12/16/2014 06:16 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

How Sustainability Can Guide German Foreign Policy


BERLIN -- Sustainable thinking and action continues to gain increased importance in business and technology. Above all, it has become a political guiding principle. As such, it merits examination.

The three pillars of sustainability -- the economic, the environmental and the social pillar -- are equal in importance. In terms of practical policies, sustainable conduct means preserving our world in such a way that it will still be a decent place to live in tomorrow. Conservation of vital resources and creation of opportunities for future generations are major considerations in any policy decision.

Sustainability is, ultimately, one of the fundamental principles underlying Christian conservative thought and action. A rather broader but no less feasible step is the application by analogy of sustainability principles to foreign and security policy. I say "by analogy" because there are comparable interests at play and also because there are not yet any separate arrangements for sustainability in the field of foreign and security policy.

What does sustainability in foreign policy mean in practical policy terms?

First of all, measures of technological support in other countries, relating, for example, to the use of energy from renewable sources or to more efficient processes, may be regarded as foreign policy focused on environmental sustainability.

Foreign policy focused on the economic and social pillars of sustainability, however, is far more significant because of its greater impact. Helping to alleviate the distress of people suffering the effects of crises and conflicts in various countries of the world, standing up for the rule of law, engaging in the economic reconstruction of countries in disarray and seeking compromise between conflicting parties by political means can clearly be regarded as sustainable action in the realm of foreign and security policy.

In terms of practical policies, sustainable conduct means preserving our world in such a way that it will still be a decent place to live in tomorrow. This can be explained by citing some topical examples which, despite their diversity, are all illustrations of sustainable action:

In Syria and Iraq we are experiencing the return of barbarism -- a great danger not only for the surrounding states but also for the global community. The jihadists who call themselves Islamic State pose a threat to everything that characterizes our way of life -- personal freedom and well-being, equality between men and women, the rule of law, freedom of religion and much more. This is why Germany must recalibrate the instruments of its foreign policy in order to curb the Islamic State as quickly and resolutely as possible together with our NATO allies and partners.

From the perspective of sustainability, of course, wars and combat operations can only ever be the last resort, because they exact the heaviest economic, environmental and social toll. But military action, as a last resort, may be required in order to ensure permanent peace in the region and thus the subsequent generation. Military and economic empowerment of the Kurds to enable them to fight for a more self-determined and freer life is consistent with the basic principles underlying the economic and social pillars of sustainability.

Current relations with Russia may be cited as another example of a sustainable German foreign policy looking at the conflict with Ukraine. Acting sustainably and responsibly means resolving the conflict peacefully by political means rather than resorting to military force. This is the only way to ensure optimum protection of economic, environmental and social interests. In this case, by contrast with the ISIS issue, it can be shaped through direct talks, which is the only way to proceed.

There is no alternative to cooperation. Intensified economic cooperation can play a key role in this respect. Germany and Russia complement each other quite ideally. Each country has what the other needs. Germany has one of the world's most advanced manufacturing sectors, producing a wide range of machinery, plants and goods. And Russia has vast deposits of the natural and mineral resources on which German industry is crucially dependent.

Even without prescribed indicators and management rules for foreign and security policy, the principle of sustainability is deeply etched into the minds and hearts of German politicians.

Germany's scope for exerting influence in other countries by political and economic means and brokering political compromises in negotiations between conflicting parties with a view to obtain improvements in people's lives and in economic and environmental conditions outside as well as inside Germany -- that is what is meant by sustainable foreign and security policy.

Recent German-U.S. Relations