Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft
International Politics and Society 1/2004


About this edition

After reunification and the attainment of full sovereignty, Germany and its partners needed to redefine Germany’s role in the network of international relations. Germany, now a “normal” nation state, was taking on new responsibilities worldwide, which included where necessary the use of “normal” military means. At the same time, however, German foreign policy opted for predictability and remained embedded in its European and transatlantic alliances.

The disputes before and during the war in Iraq indicate that old role relationships are once more being called into question. In this situation of uncertainty and turmoil, the Federal Chancellor’s talk of a “German path” suggested the will to pursue a self-assured, independent policy. But this concept also revived associations with Germany’s “Sonderweg” (special path) of the past, and thus concerns that it might make a dangerous departure from the path of normality. This reveals how much the debate is characterized by the burden of history and the ambivalence of the concepts. “Special paths” are dangerous, although the right to choose an autonomous, country–specific path is a normal element of a community of sovereign nation states. On the other hand, the talk of “normality” in the German debate often triggers negative reflexes, because it is associated with a suppression of historical responsibility. Or because a quiet departure from the special role of “civilian power” is suspected, which commits Germany above all to pursue a norm-oriented policy.

This edition of INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND SOCIETY sets out to analyze the sensitive issue of Germany’s role from a variety of viewpoints. Adam Krzeminski observes Germany’s attempts to assert itself since reunification from a Polish perspective. While historical self-limitations are being discarded, the Germans seem to be rediscovering their role as victims, rather than perpetrators. This, however, arouses old fears among the “foreign victims” of German history. The sovereign, non-revisionist handling of its own past, which Germany especially encounters in its relations with Poland, is – according to Krzeminski – a measure of Germany’s European orientation, which for its part is indispensable for the success of the whole process of European integration.

Anne-Marie Le Gloannec discerns a change of direction in German foreign policy, also in regard to Europe. Although the mantra of multilateralism still prevails in Germany’s foreign policy approach, it is more than ever subject to the temptation to pursue its own national interests and follow unilateral paths. This trend, however, is thoroughly “normal” – to use the term once more – because the very patterns of multilateralism are – according to Le Gloannec – in a process of radical change at the international level. Particularly in the EU, short-term coalitions and alliances are increasingly taking over from the firm partnerships of old.

European interests are giving way to short-term national interests. A similar change of pattern, from values to interests, is characteristic of German-American relations. Stephen Szabo concludes that the transatlantic friendship will not revert to its old form, even after a possible change of leadership. The changes in the strategic landscape are too fundamental, and due to the generational change  obligations and bonds formerly anchored in German society have become weaker. A new strategic consensus is possible, but the “German question”, which lurks behind worries about a new “special path”, will in the future mainly have to be answered in Europe.

These analyses consistently emphasize one point: Germany has not become any easier to deal with as a partner, but equally the environment surrounding the Berlin republic has become rougher and more uncertain than before. This raises the question of a foreign policy strategy for the Federal Republic. Joscha Schmierer and Alfred Pfaller have approached this from different viewpoints and reached similar conclusions: integration and co-operation are the keywords in the German state’s raison d’état. In contrast, thinking in terms of zero-sum games, old alliances and balances of power is useless, even dangerous. To resolve the tensions between the world of states, the world economy and the emerging world society, requires integrated and integrative strategies. These new challenges can not be tackled alone, not even by the USA, which – according to Schmierer – as the only remaining superpower may not really be a superpower (cf. also the review essay by Stephan Böckenförde). Schmierer recommends an alliance of democracies within the United Nations, which Germany can support via an “integration policy” on several levels. In addition, the economic aspect of security policy is central, as Pfaller points out. Economic growth and a reordering of the world economy in favour of the South are vital levers for reaching the goal of global societal stabilization. These strategic recommendations do not at all mean an idealistic denial of the concept of national interest, which would hardly stand a chance given the Zeitgeist described by Le Gloannec. What is called for is an appropriate definition of interests in an age of globalization, which includes in its calculations the long-term benefits of global commitment and the profits of co-operation.

This rationalistic approach seems to reach its limits, however, where security is threatened by international Islamic terrorism. Conflict situations, in which one side has subordinated its own survival to religiously legitimized aims such as destruction and revenge, seem hardly compatible with the search for win-win solutions. In fact, though, the roots and origins of international terrorism are very amenable to rational analysis, as Herbert Kitschelt shows. International terrorism is foremost a specific strategy – and indeed a strategy of weakness – which is chosen in quite specific economic and political situations. If at present these conditions are mainly to be found in the Middle East, this has nothing to do with the inherent features of the Islamic religion. Kitschelt uncovers a complex chain of causes which begins with “predatory rule”. Political regimes of this kind principally aim at securing short-term enrichment for their elites, block socio-economic development and economic openness, and thereby cause social deprivation and discontent in large segments of society.                 

This link in the chain is analysed from a different angle by Wolfgang Merkel and Mirko Krück. Is it true that such social injustice is likely to be avoided under democratic rule? A statistical analysis of 124 states suggests the answer is yes. Countries and regions that respect political rights and civil liberties generally demonstrate a more just distribution of opportunities and life chances.

The specific development prospects of two countries that at present frequently hit the headlines in world politics, are at the centre of the contributions by Peter Gey and Sergei Medvedev. North Korea, chiefly known as part of the “Axis of Evil”, as a land where atomic weapons are defiantly produced while children are starving, has recently introduced Soviet-style economic reforms. However, as Gey shows, the chances of success are rather bleak. Erosion of the state economy is barely being slowed down. Rather, the measures introduced will cause further misery for the country’s population. Nor are there alternative reforms within the socialist model in sight.

Sergei Medvedev also sees little reason for optimism in his comparison of various scenarios for Russia’s future. With the arrest of the oil millionaire Michail Chodorkowski in autumn 2003, a new round was started in the power struggle between the state bureaucracy, old security elites and the oligarchs of Russia’s private economy. It is unlikely, either in the short or medium term, that this struggle will lead towards democratic modernization. Russia’s president faces the options, either of combining the “managed democracy” with bureaucratic capitalism – not that far away from “predatory rule” described by Kitschelt – or to use centralized power for modernization and economic liberalization. Given favourable conditions, the latter scenario could at some time set a course for political liberalization. For this Russia also needs – according to Medvedev – international institutions and norms which support a liberal path. For, just as in Germany, and probably for the good, debates about identity and normality in the age of globalization are not conducted in national isolation.       

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | net edition malte.michel | 12/2003