late 50's.

Chancellor Adenauer
East Germany followed a satellite trajectory till the 80's when it followed its inertia and finally crashed. West Germany followed a West integration and reconciliation strategy driven and implemented by the elderly Chancellor Adenauer. Domestic reforms didn't go much beyond economic reforms till the late 60's.

The next interesting episode was especially the Brandt chancellorship, followed by the early Schmidt chancellorship; social-democratic/liberal cabinets. The 'economic miracle' of the 50's and early 60's had created and distributed wealth. There was peace and stability. The old generation had finally got it right. A working republic, wealth for almost everybody, peace, stability. They had finally mastered their challenge and achieved what seemed the most important to their generation.
The younger generation (which had never been indoctrinated during the full retard era) took these achievements rather for granted and paid much more attention to the remaining failures of the society:
* inequality between men and women
* social oppression of certain behaviours
* pollution of air and water
* full retard personnel leftovers in key positions of the state and economy
* excessive and unnecessary authoritarian attitude of the state
Their challenges were of immaterial nature, and the young ("68") generation found little sympathy for its concerns, activism and perspective among the older generations. Some excessive activism and demands were present as well, in part nurtured by direct and indirect support from East Germany.
It's interesting to see how this generation largely succeeded over time - largely by demographic shift (they aged into positions of power). Their demands had become mainstream by the 80's and especially the environmental protection and society liberalisation efforts were successful, with conservatives giving up their last entrenched positions (pro-nuclear energy, conscription, old stance on homosexuals) post-2000, giving way to the change of mainstream attitudes

I suppose the current era's challenges have a common theme; to overcome the rigidities and mistakes of the past:
* rollback of the creep towards a surveillance state
* rollback of the creep towards military adventures
* rollback of large corporation rent-seeking through much tougher anti-trust legislation (and enforcement thereof) and moderation concerning new intellectual property rights
* return to balanced trade (possibly by leaving the Euro currency), which may also lead to a rollback of increased income inequality (because the trade surplus is largely a product of real wage stagnation caused by the labour unions' decline coupled with de facto fixed currency exchange rates inside the Euro currency area).
* maybe an advance of democracy towards federal plebiscites (all major parties but the conservatives claim to be in favour of it), possibly with huge changes in the political culture
* getting the German energy transition towards renewable energy (an accepted environmental protection, energy trade independence and slightly also a security challenge) right
* creeping adaptation to demographic change (instead of grand plans with the pretence of being a 'solution')
These are largely domestic challenges, at most intra-EU challenges. Russia and China don't challenge Germany and there's little to be gained in global politics and policies.
There is little reason to expect Germany to see and accept major challenges which involve much military power in the next 10-20 years. What little may be necessary (such as a protection of Eastern European allies) would rather be a detrimental distraction from the domestic challenges than a top tier challenge, and would be handled together with allies.



  1. big hole in the middle and too much aspirations in the end.

  2. The way you've framed things in this post makes it seem as if Germany as a nation can assess and address the strategic challenges it faces over the years. While this was true in previous periods, it seems to be a less useful today. The problems and possible range of solutions envisioned by governments today is so strongly influenced by global political and economic forces that it's hard to imagine any nation being able to make significant changes on its own. Addressing the issue of monopolistic rents, for example, seems almost impossible in the face of the influence wielded by today's multinational giants. Even if Germany could challenge, say, the virtual monopoly of Google, it has its own entrenched conglomerates extracting monopolistic rents. Reform of the structure of the German energy industry, for example, would probably require a majority die Linke government, and that might not be the kind of reform you would hope for.

    What is really needed is a global political authority with real power and legitimacy that can move things in a positive direction. Current global governance seems to be doing just the opposite. I'd be interested to hear a similar summary of the world's strategic dilemmas.

    1. 6 of 7 current challenges can be done nationally - and much of the anti-trust efforts are possible on the national level as well.

      The German electricity utilities have lost most of their political clout when Schröder left office. Merkel's turn against them proved this with high visibility. The greens would love to participate in the destruction of the remnants of (quasi) monopoly structures of the electrical utilities market created by the nazis in the 30's.

      The current EU debate about splitting up google (or if it refuses keep it from doing for-profit business in the EU) and WTO rules are only part of the story - but national policy could push into a different direction than previously within the framework of EU and WTO.