Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 27
10 July 2000
front page 
sponsor us 
jobs at CER 
CER Direct 
e-mail us 
year 2000 
year 1999 
by subject 
by author 
music shop 
video store 


German Foreign PolicyTwo Souls,
Twin Realities

German Foreign Policy
from Slovenia to Kosovo: Part II

Wolfgang Deckers

Click Here to Read Part I

As we have seen, pre-empting, containing and resolving conflicts and crises that could undermine German or allied security was an over-riding priority in German foreign policy. In practical terms, this translated into German support for the strengthening of NATO and the expansion of the alliance's mandate to include out-of-area activities.

Yet the means through which foreign policy architects sought to accomplish these goals did not stop here, and included a widening of the Western European Union (WEU) and the EU, as well as a deepening of EU integration through the creation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

In the interest of strengthening the global security order and promoting democratisation and social-economic progress both globally and in Europe, Germany was also an advocate of an enhanced UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and argued for the creation of a common security order among all OSCE members. [1]

This hodge-podge of interests and approaches should not have been surprising or novel, but rather were shaped by a value system based on the domestic constitution, the nation's geopolitical situation, its past and its perception of its neighbours and global developments. [2]

What was novel was the argument that Germany did not have national interests before unification, a notion that held that Atlanticism and European integration had replaced German national interests. Atlanticism did provide a military umbrella, and European integration provided welfare and acceptance, after 1945, in the Western European family of nations. But it did not end there.

West Germany had become locked in overlapping institutions such as NATO, WEU, the EU, the UN and OSCE. It might be argued that this multilateralism failed in the Balkans, but for West Germany, however, it worked. One may further argue that these overlapping institutions were in crisis in the early post-Cold War period, but this was not because of German actions or because Germany was in crisis.

As a matter of fact, German national interests had not changed except as necessitated by changes in the increasingly "globalised" international order. Changes were occasioned in Europe and Germany by the end of the Cold War and German unification but, as we have seen, these did not provoke crisis. Even before unification, Germany had some room to manoeuvre, but remained firmly embedded in multilateral structures.

Carving a role in transition

For many, this meant that Germany's role in Europe would continue to be that of a civilian power advocating co-operation, integration and multilateralism, [3] while others characterized it as a "trading nation" [4] or as the engine driving future EU integration. [5]

Regardless, Germany did not undertake military adventures as Britain did in the Falklands, France did in Francophone Africa, or the US did in Kuwait, and was poised to fit well in an increasingly globalised world order with an emphasis on soft-power.

With the over-riding impulse in foreign policy being the safeguarding of domestic prosperity in a time of transition, it is clear why Germany's choice of international role was to work for an enhanced zone of political stability and economic growth in Europe and the integration and widening of the EU, thereby satisfying the German need for material security while avoiding the misdeeds of the past.

How, then, could Germany still be called a "civilian nation" after its recognition of Croatia and Slovenia in December 1991?

A change in German policy

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia dissolved on 25 June 1991, when the Republics of Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence. The Serbian response was open and clandestine war against the secessionist republics, demanding that they return to the federation.

A modest ten-day war that claimed several dozen lives thus opened 300 kilometres south of Munich in Slovenia, while war in Croatia was far more intense and, by the fall of 1991, Serbia had occupied some 30 percent of Croatia's landmass.

The reasons behind Chancellor Kohl's recognition of Slovenia and Croatia just before Christmas of 1991 is not easy to determine with absolute certainty, nor was it very important to the course of the wars in Croatia, Bosnia or, indeed, Kosovo. That specific German foreign policy decision was neither the cause of the crises in the Balkans nor of the wider conflicts to which these gave birth.

The crisis in former Yugoslavia was, however, a major catalyst for change in German foreign policy.

The dilemmas presented from 1991 through Dayton and on to the conflict in Kosovo accelerated the domestic debate about foreign policy responsibilities and prompted a radical shift in political strategy when Germany decided to deploy ground troops in the region.

