Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 26
3 July 2000
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Two Souls, Twin Realities Two Souls,
Twin Realities

German foreign policy
from Slovenia to Kosovo

Wolfgang Deckers

Part One

More than a few people in Europe and abroad surely felt unease when they read that "Germany is again ... one of the leading states in the world" unease about the possibility of Germany relapsing into its old, self-centered, egotistical, nationalist persona.[1] As Germany approached the Balkans in the early 1990s, one question resounded: would unified Germany be Minerva or Mars?[2]

Would the nation, as James McAdams suggested, become "normal at last"? Was that process a fait accompli or, as David Marsh of the London Financial Times [3] suggested, would the process be less than rapid? In hindsight, I seems that Wolfgang Krieger was correct: unification gave rise to a Germany that was domestically "normal," but that still had a long road to tred in terms of international policy.[4]

Nowhere else was Krieger's assertion made more evident than in the case of German foreign policy toward the Balkans " a highly controversial topic in itself. Since its recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in December 1991, Germany has been widely critiqued for an irresponsible and revanchiste policy that, motivated by chauvinistic nationalist interests, added "fuel" to the "Balkan fire."

This view is generally widespread in the literature on the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and few scholars have dared venture a more nuanced or comprehensive theory, save perhaps Michael Libal. Libal, though, was an architect of Germany's foreign policy during the period in question, and his views are thus dismissed as those of an "insider" seeking vindication for wrong-headed policies.

Twin realities

The fact of the matter, however, is that German policy toward the Balkans from the days and months prior to the Yugoslav wars of dissolution through to the present NATO mission in Kosovo is reflective not of chauvinist nationalism but of twin realities: a "new," unified Germany forging comprehensive post-Cold War domestic and international policies while, at the same time, dealing with the legacy of its Nazi past.

And after unification? One possibility might be a global leading role, pursuing what the government defines as German national interests. Another option might be to become a regional hegemon. However, my point will be that Germany, to take one example, had no long-term political strategy for the Balkans.

One reason for the uncertainty of German foreign policy is that unification was so long an academic issue before 1989 that no systematic thought was devoted to thinking about what German policy would be when it came. After all, there were wars, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, migration and poverty for the first time since 1945, which were not controlled anymore by the superpowers.

Setting the international stage

Early in the period of transition, some observers concluded that a united Germany's foreign policy would be significantly different from that characteristic of the Federal Republic between 1949 and 1989. In contrast to the "exceptional character" of German foreign policy during the 1949 to 1989 period, Philip Gordon saw an early "normalization," noting that "Germany is becoming more self-assured, less military-averse, more global and more assertive than in the past."

Timothy Garton Ash outlined four foreign policy paths for united Germany, personally favoring the "wider Europe" option that reflected Germany's geopolitical position in Europe, while Gerald Livingston saw Eastern Europe becoming a "German zone" of influence, saying that other Western nations lacked "Germany's strong interests, motivations and capabilities" to influence development sin the region.

Meanwhile, Gregor Shollgen spoke of Germany as the "power in the center of Europe"; Arnulf Baring predicted a German return to a position of power in Central Europe (europaische Mittellage); Hans-Peter Schwarz Germany's return to the world stage as the "central power" (Zentralmacht) of Europe; Bonder, Rottger and Ziebura defined Germany's new role as that of a European "fulcrum" (Scharniermacht); while, finally, Lothar Ruhl maintains that the Mittellage has become the foundation of post-unification German politics.[5]

Regardless of how, exactly, Germany transformed in the immediate post-unification period, one thing was made manifestly clear: the international parameters that had guided the nation's foreign policy for forty years suddenly fell away.

Kenneth Waltz may have argued, in a classical realist vein, that Germany would begin pursuing a national path toward military and economic dominance in Europe, but it was clear the re-unification, the re-establishment of German sovereignty and the collapse of the Soviet Union all had a substantial impact on German policy generally, and on its policy toward the Balkans specifically.

Nazi and Cold War realities

Under the dominant leadership of Chancellor Adenauer in the 1950s and 1960s, German foreign policy was oriented toward the West (Westbindung) and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, after some delay during the period of détente, also toward the East (Westbindung plus Ostbindung).

