The article analyzes Germany’s policies toward Russia from an ontological security perspective. We argue that foreign policy should be seen as a tool that allows states to maintain a sense of a reasonably stable self, which enables them to cope in the changing world. We develop a three-layered model conceptualizing ontological security through narratives about the self, a significant other, and the international system and show its particular relevance for explicating policy change. When threatened by a crisis, states respond by narrative adjustment that highlights continuity on some levels, while enabling change on other levels. Developing the argument that Germany’s ontological security is based in the “civilian power” narrative, we use our model to reconstruct Germany’s response to Russia’s wars in Georgia and Ukraine. In both cases, the discourse highlighted the ongoing validity of civilian power on the level of the international order, while challenges were accommodated by adjustments on the level of the self and the significant other. Ontological security was restored vis-à-vis the changing world by reinforcing the civilian power as a norm, while shifting blame to either both Germany and Russia (2008), or Russia exclusively (2014), for not adhering to it at a given time.
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