Frigate Bayern in the Pacific: The Return of German Gunboat Diplomacy?

By Moritz Brake and Sebastian Bruns

The German government recently announced the deployment of the frigate Bayern to the South China Sea. With this deployment, Berlin is aiming to send a strong signal to its European and American allies. However, it is one that comes with an exit strategy of a kind that is unique to the use of naval forces. On one hand, Germany wants to be seen as standing up against unilateral Chinese appropriation of international waters. On the other hand, China’s potential counterreactions need to be closely monitored and dangerous escalation avoided, especially in light of China’s current conventional and nuclear capabilities, and Germany’s economic dependence on the Middle Kingdom.

Enter the Bayern. The deployment of a warship to the region, the level of visibility of which can be adjusted depending on the actions and reactions of the powers at be, allows Germany to achieve a delicate balance between cooperation and conflict with China. Therefore, what is described in the latest Chatham House commentary as an “unclear message” is precisely the point of this mission under the given circumstances: the deployment of the Bayern preserves room for maneuver at the appropriate time, as the situation unfolds on the scene.1 After all, blunt ‘sticks’ or empty ‘soft words’ are hardly sufficient to deal with such a complex situation.

Since September 2020 at the latest, when the German government published its Indo-Pacific Guidelines,2 there have been concrete plans to deploy a German warship to the region. Germany has only 10 of these ships of various classes, and given many other operational commitments, they are a scarce commodity. Even if a single frigate may seem a modest contribution when compared to a single British or several American aircraft carriers in the region, it is not insignificant. If one also takes into account what the deployment means in the context of previous German naval contributions and the domestic political debate, the mission of the Bayern is remarkable.

Following the announcement, the term “gunboat diplomacy” made its rounds once again in the German public, as is so often the case when it comes to new naval deployments. A bit of folklore is simply part of the security policy debate in Germany. However, in view of the Strait of Hormuz discussion,3 which faded out of public view somewhere between the EU Commission and the German Chancellery, as well as the recent capers of the SPD parliamentary group on drone procurement in the Bundeswehr, it is important not to forget how quickly ideological hobbyhorses can be harnessed to the cart of domestic political power games.

In this context, political messages sent internally and externally are crucial to the value of the mission of the Bayern. This kind of communication is in the DNA of every navy. After all, their very existence is intended to send messages to friends, neighbors, and potential rivals, ranging from the ability to act in cooperation or in belligerence. Modern navies like the German Navy also demonstrate through such deployments that they are capable of generating political and strategic effects in a broader spectrum of activities with global reach. These include deployments and mission-equivalent commitments as well as port visits, maneuvers, engagement in international alliances, or personnel and technical exchanges with other states.4

From the foreign policy dilemma alone, whose pitfalls Germany wants to avoid in the process, it is clear: this is not about gunboat diplomacy. Anything that could be remotely described as a combat mission is clearly not up for discussion during this Indo-Pacific cruise. Rather, it is about combining the protection of the rules-based order, free sea lanes, and multilateralism, with the simultaneous maintenance of vigilant cooperation with China.This “squaring of the circle” could also be described as a maritime attempt at an Asian variant of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik—the careful navigation between Western unity in resistance in the face of aggressive Chinese foreign policy, and the “outstretched hand” in the omnipresent awareness of Brandt’s dictum: “Peace is not everything, but everything is naught without peace.”6

Therefore, the mere fact that Germany, which otherwise acts very cautiously towards China, is sending a ship at all is a surprisingly clear signal. Moreover, the choice of the ship to be sent is relevant. Frigates are the most combat capable warship that the German Navy can deploy. While a single frigate cannot and will not pose a military threat to China, Germany is visibly expressing its message and interests through its deployment.

Last but not least, the deployment of the Bayern is also remarkable on a deeper level. Given the difficulties with deploying armed forces in the service of a dynamic foreign policy, which Germany had in its own unique way after the end of the Cold War, it was hardly surprising that the special diplomatic value of the navy was slowly recognized. Beginning in the 1990s, a process of development ensued that encompassed not only the public and politics, but also the navy. Ultimately, however, the navy itself had to develop a coherent concept of its own diplomatic impact in order to function as a “diplomatic influencer”:7 an advisor to policy at home and an ambassador abroad.