By 1996, domestic opposition to the deployment of German troops in foreign countries – out of the NATO area – and even in potential combat zones had virtually faded away. On 1 September 1995, German ECR-Tornadoes participated in their first airstrikes on Bosnian Serb artillery positions and ammunition depots in the hills of Bosnia. Germany's armed forces thus saw their first combat operations since the Second World War. [6]

Still, Germany bore a large share of the criticism for its handling of Balkans affairs.

A "tragic mistake"?

In a rare interview with the Washington Post, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević declared German recognition of Croatia and Slovenia as marking the start of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. "[The Germans] started with Slovenia," he claimed and, with regard to Croatia's independence, the Yugoslav strongman said "Germany practically helped this to happen," declaring the allegedly premature recognition of independence "a tragic mistake." [7]

Meanwhile, from London and Paris, it looked "as if the Germans were trying to create a sphere of influence in Southeastern Europe. The old myths and prejudices appeared overnight. The Germans as partners of the Croats, and the British and French, as once before in the past, the brothers-in-arms of the Serbs." [8]

Why did Germany become involved in this conflict? Why did German foreign policy become so assertive, leaving itself open to international criticisms?

At the risk of over-simplification, the conflicts Slovenia and Croatia were seen in Germany as wars of aggression, destruction and ethnic cleansing and provoked stark memories of the Nazi past running strongly against the German understanding of how politics and foreign affairs should be conducted. [9]

Humanitarian goals were seen as quite acceptable, as the right to self-determination and democracy had been invoked endlessly by the West Germans in their relations with East Germany. Volker Ruhe, then Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said on 1 July 1991 that

We won unification through the right to self-determination. If we Germans now think that everything may remain as it is in Europe, that we may pursue a policy of the status quo without recognizing the right to self-determination of Croatia and Slovenia, we loose our moral and political credibility.[10]

What is right in Germany is right abroad

What had proved to be right in Germany could not, in the eyes of ruling policymakers, be wrong in Yugoslavia. This theme – of a valiant battle against oppressors of human rights – became so ingrained in the German body politic that, by the time German troops intervened as part of NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR), Chancellor Gerhard Shroder declared that

In the Balkans, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, German soldiers have been fighting. This is the way a non-political writer could present it... Rather, I see that for the first time – at least this century, and that makes a difference – ... [German troops are fighting] not for blinding nationalism, not for the conquering of foreign countries, not for the pursuit of strategic interests, but rather for one of the highest goals as such: for the saving of human lives and the protection of human rights. [11]

This might not have been thought through in all respects – after all, the Krajina Serbs were not seen as fighting for their self-determination, but rather as pawns of Milošević's dream of a Greater Serbia. Nor did Germans understand how this level of violence, terror and ethnic cleansing was possibly at the end of the twentieth century. Germany, on all levels of society, was simply not prepared for such a conflict. After all, the US-USSR rivalry had kept the lid on ethno-nationalist conflicts in Europe since 1945.

Surely, domestic politics played their part as well, as future work on this question will certainly demonstrate. It is highly likely that the struggle by the small Liberal Party (FDP) against political marginalisation through the formation of a "Grand Coalition" of the CDU and Social Democratic Party (SPD) pushed Foreign Minister Hans Deitrich Genscher (FDP) into supporting the CDU – and its CSU sister party – in their recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. The influence of domestic opinion is also a matter that requires investigation.

At the heart of the matter

Fundamentally, however, it was Germany's position and policies as a "civilian power" that, having underlined the West German system since 1949, drove policymakers to recognize Croatia and Slovenia. That value system emphasized stability, non-violence and openness to peaceful change. [12]

Germany felt suddenly insecure, then, when their national concern for – if not obsession with –security and stability was visibly threatened by instability in East and Central Europe; an increasing number of refugees; an appreciation for the extent of substantial environmental disasters in the former Stalinist countries; and the viciousness of ethno-nationalist struggles in former Yugoslavia.

The sense of threat was particularly heightened because many Germans lacked confidence that European and international institutions, such as the UN, would be able to cope with the crisis in Yugoslavia and would thus be discredited on the world stage.

The result, then, was that war and instability in Yugoslavia came to be seen as a threat not only to Germany's political, social and economic well-being, but also as potentially devastating to the international structures through which Germany sought guarantees of the same – to say nothing of the threat of nationalism and militarism spreading to the rest of Europe.

A lack of means

In seeking to curb war in Yugoslavia, Germany did not enjoy a wealth of means or mechanisms. Economically, former Yugoslavia was not of vital importance to Germany, and so unilateral sanctions seemed unlikely to have an effect. Germany's military force could not, at that time, be brought to bear, and the Catholic tie – particularly between Bavaria and Croatia and Slovenia – was not particularly meaningful.

Thus, at the same time as Germany lacked the means through which to pressure for peace in the region, it was faced with calls in the media for decisive action, not only because of the so-called "CNN Factor," but because there was an open domestic embrace of the rhetorical flourishes US President George Bush's "New World Order."

Fundamentally, then, Bonn was both assertive yet impotent, and turned to the only means it saw as readily applicable because of its "peculiar post-war foreign policy orientation: its 'civilian power' approach to international relations." [13]

However much detractors may claim otherwise, this did not mean the beginning of a "go-it-alone" foreign policy. As a matter of fact, the Yugoslav experience reinforced the understanding that Germany needed partners to secure its interests, that there were no alternatives to multilateralism and a common European front – that is, to a deepening of European integration and, in the long run, a Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The result of the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, Germany's involvement in Kosovo in 1999 and assorted tactical diplomatic missteps has, in a manner, answered the question as to what the new German foreign policy would be like: it did not and does not today aim to revive the concept of Mitteleuropa, extending it into the Balkans, but rather was and is a foreign policy of fits and starts that, for now at least, is muddling through.

Germany and the US

As we have seen, the prospect of German unification in 1989 raised European fears that a larger, economically more powerful Germany might be less enthusiastic about further European integration and that it may wish to bring its economic and political weight to bear on its neighbours.

During the Yugoslav crises, Germany in fact wanted a strong commitment from France to ensure positive momentum toward the deepening of European institutions while at the same time seeking to maintain the North Atlantic alliance with a close US-German relationship at its core.

In particular, Helmut Kohl sought to "to tie the united Germany into a genuine European Union so as to persuade Germany's neighbours that the spectre of German nationalism, expansionism and revanchism that may haunt them could not become reality." [14] However, the overlapping institutions of UN, OSCE, NATO, EU and the WEU really failed in the Balkans. It needed the specific engagement America to bring about co-ordinated action with its European partners in the Balkans.

In the 1970s, West Germany's Ostpolitik had created more room to manoeuvre. Post-Cold War, the United States had lost some capacity to exercise its power globally, but it did not lose the political stamina to impose its will abroad, as the Gulf War illustrated. On the other hand, the Western Europeans were interested in extending their economic power into the political arena. This applied particularly to Germany, but Western Europeans were not generally willing to use military means to impose their political will.

In the post 1989 phase, Germany appeared to be in a position to once again become central in European politics and, as during Ostpolitik, unified Germany gained even more room to manoeuvre independently. The United States was no longer absolutely essential to the guaranteeing of German national interests.

This set off alarm bells in the United States, where some feared that Germany might become Europe's regional hegemon and, reviving a history of positive relations with Russia, start on a new Sonderweg with Eastern and Central Europe and Russia.

Yugoslavia and US goals in Europe

The key point here is that the United States used the Yugoslav crises as an instrument in support of its wider goals in Europe: President Bill Clinton wished to keep the European Union on hand as a reliable assistant. While West Germany had used the EU (among other institutions) to gain acceptance in Europe post-1957, in the post-Cold War period this was not as necessary, and Germany was willing and able to assert its national interests without, in the first instance, working through international regimes.

Germany's neighbours were concerned with the new post-Cold War environment and what it might do to Germany's role in Europe, as was the United States. Under George Bush, the US offered Germany "partnership in leadership," a policy that did not change under Clinton. In this, Germany was tapped to become a regional leader, supported by the United States, but the result would be the weakening of future European Union integration.

The policy would, if fully implemented, have the effect of abolishing the EU, keeping it only on the level of a customs union without a far-reaching political purpose. The British government would have supported such a prospect, as it would have meant an end to close Franco-German co-operation and secure a more prominent British role in the EU as well as in Washington and Berlin.

The French government, by contrast, feared and continues to fear such a US-Germany alliance, but it would also create tensions with Germany's other neighbours. By strengthening America's role in Europe, it would put further EU political integration on the back burner, and would also limit the room Germany has gained to manoeuvre in the wake of the seeming diminution of America's central role in the post-Soviet period.

Kosovo and the centrality of America

The war in Kosovo indicated not only exactly how weak the UN truly is, but also the central importance of America's leading role in NATO. The war also gave a preliminary answer to the question of "in which direction is German foreign policy moving"?

In the first place, the Schroder government loyally decided to support the United States in Kosovo. For Chancellor Schroder, "Partnership in leadership" meant a German role as an assistant of US foreign policy. But there is second answer: Schroder still emphasizes Germany's "civilian nature" and sees Germany still as a "trading nation," although he does not exclude a German role in military interventions.

Germany can, as we have seen, also play the role of a "benign hegemon" in Europe. Naturally, further integration of the EU is not excluded, but the conclusion is simple: Germany has made no irrevocable position as to what, specifically, constitutes its present and future foreign policy course. The concrete content of German foreign policy remains undiscernible, and the formulation of a coherent foreign policy remains a work in progress.

Looking for an international role

Germany today is thus still looking for a new international role Unified Germany continues to display the characteristics of a "civilian power" which, while closely related to the notion of a "trading nation," does not have as its central tenet the achievement of absolute political autonomy or economic autarky – such goals remain as illusory as a completely interdependent and multilateral European system.

If one takes has a closer look at decisive indicators of modern power resources, three categories appear to be decisive: technological resources as the decisive component of future economic power; military power; and, finally, "soft power" or the ability to influence and lead by moral suasion.

Germany, after unification, did not gain power in any of these key areas and, if anything, has actually lost power. Its technological competitiveness, compared to the US and Japan, is doubtful and was weakened by unification. Unification has also meant a diminution of military power, and so Germany continues to need military allies. Finally, unification has caused problems for the "model Germany."

If one analyses power as "control over outcomes," conclusions about German power in the post-Cold War period are equally negative. As much as other foreign policy actors, Germany is confronted with the increasing inability to determine international politics via national or collective actions, owing largely to the increasing complexity of international relations.

Germany has lost international capital
Travelling to Germany soon? Choose Hotels Central at HotelsGermany.net to reserve a hotel online at a great price.
in several ways: to the markets in economic relations; to nationalism in security policies; and to the nation-state in the decreasing value and usefulness of military power. The example of Yugoslavia is a classic case in point of this loss of power of the nation state, and is also an argument against Germany's alleged great power status in Europe. The sirens of power have not yet been listened to. [15]

Just as in Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, the war in Kosovo has been disastrous to the EU's effort to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy. However, these wars have also given Europe a chance to escape from the shadows of America, and one can only hope that Europe has learned something from its failures.

A policy in flux

In the foreseeable future, Germany will not act on its own but rather together with the EU, NATO, the UN and the United States, if at all possible. It will remain actively involved in European integration and will continue to rely on the Atlantic Alliance. The experiences of Germany's involvement with the Balkans have reinforced the point that Germany needs partners to secure its interests.

I do not wish to leave the impression
Send this article to a friend
that I have not come to any clear conclusions about Germany's foreign policy in the Balkans: I have described Germany as being simultaneously weak and strong; as assertive and bungling. That is, however, precisely the reality: German foreign policy is in flux and not on a predictable track as is the case with the United Kingdom, France or the United States.

There is room for agency in the making of German foreign policy strategy.

