The great foreign policy debate in Germany has only just begun. In fact, the very nature of the foreign policy actor, Germany, is still disputed. Is this a new Germany or just an enlarged Federal Republic? After the first unification of Germany in 1871 it was clear to all that Europe had to deal with a new power. For all the underlying continuity of Prussian policy, the new German empire, or second Reich, was not just Prussia writ large.

Following the second unification of Germany, the change has been much less immediately visible. Externally, this unification was achieved by telephone and checkbook rather than blood and iron. Internally, the constitutional form of unification was the straight accession of the former German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic. The larger Federal Republic continues to be integrated in the European Union (EU), NATO and other leading institutions of Western internationalism. Nor has much changed on the surface of everyday life in western (formerly West) Germany. Last but not least, there has been the emphatic continuity of government policy so massively embodied by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in all senses one of the largest figures in European politics today.

This year Germany has no fewer than 19 elections, culminating in the national election on October 16. The present conservative-liberal coalition, composed of the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union and the Free Democratic Party, is not certain to return to office. Yet Kohl’s Social Democrat rival for the chancellorship, Rudolf Scharping, is going to extraordinary lengths to reassure German voters and the outside world that there will be almost no change in German foreign policy if his party comes into power.

In time, however, the deep underlying changes in the country’s internal and external position must affect Germany’s foreign policy. Even if foreign policy is not itself a major election issue, the elections will catalyze the process.


Within Germany, analysis and prescription are inextricably intertwined. Claims about what Germany is are also assertions about what Germany should be. The state in question continues to be called Bundesrepublik Deutschland, which is officially translated as "the Federal Republic of Germany," but is literally "Federal Republic Germany."

Some argue passionately that what really matters in the name is still the "Federal Republic": a post-national democracy with constitutional-patriotism in place of nationalism and state sovereignty devolved both downward to the federal states and upward to "Europe," meaning the EU. Others say that what really matters now is the "Germany," which should aim to become a "normal nation-state" like Britain or France, with all the traditional attributes of sovereignty, a great capital called Berlin, plain unhyphenated patriotism and the responsible but determined pursuit of national interest. Most fall somewhere in between, both seeing that Germany has and feeling that it should have a new mixture of the two, as the state name implies. But what mixture?

This Germany is larger, more powerful and more sovereign, and it occupies a more central geopolitical position than the old Federal Republic. Some German commentators have sweepingly asserted that Germany is now back in the old Mittellage of the Bismarckian second Reich: that fateful monkey-in-the-middle situation to which a long line of conservative German historians have attributed the subsequent, erratic and finally aggressive foreign policy of the Reich. Others say that Germany is again a central European state, or even the center of Europe. Such striking claims need to be examined skeptically.

The leaders of the old Federal Republic were always deeply conscious of Germany’s Cold War position as the divided center of a divided Europe and Berlin’s position as the divided center of the divided center. The foreign policy of the Bonn republic was made under constant tension between its western and eastern ties. The Bonn government was vulnerable to blackmail from Moscow and East Berlin. Today Germany has no such dependency on the East. The last Russian soldier will leave Germany by the end of August 1994. In terms of its constitutional order and international ties, Germany is now more fully in the West than it was throughout the Cold War.

Many German politicians like to say that Germany’s integration into the West, and specifically into Europe, that is, EU-rope, is irreversible. Since European history offers few examples of the irreversible integration of states into larger entities, and since the years following the end of the Cold War have been rich in examples of the opposite, this claim is bold, if not foolhardy. To observe that the West sorely misses the Soviet negative integrator has become a truism. Nonetheless, the single market and political institutions of the EU, the integrated command of NATO and all the associated habits of permanent cooperation are different in kind from earlier alliances between European states.

Geographically, this Germany also lies more to the west than did the Bismarckian Reich. A glance at the historical atlas shows Germany sprawling across east-central Europe, with Prussia stretching into what is now Lithuania and the Russian territory of Kaliningrad (formerly Kšnigsberg). Today’s political map shows a compact territory west of the Oder and Neisse rivers and the diamond wedge of Bohemia. Germany still faces sensitive special eastern issues, but the country’s center lies westward.

In 1967 Federal Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger observed that a reunited Germany would have a "critical size . . . too big to play no part in the balance of forces and too small to keep the forces around it in balance by itself." Exactly so. Germany is now the most powerful country in Europe. But it is not a superpower. It has great assets in each of the three main dimensions of power, the military, the economic and the social. But it also has special liabilities in each department.