And after unification? As we have noted, Germany had the options of pursuing a leading international or regional role in furthering its national interests, but the reality was that it was unprepared for either and, reacting to war, ethnic cleansing and refugee crises in the Balkans, was as unprepared as were other western powers.

The horrors caused by fascist Germany, however, militated against widespread acceptance of this explanation. Any German departure "real or imagined" from Germany's former posture as an "economic giant but a political pygmy" was noted with suspicion.[6]

One need look only so far as the reaction to the return of Frederick II the Great's remains to his pre-1945 royal vault in Potsdam (deemed by many to be "almost deliberately provocative"[7 ] ) to understand why the fear of a "Fourth Reich" was a fear held by many even before German troops were deployed to Kosovo.[8]

The assessment of German foreign policy based on how it fits into European interests has, after all, a relatively long tradition. [9] As Germany's standing desire to "dominate Europe" is taken by many policymakers as a strict fact, Germany's neighbours are thus forced to ask themselves how to limit German hegemony, preventing it from becoming the predominant power in Europe.[10]

What this view misses, however, is that unified Germany did not start from a "blank sheet" or Stunde Null when the wall fell down. Rather, the Cold War period saw Germany rather willingly tied into a network of international institutions that conditioned Germany's international behaviour, ensuring it was according to post-1945 norms: NATO in 1955, the European Economic Community in 1957, the United Nations in 1973 and the CSCE (now OSCE) in 1974. As such, Germany's postwar foreign policy saw it develop into a civilian power, and this attitude carried over into the post-Communist transition period.

Two souls in the German breast

It is true that, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the frontier between East and West Germany physically disappeared, and united Germany was presented with certain new options in the formulation of its foreign policy. Certainly, East and West Germany were no longer on the front lines of international conflict, as they had been since 1945. In this sense, the crisis of Stalinism was a "lucky" one for Germany. [11]

However, when international leaders looked at unified Germany as war in the Balkans brewed, they did not see Germany for what it was, but rather regarded it through the lens of its past misdeeds. To many, it seemed not to matter that West Germany's political position in Europe was already outstanding when Gorbachev came to power.

It did not matter that West Germany had been, since 1970, ecnomically dominant in Western Europe. Nor did it seem to matter that even realists such as Waltz were unable to show that unified Germany had not used its new power position to nationalist advantage.

Instead, lingering mistrust of Germany based on its historical performance remained, for as Vassilis Fouskas argued, "Germany's involvement in Yugoslavia's and Czechoslovakia's breakups are the best proof of the advantage she wants to gain in the post-Cold War settlement."[12 ] As Daniele Conversi pointed out, there seemed to be no recognition of the cognitive dissonance between "German Bashing and the Break-up of Yugoslavia."[13]

After all, as Goethe's Faust complained, two souls dwell in the German breast; it is a "giant with bestial force and a child's brain." [14] Despite the fact that contemporary developments have outpaced history, the average Western citizen - and the British tabloid audience in particular - seem unable to understand that the importance of Germany's approach to the crisis in the Balkans was not how repressive Germany might again become, but rather understanding that Germany has simultaneously become a more influential nation internationally and weaker domestically as a result of unification.

At the heart of the issue of how Germany would use its power in the post-Cold War period, and its policy toward the Balkans in particular, is the struggle between the European Union and the United States as each side sought to re-define its interests and capabilities in the "New World Order."

Scapegoating Germany foreign policy toward the Balkans merely obfuscates the matter at the heart of the debate: would the EU, with Germany as its key member, be an equal partner in American foreign policy? Its assistant? Or its rival?

More powerful, but...

Gauging Germany's potential power and influence of immediate post-Cold War Germany is a difficult task even today. German unity certainly increased the economic potential of the new republic, yet the degree to which this is true remains unclear.

The gap between other EU members, such as France, the United Kingdom and Italy, has undoubtedly increased. Taking population, GDP and exports as benchmarks, potential for German economic dominance in Europe is apparently clear to see.

