The German Predicament: Memory and Power in the New Europe

By Andrei S. Markovits; Simon Reich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
The Deployment of German Soldiers Abroad

The strangest thing happened the other day: The Germans and the French decided to form a joint military unit. I guess this entity will now bring extra rudeness to the countries which it will occupy.

-- Jay Leno, Tonight Show

If our argument that the Germans wish to remain small is correct, then it should be reflected in any debate about commitment of German troops. Conventionally, great powers do not impose unconditional restraints on troop deployments or announce to the world that their commitments are only for narrowly defensive or humanitarian purposes. It is reflective of the changed nature of Germany's position since 1989 that the Bundeswehr's role has developed into one of the most contentious debates in contemporary German politics. The controversy began with German unification and was exacerbated by the Gulf War.

Unification, in principle, made Germany a normal country. One of the defining characteristics of any normal country is the conventional use of its armed forces. Normal states have normal armies, which they use for normal purposes -- such as defense in the case of an unprovoked attack that clearly threatens the national interest. Few if any other items (owning a national airline, perhaps) are a more definitive assertion of national sovereignty. As of the official date of unification, October 3, 1990 (or March 15, 1991, with formal recognition from the USSR), Germany therefore became just like its neighbors.

Only a few weeks later, the Gulf War broke out, and the United States led a multinational force into battle against Iraq. This was the true test of German normalcy. Clearly, German national interest was threatened -- its access to vital oil supplies would be severed by Iraqi control of Kuwait. Yet Germany did not respond as a normal country.

The United States was less directly threatened than Germany but commited forces to battle. It was assisted by several countries, notably its trusted allies Great Britain and France. Conspicuously absent was the newly sovereign and rich Germany, whose interests were defended by American, British, and French troops. The controversy about the Gulf War inside Germany led to the most acrimonious debate anywhere in the advanced industrialized world. Central to this debate was the issue of German power, and at this time the deployment of German troops became a major matter in German politics. 1

The debate concerning the Bundeswehr's creation in the early-to-mid- 1950s featured much more than pragmatic disagreements about policy options and strat-

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