Sixteen years after the end of the Cold War, many still speak about it as they would other past events. Yet, despite the fall of the USSR being obvious, the effects it has had on other countries seem to be often overlooked. 1991 didn’t just herald the end of our main adversary, but that of many other countries as well, especially Germany. Germany, more than any other country, was defined by the Cold War. Occupied and ultimately split in two, it remained occupied in a sense, by the US until the early 90s. Being the front line, where WWIII would begin, dominated Germany and its people. Imagine not knowing whether your country would be hit by waves of Soviet armored divisions or with a surprise nuclear strike.
Needless to say, those days are over and Germany finds itself looking east. With immigration from Eastern Europe, the expansion of German businesses into the East and the enlargement of the EU, Germany finds itself with no existential threats and moreover no threats to its territory. Thus, like the United States, it is forced to look at the lesser-includeds and reexamine its foreign and security policies. In October 2006, the German government issued a new white paper on German defense policy and notes “The focus of German security interests has shifted to crises and conflicts all over the world instead.” It goes on to say
The Bundeswehr is an instrument of a comprehensive and proactive security and defence policy. Its mission is: to guarantee the capacity for action in the field of foreign policy, to contribute towards European and global stability, to maintain national security and defence, to provide assistance in the defence of our allies, to foster multinational cooperation and integration.
Yet, although it would seem Germany has now “officially” realized what the United States has, there remains a large disconnect between the government and its people. Bombarded by half a century of pacifism and holocaust memories, ordinary Germans’ natural reaction to all war is negative. At the same time, however, their strong belief in international law and human rights demands that action be taken, directly clashing with the pacifist beliefs of many. When speaking of interventions abroad such as Kosovo, Americans ask themselves “Why are we here?” whereas Germans ask “Do we have the right to be here in the first place?”
Germany has long prided itself on being a civilian power and on having renounced war but the post-Cold War era has put an end to that dream. German deployments abroad have steadily increased the past two decades yet average Germans have not yet developed a new understanding of their role in the world and the contradictory nature of their national beliefs. This will be one of the main obstacles to a more militarily assertive and active Germany. While there are some positive signs such as the Greens being strong advocates of Germany’s continuing presence in Afghanistan for human rights reasons (link in German), it will be a long process.
Playing with the other children
Germany’s three most important relationships are with America, France and Russia. While still a firm ally of the United States, Germany is now free to develop more independent policies and promote its own values and interests on the international stage. While the conflict between former Chancellor SchrÃ¶der and President Bush was one of extremes, future German governments, including the current more conservative one, will nevertheless be more assertive diplomatically and not avoid disagreements when they arise. The American government must now accept that the Federal Republic of Germany has grown up and is moving out of the house. While still an integral part of the Western family, it is now an adult and must be treated as such. Future as well as recent disagreements between the US and Germany should not be misunderstood as hostility, anti-Americanism or ungratefulness, but rather through the prism mentioned above. A change in mindset in Washington and in the general public is necessary.
For France, Germany’s historical arch-enemy, the post-Cold War era has been filled with both opportunity and disappointment. While both countries enjoy close ties, their long term national goals differ, at times considerably. While France has long sought to use the EU has a counterbalance or at least peer to the United States, even under different governments, Germany has disappointed seeking both more power and influence in Europe and often playing the arbiter and seeking the political middle ground. Since WWII, France has enjoyed its position of power in Europe, unchallenged by a pacifist and self-conscious Germany. With the Soviet Union gone, Germany is now assuming its natural position of leading regional power and will no longer be content to be France’s little brother in a situation comparable to US-German relations.
Last and certainly most interesting, is Germany’s relationship with Russia. Although under Chancellor SchrÃ¶der, Russia and Germany flirted with much closer ties, ultimately they have little in common in terms of values, goals and policies. Yet, Russia must be dealt with and on top of being a major energy supplier, it is a major European and global power. Germany’s policy towards Russia will continue to be one of constructive disagreement, promoting democracy and human rights just loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to upset the Russians. Cordial relations will Moscow remain important, especially as relations between Russia and the UK, as well as with the US, deteriorate steadily. Germany will continue to mold itself as an impartial and honest broker, accomplishing its political goals and benefiting overall in the process.
Germany spent much of its history being a buffer zone between great powers, first between France and Russia, and later between the US and Russia. Those days are over.