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A Bundeswehr soldier guards a base in Mali as part of the MINUSMA mission: No military leadership role desired

Photo: Michael Kappeler / dpa

The world has been in multiple crises for years. At the same time, the world is growing ever closer together. However, in the opinion of most citizens in the country, the role that Germany plays in this situation should be as small as possible. Only for Ukraine does a majority want continued assistance. This is the result of the »Berlin Pulse«, a representative survey on German foreign and security policy conducted by the Körber Foundation.

A narrow majority (57 percent) believe that Germany's influence in the world has declined over the past two years. At the same time, 54 percent of those surveyed would like Germany to exercise more restraint in the face of international crises. Only 38 percent would like Germany to become more involved in diplomacy. It is the lowest value since the beginning of the "Pulse" study in 2017.

Similarly, opinions differ on military responsibility.

71 percent of those surveyed answered in the negative when asked whether Germany should take on a leading military role in Europe. Only 28 percent were in favor of it. The great rejection stands in stark contrast to the special fund for the Bundeswehr initiated by the traffic light government and the statement by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) that Germany must become "fit for war" again.

Nevertheless, most Germans consider the increase in the defense budget to be important. For example, 72 percent of those surveyed agree with the goal of spending at least two percent of gross domestic product on defense, in line with the NATO agreement. In fact, 26 percent of those surveyed consider this to be too low.

Agreement on the special fund

So far, Germany has not kept to the budget level desired by NATO. After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) promised a special fund for the Bundeswehr, which is to significantly increase the defense budget in the future. The Germans, although not friends of military operations, seem to be at least on board with the budget issue.

As with the defence budget, Germans continue to look favourably at solidarity with Ukraine. Two-thirds are in favor of supplying weapons to the country attacked by Russia, even two years after the start of the war. Of these, 54 percent say that military aid from Germany was intended to reconquer the territories occupied by Russia. 41 percent are of the opinion that German support was primarily intended to prevent further Russian advances.

Fear of Putin

Attitudes towards Russia also remain negative. For example, a majority of Germans (86 percent) agree that the Russian government under Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted. Three-quarters (76 percent) also feel militarily threatened by Russia.

The view of the People's Republic of China is similarly gloomy: Beijing's growing influence on world affairs is viewed negatively by 62 percent of respondents. At 60 percent, most respondents also believe that German companies should reduce their dependence on China – even if this could mean economic losses and job losses.

The scepticism is in line with the attitude of the German government. It was only in the summer that the traffic light declared "de-risking" to be a central concept of its China strategy – the aim is to reduce dependence on China and thus minimise risks.

Hoping for the U.S.

According to the Körber survey, many Germans would prefer to have a stronger orientation towards the West again. For example, 43 percent of those surveyed named the United States as their most important partner, seven percentage points more than in the previous year. Overall, 77 percent rate relations between Berlin and Washington as rather good to very good.

However, this positive attitude of transatlantic relations could be reversed if Donald Trump is re-elected next autumn: 82 percent of Germans assume that this would have a negative impact on transatlantic relations.

For the study, Kantar Public surveyed more than a thousand eligible voters on behalf of the Körber Foundation about their foreign policy attitudes.