Merkel's determined avoidance of international entanglements was put on display when her administration abolished the country's conscription requirement for the Bundeswehr. The announcement in 2011 to end conscription coincided with a plan to reduce troop numbers from 250,000 to 185,000.
Some analysts argue that Merkel, for all her decisiveness, prefers to outsource her foreign and defense policy to the cumbersome EU consensus-driven process, opening Germany up to the inertia of the U.N. Security Council. In sharp contrast to France's interventionist Socialist President Francois Hollande, who unilaterally deployed troops to northern Mali to stop an al Qaeda take over of the country, Merkel would never contemplate bypassing the U.N. Security Council or the EU. Indeed, in a footnote to September's G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, after a declaration was issued by Secretary of State John Kerry calling for tough consequences against Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons, Germany was the only EU country to snub the initiative, preferring to defer the matter to a European consensus vote. But a day later -- as news about the declaration faded -- Merkel begrudingly signed the document. Then, on the campaign trail, Merkel accused other EU countries -- Spain, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom -- of "egoism" for signing the statement quickly without drafting a unified EU position toward Syria.
Markus Kerber, chief executive of the powerful Federation of German Industries, raised alarm bells in the Financial Times a few days before the election about the massive rift between the political candidates' intense concentration on domestic issues at the expense of foreign affairs. Commenting on Merkel and her social democratic opponent, Peer Steinbrück, Kerber wrote: "Secretly, they are both aware that they need to change their political agenda[s] quite considerably. They are fully aware of the need for Germany to play a bigger role in European and in world politics."
But will Merkel leverage Germany's economic weight and take the opportunity to flex some global political muscle? The eight years of Merkel's tenure suggest that her overly cautious foreign policy agenda is unlikely to change anytime soon. There is every reason to think she will continue her longstanding resistance to Turkey's entry into the EU, particularly after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan put down June demonstrations in his country calling for greater democracy and less political Islam. Merkel warned Turkey at the time that EU values are "non-negotiable", and the Turkish government's anti-democratic conduct would not conform to EU's policies.
In this regard, at least, Merkel almost earns recent comparisons to the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. However, the parallel revolved mostly around Merkel's goal to introduce domestic labor and economic reforms. When it came to foreign policy, the expectations from the Bush administration that the two nations would increasingly see eye-to-eye may have been high, but Merkel failed to produce any meaningful change in Berlin's stance on Iraq.
It is worth thus recalling that when European countries refused President Ronald Reagan's request to use continental bases for airstrikes against Qaddafi back in 1986, Thatcher (who granted U.S. forces access to British bases) observed, "They're a weak lot some of them in Europe, you know; weak, feeble." In sharp contrast to Thatcher's robust interventionism and strong trans-Atlantic foreign policy, Merkel's foreign policy has been marked by jagged lines and erratic behavior.