Tomorrow's Germany

By Heilbrunn, Jacob | The National Interest, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview
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Tomorrow's Germany

Heilbrunn, Jacob, The National Interest

FOUR YEARS AFTER the fall of the Berlin Wall, German unification continues to send political shock waves through Europe. The exposed location of Germany in the center of Central Europe has always ensured that what it does, or what it chooses not to do, has had enormously important implications for its neighbors. Now that the formal restrictions imposed after World War II by the four powers have been removed, it is no longer possible to ignore Germany's restoration to great power status.

At first, German leaders such as Hans-Dietrich Genscher contended that reunification would realize rather than destroy the dream of a united Europe. German industrial power would be submerged in the European Union and German military might in NATO. The difficulty would not be an aggressive Germany, but one that was likely to persist in seeing itself as a follower rather than a leader. As recently as 1992 Christoph Bertram, the diplomatic correspondent for Die Zeit and a former director of the London Institute for Strategic Studies, could take it for granted that the "view in Germany that vision and leadership are still for others to exercise will not disappear rapidly."1

Yet already a powerfully self-confident tone and an insistence on explicitly defining and defending German interests has begun to resonate among political elites. From the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to the leftist weekly Der Spiegel, a peculiar political axis opposed to Maastricht has emerged. The new assertiveness is particularly pronounced among the so-called Nachwuchs, or post-1945 generation of Germans. Books like Western Ties: Chances and Risks for Germany, whose young editors lament that attachment to the West has become an "article of faith," or Fear of Power, which calls for a "new German sovereignty" and a return to power politics, offer vivid examples of the resurgence of German nationalism.(2) Although Germany is not about to bolt the Western alliance, it is acutely aware that it finds itself in the same position as the Bismarckian state of 1871 or the Weimar Republic after the signing of the Rapallo Pact in 1922. Germany has a choice again--as what Bismarck called "the tongue on the balance," it can go East or West. The consequence has been a reassessment of German national interests, and the reopening of the old question of a German identity.

The advent of a new German foreign policy has its sources not only in the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's attempt to creete a "normalized" Germany. In the 1980s Kohl sought to establish a normal Germany that would be accepted as an equal, not a junior, partner by its Western allies. Like the founding father of the Federal Republic, Konrad Adenauer, Kohl is a Roman Catholic from the Rhineland for whom the unity of Western Europe has come first. The reconstruction of the German nation-state, however, has forced Kohl to revise drastically the domestic and foreign policies of the Federal Republic, for the rise of German nationalism has sent Kohl's attempt to normalize Germany spinning out of control. Ironically, Kohl's greatest achievement--German unification--has transformed Adenauer's legatee into the gravedigger of European unity. The result will be a German Europe, not a European Germany.

German Interests

DESPITE THE pious avowals of everyone from Adenauer to Kohl that European interests were completely compatible with German interests, Germany has always sought to assert its national interests. From Bismarck to Hitler, the Germans conducted Schaukelpolitik, the jockeying for advantage between East and West. Adenauer believed that by grounding Germany in the West, the Federal Republic would serve as a magnet for the East. Self-abnegation became the condition for regaining German sovereignty. In the 1970s, Willy Brandt added an Eastern dimension to the FRG's foreign policy through the pursuit of Ostpolitik, or detente with the East bloc.

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