Where Germany Has Never Been Before

Where Germany Has Never Been Before

Mini Teaser: Germany, led by its generation of '68, has finally found itself comfortable with its allies, its power and even itself.

by Author(s): Josef Joffe

In fact, this is precisely what the new Schroeder government tried to
do right after assuming power. Taking a page out of Margaret ("I want
my money back") Thatcher's book, Chancellor Schroeder used interesting
language in pushing for a cut in Germany's huge contribution to the
EU (dm22 billion, roughly $13 billion net per year). More than half
of the money "being frittered away" by the EU was coming out of
German coffers. "In the past, compromises [in the EU] were often only
reached because the Germans paid for them. This policy has come to an
end", Schroeder stated in an interview this year. And why? Because the
times had changed. "Now one could be less inhibited about pursuing
one's interests than in the past."

Less inhibited, perhaps; more successful, no. When the returns were
counted in time for the EU's Berlin summit three months later, very
little the Schroederites wanted had really come about--neither a cut
in the EU's agricultural budget nor in Germany's net contributions.
For that policy to "come to an end", Germany would have had to take
on France, the main profiteer of the agricultural support system,
plus the Mediterranean countries and Ireland, the beneficiaries of
the EU's "cohesion" and "structural" funds.

Why not go to the brink if Germany had shed those Cold War fetters
that demanded deference to France and unrelenting generosity to the
EU as a whole? Because No. 1, with the largest resource base, always
has to pay more. Nor is this so painful, given that the biggest power
usually profits most from the common institutions--as Germany, the
world's second-largest exporter, does most obviously from the vast
common market that is the EU. "The more we pursue our interests
multilaterally, through Europe", Foreign Minister Fischer postulates
correctly, "the more we'll get for ourselves." You do well by doing
good for others is the message. Not bad for a great regional power
that has learned in the most painful way that, in the new game of
peaceful penetration, cell phones and wing-tips are so much more
useful than Panzers and jack boots. "We have to do for Europe in
order to do for ourselves", reiterated Fischer in a conversation I
had with him in February, adding just with a hint of a smile: "We
lead from the second row, but we are doing quite well there."

So Germany does not have to write a new script and don a new costume.
Germany is like a Gulliver who likes his ropes. In his mind are
etched two commanding lessons from history. Whenever he struck out on
his own, he reaped not hegemony but ever larger disaster, as in 1914
and 1939. But when he accepted the bonds of multilateralism and
community in all things economic and military, he flourished beyond

Such twin lessons are not easily unlearned, and the speed with which
they were internalized by a new government supposedly free of
yesteryear's restraints may well serve as a testimony to their
strength and endurance. But why not at least maneuver a bit more
freely now that Germany's excruciating dependence on the West has
vanished along with bipolarity? The short answer is this: there is no
need for post-Cold War Germany--the "Berlin Republic", if you
wish--to stray from the mainstream of Western policy.

What is it that has routinely drawn Germany to Schaukelpolitik, the
policy of maneuver and balance between East and West? First of all, a
strategic geography that menaced Germany from both sides--the
notorious cauchemar des coalitions, as Bismarck called it. So
maneuvering was often a condition of survival. Beyond necessity,
there was sometimes enticement: a Russia that not only posed a
threat, but also offered a temptation. But whether threat or
temptation, Russia would invariably instill a propitiation reflex in
modern German Ostpolitik. And at no time was this reflex more
compelling than in the post-1945 period. For in those decades, the
Soviet Union was perfectly positioned in the twin role of blackmailer
and briber.

The best Soviet armies were ensconced some thirty miles from the
gates of Hamburg, and Germany was the most exposed, hence most
vulnerable, member of the Atlantic Alliance. If that existential
threat was ever ignored by Bonn, the Russians could always resort to
West Berlin, a convenient lever located deep inside
Russian-controlled territory. All the way to the Battle of the
Euromissiles from 1977-86, Soviet pressure campaigns against the West
focused first and foremost on West Germany, playing on the country's
angst as designated target of abandonment by the West or extinction
by the Soviet Union.

