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26 January 2007

Doomed to Ineffectuality: Germany as Mediator

Why the objectives for Germany's dual EU and G8 presidency will be hard to achieve — By Detlef Junker, founding director of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies

In 1990 the reunification of Germany under conditions imposed by the West created something akin to the best of all possible Germanies, a medium-sized democratic state in the middle of Europe, pursuing its interests solely and exclusively by peaceful means, in cooperation with other states and in the framework of international institutions.

In terms of foreign policy, this ideal of a European, Atlantic, nay global "civil power for peace" (Zivil- und Friedensmacht) is rooted in the provisions of the Two-Plus-Four treaty and the explicit abjuration of Germany's past. After two World Wars and the experience of Cold War bloc politics, the Germans know that their country is too small to entertain any ideas of hegemony — let alone territorial conquest — within Europe and too big for its neighbours ever to let it assert its interests on a go-it-alone basis. Accordingly, there is no opposition to this ideal in Germany, if we ignore a few incorrigible right-wing radicals. This consensus also extends to Article 26 of the Basic Law, which prohibits any war of aggression, and Article 24, which empowers Germany to transfer rights of sovereignty to international organisations and to join systems of collective security like the UNO, NATO or a European army with a view to safeguarding and preserving peace.

The legal cementation of this ideal can, however, give no indication of how, in a world that has changed so fundamentally, German foreign policy is supposed to achieve what the foreign policy of a state can legitimately be expected to achieve: defending and promoting the welfare and the rights of its citizens both in and vis-à-vis the outside world.

Putin has started playing cat and mouse with Europe

Given the upheavals in world politics since 1990, Germany's national interests and the best way of representing them are anything but self-evident. They have to be decided by a process of political debate and negotiation. What makes the definition of national interests so difficult is the fact that since 1990 the country has been faced by changes on a global scale that demand a reaction although Germany has precious little influence on them. What makes the representation of those interests so difficult is the fact that the German government can achieve almost nothing on its own but has to negotiate in changing international constellations on everything it advocates and stands up for. An army of German politicians and diplomats are permanently occupied in coping with unremitting diplomatic challenges that are constantly assuming new guises. In the following I shall attempt to summarise those changes from four different perspectives.

First, the collapse of the Soviet empire (always supposing that one is prepared to count the Soviet Union as a part of Europe) marked a turning point in the history of the continent. It spelt the end of Europe's colonial empires and the final demise of all the attempts those empires had undertaken to subjugate the whole continent. Over the past few centuries the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, National Socialism and Communism, the colonial empires of Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands all caved in. With vigorous assistance from the United States the "great" European nations were cut down to size and relegated to a marginal role in the arena of world history. It was this development alone that put the Western Europeans in a position to embark on the revolutionary project of the European Union and, since 1990, to extend it to Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe — a widening and broadening of Europe both in area and in substance.

This is why Europe has become the crucial frame of reference for German domestic and foreign policy since 1990. The Federal Republic has had its say in all decisions of moment taken in this context. But today the European project — and with it German foreign policy — has run into a serious crisis. The reform of its decision-making structures has got bogged down, the plans for a European Constitution have failed. There is no joint foreign policy, no common political stance on security, immigration, climate change or energy. Russia under Putin has started playing cat and mouse with Europe. The incorporation of Turkey into the European Union remains an explosive problem. At the same time, discontent and resistance are growing among the people of Germany because the general thrust of developments in Europe exerts adaptive pressures on them that have triggered widespread alarm and insecurity.

Second, another historical development German foreign policy can do little to influence is the deterioration of the relationship to the United States since 1990. This has been caused first of all by Europe's inability to engineer a joint foreign policy and second by America's attempt to establish an all-embracing unilateral pax Americana, notably during the presidency of George W. Bush, who for a long time felt that he could largely do without European assistance in imposing America's political visions on the world. The arrogance of American power was compounded with the arrogance of European impotence. And the failure of America's Iraq policy has done nothing to mitigate Europe's insignificance.

Anyone who has lived in Washington for a time will have learned at first hand how much truth there is in the old adage that the United States' foreign policy interests are global in their radius. The Muslim/Arab problem zone, Asia — notably China's rise to the status of a world power, but also Japan, India and Pakistan, Iran and North Korea —, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the developments in Russia and Central Asia, occasionally the developments in Latin America and Africa, the problems of terrorism, asymmetric war, weapons of mass destruction and drug trafficking — all these things preoccupy the leading decision-makers responsible for American foreign policy and the United States media far more than their counterparts in Europe.

