The Contemporary German Navy as an Instrument of Foreign Policy
: The Federal Republic and its Naval Deployments after the Cold War

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The scale and scope of naval missions since the Cold War clearly demonstrate that Germany has increasingly come to rely on its navy as an instrument of foreign policy. Changes in strategic context, new security challenges and a transforming international role after reunification have altered the traditional perception of the navy’s utility. This evolution was neither linear nor excluded the navy itself. The navy has seen proportionally higher investment – or relatively less cuts owing to the post-Cold War 'peace dividend' – than either army or airforce. Its share of personnel within the substantially reduced Bundeswehr has also increased over the past decades. Despite having been continually asked to do more with the numerically ‘smallest fleet’ it ever had, the present day navy has not only markedly changed, but actually has increased relevance and utility for Germany’s evolved foreign policy.

Given the importance of the sea and contemporary Germany as an international actor, it is surprising that the active use of its navy since the Cold War has not been systematically studied. The past 30 years of deployments constitute valuable case studies of a key element of European seapower and what Geoffrey Till called a ‘post-modern navy’. Employed in the service of foreign policy, the German navy supported comprehensive maritime security and ocean governance, and its missions not only reflect its own evolution, but also change within Germany. Closer examination suggests that Germany’s appreciation of the navy’s unique potential has grown and it has come to prefer using it over ‘boots on the ground’, whenever military force is called for. This is a marked shift for the ‘continental power’ Germany and forms a substantial component of its much broader ‘maritime turn’ in the 21st century.

This thesis examines the missing naval dimension of Germany’s ‘New Global Role’ and its shift towards a much more maritime international actor. Building on case studies of the navy’s missions since the end of the Cold War, tracing changes in policy and the navy, this thesis engages with and feeds into scholarship on navies and German foreign policy. In the quest to better understand German power, studying its navy offers valuable insight. While not a universal solution, naval power adds a set of unique options and lends a global presence to foreign policy at much reduced risk and greater cost-effectiveness than army or airforce could.
Date of Award1 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMarcus Faulkner (Supervisor) & Rachel Kerr (Supervisor)

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