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Carnegie Europe: Foundations of German Power

Author: Ulrich Speck
March 14, 2014

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Germany today is widely regarded as the most powerful country in Europe. But it is often reluctant to take the lead. This hesitance has much to do with the foundations of German power—Berlin has considerable resources but also faces considerable constraints. Most importantly, German power is embedded in the European Union, which both enhances and confines the country's capability to be a foreign policy player.

And on security, Berlin depends on its Western allies, especially the United States. But as the United States is reducing its footprint in Europe, Germany needs to step up its game.

Economy and Geography

German power rests primarily on the country's economic strength. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Germany ranks fourth in the world, behind the United States, China, and Japan, and ahead of France and the United Kingdom. Thanks to its economic weight, Germany is a global player, a role it exercises, for example, through its membership in the G8 group of leading economies. This gives the country status, influence, and a certain independence in its decisionmaking.

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