Vol. 41 - No. 2
POLICY TO THE TEST
Professor of Modern and Contemporary History
at the University of Erlangen, Germany
As 1990 ended and 1991 began, Germany's foreign
policy was in a difficult position. A year earlier, on 9 November 1989,
the Wall - the very symbol of German division - had come down. Then, following
the signing on 12 September 1990 of the so-called Two-Plus-Four Treaty
by the allies - victors of the Second World War - and the two German states,
German unification was celebrated in Berlin only a few weeks later on
3 October 1990.
This all occurred at a time, half a century after
the Second World War, when very few people, even few Germans, thought
this could ever come about. But it was not only the actual event and the
timing of the fall of the Wall that were surprising; the greatest surprise
of all was the speed of unification which virtually no one at the end
of 1989 would have believed possible.
Events came fast and furious. Quite suddenly -
and thoroughly unprepared - the Federal Republic of Germany found itself
playing an unfamiliar and unwanted role: namely that of a European great
power. And, as if that were not enough, it was also asked to play its
new role immediately. The difficult international crises of the winter
of 1990-1991 in Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly in the Middle
East, clearly confronted German foreign policy with an almost insoluble
task. Conclusions can be drawn from these experiences and an understanding
gained as to what the foreign policy objectives of the great-power Federal
Republic ought to be, what they cannot be, and what should be avoided,
It would seem reasonable, therefore, to begin by
looking back at German foreign policy during the crises of January and
February 1991; then examine the historical and political reasons for at
least the partial policy setbacks; and finally draw some conclusions for
Crises in early 1991
Less than four months after unification, some of Germany's
allies and neighbours had become irritated, even enraged by the Germans.
What had happened? During the night of 16 January 1991, an allied coalition
of 29 countries had entered into military confrontation with Iraq. The coalition
was acting upon a unanimous resolution passed by the United Nations Security
Council in which Iraq had been given an ultimatum to withdraw from Kuwait,
a country it had taken by force on 2 August 1990. The recently united Federal
Republic of Germany - including its public, its media and above all its
political representatives - was obliged to adopt a stance and decide how
There was no dispute about the fact that, in the
political circumstances, and in view of the provisions of the German Basic
Law, no German army units could be despatched to join the allied coalition,
in other words, to take part in military operations outside the NATO area.
However, the fact that leading exponents of German policy had nothing
to say, temporarily leaving the international image of the Republic in
the hands of a noisy minority which was critical of the allies, was surprising
and indeed damaging to Germany. What was expected of Germany concerning
participation beyond its borders, was not just measured in terms of the
possible. That level of participation was taken as read, and was indeed
provided, and in no small measure, ranging from the provision of German
territory for coordination centres for supplies to the Gulf, to the delivery
of massive quantities of weapons and materiel and, after some discussion,
the payment of considerable sums of money.
It was, incidentally, just this indirect support
which led the foreign media to deride German policy as 'cheque book diplomacy'.
And yet Germany's activities were in no way limited to material support.
German army units took part in NATO's preventative military measures to
deter an attack on Turkey, an Alliance partner. Finally, a few weeks after
hostilities had come to an end, but before the signing of the final ceasefire,
German minesweepers were sent to the Persian Gulf. It is indicative of
the deep-rooted insecurity of German policy during this crisis that these
measures were decided upon and carried out in virtual secrecy, hidden
from the public, and in those cases where this was impossible, for example
when participation in NATO activities was involved, it gave rise to a
very unconvincing public debate.
As already mentioned, the Alliance took all this
support as read, but more was expected. First of all, it was felt that
there should be a prompt, public declaration of solidarity with the Allied
forces by leading representatives of all the political parties and, in
particular, by the Federal Government, which could have taken the form
of top level visits to London, Paris, Washington or Rome.
Astonishment grew as a considerable amount of time
passed and still there was no clear, public declaration of support for
the very Alliance and Allies on which the Germans, for their part, had
been able to depend for more than 40 years, and which ultimately supported
the agreement on German unification - a decision which had weighed heavily
on the hearts of some of its neighbours.
These irritations are perceptible to this day.
The fact that they caused no damage to Bonn's relations with its Allies
was clearly a result of increased self-confidence as the West emerged
supreme from the diplomatic and unexpected military crisis in the Gulf.
Furthermore, there was also the notion that the larger Federal Republic
of Germany would in future serve as a stabilizing factor in Europe. Just
a few months later, this was to be confirmed by developments in south-east
Europe, but above all by the dramatic events in the Soviet Union - the
failed coup, the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party and the collapse
of the USSR.