Militarily, Germany has some of the largest and best-armed forces in Europe. However, in the "2 plus 4" unification treaty, the new Federal Republic solemnly reaffirmed the old Federal Republic’s commitment not to acquire atomic, biological or chemical weapons. This may change. One cannot take post-Hitler public abhorrence for national military power as a permanent given. If Germany were not, in the longer term, to seek enhancement of this dimension of its power, to complement or buttress the other two, it would be behaving differently from most large states in history. But for the moment, several statements can be made with confidence. Germany is not in the world super league of military power. It is still virtually unthinkable that a German government would use force or the threat of force unilaterally to achieve a national goal, except the defense of its own territory. Any qualitative upgrading of its military power, including some form of control over nuclear weapons, would almost certainly come in a multilateral (probably European) context.

Economically, Germany is in the super league, and this power has been actively deployed, although in two distinct ways. First, economic instruments and incentives have been liberally and skillfully used by the German government to achieve its foreign policy goals. Second, the Bundesbank’s single-minded pursuit of domestic monetary and fiscal policy objectives has had a direct impact on the economies of Germany’s neighbors and trading partners, and hence on the country’s foreign relations. The Bundesbank has, as it were, made foreign policy by not making foreign policy.

However, Germany is now afflicted by a double economic crisis. There is, obviously, the massive cost of incorporating and reconstructing the former East Germany. But there is also, less obviously, the crisis of the old West German "social market economy," which was already beginning to lose its competitive edge before unification.

Experts differ on how far and how fast Germany will surmount this double crisis, but for the next few years the consequences for foreign policy are clear. If Germany is still most unlikely to use guns as an instrument of foreign policy, neither will it be so ready to use butter. All decisions, including those inside the EU, will be scrutinized more closely for their impact on German budgets and competitiveness in European and world markets.

The third dimension of power has to do with the overall attractiveness of a particular society, culture and way of life. Its crudest measure is the number of people inside a country who want to get out compared to the number outside who want to get in. (One might call this the Statue of Liberty test.) In the 1980s this was a vital component of German power. Germany, seen in 1945 as a threat and a synonym for horror, had by 1985 become a model and magnet (West Germany, that is). When in 1989 people east of the Iron Curtain spoke of returning to Europe and normality, West Germany was a central part of the liberal, democratic, civil and bourgeois "normality" they had in mind.

But this achievement too is under stress. The exemplary openness and civility of the old Federal Republic have not yet been restored across its larger territory. This failure is not simply a case of easterners exhibiting the pathologies of post-communism. It is as much a problem of the condescending and at times frankly neocolonial attitudes of westerners toward easterners. There is more than a grain of bitter truth in the joke that when in 1989 the East Germans started chanting, "We are one people," the West Germans replied, "So are we."

The seemingly open, tolerant, civil society of the old West Germany has, in the last four years, too often looked like a spoiled, defensive consumer society, both demanding and assuming perpetual economic growth while yearning for the lost comfort of living with one’s back to the Berlin Wall. Where easterners and westerners have found common ground, it has sometimes been in scapegoating the foreigners who have been admitted to the country in large numbers but given citizenship less liberally. At times, it seems as though the Federal Republic has grown in size but shrunk in spirit. These strains and the extreme voices they breed on the right and left will play into the political process through this year’s elections. A nation still preoccupied with becoming one nation may have less time and patience, as well as less money, for foreign policy.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1968, memorably defined Germany as "a former country in Central Europe." Today Germany is a country in west-central Europe. In fact, together with Austria, it is west-central Europe. It is a Western state, but one directly confronting many of the problems characteristic of the former communist East. A troubled, medium-heavyweight power, and a nation in its perennial condition of becoming.


What foreign policy will be made on these substantial but shifting foundations, and how will it be made? It is sometimes suggested that Germany lacks a political class or internationalist elite such as can be found in Paris, London or Washington. Yet Germany does not want for highly sophisticated, knowledgeable, multilingual practitioners and analysts of foreign affairs (including many of those who make this criticism).

It is true that a middle generation of politicians is coming into power with little experience beyond the professional party politics of the Federal Republic. But the same could be said of Kohl when he came to Bonn and of many American presidents. Some learn on the job. It is true that no one in Germany expected or was prepared for the quantum leap in Germany’s power and responsibilities following unification. But neither were American elites prepared for the United States’ quantum leap in the second half of the 1940s. They rose to the occasion.

