Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Between the Call to Leadership and the Traps of Turbulent History Straddling the Still Volatile Cold-War Fault Lines, Germany Is Trying to Forge a Bolder European Network of Security While Assuaging a Reluctant Public Series: GERMANY READY FOR EUROPE'S MANTLE? Wielding Foreign Clout without Inspiring Fear. If a United Germany Is to Take Its Place among the Most Powerful Nations in the World, the Country Will Have to Reconcile Its Past with Europe's Need for Strong Leadership in Continental Security Matters. Part 5 of Five-Part Series. First of Two Articles Appearing Today

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Between the Call to Leadership and the Traps of Turbulent History Straddling the Still Volatile Cold-War Fault Lines, Germany Is Trying to Forge a Bolder European Network of Security While Assuaging a Reluctant Public Series: GERMANY READY FOR EUROPE'S MANTLE? Wielding Foreign Clout without Inspiring Fear. If a United Germany Is to Take Its Place among the Most Powerful Nations in the World, the Country Will Have to Reconcile Its Past with Europe's Need for Strong Leadership in Continental Security Matters. Part 5 of Five-Part Series. First of Two Articles Appearing Today

Article excerpt

HOW to fit the German piece peacefully into the European puzzle has been one of the most vexing questions of the modern age. Germany's power, combined with the country's perception of geographic vulnerability in the middle of Europe, has wrought continental calamity twice this century.

In the post-cold-war era, a unified Germany is again grappling with fitting in. This time conditions are different. Democracy has sunk deep roots here. But European stability, requiring strong economic and security networks, is not guaranteed.

German leaders believe they have the formula that would prevent the nation from falling into its historical trap, in which it always faced the possibility of a two-front war. That formula is the European Union (EU).

But before that can be fully tested, Bonn's politicians face a tough battle to reshape domestic public opinion. The great experiment to foster lasting peace calls for Germany to assume a role that its people have come to distrust: leadership.

"Our influence in the world hasn't always been a blessing for the world," says pensioner Willy Tesch, arguing that Germany should refrain from a leading role in world affairs to avoid past mistakes.

Other Germans, especially in the formerly Communist East bloc, have an economic argument. "We have enough problems right here, like unemployment," says Udo Schumacher, a window washer. Cost of reluctance

To the comfort of those Europeans who worried that a reunified Germany would metamorphose into a militant Fourth Reich, Germany instead has focused inward, consumed by reunification. And when it acts internationally, such as in the EU, Bonn stresses multilateral action.

But the widespread domestic aversion to Germany raising its international profile can also be cause for alarm. There are multiple risks to European stability. A dearth of leadership exists on the Continent, shown by the muddled EU response to the Balkan wars. Meanwhile, Europe is being asked by the US, its erstwhile protector, to assume a greater role in its own security.

As Europe's most prosperous and populous nation, the obligation of filling the leadership vacuum would seem to fall naturally on Germany. History, however, is proving a formidable obstacle - not just for nearby nations, who base lingering suspicions on Germany's past behavior. Perhaps the main barrier lies with Germans.

The nation's 45 years of postwar division fostered a pacifist mood that is outdated in the new age of shared geopolitical responsibility. Yet breaking from the burden of its Prussian and Nazi past promises to be a prolonged process for Germany.

"Inevitably after reunification, {Germany} can no longer be a consumer of stability and prosperity primarily produced by others, but now must carry the burden of producing it," says Karl Kaiser, the head of the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP). "But it is a long, difficult, and indeed domestically controversial process of how a country that emerged precisely with a purpose to abstain from world politics now is to take part."

The longer Germany takes to adapt, the greater the prospects that instability stirred by Balkan warfare and Central European economic angst could spread, even possibly spill into the relatively content West. Ultimately, the West European nation that stands to be affected most by the spread of instability is Germany itself.

Germany's political elite recognizes the security risks and generally has had no problem defining and pursuing German national interests in Europe. Both main German parties view the EU as the key to ensuring Continental stability. The establishment also considers good relations with the United States to be crucial.

As the EU's largest financial contributor, Germany has exerted great influence. Chancellor Helmut Kohl has acted as the unswerving champion of a federalist European vision, spanning the wealthy West and the struggling, formerly Communist East. …

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