Germany's Balkan Tightrope World War II History, Debate over Constitution Shape Push-Ahead, Fall-Back Policy on Yugoslavia

Article excerpt

SETTING policy on the former Yugoslavia has turned out to be a tricky balancing act for Germany, with Bonn first taking a high profile on issues, then disappearing into the background.

For example:

* The new initiative calling for "safe havens" for Bosnian Muslims, pushed so strongly by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, made its debut in Berlin, not Washington, at a meeting between Mr. Kozyrev and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel on May 17. The Germans endorsed the strategy and saw Kozyrev safely off to Washington. But they did not accompany him and were not involved in the talks that firmed up the "joint program of action."

* This winter, the Germans stood alone in Europe when they called for a lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia-Herzegovina and when Mr. Kinkel began to talk up Western military intervention in Bosnia. By the time US Secretary of State Warren Christopher came to Bonn on May 6, however, Kinkel was already backpedalling, urging restraint, and warning that military action could lead to an escalation of the war.

* Just over two years ago, Bonn was out in front on the issue of recognizing the former Yugoslav republics and more or less railroaded recognition of Croatia and Slovenia through the European Community. Now the German press, if not the government, says recognition was a mistake.

Bonn's pattern of push ahead and fall back stems from the unique circumstances surrounding Germany and former Yugoslavia.

The assertive aspect is borne of the country's immediate and more distant history. Having just experienced the right to self determination through German unification, it was not surprising that a year later many Germans strongly supported independence for the former Yugoslav republics. …