Yet what underlies and affects the newly emerging German foreign policy is tension between the United States and the EU. It is only if one keeps this tension and the developing relationship between the two in mind that will one be able to make sense of developments in the relationship between Germany, the EU and the United States.

The Balkans are only a side show in this, neither central nor decisive. However, the region is important in the manner in which they indicate symbolically the manner in which the partnership between an EU, with Germany at its core, and the United States will develop.

Click Here to Read Part I

Wolfgang Deckers, 10 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, Richmond University.

Moving on:



1. For these and other points, see Christian Hacke, "Die neue Bedeutung des nationalen Interesse fur die Aussenpolitik der Bundesrepublik Deutschlands", in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschehen, Beilage zur Wochenzeitung Das Parlament, B 1-2/ 97, 3. Januaru 1997, pp 7-8.

2. ibid, p 7.

3. Hanns W Maull, "Zivilmacht Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Verzehn Thesen für eine neue deutsche Aussenpolitik," Europa Archiv, No 10, 1992, pp 269-78.

4. Helmut Schmidt, Strategie des Gleichgewichts. Deutsche Friedenspolitik und die Weltmachte, 1989, see p 236.

5. Germany could also have pursued a policy of going it alone or of attempting to position itself as a mediator between East and West. These options would, however, have caused massive economic and other problems with its neighbours.

6. "Germans Fly Combat Sorties," International Herald Tribune, 2 May 1995, p 1.

7. Interview with Slobodan Milošević by the Washington Post, reprinted in: Yugoslav Ministry of Information, Serbia in the World, Special Supplement, November 1998, pp 28 and 48.

8. Jochen Thies, "Germany: Europe's Reluctant Great Power," The World Today, October 1995, p 186.

9. Michael Libal, "Grundfragen der Jugoslawienkrise aus Deutscher Sicht," in Gunther Wagenlehner [Ed], Konflikte, Konfliktlosungen und Friedenssicherung in Europa, (Munich, Institut fur Sudosteuropa-Kunde,1994), p 234.

10. Philip Gordon, Die Deutsch-Franzosische Partnerschaft und die Atlantische Allianz, (Bonn, Arbeitspapiere zur Internationalen Politik, No 82, 1993), p 48.

11. Speech of Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, "Germany's Foreign Policy Responsibilities in the World," at the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP), Berlin, 2 September 1999, reprinted in Internationale Politik, No 10, October 1999, p 68.

12. See also the issue of changing of borders in Europe, as decided at the Helsinki Conference in 1975.

13. Hanns Maull, "Germany in the Yugoslav Crisis," Survival, 37(41), Winter 1995-96, p 125.

14. Jill Stephenson, "Anniversaries, Memory and the Neighbours: The 'German Question' in Recent History," German Politics, 5(11), 1996, pp 43-57, here p 44.

15. Gunther Hellmann, "The Sirens of Power and German Foreign Policy: Who is Listening?," German Politics, 6(2), 1997, pp 29-57.


Axt, Heinz-Jurgen, "Hat Genscher Jugoslawien entzweit? Mythen und Fakten zur Aussenpolitik des vereinten Deutschlands," Europa Archive, No 12, 1993.

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

Baring, Arnulf, [Ed], Germany's New Position in Europe, Oxford: Berg, 1994.

Bracher, Karl Diedrich, Manfred Junke and Hans-Peter Schwarz. [Eds], Deutschland zwischen Krieg und Frieden, Dusseldorf: Droste, 1991.

Duke, Simon, "Germanizing Europe: Europeanizing Germany?" Security Dialogue, 25(4), 1994, pp 425-36.

Economides, Spyros, The Balkan Agenda: Security and Regionalism in the New Europe, London: Centre for Defence Studies, 1992.

Fisher, Marc, After the Wall: Germany, the Germans and the Burdens of History, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Germany in Transition, Daedalus, No 123, Winter 1994.

Hacker, Jens. Integration und Verantwortung, Deutschland als europaischer Sicherheitspartner. Bonn: Bouvier, 1995.

Haftendorn, Helga, "German Foreign Policy in a Strategic Triangle," German Politics and Society, 17(50), Spring 1999, pp 1-31.

