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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.2 (2002) 113-118

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Book Review

The German Problem Transformed:
Institutions, Politics, and Foreign Policy, 1945-1995

Thomas Banchoff, The German Problem Transformed: Institutions, Politics, and Foreign Policy, 1945-1995. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. 232 pp. $47.50.

Over the past five decades an astonishing transformation of German foreign policy has taken place. When Konrad Adenauer became the first postwar chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949, he did not resume pursuing the traditional "national interest," which had dominated German politics since 1871. Instead West German leaders from Adenauer to Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder agreed to embed the Federal Republic in a complex web of multilateral and even supranational structures and to pursue German interests within this framework. Such an approach precluded a more nationalist and assertive foreign policy on the model of Wilhelm II's empire. Despite many heated discussions about alternative policy options in the early to mid-1950s and the 1970s, a political consensus gradually developed. After the debate in the 1960s surrounding Fritz Fischer's book on Germany's responsibility for World War I, the old realist framework for assessing a country's foreign policy with reference to its power-oriented "national interests" was largely dismissed as inappropriate. The majority of West German foreign policy makers and the German electorate have viewed a distinction between international collective interests and German national interests as obsolete and counterproductive. Instead, integration and multilateralism are the watchwords for Germany's real "national interests" in an ever more interdependent world.

Thomas Banchoff sets out in this excellent book to trace, analyze, and explain the development and transformation of West German foreign policy from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s. In an accessible and very readable text, Banchoff combines a succinct overview of the development of West German foreign policy from Adenauer to Kohl with a stimulating though not unproblematic conceptual framework.

Banchoff's overview of German foreign policy from 1949 to 1995 is exemplary. Despite occasional lapses, he offers a well-structured account ofthe turning points of West German foreign policy, of which he cites four: (1) Adenauer's effort to integrate the FRG with the West; (2) Willy Brandt's pursuit of Ostpolitik; (3) the debate over the stationing of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF); and (4) the decision to continue emphasizing integration with Europe after Germany was reunified.

Adenauer's policy of integrating the FRG into the West, and his attempt to deemphasize the reunification question while consenting to West German rearmament, were crucial for establishing the foundations of West German foreign policy. [End Page 113] Banchoff convincingly analyzes Adenauer's political strategies and tactics, and he stresses the immense support that Adenauer enjoyed among the allied powers and the political and personal battles with his more nationalist competitors like Kurt Schumacher of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and his inner-party rival, Jakob Kaiser. Banchoff also outlines Adenauer's policy toward German unification and Germany's relations with both the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Nonetheless, Banchoff makes no mention at all of the nationwide uprising in the GDR in June 1953. This omission is very peculiar, since the uprising (combined with internal developments in the Soviet Union) was decisive in shaping the Soviet Union's Deutschlandpolitik (German policy) after Josif Stalin's death. A considerable number of scholars believe that the events in the GDR were crucial in persuading Moscow to abandon its tentative plans to sacrifice the GDR in return for a reunited but neutral Germany. Such thinking was highly popular in West Germany, France, and Britain. The uprising was also of great importance for Adenauer's and the Western allies' efforts to fend off pressure to hold a summit conference with the post-Stalin leaders in Moscow to overcome the Cold War and solve the German question.

Moreover, it was not so much the case, as Banchoff argues, that Adenauer suddenly arrived at different political insights and "temporarily" changed his mind to...