The Influence of Political Culture upon Cross-Cultural Misperceptions and Foreign Policy: The United States and Germany

Article excerpt

The disagreement between Germany and the United States over the war in Iraq was massive. During the winter of 2002, many observers spoke of a long-term rift between these longstanding allies and a total loss of credibility on both sides. No one can doubt, regardless of recent healing overtures, (1) that the German-American partnership has been altered and significantly weakened. It has suffered a blow far more damaging than those that accompanied past conflicts over, for example, Ostpolitik, the neutron bomb, the Soviet gas pipeline, the flow of high technology products to the Soviet Union, the imposition of trade sanctions in 1980 against the military government in Poland, the stationing in the late 1970s of middle-range missiles on German soil, and the modernization of short-range missiles in 1989.

Recurring conflicts between allied nations are frequently explained as originating from varying geopolitical dynamics, domestic political considerations, and economic interests. Although many international disagreements are surely exclusively rooted in these factors, taken alone they fail to offer a strong causal explanation. The capacity of central components in a nation's political culture to influence a nation's foreign policy--and hence at times to cause conflict with nations possessing heterogeneous political cultures--must also be acknowledged. This investigation seeks to demonstrate how such hostilities arise by focusing on relatively recent disputes between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States.

The political cultures of Germany and the United States are first isolated through a brief historical analysis, indebted to Weberian insights and procedures, of the manner in which two defining features took on unique contours in each society--namely, the predominant view of the state and the location of "political-ethical" (2) action. The ways in which particular aspects of each nation's political culture today flow out of these two axes will then be scrutinized, as will, in order further to demarcate their contours, indigenous strengths, weaknesses, and dilemmas. (3) An array of predictable--or patterned--misperceptions and misunderstandings of the United States among Germans and of Germany among Americans originate out of divergence along these axes, it is maintained. Moreover, on a regular basis and in a patterned manner, some of these misperceptions influence each nation's foreign policy, indeed even to the point of intensifying and structuring the unsystematic--even random--international conflicts arising out of fluctuating geopolitical dynamics, domestic political considerations, and economic interests.

The concluding section addresses the manner in which this occurs. The severity of the hostility between Germany and the United States over the war in Iraq is viewed as an example of a case in which a normal dispute between allies, rooted in geopolitical dynamics, domestic political concerns, and economic interests became more intense and structured owing to the influence of political culture differences that gave birth to an array of patterned misperceptions. An adequate explanation of the dispute over Iraq must include, this study contends, acknowledgement of misperceptions carried by political cultures, however diffuse they may often be. (4)

Deep Cultural and Long-Term Historical Forces

Differing Views of the State

The state has been defined in a singular manner in the United States from the beginning. The new nation's raison d'etre placed the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and political liberties at its core. The founders insisted that the state must be prevented from interfering with individual rights and societal developments; rather, it should ensure their unhindered unfolding by protecting free debate and the open exchange of views. The just and good society would evolve, early Americans were convinced, if the government avoided all attempts to guide the lives of citizens and to direct social and economic change. …