In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Germany’s Role in European Security
  • Ludger Kühnhardt (bio)

To reflect on the role of Germany in Europe’s current search for a new and stable security architecture requires, first of all, determining Germany’s own specific interests. This is, in itself, a new dimension to European politics. Over the last decades, the Germans were not known for understanding the concept of “national interest,” let alone being able to properly define their own. 1 Or so it seemed to many observers. The truth, of course, was always more complex. During the Cold War, Germany’s security interests were defined by historical memories and by the consequences of German division. Thanks to their history, Germans looked for security against themselves and against the ugly ghosts of their national past. They wanted to insulate themselves from nationalism and militarism. In this respect, West and East Germans were alike. But East Germans—or rather their communist leadership—went further. They sought to make Germans secure against all possible future temptations toward aggression by installing a socialist, egalitarian, Soviet-type system. The “Germans” were to be replaced by “Socialist Workers and Peasants,” which seemed, according to communist dogma, the best way to overcome the ghosts of the German past. The GDR dictatorship became more Soviet than the Soviet Union. Thus they hoped to demonstrate that they had truly learned their lessons from the past, that they had defeated Hitler with Lenin. They failed, however, to reckon with forces of history older than Hitler. The notions of national unity and [End Page 103] freedom turned out to be stronger than the socialist rehabilitation program which the people of East Germany were ordered to follow.

In a way, West Germans had a similar experience. They wanted to get rid of Hitler’s shadow by demonstrating to the world—and to themselves—that they had become a model democracy: a society abiding by the rule of law and an unquestionable ally of the western world. Sometimes West Germans looked more American than the American GIs based on their soil. But sometimes, Americans and others had reason to fear the tendencies of German self-neutralization—tendencies that, among other things, reflected the Germans’ battle against their past. In the end, the West Germans were more successful in their rehabilitation program than the East Germans. Helmut Kohl’s Federal Republic outlived Erich Honecker’s “Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic.” 2

The search for rehabilitation was one dimension of German security thinking during the Cold War years. A second dimension was the new version of the eternal “German Question;” the issue of how to resolve Germany’s postwar division, the consequence of Hitler’s war and Stalin’s victory, and the subsequent division of Europe between East and West, between dictatorship and democracy. Germans, in East as in West Germany, looked for security against the other alliance; at the same time, the West Germans looked for ways to overcome the artificial division of their fatherland. For many of those Germans who felt more at home in California than in the Black Forest, or who felt more at ease in Tuscany than at the East German Baltic coast, the concept of German reunification was not important at all. Others lost their faith in the idea of unification as the years passed. But the political elite, in spite of growing doubts and controversies within the Social Democratic party—particularly during the 1980s—remained loyal to the constitutional program of seeking unification, while preserving the nation’s freedom and with the consent of Germany’s European neighbors. In 1990, the two German states were united in the name of nationhood, human rights, and the rule of law. Germany was united with the consent of all its old enemies of World War II, including all its neighbors. This freshly expanded German Federal Republic, moreover, remained within NATO and the European Union, thus clearly [End Page 104] confirming its political will to pursue a policy of multilateralism and cooperation—and, if possible, European integration—within the framework created in the western world.

Unification: A Change of Parameters

With the end of the postwar “German Question,” the focus of Germany’s position on security matters had...

Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 103-128
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.