Foreign policy paralysis
There were four reasons why the demands placed on German
foreign policy seemed too heavy in the first few weeks of 1991:
- It had been made clear to the Germans at the end of the Second World
War that the age of active great-power politics was over once and for
all - in other words that no one had forgotten Germany's ambitions in
the first half of the century. For its former war-time adversaries,
the Third Reich, and the war which Hitler had unleashed, were only the
most recent expressions of a long and seemingly unbroken tradition beginning
with Frederick the Great and the emergence of Prussia as a great power.
Thus, the Allies' aim had not only been to eradicate National Socialism,
but also to crush the great power that the German Reich constituted
together with its Prussian origins. Accordingly, Germany's consciousness
of power had been systematically eradicated, firstly from the outside
by the victorious allied forces of the Second World War, and then from
within by national feelings of guilt, the extent of which, instead of
fostering an appropriate process of coming to terms with the past, did
precisely the opposite, actually preventing this from happening.
- This development was barely noticed at first because the room for
manoeuvre for German foreign policy, even after the 1949-1955 period,
was severely limited. Until October 1990, foreign policy, as far as
Berlin and the country as a whole were concerned, was subject to allied
reservations, thus Germany's ability to act on certain vital questions
was, at best, constrained. Furthermore, since the defence of the Federal
Republic was unthinkable without the Alliance, this in turn gave rise
to clear foreign policy constraints. Changes of direction or corrections
to foreign policy - as with Ostpolitik (1) and German policy
during the 1969-73 period were, therefore, always made after close consultation
with the Western powers and with their agreement. So it should come
as no surprise that German foreign policy seemed helpless and overtaxed
in 1990, when the country unexpectedly had to act as a sovereign state
and a major European power.
- There was also a very conspicuous and deeply felt scepticism among
some of Germany's neighbours about the rapid pace of unification, despite
the events of 9 November 1989. Old fears, which had led to the eradication
of the German Reich as a great power, were resurrected and, in some
quarters, publicly articulated. It cannot be refuted that, for these
reasons, from the point of view of the Allied nations (not to mention
Israel), the prospect of German troops being engaged outside NATO territory
during the weeks and months following unification was scarcely desirable,
even hard to envisage.
- There were also political reasons why German foreign policy, confronted
in equal measure by these old prejudices, reservations and impediments
and by new challenges, appeared to be paralysed in January and February
In the difficult international situation during
this period, there were in fact two crises from a German point of view,
the dramatic developments in Eastern and Central Europe being no less
explosive than the war in the geographically more distant Persian Gulf.
In any event, Germany, at the crossroads between East and West, was particularly
affected by the events in Eastern Europe and by the progressive collapse
of the Soviet empire. At that time, there were still some 350,000 Red
Army troops on German soil, equipped with state-of-the-art weapons as
well as tactical nuclear arms; and this was the same Red Army that had
only recently been deployed in great numbers to try to put down the struggle
for independence in Lithuania. After all, the Two-Plus-Four Treaty and
the treaty on the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Eastern Germany
were not ratified by the Supreme Soviet until 4 March and 2 April 1991
Furthermore, from a Western point of view, the
Soviet Union had committed major violations against the spirit and letter
of the first Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, signed on 19
November 1990 in the margins of the Paris CSCE Summit. At the beginning
of February 1991, one of the consequences of this became apparent when
the US postponed ratification of the Treaty. This affected Germany too,
because the bargaining chip to win Soviet agreement to Germany's unification,
and in particular its membership of NATO, was for Germany's entire armed
forces to be considerably reduced. Finally, the dissolution of the military
structure of the Warsaw Pact - agreed on 25 February 1991 and effective
as of 1 April 1991 - was in no way a source of comfort: the danger of
a military vacuum in Central and Eastern Europe could not be denied, given
the events in the Balkan states of Yugoslavia and Albania. It is clear
that all of these developments had major consequences for Germany as one
of the most eastern partners in the Western Alliance.
Limits and challenges
The Germany of January 1991 was not the same as the
Germany of January 1990. This was not only due to its new status under international
law but also to a side effect of the unification process - which at first
was grossly underestimated - namely, that in the eyes of many observers,
the larger Germany was inevitably seen to constitute more than a prosperous
medium-sized power securely positioned on the leeward side of the East-West
conflict. This leads to a number of conclusions concerning Germany's future
foreign policy, including both its opportunities and limitations.
It is here that the history of Prussia and Germany
has something to teach us: a country that is geostrategically so prominent
and that has the economic potential of Germany with a powerful, hi-tech
army (despite many self-imposed restrictions), and which has considerable
territory as a result of unification of the two German states (357,000
square kilometres), and which by European standards has an above average
number of inhabitants (80 million), is no medium-sized European power.