With a population jump from 61 million to 80 million, unified Germany suddenly accounted for 23 percent of the EU's population base, while Italy and the UK both weighed in with 51 million citizens each and France with 56 million. Upon unification, Germany's landmass increased by 30 percent, accounting for 15 percent of all EU territory, as compared with France's 23 percent and Spain's 21 percent.

In 1989, West Germany alone had a GDP of USD 1193 billion, compared with France (USD 942 billion), Italy (USD 854 billion) and the United Kingdom (USD 832 billion), with exports of USD 341 billion to France's USD 171 billion. This outstanding economic position, the result of sound economic and fiscal management in West Germany, is not qualitatively different now.

Meanwhile, geopolitically, Germany shifted northeast with unification, developing a more maritime character through the gain of additional coastline and remaining surrounded by friends and allies. Age-old hatreds were buried as Germany was integrated into the international family of democratic countries after 1945 and, with unification, its shift in geopolitical fortunes meant the nation had, perhaps for the first time in its history, achieved absolute military security.

A climate of insecurity?

Yet this remains only one facet of the story, for the integration of East Germany created a nation with a political culture vastly different from the pre-unification period. The result was something paralleling a climate of insecurity, in which a newly strong Germany looked to the Balkans and Eastern Europe as potentially unstable zones that could adversely affect its domestic transition.

Similarly, NATO expansion and the widening of the EU required money and investments of political capital which, to some German eyes, were likely to detract from more important issues such as the deepening of the EU. All of this, then at a time when German public sector deficits were soaring because of both spending in eastern Germany and financial involvement in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

The influx of ethnic Germans from Russia and Eastern and Central Europe added to the burden of government expenditures and, in fact, the influx of immigrants and refugees has only recently began to subside.

With their nation more than any other mid- or large-sized country being extremely dependent on the fortunes of the international economy - a full third of German production is exported, 65 percent of which goes to the rest of the EU - it is easy to see why some Germans looked to the threats of Eastern and Balkan instability and called for an active foreign policy.

Psychological walls

Before we discuss how Germany formulated its foreign policy goals, it is necessary to understand the compensatory break which acted against the domestic and economic impulse to purse an active foreign policy: The Wall may have come down, but psychological walls in the minds of people take far longer to fall.

Germany, today as in the immediate post-Cold War period, is based on a psychologically, politically, econonomically and financially insecure foundation.

Thus, at the heart of German foreign policy,
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we find the collective memories of both the German people and their neighbours. [15] Every Chancellor was and is still faced with problems deriving from European perceptions of the nation's past. Above all else, the more each Chancellor pushes for a "full" European Union, the more he must work to persuade his EU partners that although Germany is taking a lead in the push, it has no intentions of dominating the union politically.

In gauging European reaction, it is vital that no one underestimate the legacy of fascism. As Thomas Banchoff persuasively demonstrated, historical memories and perceptions of Germany were shaped not only by the discourse about the nation's past, but also by the very course of German foreign policy in the years after reunification.[16]

Events such as the Hamburg Institute for Social Research's "War of Extermination: Wehrmacht Crimes 1941-45" will certainly continue to play a role - despite the furious German debate sparked by inaccuracies in the labelling of a very few of its 801 photographs, the exhibition laid to rest one of the last post-1945 myths: the Wehrmacht had not, in fact, fought a clean war.[17]

One is left, then, with a Germany that was paradoxically both stronger and weaker individual factors such as geography, economic data, demography and threats changed, largely for the better, while Germany continued to be tied into an interlocking system of international institutions.

But, as it saw threats to its stability on both its Eastern and Balkan fronts, Germany did not enjoy a clean slate in foreign policy matters, but rather was encumbered with a past that was, at the same time, burdensome and useful " a fact not neglected by politicians, policymakers or policy advocates.[18]

In the end, as we will see, Germany remained dependent on the United States, which leads to a number of questions: how would Germany move forward against this background? What were its goals and objectives? And how did these translate from paper policies to very real actions in the Balkans?

Formulating national interests

At issue in the days leading up to war in the former Yugoslavia was not the basis of Germany's power, but rather the direction in which it would be used and the political forms in which it would be exercised. [19]

In understanding this, one needs to first consider what the government of the day formulated as foreign policy goals, and how these related to Germany's circumstances, needs, responsibilities and duties in the European Union; in Central and Eastern Europe; and, eventually, with regard to the United States.