Germany has a much less clear preponderance of wealth and power than the United States did a half-century ago, and a far more difficult geopolitical situation. But something of the human challenge for leadership, and the excitement that goes with such a challenge, is palpably there in Germany (and palpably not in France or Britain). Besides the question of personal qualities, however, there are those of process and tradition.

The foreign policy process in Germany labors under some disadvantages familiar to other Western democracies. As in all television democracies, German politicians often seem to be following public or published opinion rather than leading it. (It was this, and not any subtle or sinister calculation of national interest, that prompted Germany’s initiative for the diplomatic recognition of Croatia in 1991.) The fact that responsibility for foreign policy is divided between a chancellor and a foreign minister from different political parties can on occasion make for more heat than light. And both the Bundesbank in Frankfurt and the constitutional court in Karlsruhe have become, rather against their will, important institutions in foreign policy.

Nonetheless, Germany has over the last 30 years pursued one of the most consistent foreign policies of any Western power. As a result, it has a well-formed foreign policy tradition. This tradition, a blend of Adenauerian Westpolitik and Brandtian Ostpolitik, has several distinctive features. Besides the renunciation of force and the pursuit of reconciliation with former foes, there is what one might call attritional multilateralism. German diplomacy has excelled at the patient, discreet pursuit of national goals through multilateral institutions and negotiations, whether in the European Community, NATO or the Helsinki process.

Closely related to this is the habitual conflation of German and European interests. In the German case, this policy has not merely been the familiar old European game of pursuing national interests in Europe’s name. In postwar German politics there has also been a great deal of genuine idealistic commitment to the process of European integration. But for that very reason, German policymakers have sometimes found it difficult to distinguish between the one and the other.

At the same time, running like a leitmotiv through the history of the Federal Republic has been the effort, under all chancellors, to widen the bounds of German sovereignty and power. Certainly, German chancellors were at the same time busily and demonstratively surrendering elements of sovereignty to Europe. But the paradoxical effect of this readiness to surrender sovereignty was to convince Germany’s key allies and partners that Germany could again be trusted with full sovereignty. It was by laying on the golden handcuffs that Germany set itself free.

Also ingrained in this tradition are the politics of sowohl-als-auch: not either-or, but as-well-as. The essence and great achievement of Genscherism was to maintain and improve Germany’s ties with a wide range of states, which were themselves pursuing quite different and contradictory objectives. This complex balancing act involved saying somewhat different things in different places. Fudge was the hard core of Genscherism. This may not always have endeared Bonn to its more plain-spoken friends, but such an approach was well-suited to the achievement of Germany’s aims in the last two decades of the Cold War.

This foreign policy culminated in a success beyond the dreams of those who made it. So it is not surprising that the first inclination of German policymakers was to stick with it. Even after the retirement of Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 1992, the motto of the foreign ministry was, "Herr Genscher is gone, long live Genscherism!"

Yet the policy that served the old Federal Republic so well is less appropriate for the new one. The state’s external dependencies have been decisively reduced, but the external demands on it have significantly increased, and the resources to meet those demands have not grown commensurately. In the short term they have shrunk. The conclusion should be plain: the Federal Republic can and should make clearer choices than in the past. These are not absolute "either-or" choices, to some extent, all major states have to genscher, but choices of priorities: between the demands of its special relationship with the United States and those of its special relationship with France, between deepening the existing European Union around the Franco-German core and widening it to include Germany’s immediate eastern neighbors, between relations with east-central Europe and those with Russia. Not all these things are compatible. Certainly not all can be done at once.

The obvious starting point for determining such priorities would be a definition of the national interest. However, the German national interest is particularly difficult to define when the nation itself is still in the making. Moreover, in Germany merely stating that one should define the national interest is controversial. Those who believe that the Federal Republic is or should be a post-national democracy on the path to a genuine European union regard the very notion of defining the national interest as suspect, retrograde, even reactionary. On the other hand, those who wish to see Germany become a normal nation-state use the idea of defining the national interest almost as a campaign slogan.

Yet this argument is itself a sign that a major foreign policy debate is slowly getting under way. In newspaper columns, speeches and Germany’s ubiquitous television talk shows one can hear echoes of some of the great debates of the 1950s and 1960s, the Charlemagne school of West European integrationists, the German Gaullists, the Atlanticists, the Ludwig Erhard economic mondialistes, as well as snatches of much older tunes.