In Washington's corridors of power the question hurled almost automatically at European visitors is: What is Europe — and Germany in particular — willing and able to do about solving these problems? This question is frequently coupled with the accusation that for all its comparative wealth Europe is tongue-tied and hamstrung; it has stuck its head in the sand and is more than content to play a marginal role in the ongoing progress of world history.

Third, while the reunited Germany is a key figure in Europe but has little or no effect on the American super-power, action is badly required in a third sector that appears to be completely impervious to the influence of any nation state, including the Federal Republic, although its consequences have a massive impact on the citizens of Germany and frequently leave them with a feeling of helpless alarm. The consequences I am referring to are those of the process we call "globalisation".

Globalisation is a blanket term for the rapid proliferation, condensation and acceleration of cross-frontier interactions by societal and non-governmental agents. It stands for the concatenation of economies, business and financial markets, of knowledge, communication, transport and goods, as well as the internationalisation of organised terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration, all of it facilitated by the internet and cyberspace. In the meantime the opponents of globalisation have gone global as well, as their media-effective protests at international conferences clearly indicate.

The problems generated by globalisation call for a response that neither individual nation states nor international organisations are in a position to supply. The dilemmas, conflicts and contradictions are ubiquitous. Here is just one example. With global competition getting fiercer all the time, the traditional resources of foreign policy are completely inadequate to the task of dealing with the exodus of industries to low-wage countries and the depletion of jobs that goes with it. But at the same time this process exacerbates the political necessity within individual states of coming to terms with the social costs of globalisation.

Fourth, in military terms, Germany's security policy is shown up in an especially murky light. On the one hand, we have been telling ourselves since 1990 that for the first time in its history Germany is now solely surrounded by friends. On the other, Germany's security radius has gone global over the past few years, as evidenced by sayings like "The defence of Germany extends to the Hindu Kush" or "The deployment range of Germany's armed forces is the whole world". Critics see in this a throwback to the days of "Kaiser Bill" and a desire to muscle in on developments taking place anywhere in the world.

The rationale for the conviction that the deployment range of Germany's armed forces is the whole world (meaning of course potentially the whole world) is based on the fact that the security situation and security strategy have changed radically since the end of the Cold War. Even outside NATO territory, so the theory goes, it is imperative to play a prophylactic, stabilising role and to prevent endangered states and countries from coming under the sway of terror organisations likely to try and get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. The tacit foundation for this attitude is a domino theory of the kind espoused notably by American and Russian politicians during the Cold War. If the domino Afghanistan should fall, then other dominos nearer to Germany might follow suit.

If this analysis were correct, it would put the finger on the greatest paradox and the greatest weakness inherent in German foreign policy. The Federal armed forces are much too small, hopelessly under-financed and too badly equipped to be equal to such a task. With superhuman efforts, Germany can supply 10,000 soldiers for humanitarian and peace-keeping purposes once the guns have fallen silent. In no other sector of German foreign policy is the refusal to face up to the facts so obstinate as in the discussion on military deployment. As far as the German soldiers in Afghanistan are concerned, one can only hope that if things really got serious they would be flown out by the Americans and that NATO would not simply disintegrate in the face of the Afghanistan problem.

Less foreign policy clout

What do the fundamental changes that have taken place since 1990 mean for German foreign policy? Primarily that it has less clout than before. Though it is (arguably) the central power in Europe, the country with the biggest population and the biggest economy, Germany is not strong enough to restore political clout to the Old Continent or to become an truly influential partner for the United States.

Strengthening Europe and improving relations with America are laudable objectives and the Federal government and the Federal Chancellor are right to pursue them. But it would be a minor miracle if, in the course of its dual EU and G8 presidency, the Federal Republic were to succeed in getting closer to a solution for any of the long list of problems Angela Merkel presented to President George W. Bush on her lightning visit to Washington. In the light of a lucid, historically informed assessment of the situation we should reconcile ourselves to the fact that, in its role as mediator, Germany as a "civil power for peace" will be just as doomed to ineffectuality in the coming year as it has been in the past.

© Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung Heidelberg

Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Detlef Junker
Heidelberg Center for American Studies
Hauptstraße 120
D-69117 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/543710, fax: 543719

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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