As Kirchner and Sperling astutely noted, the old "German question" was resolved by "the emergence of the post-postwar world ... But the unification of Germany created a German problem: Where does the unified Germany fit?"[20]

In a manner of speaking, the German national interests defined by the Kohl and Schröder governments are
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rather typical of any European state. Here, they noted: protection of the liberty, security and welfare of German citizens; territorial integrity; integration with EU and other multilateral institutions and organizations; alliance with the United States, as the sole remaining superpower, based on common values and interests; ensuring the integration and equality of Central and Eastern European states, including the creation of a co-operative security order; global respect for human rights and international laws; and a fair economic order based on market rules.

Through what institutions and policies would Germany meet these goals? How would it relate to the United States? And how would this formulation of national interests and means express itself in Germany's Balkan policy? Some answers in next week's second and final instalment.

Wolfgang Deckers, 3 July 2000

This paper was orginally presented at The Balkans Conference at the University of Kingston, organised by the European Research Centre, 11 to 12 May 2000. The author is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Richmond University.

Moving on:




1.Quote from WR Smyser, "Das Ausland und die Aussenpolitik des neuen Deutschlands, Internationale Politik, No 4, April 1995, p 45.

2.Jeffrey J Anderson and John B Goodman, Mars or Minerva? A United Germany in a Post-Cold War Europe, in Robert O. Keohane et al p 291.

3.Quoted in ibid, p 291.

4.Wolfgang Krieger, "Toward a Gaullist Germany? Some Lessons from the Yugoslav Crisis," World Policy, 11(1), Spring 1994, p 26.

5.This paragraph is taken with minor changes from Matthias Zimmer, "Return of the Mittellage? The Discourse of the Center in German Foreign Policy," German Politics, 6(1), 1997, pp 23-38 at p 24. The respective footnotes can be found on p 35.

6.See Jill Stephenson, "Anniversaries, Memory and the Neighbours: The "German Question" in Recent History," German Politics, 5(11), 1996, pp 43 " 57, here p 47.

7.Michael Meyer, "A Return Trip to the Crypt. Reviving the Ghost of German Militarism," Newsweek, 12 August 12 1991, p 15.

8.See Christopher Coker, "At the Birth of a Fourth Reich? The British Reaction," The Political Quarterly, 61(3), 1990, pp 278 " 285.

9.Timothy Garton Ash, In Europe's Name: Germany and the Divided Continent, (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).

10.See Wolfram Hanrieder, "Deutschland, Europa and Amerika. Die Aussenpolitik der Bundesrepublik," in Deutschland 1949 " 1984, (Paderborn,: Schoeningh, 1995), p 447.

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11.See Christian Hacke, "Chancen fur ein europaisches Deutschland," in Wilhelm von Sternburg (ed), Geteilte Ansichten uber eine vereinte Nation, (Frankfurt/ Main, 1990), p 85.

12.Paper presented at the Conference The European Left and EU Enlargement, University of North London and Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, London, 30 November 1996, p 14.

13.Daniele Conversi, German Bashing and the Break-up of Yugoslavia, (The Donald W Treadgold Papers, University of Washington, No 16), March 1998.

14.Former Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos

15.Andrei S Markovits und Simon Reich, Das deutsche Dilemma. Die Berliner Republik zwischen Macht und Machtverzicht, (Berlin: Alexander Fest Verlag, 1998), pp 22

16.Thomas Banchoff, "German Policy Towards the European Union: The Effects of Historical Memory," German Politics, vol 6, No1, April 1997, p 60

17.Peter H Merkl (ed), The Federal Republic of Germany at Fifty, (London, Macmillan, 1999), p 349.

18.Jurgen Habermas, The Past as Future, Interviewed by Michael Haller, edited by Max Pensky, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

19.Peter Gowan, "Germany's New Role in Europe," Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, 48, Summer 1994, pp 4-13.

20.Emil J Kirchner and James Sperling, "The Future Germany and the Future of NATO," German Politics, 1, April 1992, p 59.

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