Bonn's propitiatory instincts grew stronger still once the "New
Ostpolitik" in the early 1970s launched a cooperative relationship
with the Soviet Union and its satraps. Moscow held the key to East
Germany and Eastern Europe, and so access required good behavior on
Bonn's part as it sought to lower the barriers of partition between
the two Germanys. Hence "Genscherism", hence an enduring détente
imperative that led to repetitive clashes between Washington and West
Germany over Afghanistan, gas pipelines, the Moscow Olympic Games,
INF and SNF. For renewed Cold War would only refreeze what the New
Ostpolitik had so painstakingly thawed in the attempt to overcome the
intra-German confrontation along the Elbe River.

The propitiatory impulse has by no means disappeared. Consider, for
example, the stubborn insistence of the Schroeder-Fischer government
on bringing the Russians into the Balkan peace process and on making
NATO "out-of-area" operations contingent on a mandate of the UN
Security Council (where Russia wields a veto). But the reflex has
obviously weakened. With reunification achieved, Russia no longer has
anything to offer. And with the retraction and collapse of Russia's
military might, Moscow now has far less with which to threaten

This, then, is the single most important change in Germany's
strategic geography. It helps to resolve the paradox of a
Red-and-Green government sending the Bundeswehr into harm's way. No
matter how many hundreds of thousands of people the Milosevic regime
might have uprooted, Germany would not have gone into action while
Soviet/Russian power remained intact. For German pacifism has always
rested on two sturdy pillars of realpolitik. First, the Soviets could
always have retaliated against Germany's Central European détente,
rending the carefully nurtured fabric of intra-German relations.
Second, there was the fear of entrapment in a peripheral conflict
that would ignite a general European war in the center, with Germany
as prime battlefield and victim. But those motive forces no longer
exist. Germany, in other words, need not walk a Sonderweg, not at
least for the time being. It need not deviate from the Western way,
for the demise of Soviet power has removed both threats and
temptations from Germany's strategic geography.

Strategic Equilibrium

Structure has not been destiny--not yet, after ten years. The major
relationships forged in the 1940s and hardened by decades of
bipolarity have not passed into history. Why is this? First, because,
as argued earlier, the basics have not changed that much and there is
still a lot of functionality in those bonds. And second, because
where structure-qua-distribution-of-power has changed most
drastically as a result of the Soviet collapse, it has actually made
it easier for Germany to sail in the Western mainstream.

Theory and history predict that allies will balance against a No. 1
(the United States) that is no longer constrained by an equivalent
No. 2 (the Soviet Union). But in this instance they have not done so.
No one in Europe has joined France and Russia in their intermittent,
half-hearted attempts to protect, or side with, declared foes of the
United States like Iran, Iraq or Serbia. None other than the French
calls America a hyperpuissance whose power must be reduced by the
harsh discipline of multipolarity.

The reasons are plain: America is more needed than feared, and while
carrying a unipolar stick, it usually speaks quite softly. Not even
the French have tried to forge a real countervailing compact; indeed,
when the crunch was on, as in Kosovo in early 1999, the French
without so much as a side-swipe joined the American-led alliance
against Belgrade. What we do observe, though, is the usual economic
rivalry dating back to the 1960s, as well as a more recent phenomenon
that might be labeled "psychological balancing."

One manifestation of the latter tendency is the euro, which many
Europeans have celebrated not as an agent of economic efficiency or
monetary stability, but as a bulwark against the almighty dollar and
as a weapon that would turn Europe into the monetary equal, if not
superior, of the United States. Another means of psychological
balancing involves unending calls for a common defense identity that
would at last allow the EU to act militarily without the United
States; just to celebrate the ambition must soothe souls riled by
Europe's repetitive failure to take care of business in the Balkans.
A third palliative is an old acquaintance dating back to the
nineteenth century: the moral and cultural denigration of the United
States. The most striking recent example is the reaction to the
execution in Arizona of two brothers of German origin, Walter and
Karl LaGrand, for a murder committed in 1982. Hardly noticed in the
United States, this episode unleashed huge waves of resentment in
Germany, prompting German politicians of all stripes to condemn the
United States as a morally retrograde "stronghold of barbarism."

Essay Types: Essay