It is the Germans themselves who have the most intractable "German problem." They ask whether Germany's past permanently has disqualified it from conducting a foreign policy. As Germany does conduct a foreign policy, this might seem a frivolous debate, but it is not. The underlying issue is a permanent one: that of German national identity and national purpose.
During the past year this continuing debate has taken the form of an argument over the principle of German participation in U.N. peacekeeping and potential NATO "out of area" actions.
The Germans also ask whether they can make use of the concept of "geopolitics" in considering their national situation. The idea of geopolitics seems contaminated by its employment and influence during the period of German unification in the 19th century and the years afterward, when it contributed to the intellectual rationalization of the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars, and the two world wars. Geopolitics says that the geographical situation of a nation essentially determines its foreign policy, or at least its foreign policy interests. As geography is unchanging, it would seem to follow that a nation's policy is predetermined. That is not what Germans want to be told today.
However, one can define the geopolitical idea in a different way: that geography dictates certain national interests, but these also are altered by history and political development. What in the 19th century seemed a permanent geopolitical conflict between Germany and France proves not to have been permanent at all, now that Germany and France have ceded essential elements in their warmaking powers to one another and to the other European and NATO governments. European Union has identified common West European economic, political and strategic interests far more important than those that formerly divided the Germans from the French. The 19th century idea was that Germany's geopolitical position was destiny, fatality. No one would accept that today. Imanuel Geiss of the University of Bremen has recently restated an essential distinction between "geopolitics" as an ostensibly "scientific" rationale for a policy of territorial expansion, which is what it was in Germany between Otto von Bismarck's time and Adolf Hitler's, and geopolitics as the study of the influence of geography on history and political choice. …