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Annalena Baerbock and feminist foreign policy: How values and interest politics can be combined

2023-06-17T09:14:12.674Z

Highlights: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promotes values and democracy on trips abroad. Some see this as a contradiction to an interest-driven realpolitik. In March 2023, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development jointly presented their guidelines for a feminist foreign policy. The term "value partner" has become part of the common vocabulary in the Bundestag, across the parties. The National Security Strategy (NSS) presented on Wednesday brings together values and interests in the case of China.



Feminist foreign policy in Iraq: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits a boxing training for girls in Qadiya, a camp for internally displaced persons. © Michael Kappeler/dpa

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock strongly promotes values and democracy on trips abroad. Some see this as a contradiction to an interest-driven realpolitik. But is that really the case?

Berlin – When Annalena Baerbock is mentioned, the term "value-driven foreign policy" is rarely missing. The Green politician hardly uses it herself anymore. Instead, since taking office, she has drawn attention to herself with a strong commitment to a feminist foreign policy. This 'feminist foreign policy', which is increasingly being discussed worldwide, is part of the coalition agreement of the traffic light government. In March 2023, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development jointly presented their guidelines for a feminist foreign policy – and not for a values-driven foreign policy.

Nevertheless, Baerbock likes to speak of a community of values and value partners, especially in connection with Russia's invasion of Ukraine or the climate crisis. When traveling to China, Saudi Arabia or Brazil, she always promotes values such as democracy and human rights.

Values-driven and feminist foreign policy: No antithesis to realpolitik

To avoid confusion at this point, it is worth separating value-driven and feminist foreign policy. That's why we're going to Berlin. In the Schöneberg district, Kristina Lunz heads the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, which she co-founded. "Every feminist foreign policy is a value-driven one – but not every value-driven foreign policy is a feminist one," she says. Lunz gives an example: When Annalena Baerbock insists on human rights and values in China, it is value-driven – but not necessarily feminist. On the other hand, every time her foreign policy focuses on feminist issues, she says, she is automatically motivated by values.

Both – value-driven and feminist foreign policy – are repeatedly portrayed in the debate as opposing poles to realpolitik. Realpolitik is seen as pragmatic and based on the factual realities of other countries, while critics like to devalue value-driven politics as wishful thinking dominated by trivialities. Kristina Lunz resolutely rejects this view: "The idea that feminist foreign policy stands in contrast to realpolitik is simply wrong."

The current narrative of realpolitik is based on a male perspective of the Global North, says Lunz. "To think that realpolitik is what men do – and everything else is identity politics – is a deeply patriarchal understanding," says the author ("The Future of Foreign Policy is Feminist").

Values and interests coexist in foreign policy

Of course, German foreign policy is also shaped by its own interests. On its homepage, the Federal Foreign Office writes: "German foreign policy is value-oriented and interest-driven." After all, if the Federal Republic of Germany only maintained relations with countries whose governance shares its own values, the list would be short. Instead, there are bilateral relations with 195 states. For example, foreign policy often requires us to act in the interests of one's own interests – such as trading partners and energy – while at the same time tolerating the fact that one's economic and political partners have different values.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) presented on Wednesday also brings together values and interests in the case of China. China is increasingly aggressively claiming regional supremacy and "repeatedly acting contrary to our interests and values," it says. The term "value partner" has become part of the common vocabulary in the Bundestag, across the parties. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP), for example, said at the press conference on the NSS: "The USA is a partner in values, China is a trading partner, but a rival in values."

The Global South takes a critical view of Western values

Annalena Baerbock is known for not shying away from speaking out clearly when it comes to difficult partners. For example, the minister publicly denounces countries such as Russia and China for not sharing the values that we consider universal. Many people don't like that. China, for example, does not believe in globally valid values and norms. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang criticized Baerbock at a joint press conference in Beijing in the spring: "What China needs least is a teacher from the West." Nevertheless, Qin traveled to Germany just a few weeks later – and met his uncomfortable counterpart a second time.

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READIn areaChina doesn't want teachers from the West: Foreign Minister Qin Gang with his counterpart Annalena Baerbock at the Federal Foreign Office. © Michael Kappeler/dpa

It is not only Baerbock who is seen as a teacher, and it is not only China that rejects the West's view. Many countries in the Global South do not want paternalism from Europe and the USA. As former colonial powers, Europeans are not very popular in many countries, such as Africa. In the climate crisis or in dealing with international law, states of the Global South repeatedly accuse the West of double standards. Finding the right way and the right tone in this situation is a challenge.

Baerbock recently tried to do this again in a speech in São Paulo, Brazil. There, she also urged the conclusion of the free trade agreement between the EU and the South American Mercosur community of states under the heading of democracy – including binding criteria for social affairs, sustainability and ecology. This is "also a geopolitical answer to questions in all our societies about the added value of democracy," Baerbock said. It shows that democracies and not autocracies bring solutions, she emphasized with a view to authoritarian China.

Foreign policy: "When we question our priorities, our values and interests also coincide"

In order to get out of the state of tension between values and interests, a focus on the needs of civil society and women in the Global South is a good compass for a feminist foreign policy, according to Kristina Lunz. During her travels, Minister Baerbock is keen to visit civil society organisations and focus on vulnerable groups, Lunz said. The expert suggests questioning what interests in foreign policy actually are: "In the old understanding of priorities, in which profit maximization and trade relations of a society come first, values and interests are still opposed."

But this premise does not have to be set in stone, because interests can be redefined again and again. The climate crisis, for example, is pushing completely different goals to the fore. And so Lunz concludes: "At the moment when values are our interests, value-driven and interest-driven foreign policy go very well together."

Source: merkur

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