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  • Vormacht wider Willen. Deutsche Außenpolitik von der Wiedervereinigung bis zur Gegenwart by Stephan Bierling
  • Randall E. Newnham
Vormacht wider Willen. Deutsche Außenpolitik von der Wiedervereinigung bis zur Gegenwart. By Stephan Bierling. Munich: C.H. Beck, 2014. Pp. 304. Paper €16.95. ISBN 978-3406667664.

Bierling’s work is designed to be a good general-purpose study of recent German foreign policy, suitable for both specialists and nonacademic readers. He takes pains to avoid the jargon of international relations. In his introduction, he does briefly note the views of the constructivist, realist, liberal, and institutionalist schools of thought [End Page 205] on Germany’s role in the world. However, he then quickly states that this work is not designed to test any one theory: he intends to simply present a factual narrative and let the reader tease out any theoretical implications.

The work offers, then, a matter-of-fact history of German foreign policy since reunification. It begins with a brief overview of the legacy of the years from 1949 to 1990. It is then divided into sections based on the three Chancellorships since 1990. In each section Bierling begins with security issues, which seem to be his greatest priority, considers economic and EU policy in the middle, and concludes with brief sketches of German relations with key bilateral partners. Under Helmut Kohl, Bierling believes, the country was careful to stay within the established pattern of restrained power inherited from West Germany. Some of this restraint may have been due to Kohl’s own past. He was old enough to have been drafted into Hitler’s army as a teenager. Yet he was also restrained by the traditional view that German forces could only be used for territorial defense, not for any “out-of-area” missions. Once that prohibition was overturned by the German Constitutional Court in 1994, the country slowly began to play a greater role.

The Schröder period, in contrast, saw Germany put “boots on the ground” in locations such as Kosovo and Afghanistan. With a new generation of leaders and a new capital, Germany appeared more confident. However, Bierling faults Schröder’s sometimes idiosyncratic style, as when he demonstratively befriended Vladimir Putin and forthrightly criticized President Bush over the Iraq War. Too often, he argues, Schröder alienated Germany’s partners. Finally, Angela Merkel seems, in Bierling’s view, to have reverted to a more cautious approach. He believes that, of the three Chancellors profiled, she has been the most inclined to focus on internal politics, allowing herself to be led by the German people rather than leading them. As a result, whether on security issues—as in the crises in Libya and Mali—or in dealing with the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone, Germany has failed to show real leadership.

The book takes its detailed historical narrative up to the summer of 2014. This great effort to be up to date is extremely valuable, as it lets the author conclude with a preliminary assessment of the seismic shift in Germany’s environment brought about by the crisis in Ukraine. As he shows, Germany has had to play a key role in this crisis, with Merkel standing at the center of negotiations with the EU, US, and Russia. Despite its lack of academic theory, the work does have a policy frame. It begins with a citation from the Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, from November 2011: “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You may not fail to lead” (9). This statement—from Poland of all countries—deeply affected the German debate on the country’s role in the world. Despite its continuing reluctance, Germany finds itself pressured, both by its partners and by global events, to assume a greater role both in Europe and in the world. Bierling concludes, though, on a somewhat [End Page 206] skeptical note. He believes that Germany’s leaders mainly continue to give priority to domestic concerns, led by a general public that favors peace and prosperity over international engagement. Germany, he claims, is often satisfied with the role of a “me...


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