A Play with Undertones, Nuances, and Subtle Harmonies

The long voyage from Wilhelmshaven to the Pacific will bring Bayern into contact with numerous security problems and lines of conflict that preoccupy Berlin’s foreign and security policy. These are also closely observed in the capitals of EU partners and NATO allies. Competition between states is a constant feature in modern history. In the 21st century, however, it is no longer limited to one domain—maritime, land, or air. The maritime domain is contested and the dominant vector for global power projection. Still, it also offers its own valuable approaches to the peaceful containment and resolution of conflicts. At the same time, the impact of warships is by no means exhausted by the things they can influence through the use of force. 

Like a jazz musician acknowledging with a nod the tunes of the past still lingering in the air, the voyage of the Bayern appears to cite hidden notes of Germany’s foreign policy evolution over the past thirty years. In the Mediterranean, she joins NATO’s maritime security mission “Sea Guardian”—the mission carried out by the NATO standing naval group from which Germany once joined one of its first crisis response missions after the Cold War—“Sharp Guard” in the Adriatic in 1993—coincidentally commenced by another Bayern—the old 1960s destroyer of the same name.

Former West German destroyer Bayern, in service from 1965-1993. (Photo credit: Bundeswehr)

Next, at the entrance to the Indian Ocean, the Bayern is to join the EU’s counter-piracy operation “Atalanta.” The naval deployment is part of a broader networked approach to the long-standing crisis in Somalia. However, this is also the first EU-led naval mission, one in which Germany has been significantly involved from the beginning. Furthermore, it was at the Horn of Africa that the German Navy finally left behind old Cold War reservations for so-called “out-of-area”-deployments. It successfully evacuated the Bundeswehr’s first armed peacekeepers in 1994 and later came to participate in the War on Terror with the largest fleet that ever sailed from a German port after the World Wars. In 2002, this latter mission was even spearheaded and led by the very Bayern which is now bound to sail these waters again.

On Somalia’s opposite coast, in Yemen, a civil war and proxy conflict is raging between the Arab regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran. Mines, naval blockades, attacks with guided weapons and drones on sea targets, as well as the prospect of a huge oil catastrophe determine the maritime situation there.8 More than just a critical hot-spot in its own right, the major players of the multipolar world of our time are meeting at the Horn of Africa. China maintains a base in Djibouti and from there supports not only its maritime operations but also foreign policy in Africa. Russia recently announced the construction of a naval base in Sudan. The United States patrols the region with its 5th Fleet, while both the EU and NATO maintain continuous presence at sea. It is here that China’s strongest economic branch of its foreign policy strategy meets the economic lifelines of Europe: “The Maritime Silk Road” connects to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.

Indeed, twenty years of maritime security operations at the low end of the spectrum have long concealed the escalation potential of great power competition in the region. On top of this, with Pakistan and India, two nuclear powers lie on the northern rim of the Indian Ocean, bound together in deep antipathy and at the same time readjusting their alliances.

After the Horn of Africa, the Bayern’s course should then continue towards the strategically important Strait of Malacca, which is another important site of recent German naval history. When a devastating tsunami struck on 25 December 2004, the German combat-supply-vessel Berlin was at once dispatched in a rapidly concerted humanitarian aid effort. Alongside European and American allies, it provided urgent, sea-based aid to Indonesia. The Malacca Strait is one of the world’s strategic maritime chokepoints, a natural bottleneck for all maritime traffic between East Asia and Africa, and the Arab world and Europe. Its control, for better or for worse, is crucial for the security of maritime connections and the entire region. It is also here that the strategic rivalry between India and China meets: India controls the western access to this important lifeline of the Chinese economy via the Andaman and Nicobar island groups.

In the further course of the symbol-laden route along visible signs of Germany’s multilateral foreign policy, the Bayern then joins the United Nations’ maritime embargo of North Korea. The Korean conflict has preoccupied security policy-makers for seven decades now, and it once was the tipping point in the Cold War that led to German post-war rearmament and the establishment of the Bundeswehr. With nuclear weapons in the north, it has also become dangerously explosive in recent years. Therefore in addition to revisiting its post-Cold War history, with just one voyage, the Federal Republic of Germany aims to demonstrate its commitment to the three cornerstones of its multilateral foreign policy: NATO in the Mediterranean, the EU at the Horn of Africa, and the UN off the Korean peninsula.

In the Western Pacific, the most delicate task awaits the Bayern and Berlin’s foreign policy: the South China Sea. Much of this sea area is claimed by the People’s Republic of China in violation of international law. With the help of dubious interpretations of “historical” documents, but even more with faits accompli, built-up reefs turned into artificial islands with large military bases, China wants to expand its sphere of influence. An aggressive policy against its neighboring littoral states complements the quest for sea control to overcome the dilemma of Chinese geography. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has ruled that these measures are illegal. China, in turn, does not appear to feel bound by this ruling and international law. The presence of the US Navy, in particular in the South China Sea, is intended to strengthen freedom of the sea and prevent a customary expansion of Beijing’s sphere of power.

Depending on how the messages of the deployment are taken by its various audiences, and how the general foreign policy climate with China develops, it is not impossible that a Chinese port could also be visited. However, in view of the interaction between political and economic interests, all of Berlin’s partners will be watching closely to see what signals the Federal Republic of Germany sends to China. In any case, it can be assumed that port visits will be scheduled. But unless the Corona pandemic is overcome, visits could even be seen as a danger by the local population. An interesting side trip would be a visit to Vladivostok in Russia. As is well known, Russia shares a border with North Korea, and the large naval base on the Pacific could, subject to a diplomatic reconciliation of interests, be a destination that picks up threads of German-Russian talks beyond current tensions in Europe.

In all of this, however, it is important that Germany does not go it alone. Just as the itinerary clearly symbolizes multilateralism and a rules-based order, in the most difficult part of the mission—i.e. getting Europe’s message across to China—it is of the utmost importance for Germany not to undermine a common united front with its allies. This should also be symbolically demonstrated, wherever possible, in the joint appearance of European and American warships. If this is the return of German gunboat diplomacy, close coordination, joint maneuvers, and port visits with the French, British, and American ships are just as important as open communication with Beijing.

Moritz Brake is a Kapitänleutnant in the German Navy, doctoral student at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and member of the German Maritime Institute (DMI). He is also a guest lecturer for “Maritime Security and Strategy” at the University of Bonn.

Dr. Sebastian Bruns is a naval strategist based in Kiel. He headed the Center for Maritime Strategy & Security (CMSS) at the Institute for Security Policy Kiel University (ISPK) from 2016 to 2021. He will join the US Naval Academy in Annapolis (Maryland) as the Fulbright-McCain Scholar-in-Residence this August.   

References

[1] Kundnani, Hans and Tusuoka, Michito, “Germany’s Indo-Pacific frigate may send unclear message,” Chatham House, 04.05.2021, via: https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/05/germanys-indo-pacific-frigate-may-send-unclear-message?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=organic-social&utm_campaign=europe-programme-expert-comment&utm_content=german-naval-deployment

[2] “Germany – Europe – Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”: Federal Government adopts Indo-Pacific Guidelines. 01.09.2020, https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/aussenpolitik/regionaleschwerpunkte/asien/indo-pazifik-leitlinien/2380340

[3] The joint deployment of European warships in response to an Iranian attack on a British merchant ship in the Strait of Hormuz in July 2019.

[4] See Paul Chamberlain, “The Royal Canadian Navy and Naval Diplomacy,” Niobe Papers No. 14. Naval Association of Canada/Association Navale Du Canada, March 2021, p. 1.

[5] https://twitter.com/BMVg_Bundeswehr/status/1367143229179785216

[6] Swistek, Goran, “Squaring the Circle in the Indo-Pacific,” SWP News 2021/A 29, March 2021, via: https://www.swp-berlin.org/10.18449/2021A29/

[7] Chamberlain, “The Royal Canadian Navy,” p. 1.

[8] Hamann, Sebastian. “Old threats in new guise: the maritime threat from Huthi rebels in the Red Sea.” SIRIUS – Journal of Strategic Analysis, vol. 3, no. 2, 2019, pp. 178-183.

Featured image: Brandenburg-class frigate Bayern deployed in support Operation Enduring Freedom. (Credit: Bundeswehr)

3 thoughts on “Frigate Bayern in the Pacific: The Return of German Gunboat Diplomacy?”

  1. Very interesting and provocative article. As someone who has already published an article to that topic here (https://cimsec.org/mind-the-gap-german-security-policy-in-the-indo-pacific-between-aspiration-and-reality/) and who is working on a daily basis with aspects of German security policy in the Indo-Pacific, I feel a bit compelled to reply and to put some of the arguments into perspective – at least from my own perspective. I think your readers deserve an open discussion and argumentations based on facts:

    Para 1.
    The deployment of the frigate Bayern is not mainly aimed at the South China Sea and the aspects of freedom of navigation, which are of key concern to this area. I would even go further and say, that the South China Sea has no other part in the journey than a short transit clear of any friction. The deployment will take the frigate around a large part of the so called Indo-Pacific. The time it will spent in this six-month journey at the South China Sea will be just a few days, including port visits. During its transit through the South China Sea it is not (yet – you never know) planned to conduct any kind of freedom of operation activity. On the contrary, the German warship will avoid any disputed area and provoke any reaction by China. The whole deployment will disregard the aspect of the rules based order in the South China Sea and the Freedom of Navigation there. We made this argument also in our above mentioned article.

    The interpretation of a “unique exit strategy” attached to the plans for the deployment appears a bit overdrawn, as this was not any option intentionally included. Yet, there is still some uncertainty to the port visit in China, which has been requested by the German authorities. It appears that a narrative is here being made up, which is not based as such on parameters of the deployment. Implying such a strategic construct to the deployment or even many other current activities of the German Armed Forces doesn’t meet up with the reality. For this reason our current German Minister of Defence has initiated a debate about strategic thinking and the clear identification of threats and risks in German Foreign and Security Policy within the wider public. The argument of the authors appears to be contrary to the identified shortcomings of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. It would imply – continuing this argumentation that the initiated debate would not be necessary, because there is a deeper strategy behind all and the wider public doesn’t need to worry. See also for this discussion the recent interview with Prof. Carlo Masala and Strategy in German Foreign and Security Policy (unfortunately just in German): https://www.zeit.de/2021/26/sicherheitspolitik-deutschland-bundeswehr-carlo-masala

    Para 2. Very similar to the above made last statement, there appears to be too much interpretation and an overstretch of an argument here. The referred article on Chatham House was written on the background of a possible missed opportunity for a cooperation between the German frigate and the UK led carrier strike group, in order to show multilateral cooperation and a firm signalling of strategic messages. Here lies the identified unclear messaging. The mentioned “room for manoeuvre” was not intentionally build in the plans – especially not in the context of possible strategic messages and reaction from and by China. But I agree, it would exist. We also discussed this in our above mentioned article here.

    Para 3. The idea or plan to deploy a German warship into the region did exist already a few years, independently from the publication of the German Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific. But it was afterwards used by officials to put it in context to each other and to re-inforce the policy aims listed in the guidelines. Which other unit could have been chosen by the German Navy, which currently has still the lowest number of units since its re-establishment after the Second World War? Not many units of the current German Navy would be capable for such a deployment – taking distances, geographic and oceanic factors, logistics, self-protection and other aspects into consideration. This topic was also discussed in a different article of mine, which the authors referred to at a later point. (https://www.swp-berlin.org/publikation/quadratur-des-kreises-im-indo-pazifik)

    Para 4. I could not find much evidence for the proclaimed gunboat diplomacy controversy. I remember, that some individuals or politicians from the political left wing have made in March this year a social media post to that topic and that one or two newspapers took this term up in their reporting, but it’s hard to construct the outlined controversy in the German public. Actually, I did use Google search and tried the German “Kanonenboot Diplomatie & Deutsche Marine” terms as well as the English complement “gunboat diplomacy & German Navy”. On the first 4 to 5 pages of results, I was able find just one hit in each search, which is related to the deployment of the frigate Bayern. All the other results were related to historical events, publications and other discussions. For that reason this apparent controversy appears too much constructed too. I was able to find on the Homepage of the ISPK and the related twitter account, which both authors are somehow related too, several hints and links to articles and social media posts of the ISPK team which used the term gunboat diplomacy in the context of the Bayern deployment. Therefore I assume, that this is more a “homemade” narrative or “harnessed hobbyhorse” of the authors.

