What new dimensions did Germany's foreign policy acquire after reunification?
In 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed. Crumbling before the popular pressures of East Germany and the ideals of democratization that were sweeping across Eastern Europe, the barrier between East and West Berlin was destroyed. The Wall served not only as a geopolitical divider, but also separated the two prominent ideologies of the day, communism and capitalism. Its ruin marked a new era in politics for Europe and specifically Germany: the chance for a new, autonomous voice to emerge from the shadows of a bipolar world, from the rubble of a divided continent. A description of German foreign policy as it evolved after reunification is 'continuity with change' (Arnold 1991, p. 464).
The reunification of Germany in 1990 produced a continuation of West Germany's policy, which was characterized by a penchant for political and economic power over military power, by its preference for multilateralism over the use of unilateral actions, and by its concentration on European rather than global policy issues, as well as by close ties to the United States. This carry-over of the Federal Republic's policy was marked by several modifications, however; specifically, Germany's policy after reunification demonstrated an increased commitment to the deepening and widening of the European Union and its inevitable transition into a major power with an influential voice and important role in the international playing field. Essential to the analysis of post-reunification foreign policy is the discussion of Germany's position after World War II. The end of the war posed a vital question for the Allied powers: what should be done with a defeated Germany to make certain that it would never be powerful enough to wage another world war? At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the "German problem" was 'solved' with the division of the country into zones, which the Allied leaders saw as a requisite for future peace. The western zones, occupied by the Americans, British, and French, united to form the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), while the Soviet zone became known as the German Democratic Republic, more commonly called East Germany.
The patterns of the Federal Republic's foreign policy were a direct consequence of military defeat and the occupation by the Allied Powers at the end of the war. In response to the excesses of the past, the West German policy establishment developed a clear and strong aversion to power politics and remained "unwilling to draw on populist, national sentiment" (Pfe tsch 1998, p. 102). Hitler's reign of terror produced a nationwide sense of shame and ultimately, a rejection of ideas of national identity.
German historians dismissed any thought that the Nazi era was an 'accident'. It seemed to most Germans, and more importantly German policymakers, that a realist approach to international relations was detrimental; in other words, in order to ensure a peaceful world, the pursuit of power politics, military strength and national interest should be abandoned entirely. In accordance with this belief and hoping to foster trust within its neighbors, West German leaders made every effort to be involved in European, transatlantic and global institutional structures. Although the Federal Republic was more than willing to be engaged in multilateral European institutions, its neighbors wanted to be sure that Germany's political power was limited. In 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, unveiled a plan for pooling coal and steel resources of France, the FRG, and any other European state that wanted to join them.
This evolved into the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951 (Urwin 2003, p. 13). Schuman believed that binding the FRG into organizations with pooled sovereignty was crucial to preventing German dominance. What Schuman might not have realized is that his plan set the stage for the future of European integration, and hence, continental peace and security. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 built on the ECSC by creating the European Economic Community, which included West Germany (Urwin 2003, p. 14).
This institution led to the creation of the European Council (EC) in 1967, and eventually, the European Union in the 1990 s. Many of the war-battered Western European countries were enthusiastic about forming common institutions that could prevent the devastation they suffered in the war, but for no country was a European community as vital as for West Germany. Sperling put it best when he wrote that "the Germans, broken by political and moral bankruptcy as well as territorial dismemberment, were particularly susceptible to the allure of a common Western European solution to the demands of security and prosperity in postwar Europe" (Sperling 1994, p. 80). Beyond the material utility of European integration to the FRG, less tangible benefits accumulated over time in terms of neighbor states' perceptions of German motives, leading to a general acceptance of West Germany's inclusion in 'Europe' (Bulmer 1996, p. 11).
The Federal Republic's emphasis on multilateralism and transatlantic relations was further demonstrated when it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1955. West Germany was eager to be tied to the West and accepted their invitation into this organization with pride and enthusiasm. Their participation in NATO and the EC was considered vital to the fight against communism, as West Germany would serve as a buffer for the ever-encroaching Soviet Union. America needed Germany to provide a cushion against the USSR, but Germany also relied on America for protection in case the Soviets tried to increase their sphere of influence. This dependency on the US during the Cold War limited West Germany's leverage for independent actions, but constraints lessened after the Soviet disintegration and consequent change in the international system (Ritter berger 2001, p. 4).
Three weeks after the breach of the Berlin Wall, Chancellor Helmut Kohl presented his Ten-Point Plan outlining his proposal for the incremental formation of a confederation between the two German states. Kohl feared that if he were not able to immediately establish the course of international discussion about events in East Germany, other countries, particularly the Soviet Union and France, might seek a new variation on the most recent solution of the "German Question," namely, arranging for the containment of Germany within Europe's international order by separating it into two (Arnold 1991, p. 454). In February of 1990, the foreign ministers of the four WWII Allies and of the two German states agreed to commence official discussions on German unity.
