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Power, culture or role, preceded by adjectives such as civilian, tamed, reflexive, hegemonic, commercial realpolitik or shaping, are commonly used to portray German foreign and security policy. When scholars and pundits aggregate explanatory factors on the national level, even in democracies, they assume that a significant degree of agreement exists among domestic actors at any point in time. Assuming that actors within national conceptual boundaries share similar values and preferences can create a blind spot for important subnational variation. To capture political cleavages and ultimately provide a picture of when to expect policy change and in what form, this paper asks: what is the role of parties and party leadership in formulating German foreign and security policy? I argue that we need to look at political parties' sub-national and intersubjective constructions of purpose to understand the variegated expressions of what could and should be the 'national' norm at any point in time (and what is contested). Ultimately, this helps explaining how stable so-called national preferences are.