Germany Is No Superpower

By Ilya Prizel. Ilya Prizel is associate professor of Soviet and East European studies Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University. | The Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 1990 | Go to article overview

Germany Is No Superpower


Ilya Prizel. Ilya Prizel is associate professor of Soviet and East European studies Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University., The Christian Science Monitor


THE last few weeks were indeed heady for Germany. The West German soccer team won the world cup. Chancellor Helmut Kohl emerged as the dominant European statesman at the London and Houston conferences, and Mikhail Gorbachev acquiesced to a united Germany in NATO.

In the sphere of economics West Germany reported that this year it had earned the largest current account surplus (even surpassing that of Japan), the deutsche mark continued a nearly uninterrupted climb against virtually all other major currencies, and the Bundesbank predicted a robust 4 percent overall growth in the German economy during the next 12 months.

It would appear that, with unification, Germany is rapidly becoming both militarily and economically the predominant power in Europe.

It is often overlooked, however, that despite Germany's robust economy it lacks key physical, military, and even economic prerequisites to become a superpower. Even a united Germany is smaller than Montana - certainly lacking the continental size of the United States, Russia, or China.

Still more important than Germany's small size is its demographic situation. Historically countries claimed the role of a major global power during periods when their population bases were young and rapidly expanding. Unlike the first half of this century, when Germany experienced an explosive population growth that provided both the Kaiser and Hitler with a seemingly endless flow of willing young conscripts, today the Germanys are saddled with the oldest population in Europe and a below-replacement birth rate. If present demographic trends continue through 2020, the population of Poland will be almost as large as that of Germany. The days when Germany could field a huge conventional army to intimidate its neighbors has passed.

The fear of Germany's becoming a nuclear power is equally unfounded. Whereas Britain can test its nuclear weapons in US facilities and France has the use of its overseas departments in the South Pacific, Germany lacks reliable testing sites and has little prospect of finding any.

Given Germany's limited testing and deployment capabilities, even if it could muster the political will to develop nuclear weapons, Germany would be able to develop a nuclear capacity not much more formidable than those of the France or Britain - a fraction of the capacities of either the Soviet Union and the US. …

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