    Para 5 and Para 6. I fully agree, that signalling political messages totally fits also in the old fashioned definition of gunboat diplomacy, having its origin back at the colonial times. These messages are backed up and/or transmitted by naval power. Not sure, if the German frigate would fit into most interpretations of naval power – but I’m more than happy to discuss or being convinced by arguments. Having made this argumentation, the authors than connect the original term of gunboat diplomacy to combat missions, which obviously from the above made argumentation of political messaging is not a necessity. Strategic or political messaging does in my understanding not equal combat operations, there is a difference to it. Translated into the process of modern German Foreign and Security policy, any combat operation would require a mandate by the Parliament, which is not the case for the Indo-Pacific deployment. I will come back to this later on. Furthermore, it appears to be necessary here to substitute the term of gunboat diplomacy with the term military diplomacy (or naval diplomacy). That has been – at least for many of the European or western navies – already part of their mission since decades. I published around ten years ago an article for the George C. Marshall Centre related to it. (https://globalnetplatform.org/system/files/13195/11.2.06_Public-Military_Diplomacy_Swistek.pdf)
    The reference made to one of my other articles by the authors here in Para 6 in connection with Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and the German Indo-Pacific deployment is completely false!!! I never made it. I would never do it. This equation appears again to be much over the top, for the same reasons as I mentioned earlier. There was and is no – at least not by intention – deeper political strategy behind this single deployment and a balance in-between cooperation with China and enforcing the rules based international order or the free sea lanes. Too much of interpretation here.

    Para 7. Again the discussion of a deliberate choice of the frigate as the most suited signal. Which other unit from the German Navy could have been deployed? See my reference above.

    Para 8. The here introduced term of “diplomatic influencer” would fully fit the content of the much older (even before the 1990s) concept of military or naval diplomacy – as mentioned already above. Already in the 80s and 90s of the last century, the German Navy advertised its role publically as “Botschafter in Blau” – Diplomats in Blue.

    Para 10. The authors mentioned a continuous Nato presence in the Indian Ocean – something that is new to me. Something that might – as a continuous presence – also not happen in the near future. But this is a totally different topic and discussion, to be picked up on a different occasion.

    Para 16 and Para 17. Again the reference to the conduct of the international maritime law and the freedom of navigation in relation to the South China Sea, where the German Frigate will stay clear of any disputed areas or any intervention in this dispute by exercising freedom of navigation there. The possible or even already publically mentioned requested port visit to China is not in any kind related to this topic and the deployment and transits (as well as any possible political messages around it) of the Bayern. Sure, the restrictions coming along with the current pandemic situation might impact any of the scheduled or planed port visits and by this the diplomatic value of the deployment. But still it is a political signal, that Germany has interests in the region and will be engaged there. And this is truly connected to the Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific. Not more, not less. No further interpretation required here.

    Finally, the references / footnote work appears to be flawed. Beside the above mentioned wrong references, the reference number 5 does not lead to any page and where it would have been required to place an argument on solid base – like the proclaimed “exit strategy”, the “gunboat controversy” or the “intentionally strategy towards China” – , it is completely missing. The underlines ones more the impression of made up stories, arguments and narratives. No deduction, empirical data or analyses has been provided. That unfortunately puts a bit of bitter taste to this interesting article.

    Happy to continue the discussion or to take it up at any future occasion. I’m very convinced, that an open and honest discussion of aspects of the German Foreign and Security Policy would benefit the debate in Germany and amongst its partners an ally’s best. There is no necessity to make up any narratives and explanations, which do not exist, in order to put decisions in a certain brighter light. Who are they trying to please with it?

    Best regards

    Goeran Swistek
    Visiting Fellow@German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
    (https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/researcher/goeran-swistek)

    1. Dear Goran Swistek,
      Thank you for your reaction to the article, Sebastian Bruns and I have written. Concerning your critique and questions:

      Para 1
      It is precisely this “vague” quality which the naval option provides. If it had nothing – or even very little to do – with China: Why the discussion and excitement about it in the first place? The deployment is clearly about China – but not only. In fact, because there is so much else it does cover, the diplomatic stakes for all parties involved are kept deliberately and skilfully low.

      Concerning the need for debate: Absolutely! This is regardless of whether there is a “deeper strategy” behind the deployment or not (indeed, I would find it highly troubling, if military deployments were not following broader strategic considerations).

      Para 2
      I agree with you: Deployments of the navy on diplomatic missions almost by default allow for room for manoeuvre. This is what makes them such a unique tool of foreign policy. Therefore, choosing the naval option makes this part of the plan. The interesting part begins, when it comes to using the leeway available.

      Para 3
      It would indeed have been an almost musical harmony, or deliberate attempt to pick up one of Mark Twain’s “rhymes” of history, had the choice of “Bayern” been made because of the vessel’s own and predecessor’s previous missions. In the hard realities of navies, especially under budgetary constraints, this is not likely. Certainly not as a prime motive for the choice. However, as both crews and naval planners are aware of their traditions, it is not impossible that at least as a second – or third thought – the history of the deployment fed into the story. Or it may still do so as it unfolds! After all, successful diplomacy is also about the narratives that are mutually picked up, developed and come to be accepted.

      Para 4
      Here, I also agree: The gunboat-controversy is entirely driven by a small group of politicians and activists. Judging by the by-now decades worth of statistical evaluations that have been conducted by various institutions (independent, such as the Körber-Stiftung, and government, such as by the ZMSBw), polls indicate that the German public supports military deployments if they fit the overall strategic priorities consistent with the federal constitution:
      Self-defence, protection of allies, preventing or stopping grave human rights abuses or even genocide, countering proliferation and international terrorism, even the securing of vital economic resource and energy supply received majority support.

      See i.e. the 2020 ZMSBw’s poll “Sicherheits- und verteidigungspolitisches Meinungsbild in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Ergebnisse und Analysen der Bevölkerungsbefragung
      2020”, pp. 227-8
      https://www.bundeswehr.de/resource/blob/5036360/dd413dbbd10610484755c6f4fbfbaa93/download-fober-128-data.pdf

      Still, the “gunboat diplomacy”-debate apparently matters. It was only in 2010 that a federal president, Horst Köhler, was famously bullied out of office, led by cries of “Kanonenbootpolitik!” (gunboat diplomacy) by the Green Party politician Jürgen Trittin. (The controversy was sparked by Köhler’s support of the then-as-now official strategic statement that the protection of the freedom of navigation and the free flow of goods via the sea is part of the navy’s mission – if need be with force).
      See i.e. https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article13419126/Alt-Bundespraesident-Koehler-bricht-sein-Schweigen.html

      Para 5 and 6
      We do not suggest that you raised the connection to Brandt’s Ostpolitik. However, I can see that the placement of the footnote can invite the misinterpretation. Nevertheless: Both Brandt then and the federal government now need to – as you pointed out – “square the circle” of cooperation where possible paired with confrontation where necessary. The navy is by its nature a uniquely valuable tool to use in this regard. More than any other branch of the military.

      Concerning terminology: Debates can be had endlessly on which wording to choose, but at no point did we suggest that “gunboat diplomacy” would be the suitable term to describe the use of the navy in foreign policy by the federal German government.

      Para 7
      I agree. Still, there was no compulsion to send any ship at any time. The choice is therefore deliberate. While sending a combat supply vessel (like the “Berlin” during the Tsunami-aid mission) offers the endurance and self-protection capabilities required, it would not come with just the right communicative dimension.

      Para 8
      Maybe as a further point: “Botschafter in Blau” – diplomats in blue – in Germany and within the navy – seems to have only encompassed the entirely benign role of friendly port visits. This impression among civilian diplomats, politicians and the navy itself seems to have gradually changed since the 1990s, though. There is some striking evidence on this in the way the navy has been deployed since the Cold War – including this deployment of the “Bayern”. It is not just about friendly port visits and show-casing the achievements of German technology and the defence industry.

      Para 10
      Sorry if we failed to make this clear: The NATO presence in counter piracy in the Indian Ocean ended in 2016. The allies’ presence in a ‘coalition of the willing’-capacity in CTF 150 under US leadership continues, though.

      Finally, missing footnote/dead-end reference:
      I am sorry that the link in footnote 5 is no longer active. I substitute the following (regrettably in German):
      https://www.bmvg.de/de/aktuelles/engagement-im-indopazifik-fuer-eine-regelbasierte-ordnung-4911100

      Yours sincerely

      Moritz Brake

    2. Dear Goran Swistek,
      Thank you for your reaction to the article, Sebastian Bruns and I have written. Concerning your critique and questions:

      Para 1
      It is precisely this “vague” quality which the naval option provides. If it had nothing – or even very little to do – with China: Why the discussion and excitement about it in the first place? The deployment is clearly about China – but not only. In fact, because there is so much else it does cover, the diplomatic stakes for all parties involved are kept deliberately and skilfully low.
      Concerning the need for debate: Absolutely! This is regardless of whether there is a “deeper strategy” behind the deployment or not (indeed, I would find it highly troubling, if military deployments were not following broader strategic considerations).