Heilbrunn, Jacob, "Tomorrow's Germany," The National Interest, vol 36, Summer 1994, pp, 44-53.

Hellmann, Gunther, "Goodbye Bismarck? The Foreign Policy of Contemporary Germany," Mershon International Studies Review, vol 40, 1996, pp 1-39.

Kaiser, Karl and Joachim Krause, [Eds], Deutschlands neue Aussenpolitik: Interessen und Strategien, Band 3, Munchen: R. Oldenbourg, 1996.

Kaiser, Karl and Joachim Krause, [Eds], Die Zukunft der Deutschen Aussenpolitik, Arbeitspapier Zur Internationalen Politik 72, Forschungsinstitut der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Auswartige Politik eV, 1996.

Kaiser, Karl and Hanns W Maull, [Eds], Deutschland's neue Aussenpolitik: Grundlagen, Band 1, Munchen: R. Oldenbourg, 1994.

Kaiser, Karl and Hans-Peter Schwarz, [Eds], Die neue Weltpolitik, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995.

Kreiger, Wolfgang, "Toward a Gaullist Germany? Some Lessons from the Yugoslav Crisis," World Policy Journal, Spring 1994.

Langguth, Gerd, In Search of Security, A Socio-Psychological Portrait of Today's Germany, Westport: Praeger, 1995.

Lieven, Anatol, "Divide and Survive," Prospect, May 1999, pp 22-27.

Marsh, David, Germany and Europe: The Crisis of Unity, London: Heinemann, 1994.

Maull, Hanns W, "Zivilmacht Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Verzehn Thesen für eine neue deutsche Aussenpolitik," Europa Archiv, no 10, 1992, pp 269-78.

McAdams, A James, "Germany After Unification: Normal at Last?" World Politics, vol 49, Jan. 1997, pp 282-308.

Schollgen, Gregor, Angst vor der Macht, Die Deutschen und Ihre Aussenpolitik, Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1993.

Schwarz, Hans-Peter, Die Zentralmacht Europas. Deutschlands Rückkehr auf die Weltbühne, Berlin: Siedler, 1994.

Stavrianos, LS, The Balkans Since 1453, London: C Hurst, 2000.

Tewes, Henning, "The Emergence of a Civilian Power: Germany and Central Europe," German Politics, 6( 2), August 1997, pp 95-116.

Thies, Jochen, "Germany: Europe's reluctant Great Power," World Today, October 1995.

Thumann, Michael, The Balkans and CFSP: The Two Views of Greece and Germany, CEPS Paper, No 59, Brussels Centre for European Policy Studies, 1994.

Von Bredow, Wilfried, "Dragged Along by Globalization, Slowed Down by History," Debatte, 5(2), 1997, pp 137-50.



Baltic Focus:
Mel Huang

Prekevičius & Clark
Lithuania's Looming Elections

Aet Annist
Estonia: Progress without Protest

Mel Huang
Military Brass Shuffling in Estonia

Artūras Račas
Calvin Klein and Communism

Mel Huang
Lithuania: A bananos respublika?

Teri Schultz
Reflections on a Revolution

Meelis Kitsing
Online in E-stonia

Arnis Gross
Latvia Logs On

Razeen Sally
Estonia and the EU

Hubert Jakobs
Livonian folk band Tulli Lum

Mel Huang
Baltic BeBop

Bernd Jahnke
Lithuanian Jazz

Artis Pabriks
Rīga's Revenge

Kurt Mortensen
Estonia's Art Music Scene

Mel Huang
Schizoid Lamb

Howard Jarvis
The Writings of Jurga Ivanauskaitė

President Vaira

Prime Minister
Mart Laar

Lithuanian Military Commander Jonas Kronkaitis

Oliver Craske
Lords Return Roma to Skinheads

Andrew Cave
Poland's Collapsing Right

Catherine Lovatt
Next Target: Montenegro

Sam Vaknin
Balkan Faith

Wolfgang Deckers
Germany in the Balkans

Culture Calendar: