American and German Approaches to East Central Europe: A Comparison

By Koch, Burkhard | World Affairs, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview

American and German Approaches to East Central Europe: A Comparison


Koch, Burkhard, World Affairs


Following the collapse of communism, the relative stability of the East-West/communism-capitalism confrontation has been replaced by power politics, national rivalries, and ethnic tensions in Europe as a whole with one qualitative difference: in the East, they are fife-threatening; in the West, they are a new challenge for European economic and political integration. Europe became a more unstable continent, largely because the threats have been decentralized. From the point of view of the United States, Europe is a far less dangerous place than before because of the disappearing risks of a cataclysmic clash. America is no longer threatened from Eurasia by an ideologically motivated foe.

Unlike the old Federal Republic, united Germany can live no longer as an unassuming medium-sized power, protected against the uncertainties of today's Europe in the slip-stream of America's predominant position. The end of the cold war prompts both countries to reexamine their priorities and commitments in Europe in general and in East Central Europe in particular. In the United States as well as in Germany, different schools of foreign policy thinking are trying to define interests. It is not taken for granted that strategic thinking and political decisionmaking on both sides of the Atlantic can continue to run parallel. W. R. Smyser noticed that the "difficulties and disagreements that might result from a divergence of interests have, however, been exacerbated by a failure of mutual understanding. Neither Washington nor Bonn has shown much sensitivity for the new situation faced by the other."(1) For both countries it will be increasingly important to understand the factors likely to influence their respective strategic culture and political decisionmaking. Thus, I am focusing on some aspects of strategic culture and political decisionmaking in both countries.

STUMBLING BLOCKS IN THE

DEFINITION OF INTERESTS

I would like to first focus on the most unexpected and most unpredictable change that asks for reexamination: the breakdown of the economic, political, social, institutional, and even ideological structures in the formerly communist states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and its perception on both sides of the Atlantic.

Let me mention first the main obstacles that hinder a clear definition of interests and that go beyond the conventional wisdom that the end of the cold war asks for a reassessment. The first problem is that Germany's political leaders and its academic and media elite reflexively reacted to the fundamental changes in Germany as if the unified country is nothing more than the enlarged Federal Republic, not only domestically but also in its foreign policy behavior. It is as Europeanized as it was in the 1980S beyond a concern for national interests.(2) The pattern of the closeknit, economically prosperous country, populated by German speaking Europeans and unimpaired by the poor cousins in the East continues to determine German political decisionmaking long after it was shown to be false. With unification, the emergence from geostrategic purgatory, and the transformation from a previously divided front-fine state into one of the strongest states on the European stage, Germany underwent a strategic transformation of breathtaking proportions. Germany reemerged as nation state, regaining full sovereignty.

The question now becomes how Germany will deal with her new situation in a changed Europe. Therefore, a certain renationalization of not only strategic analysis but also of the decisionmaking process is structurally necessary. Germany has grown into a new power dimension and become a focus of international interest as a power factor acting according to its national interest, a fact with which the majority of the political elite is extremely uncomfortable. Talking about Germany's national interest uncovers a deeprooted mistrust that makes even Germany's closest allies recall earlier German threats.

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