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

Such instances of pseudo-balancing against the "last remaining
superpower"--the assertion of great strategic ambitions and of
cultural superiority--bespeak unease, perhaps even subliminal fear
and a need for emotional compensation. But because the level of
Euro-American transactions and dependencies actually keeps rising,
these phenomena may well be a substitute for the real thing: the
fraying of ties and the parting of ways.

Certainly, this reassuring assessment seems to fit Germany better
than most. Comfortable in its standing and power, it need not emulate
those French antics that reflect the loss of strategic weight and
cultural pre-eminence. There are no fines in Germany for calling a
brush-and-water contraption a "car wash" rather than an "Autowäsche."
Instead of being fought with the force of law, English is
deliberately promoted as a working language in companies and
universities. American investments are welcomed, not blocked, by the

Germany is in a position of grand strategic equilibrium. The
reunified nation, though it remains in the same geographic location,
is where no Germany has ever been before: comfortable with its
possessions and unchallenged by its neighbors. Or as Defense Minister
Rudolf Scharping put it: "For the first time in its history, Germany
is surrounded by friends and partners." In such an august state,
nations do not lightly deviate from the policies that brought them
there as long as new threats and temptations do not arise.

In a system that works, continuity rules. One factor is obviously
NATO and the U.S. security tie, which serves as insurance against the
resurgence or collapse of Russian power and which helps to take the
sting out of Germany's weight and centrality in the European balance.
A second is a Continental option, as embodied in the special
relationship with France. Though Germany no longer needs France as
legitimator and secondary protector, interests continue to dovetail,
for each regards (and manipulates) the other as an indispensable
partner in the leadership of Europe.

A third element, which helps to limit dependence on France, is Germany's subsidiary British tie. The reason is that some German interests - like freer trade or the eastward extension of the Western communities - are better served by London (and The Hague) than by a Paris beholden to Little Europe ambitions. Anglo-German relations have in fact warmed up under the "Third Way" duo of Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder. Fourth is the traditional Russian connection - though greatly scaled down because Moscow now has very little with which to blackmail or to bribe Germany. It is rather the fear of Russian weakness - the specter of "Weimar Russia" - that makes for solicitous (and worried) attention. Fifth and finally, the stabilization of Germany's East European hinterland is the easier and more profitable task. Economically, these countries are Germany's "Mexico": next door and with favorable wage-to-productivity ratios. Their markets are ideally suited for penetration, but that requires political stability. Hence Germany, like the United States, will try to integrate the East-Central Europeans into the EU and NATO while taking care not to do So too blatantly for fear of alienating Russia.

In the absence of a strategic threat, Germany will try to do what it knows best: to play on its surfeit of "soft power" while eschewing for as long as possible the ways of a traditional great power and the use of force for strategic purposes. And why not? If a country is surrounded only by friends, it will seek to keep them. If it enjoys a setting no longer overshadowed by prospects of major war, it will strive to preserve it. For this is a wondrous system indeed: permissive, peaceful and (still) protected from the turmoil that continues to grip the rest of the world. Pourvu queça dure - provided that it lasts - as Napoleon's mother-in-law used to caution.

Josef Joffe is editorial page editor and columnist of the Suddeutsche Zeitung in Munich and associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University.

Essay Types: Essay