These were dubbed the Two-Plus-Four Talks and were intended to provide an instrument with which to shape German unification and hence, the new post-Cold War Europe, without excluding key actors from the process. At the same time, European nations were skeptical about a reunified Germany that would be too large to submit to others' will (Schoenbaum 1996, p. 176). Germany had American support for unification, however, and so initial attempts by Britain and France failed to slow the process. In the face of European fears that the reunified state would opt for more unilateral or nationalistic paths, Germany did exactly the opposite: it stressed commitment to the EC and showed an increased desire for further European integration. The day before the Wall fell, Kohl said that Germany's commitment to the Western community was irrevocable (Mayer 1996, p.
722). He also reassured French President Mitterand that Franco-German cooperation would remain the engine for the deepening, and associated institutional reforms, of the EC. Kohl wanted to launch ideas on his own without having his motives automatically impugned, but knew that it needed to work with Paris for EU integration (Schoenbaum 1996, p. 185). In 1991, the Maastricht Treaty transformed the EC into the European Union, with Germany as one of the driving forces. After the EU was founded, Germany made a point of declaring eastward enlargement as one of its main political concerns (Jan ning 1996, p.
39). German leaders had pangs of conscience with the realization that their country's own post-war prosperity was built partly on Soviet victimization of East Europeans and the erection of an iron curtain that let modernization proceed in Western Europe without being overstrained by claims from the east. By enlarging the EU, Germany felt that it would prevent a new divide between the affluence of the west and poverty of the east. One of Germany's motives for a continued and amplified push for European integration was that it enabled the state to play a more important role without its neighbors fearing that it was pursuing its own national interest.
Mayer argues that, after reunification, "even a benign Germany would cause anxiety amongst its neighbors and set in motion the traditional cycle of distrust, fear, and hostility" (Mayer 1996, p. 723). Germany's sacrifice of its newly gained sovereignty to the Union assuaged European fears of German dominance, propelled the advancement of integration, and consequently, increased its power in the continental arena. One adjustment to foreign policy was that involving relations with Russia. Prior to unification, there were fears that a bitter sense of defeat and exclusion in Moscow might engender a climate similar to that which had developed in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles and that had characterized the Weimar period. The existence of a vanquished and humiliated power that might later seek to forcibly reshape the European order (as Hitler's Germany did) was to be prevented at all costs.
After reunification, Kohl solved this problem by assuring Russia that it would not be shut out of Europe. It pledged $46 billion to the Soviet Union and declared that Russian leaders would be consulted regarding any issues that involved them, and that close bilateral relations would be ensued (Schoenbaum 1996, p. 182). The reunified Germany continued the policies of West Germany through its sustained transatlantic ties. The partnership between the US and Germany was no longer merely a matter of security issues, but was based on common values, ideals and interests. The American presence in Europe after 1945 injected an element of stability and made it possible to tackle the project of European integration, so it was vital to continue these good relations.
Germany was the preferred partner to the Americans in European policy in the initial years after reunification. In 1994, President Clinton visited Berlin and called for greater German leadership in the international community, stating that Germany's geographical centrality could be the foundation for a more active policy if they desired it (Bulmer 1996, p. 17). Germany inevitably did gain more power in the global arena after 1990. Kohl's ambition was to eventually play an international political role commensurate with Bonn's economic might, both in crisis management and in the UN (i.
e. to rid itself of the label of 'economic giant, but political dwarf'). Germany sought a place on the UN Security Council, and has been awarded the two-year position four times since 1973, most recently in 2003. Furthermore, Germany's opposition to the American-led Iraqi War is demonstrative of its increasingly loud voice in the international arena. In September 2002, Chancellor Schroeder cited US Vice President Cheney's speech from a few weeks earlier, saying that "it just isn't good enough to learn from American press about a speech which clearly states 'we are going to do it, no matter what the world or our allies think'" and stated that because of Germany's history it must emphasize the alternatives to war (Rubin 2003, p.
2). By taking a stance against the global hegemon, Germany made it clear that it had by now forged its own opinions regarding international affairs and was not afraid to announce them to the world. Germany's foreign policy after reunification indicates a change in its role in world politics; the unified state demonstrated an increased commitment to Europe, a desire for bilateral ties with Russia, and more recently, a dominant voice in international political dialogue. These changes do not signify a complete departure from the politics of the Federal Republic, however, in that there is a continuation of European and transatlantic ties.
With the enlargement of the EU and seat in the UN Security Council, the stage is set for Germany to become an even more dominant global actor in times to come.