      Para 2
      I agree with you: Deployments of the navy on diplomatic missions almost by default allow for room for manoeuvre. This is what makes them such a unique tool of foreign policy. Therefore, choosing the naval option makes this part of the plan. It gets interesting, when it comes to using the leeway available.

      Para 3
      It would indeed have been an almost musical harmony, or deliberate attempt to pick up one of Mark Twain’s “rhymes” of history, had the choice of “Bayern” been made because of the vessel’s own and predecessor’s previous missions. In the hard realities of navies, especially under budgetary constraints, this is not likely. Certainly not as a prime motive for the choice. However, as both crews and naval planners are aware of their traditions, it is not impossible that at least as a second – or third thought – the history of the deployment fed into the story. After all, successful diplomacy is also about the narratives that are mutually picked up, developed and come to be accepted.

      Para 4
      Here, I also agree: The gunboat-controversy is entirely driven by a small group of politicians and activists. Judging by the by-now decades worth of statistical evaluations that have been conducted by various institutions (independent, such as the Körber-Stiftung, and government, such as by the ZMSBw), polls indicate that the German public supports military deployments if they fit the overall strategic priorities consistent with the federal constitution: Self-defence, protection of allies, preventing or stopping grave human rights abuses or even genocide, countering proliferation and international terrorism, even the securing of vital economic resource and energy supply received majority support.

      See i.e. the 2020 ZMSBw’s poll “Sicherheits- und verteidigungspolitisches Meinungsbild in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Ergebnisse und Analysen der Bevölkerungsbefragung
      2020”, pp. 227-8
      https://www.bundeswehr.de/resource/blob/5036360/dd413dbbd10610484755c6f4fbfbaa93/download-fober-128-data.pdf

      Still, the “gunboat diplomacy”-debate apparently matters. It was only in 2010 that a federal president, Horst Köhler, was famously bullied out of office, led by cries of “Kanonenbootpolitik!” (gunboat diplomacy) by the Green Party politician Jürgen Trittin. (The controversy was sparked by Köhler’s verbatim repetition of the then-as-now official strategic position that the protection of the freedom of navigation and the free flow of goods via the sea is part of the navy’s mission – if need be with force).
      See i.e. https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article13419126/Alt-Bundespraesident-Koehler-bricht-sein-Schweigen.html

      Para 5 and 6
      We do not suggest that you raised the connection to Brandt’s Ostpolitik. However, I can see that the placement of the footnote can invite the misinterpretation. Nevertheless: Both Brandt then and the federal government now need to – as you pointed out – “square the circle” of cooperation paired with confrontation. The navy is by its nature a uniquely valuable tool to use in this regard. More than any other branch of the military.
      Concerning terminology: Debates can be had endlessly on which wording to choose, but at no point did we suggest that “gunboat diplomacy” would be the suitable term to describe the use of the navy in foreign policy by the federal German government.

      Para 7
      I agree. Still, there was no compulsion to send any ship at any time. The choice is therefore deliberate. Furthermore, while sending a combat supply vessel (like the “Berlin” during the Tsunami-aid mission) offers the endurance and self-defence capabilities, it would not come with just the right communicative dimension.

      Para 8
      Maybe as a further point: “Botschafter in Blau” – diplomats in blue – in Germany and within the navy – seems to have only encompassed the entirely benign role of friendly port visits. This impression among civilian diplomats, politicians and the navy itself appears to have gradually changed since the 1990s, though. There is some striking evidence on this in the way the navy has been deployed since the Cold War – including this deployment of the “Bayern”. It is not just about friendly port visits and show-casing the achievements of German technology and the defence industry.

      Para 10
      Sorry if we failed to make this clear: The NATO presence in counter piracy in the Indian Ocean ended in 2016. The allies’ presence in a ‘coalition of the willing’-capacity in CTF 150 under US leadership continues, though.

      Finally, missing footnote/dead-end reference:

      I am sorry that the link in footnote 5 is no longer active. I substitute the following (regrettably in German):
      https://www.bmvg.de/de/aktuelles/engagement-im-indopazifik-fuer-eine-regelbasierte-ordnung-4911100

      Yours sincerely

      Moritz Brake

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