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  • How World Politics Is Made: France and the Reunification of Germany
  • Holger Loewendorf
How World Politics Is Made: France and the Reunification of Germany. By Tilo Schabert. Translated from the French by John Tyler Tuttle. Edited and abridged by Barry Cooper. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8262-1848-3. Notes. Indexes. Pp. xix, 401. $54.95.

It has become commonplace to blame France for many problems in international relations, but when it comes to German unification, Tilo Schabert adamantly [End Page 1390] disagrees with this cliché. With the original German publication in 2002, he was among the first to argue that France under President François Mitterrand neither obstructed nor delayed unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Now non-German readers can decide for themselves whether he succeeded in making his case. The short answer is yes, but at the expense of scholarly rigor.

Schabert’s argument unfolds in three parts. First, he demonstrates that Germany occupied a central place in Mitterrand’s thoughts and conversations since the early 1980s, but he also understood that the initial signal to overcome the division of Germany had to emanate from Moscow. The second part describes French and German concerns about the implications of unification in regard to economic and security policy. Mitterrand feared a loss of balance in their economic relations, which could not be offset by France’s status as a nuclear power. While Schabert convincingly connects the discussion of trade and monetary issues to unification, it is less clear how his lengthy treatment of Mitterrand’s position on nuclear war is related to the larger argument. Finally, the third part introduces the diplomatic process of unification from the summer of 1989 to October 3, 1990. It is evident throughout Schabert’s account that Mitterrand was no less surprised by events and no more in control of them than any other political actor at the time. He did insist, however, that unification should proceed “orderly and democratically” (p. 208). In contrast to the United States which focused on the survival of NATO, or Margaret Thatcher who appears as the actual obstructionist, Mitterrand wanted to make sure that unification did not endanger European integration. Thus, any new order should prevent Germany from becoming a neutral, nuclear, or expansionist power. Schabert claims that Mitterrand achieved all of these objectives, but he does not discuss in detail the failed French initiatives for a European confederation and European defense pillar.

The author constructed this narrative mainly with unpublished documents from the Élysée Palace and conducted interviews with many French and German participants. The result is a top-down history with an almost hagiographic focus on presidential politics, where non-state actors and events on the ground are reduced to background noise. Furthermore, this book does not differ in its use of sources from accounts Schabert criticizes for their negative portrayals of France. His secondary sources are mostly eyewitness accounts and memoirs rather than academic publications so that there is very little dialogue with the existing scholarship. It does not help matters that the translation preserves Schabert’s occasionally confusing prose, with the frequent use of passive voice and a rather verbose style already noticeable in the German edition. Although the book’s argument deserves a large audience, scholars interested in this particular topic should read it alongside methodologically sounder works such as Frédéric Bozo’s Mitterrand, la fin de la guerre froide et l’unification allemande. De Yalta à Maastricht (forthcoming in English in October 2009). [End Page 1391]

Holger Loewendorf
Temple University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania