At the beginning of the 21st century, Germany is experiencing a foreign policy renaissance: Afghanistan and missile defense, Iran, Iraq and China, energy security and EU reform, Kosovo and Russia. However, Germany neither understands the reasons for these developments, nor can it grasp the complexity of the fundamental global changes that exist behind the terminology.
And how could it? Germany does not even understand its own situation. It lacks the maturity to take a sober look at the world and its role in it; it lacks the composure for level-headed reactions. But time is short: Germany needs to grow up.
Germany’s recent history has been defined by self-imposed or forced weakness in foreign affairs: the tradition of German Romanticism, which made its last big appearance in the movement of ‘68; the rejection of liberal social and economic models that slowed our path to the West; the belief in the “German way,” which reigns in many places to this day; and finally, the moral bankruptcy and the inability to act after 1945—all these are traditions that prevent us from playing a proper role in world politics.
Still, history isn’t waiting. Germany has had full sovereignty since 1990. Since then, globalization has really begun to take off, fueled by the collapse of Communism, the opening of world markets, and the IT revolution. Germany emerged from this global shift as a resource-poor, export-dependent country with nine neighboring states. There was hardly a country that needed globalization as much as Germany. But with the arrival of these new market conditions, Germany chose not to join in the competition mêlée, and instead crawled back into its shell.
First and foremost, Germans perceive globalization as a risk which should be confronted with trade barriers and market protection. If given the chance, isolationism might even enjoy majority support here.
This is even more absurd when one considers the hopes that other nations have placed in us. Above all, Eastern Europeans and our EU partners expect a great, rich, democratic, peaceful, and neighborly country such as Germany to play a leading role. We have already been a leading power for a long time, but hardly acknowledge it. We still haven’t overcome the post-1945 social consensus—characterized by our self-doubt, the denial of basic political concepts such as power, strategy, interest and leadership, and the rejection of all things military. The country has hastily projected its outsized hopes of overcoming an essentially cruel world onto the EU and the UN. Yet Germany has had to discover time and again that neither Europe nor the UN will ever be capable of achieving this goal.
Examples of this immaturity—the product of a denial of reality and the wish for constant harmony—abound: it can be seen in the German majority against troop deployments, the Afghanistan coup by the Greens at the Göttingen party convention, the total lack of comprehension of the demands and difficulties America faces as a global superpower, and finally the irrational and uninformed debate over missile defense in Europe.
It is also mirrored in the naïve expectations toward the UN and EU, manifested in avoiding an honest debate over the connection between homeland and foreign security. And it culminates in the renewed calls for a permanent German seat on the Security Council, which fly in the face of reality.
The small group of politicians, journalists and academics who deal objectively with questions of international relations have no illusions about the drastically changing world we live in. But a large proportion of the public debate, which includes most journalistic, political, and intellectual circles, willfully denies the rapidly increasing price we pay for our freedom, security and prosperity. They cannot or do not want to know about the degree of unrest, the level of threat, or the extent of insecurity that we face today. This ignorance could itself become dangerous—in the long run, no democratic government can govern against strong public opinion.
What we need, therefore, is the hardest thing to achieve: a change of mentality. Germany must grow up—it needs to show its face and perceive the world as it is, trust itself, and employ realism in its thoughts and optimism in its actions.
Only then can the renaissance of foreign policy become a certificate of maturity for the “Berlin Republic.”
Jan Techau is the head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). From 2001 to 2006 he worked in the German Ministry of Defense. Techau studied politics in Kiel and at Pennsylvania State University.
This article was first published by Deutschlandradio. MP3 and transcript in German are available.
Translation by Cosmo MacFarlane
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