If one also takes into account the enormous appeal - for many different
reasons - that Germany has for a growing number of people, countries and
regions, then Germany, following the dramatic and radical changes of 1989-1990,
undoubtedly now finds itself in the position of a potential great power.
This also applies if one compares the situation with traditional European
great powers such as France and the United Kingdom, and even if one takes
into account the fact that Germany, unlike France and the UK, has no permanent
seat on the UN Security Council, nor is it a nuclear power.
But the collapse of the Soviet empire, the destruction
of Yugoslavia, the breakup of Czechoslovakia, as well as other developments,
inevitably mean a further relative increase in the weight of Germany within
the European community of nations, even if the problems of the unification
process and the onset of a recession would at times seem to paint a different
picture. Here, the dramatic nature and speed of the radical changes on
the international scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s become particularly
apparent. If the division of Germany after 1945 was one of the causes
of the Cold War with its dangerous crises and decades of tension, then
the united Germany - the major power in the middle of Europe - now represents
for many people, a guarantee of the continent's political and economic
stability. Germany's foreign policy must be based on this new situation
and on the risks and opportunities it entails, but also, and above all,
on the responsibility that it brings with it.
It is true, however, that this new Germany is firmly
bound together with the European and Atlantic communities and, as such,
is still unable in some respects to take decisions and actions in isolation.
Equally, we cannot tell for the time being whether, when, how and to what
end Germany will deploy and use its power. For that, the country's new
status arrived too unexpectedly and too quickly: a 'thirst for power'
which played a central role in Prussian-German foreign policy up to 1945,
and which used to be seen as a necessary component of great-power politics,
is not so far discernable. More importantly, the debates concerning a
German immigration law or the future role of the Bundeswehr reveal considerable
insecurity, even impotence.
The ability to adopt great-power policies is there,
however, provided the given preconditions for a targeted display of power
are met; but such a demonstration does not necessarily need to be belligerent.
This is a fact that seems to be well known to those near and far-flung
neighbours who, through the division of Germany and the implementation
of other measures, dismantled this potential after 1945 because they wanted
to prevent, for all time, the re-emergence of a German great power.
There are therefore hidden dangers in the new role,
but also, and not least, opportunities; the role is primarily, however,
bound up with expectations and demands from outside the new greater Federal
Republic. But one thing is certain: while the division of Germany was
forced on it from the outside, which could, for example, be used as an
argument for restrained action in the face of international obligations,
then unification was a deep-rooted German aspiration that had existed
since 1949 - indeed it was very nearly the main single aim of post-war
German foreign policy. Federal German politicians had consistently pointed
out that the German people had not forfeited the right "to bring to completion
the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination". These politicians
may or may not have believed this, even wanted it or striven for it. But
then, suddenly, it was there: unity, and with it the new challenges and
obligations as well as the expectations of other nations. Germany will
have to come to terms with this and it must be a conscious act.
German foreign policy has much to do, but can also
achieve much in counteracting the re-emergence of old images of Germany.
This includes for the new greater Germany the recognition of the fact that
a German great power may not always, and only, do what others perceive to
be 'normal' and which for them is a matter of course. The political leaders
of the German Reich, which had been united since 1871, had already been
confronted by this same problem, particularly in the years leading up to
the outbreak of the First World War, and they, too, had been unable to deal
with it. There are economic, political, geographic, military and historical
reasons for this problem which should be recognized.
It goes without saying that Germany's commitment
to the United Nations should increase; this would include the placing
of German troops under UN command and the participation of German military
units in allied actions with a UN mandate, as is the case of the NATO
AWACS mission in Bosnia. A country that, to a large extent, owes its existence
and the achievement of its most important aim - unification after decades
of separation - to the development of peace since 1945-49, should not
refuse to participate in the defence or restoration of that peaceful world
order, if that is what the international community demands. In the final
analysis, Germany, too, has a vital interest in combatting the causes
of mass migration - systematic genocide, the expulsion of large numbers
of people, or mass starvation - where this is possible using economic
or humanitarian means or, in extreme cases, by taking joint military action.
Above all, Germany's new status means that cooperative
efforts in Europe must be continued and intensified to achieve European
integration, where this is meaningful and possible. The Federal Republic
of Germany, since the beginning, has supported European Union because
such a Union promised, on the one hand, to make a major contribution to
resolving the problem of the division of the country, while, on the other,
it held out the prospect of economic prosperity. As Germany shared this
second goal with all its partners, it was and remains important to draw
attention to the most notable successes in the field of economic integration.
