Breaking with convention? Zeitenwende and the traditional pillars of German foreign policy

Bernhard Blumenau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


On 27 February 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed the Bundestag and announced a watershed moment (Zeitenwende) for Germany's conduct of foreign affairs. Against the backdrop of the historical pillars of German foreign policy, this article reviews the core implications of the Zeitenwende doctrine. It analyses how the new policy continued or transformed traditional notions underpinning Germany's external relations: Westbindung (integration into the West) and European integration, multilateralism, the pursuit of a rules-based international order and NATO membership, hesitant leadership, Ostpolitik and Wandel durch Handel (transformation through trade), as well as a foreign policy not relying on military means. It argues that Zeitenwende represented a break with some traditional notions, such as Ostpolitik and Wandel durch Handel, and to some extent the non-military foreign policy. However, Zeitenwende also reconfirmed other traditions: Westbindung, a commitment to multilateralism and the rule-based order, as well as the reluctance to assert German leadership. With Zeitenwende, Germany remained firmly committed to the EU and NATO as the country acknowledged that it must do more for its own, and for Europe's, security. Zeitenwende represented Germany's coming to terms with, and final acceptance of, the realities of the post-Cold War European order.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberiiac166
Pages (from-to)1895–1913
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number6
Early online date10 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


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