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  • The New German Foreign Policy Consensus
  • Regina Karp (bio)

For the first time in almost 60 years, Germany is an active and independent global player again. Some, at least in the United States, might mark the very public and unprecedented disagreement between Washington and Berlin over the spring 2003 war to oust Saddam Hussein as an obvious sign of Germany's revitalized independent streak. Others simply might dismiss the German decision either as a desperate and ultimately successful attempt by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to win reelection that summer or as a decision to follow France's lead rather than the United States while still playing a supporting role in global affairs. In reality, neither is true, and a new unified German foreign policy has emerged based on its own unique experiences, interests, and views.

Berlin's noncooperation in forcibly removing Saddam certainly yields important insights into a uniquely German perspective on the role of force in international politics, but it would be a mistake to attribute Berlin's decision simply to a principal reluctance to use military power. German foreign policy has been transformed more fundamentally since unification in 1990, with German leaders having progressively evolved their country's international goals from an almost exclusive focus on Europe to an increasingly global outlook that embraces political, economic, and security interests. Most noticeable has been Germany's greater willingness to become militarily engaged in missions beyond NATO's traditional boundaries.

Underlying Germany's change has been the rise of a distinct vision of international order and the principles that govern it. This vision (Weltanschauung) rests on deeply held assumptions about the possibilities and opportunities for progress in international relations; the mechanisms by which peace and [End Page 61] stability can be achieved and sustained; the civilizational potential of treaties, rules, and norms; and the inevitable decline of the state as the single most important locus of political organization. Above all, this vision of international order serves to explain to Germans the origins and nature of threats as well as how to abate and resolve them. German conduct over the past decade, including but extending well beyond Iraq, shows the solidification of a vision of world order and the emergence of a distinct foreign policy pattern that the country's major political parties all share, extending beyond Schröder and likely to the coalition of the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), led by Angela Merkel.

The German Weltanschauung raises numerous questions that must be answered to determine the future character of the U.S.-German alliance and Germany's role in world affairs. German foreign policy is far from passive, as its demands for a UN Security Council seat, its increasing presence in Asia and the Arab world, its leadership in negotiations over Iran's nuclear potential, and its reform proposals for NATO show. As Germany becomes more involved in global politics, it is critical for the United States and the international community to understand what motivates Berlin, what political capital the leadership is going to invest in which causes, and whether Germany's motivations, instruments, and goals are compatible with Washington's and others' preferences and priorities. By better understanding Berlin's contemporary motives and goals in international relations, as well as how it pursues these interests, U.S. policymakers now accustomed to counting the United Kingdom in and France out can better understand what kind of ally Germany will be.

Postunification Foreign Policy: The First Decade

History has habitually presented "the German question" in new incarnations. At the end of the Cold War and in the wake of national unification, Germany was asked with which historical era it would strive to reconnect1 and how Berlin would deal with its postunification power. Would it seek to emulate the assertive, self-centered, and unpredictable era of national unity under Bismarck in the latter nineteenth century, now, as then, unable to resist the temptations of great-power status, perhaps including the acquisition of nuclear capability?2 Would Germany instead opt to continue to embed itself in a host of multilateral, Euro-Atlantic political, economic, and security structures? Would Berlin take on...


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pp. 61-82
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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