In this respect, the European Community has had some difficulties, but
it is in general a convincingly effective community, and, as has been
shown by the creation of the European Economic Area (EEA), a highly attractive
Whether, when and in what form 'monetary union'
can be achieved, including the setting up of a Central European Bank or
the introduction of a currency acceptable to all member states, is unclear.
The same applies to 'political union', the creation of which has been
of particular interest to German foreign policy since the early 1950s.
Germany was active in proposing European Political Cooperation (EPC) and
the Single European Act. Just how little has been achieved in terms of
a common European foreign policy since this obligation was first laid
down on 1 July 1987 is demonstrated by the lack of a coordinated plan
in the build-up to, and during, the war in the Persian Gulf as well as
the failure of a European policy in the war in the former Yugoslavia.
Ultimately, both wars have reawakened thoughts
of a European Defence Community which failed back in 1954, but which,
since that time, has continued to exist albeit in a rudimentary form,
in the Western European Union. Crises and war in Yugoslavia have shown
that here, too, progress must be made. It was in this context, in the
summer of 1991, that a few European countries - France and Germany for
example - began calling for the creation of the political conditions for
the formation of a European intervention force. The joint initiative of
14 October 1991 by the German Chancellor and the French President was
intended to be an initial step towards this goal. The proposals, which
included intensification of Franco-German military cooperation and creation
of a "Eurocorps", were aimed at creating a coordinated security and defence
policy for Europeans within the framework of the WEU.
What was remarkable, and indeed characteristic
of the situation, were the perceptions and reactions of Germany's partners
with regard to this initiative. Some partners, including Italy and the
UK, immediately voiced their reservations, seeing among other things,
the danger of an erosion of the NATO Alliance and thereby an effective,
disproportionate strengthening of Germany - in the long term - at the
expense of some of its European partners. The prevention of just such
a development with a simultaneous strengthening of Europe under French
control at the expense of the Atlantic Alliance could, on the other hand,
have been France's motivation for the initiative. This is somewhat reminiscent
of the situation in the early 1960s and the then insoluble German dilemma
of having to choose either the Gaullist, French option or the Atlantic,
American option, while being unable to do without either.
It was, and is, no coincidence that the main objective
of France's German policy has been firmly to link the Federal Republic
to a multi-dimensional European community. French initiatives to found
European institutions that included Germany were also attempts to bind
Germany permanently and thus to prevent it from ever again becoming a
great power. This was true of the European Coal and Steel Community founded
in 1951, the failed European Defence Community (EDC) of 1954, and the
founding of the European Atomic (Euratom) and Economic Communities in
1957; and it is also true of France's policy on Maastricht. Even today,
Europe still signifies a form of protection against Germany - and not
just in the view of the French. The developments of 1990-1991, i.e., the
unification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet empire and the radical
change in Central and Eastern Europe, were accompanied by a relative weakening
of France's great power position in Europe, a position established with
some difficulty after 1945.
Among the conclusions which can be drawn from these
facts is, first of all, that Franco-German cooperation, which was laid
down in the January 1963 Franco-German Treaty, and ultimately considerably
expanded with the creation in 1988 of a joint Defence and Security Council,
will remain a central pillar ofGerman foreign policy even after unification.
However, this is likely to prevent the Germans from adopting those special
political initiatives and national profile-enhancing actions in which
major powers tend to engage. This applies to German foreign policy in
general but to Ostpolitik in particular. Of course a country such as Germany,
especially now that it is united, is unable to forgo an active Ostpolitik;
it is part of this country's destiny because of its geographical proximity
tothe countries of Eastern Europe, the long tradition of good political,
economic and cultural relations, as well as by the moral obligation imposed
by the legacy of major conflicts, deep crises and costly wars. History
moulds our future, affecting Germany's relations with the Czech and Slovak
Republics and the new states on the territory of the former Soviet Union;
it also has a particular bearing on Germany's relations with its neighbour
to the East, Poland, which are likely to prove just as important as its
relations with France, its neighbour to the West.
Cooperative approach to Ostpolitik
In the future, Germany should avoid going it alone
as far as Ostpolitik is concerned, even if this possibility is
open to it. There are four reasons for this:
- The strong economic support required by the countries of Eastern Europe,
in particular the new states on the territory of the former Soviet Union,
can only be organized at an international level. Here, Germany - acting
quite understandably in its own self-interest - must press for a concerted
aid programme, evenly spreading the burden to all the leading industrial
countries, including the US and Japan.
