Ursula von der Leyen.jpg
German Minister of defence Ursula von der Leyen presents the new White Paper of the German armed forces on security politics in Berlin, Germany, 13 July 2016.
Photograph: EPA/MICHAEL KAPPELER

Germany plans to take on a more assertive global defence role, with Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen seeing Britain's move to exit the European Union as helping to drive a common EU security stance.

"The role of Germany in the world has changed," von der Leyen said Wednesday in releasing the government's white paper on defence, which laid out the transformation in global security since the last paper 10 years ago.

Von der Leyen believes that a British exit from the EU, or Brexit, following last month's referendum, has given new momentum to a more integrated defence and security policy for the bloc, saying that Britain "consistently blocked everything when it came to Europe."

The new German defence plans set out in the white paper, and which include taking on more responsibility in NATO and increasing military missions in the fight against terrorism, were agreed to on Wednesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet.

"We are not making ourselves bigger than we are, but we are not making ourselves smaller either," von der Leyen said at a press conference marking the release of the white paper, which sets out Germany's aim "to actively help shape the world order."

The strategy included in the 83-page document marks a further shift away from Germany's post-World War II reluctance to pursue a high profile on the global defence stage.

Germany had announced plans to expand its army for the first time in 25 years - even before a majority of British voters decided to leave the EU.

Berlin also quietly expanded its role in internationally backed military missions.

These included joining efforts to contain a more aggressive Russia and to stem the international expansion of extremist militia Islamic State by delivering weapons to Kurds in north Iraq.

"Germany's security policy needs to have a global horizon," said the paper.

Berlin has also been under pressure from the United States to carve out more of a leadership role in NATO.

The white paper says Germany is ready to "assume responsibility" and help meet current and future security as well as humanitarian challenges along with promoting a common European security and defence union.

Germany is to head one of the about 1,000-strong NATO battalions that are to be deployed in Poland and in each of the three Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

This comes in the wake of concerns about Russian aggression in the region following Moscow's backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Berlin is also planning to allow anyone from an EU member state to apply to join its defence forces, which have traditionally only been open to German citizens.

The German Armed Forces Association, the largest group representing the interests of soldiers, says it opposes that move.

But von der Leyen said the German armed forces needed to reflect the diversity of the country's population by increasing the numbers of soldiers with migrant backgrounds, physical disabilities as well as with differing sexual orientations.

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