- And then there is the memory of the past which, particularly in the
case of Germany's allies, continues to raise the question of German-Russian
relations. These memories may seem anachronistic from a German viewpoint,
but they do exist and perceptions influence policy. For some Western
observers, these relations are all linked to the so-called 'Rapallo
Complex'. It was on 16 April 1922 in Rapallo that, to the surprise of
the Western powers, the German Reich and Soviet Russia, the two losers
of the First World War, signed treaties on such vital issues as reparations
and pre-war debts. Contrary to some of the opinions expressed even to
this day, no secret military alliance was agreed upon and there were
no secret discussions on a joint attack on Poland. From a Western perspective,
however, the secret supplementary accord in the Hitler-Stalin Pact of
23 August 1939 seemed, once it became known, to justify the existence
of the 'Rapallo Complex'. This then became a preoccupation of the Western
media, particularly in France, most recently on the occasion of the
July 1990 German-Soviet Summit meeting of Chancellor Kohl and President
Gorbachev in the Caucasus. It would seem reasonable to suppose that,
in future, the new Germany's contacts with Russia will be viewed even
more closely from this historical perspective than was the case with
the contacts established by the old Germany with the Soviet Union.
- In addition, the CSCE provides a forum that makes bilateral contact
possible, even on issues that traditionally are viewed with mistrust
by others. In any event, since the mandates issued by the Vienna follow-up
meeting (1986-1989), the CSCE formed the framework both for the negotiations
on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) and for the negotiations
on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. To date, the CSCE
represents the only available, and to some extent proven, framework
for resolving disputes that encompasses all European countries. A country
such as the Federal Republic of Germany, lying as it does so close to
areas of crisis, must have a special interest in the future development
of the CSCE process.
- The US is just as much a part of the CSCE as any other member. This
fact is particularly important - and will continue to be so - because
it will prevent the US from becoming isolated. It should be remembered
that originally, it was primarily Germany that made American participation
in a European security conference a condition of its own participation.
It is also for this reason that any thought of going it alone in terms
of Ostpolitik must be avoided. To date, Germany's security
has been guaranteed by the Western Alliance and thus, not least, by
the supremacy of that Alliance. For the foreseeable future, this situation
will remain almost completely unchanged, if only because of the incalculable
and potentially dangerous developments - for Germany too - in Central
and Eastern Europe and on the periphery of the continent. The dramatic
hours at the beginning of the failed coup in the Soviet Union in August
1991 clearly confirmed this once again. Given these circumstances, Germany
cannot establish relations, particularly with the states on the territory
of the former Soviet Union, without giving consideration to what is
still its most important Western partner; and of course in no way can
it establish relations that act against the interests of that partner.
This may be more difficult for a larger Germany
to accept than for a smaller one but it cannot be avoided. Indeed, it
has seldom been the case in history that the weaker partner has dictated
the stronger partner's foreign policy, and when on one occasion this did
happen, as in the case of Germany and Austro-Hungary starting in 1908,
the consequences were catastrophic. Moreover, on some issues, the direct
interlocutor of the American Superpower can only be the Superpower that
is the successor to the Soviet Union; and despite everything, it is still
Russia that fulfils this function, and it will continue to be Russia for
as long as that nation remains the only other country, apart from the
United States, that possesses strategic nuclear weapons and thereby the
capacity for global annihilation. This is demonstrated by the bilateral
None of this implies that there can be no active
German Ostpolitik within the European context, quite the contrary.
In future, Germany's Ostpolitik will be just as indispensable
a contribution to international crisis management as it was in the 1970s
when it played a central role as a regional expression of a global policy
of détente. At that time, too, it was operated in close
consultation with Germany's partners; but this means of course that all
the partners must treat each other as true partners.
What this precisely means for Germany is that discussions
which took place during the Gulf War concerning the limits of obligations
towards Turkey, a NATO Ally, were misguided. The question of whether to
send a Bundesmarine destroyer into a crisis zone as part of a
UN inspection mission within the framework of a WEU action and as part
of a NATO unit must not be the topic of endless discussions as in the
summer of 1992. Finally, it was rather difficult to understand Germany's
long deliberations early in 1993 on whether to leave the Bundesluftwaffe
crews on board NATO AWACS planes carrying out UN resolutions concerning
the protection of the peoples of Bosnia.
It was also not easy to understand, at least for
many foreign observers, why genuine political decisions on obligations
towards the UN, WEU or NATO are being pushed off onto the Constitutional
Court. Even the Hohenzollerns in the 17th and 18th centuries emphasized
that alliances represented indispensable guarantees for the existence
and security of the power in the centre of Europe. Of course these alliances
never came free of charge: Bismarck, looking at the great power that he
had formed in the German Reich, argued that alliances were based on reciprocity.
And despite all the other changes that have taken place, that argument
is still as true today.
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