To sharpen the debate let us consider four possible priorities for German foreign policy after 1994, with several factors militating for and against their adoption.

Carolingian Completion

For this school, the top priority would be a decisive further deepening of the existing European Union around a Franco-German core. Germany, France and the Benelux countries would go ahead of other member states, in the variable-speed Europe for which the Maastricht treaty in fact allows. Monetary union would be achieved in this core group around the end of the century, and prove a decisive step, as it was in German unification, toward political union. In ten years one would have, if not a United States of Europe, then at least a Confederal Republic of North-Western Europe, Charlemagne’s empire in a new form.

For: This has been the personal top priority of Helmut Kohl and seems to be high on the personal list of Rudolf Scharping. (Not accidentally, both men have been prime minister of the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, a region with close historical ties to France.) The Paris-Bonn axis has a 30-year track record and personal and institutional momentum. This simplistic version of Europe as an answer to the German question still has some appeal: it looks like somewhere for Germany to go. Maastricht, wrote President Richard von Weizsacker, offers Germany "the chance of being delivered from the Mittellage."

Against: The Franco-German relationship has been rocky since German unification. It is far from certain that the Euro-idealism of the middle and younger generations in Germany is as widespread or deep as that of the immediate postwar generation. In this respect Helmut Kohl begins to look like a magnificent dinosaur. His likely successors have a more hard-nosed view of the EU. So do many of Rudolf Scharping’s colleagues in the leadership of the Social Democrats.

More broadly, over the last two years Germany has experienced the popular reaction, also seen elsewhere in Europe, against the Messina-to-Maastricht model of functionalist, bureaucratic European integration from above. An appeal to the constitutional court against the Maastricht treaty meant that Germany was actually the last country in Europe to ratify it. The court produced a complicated judgment that nonetheless drew a clear line against any automatic progress to monetary union. As German budgets are squeezed, there is growing resentment of the outsize German contribution to the EU’s budget. The outspokenly Euro-skeptical Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, sometimes jovially dubbed "Edmund Thatcher," is an extreme case, but not simply an aberration.

German banking and business circles are also far from enthusiastic about European monetary union. By and large, they think a single market can operate perfectly well without it. Further steps toward economic, monetary and social policy harmonization in the EU are not calculated to sharpen Germany’s competitive edge in other markets.

Underneath, there is the deeper matter of sovereignty. It is one thing to surrender sovereignty in order to regain it. But has Germany now regained sovereignty only to surrender it? Even for the world’s most dialectical nation, this may be a twist too far.

Wider Europe

Whatever anyone says, there is a day-to-day tension between concentrating on deepening or on widening the EU. This brings us to a second possible priority: widening the EU and NATO to include Germany’s eastern neighbors. Germany would do everything in its power to ensure that within ten years the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia would follow Austria, Sweden, Norway and Finland (the "eftans") into the European Union, the West European Union and NATO. Beyond this it would try to help the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and, if they really became peaceful democracies, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, to prepare themselves to follow over the next decade. Europe would be built from EU-rope out.

Naturally, this approach would involve further derogations from the idea of the single acquis communautaire, with long economic transition periods for new member states and further special provisions of the kind seen in every earlier round of enlargement. Nonetheless, Germany would aim to preserve, in this Europe of more than 20 states and 400 million people, the present historically unprecedented level of permanent, institutionalized interstate cooperation, with major elements of economic and legal integration.

For: Germany has already shown a major interest in enlargement. Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel was instrumental in pushing the negotiations with the eftans to a successful conclusion. Building on the achievements of a quarter-century of Ostpolitik, Germany has over the last four years played a leading and constructive role in east-central Europe (some problems connected with present or past German minorities notwithstanding). It has an obvious vital interest in having peaceful, stable democracies at its eastern frontier. Poland is now less than an hour’s drive from Berlin, or a few minutes by fighter plane. It is no accident that the German defense minister, Volker Ruhe, was the only senior Western minister to come out clearly in favor of a rapid enlargement of NATO to include Germany’s eastern neighbors.

Perhaps there is still a little gratitude for what brave Poles, clever Hungarians and principled Czechs did to make German unification possible. The (exaggerated) fear of mass immigration from the east has also concentrated minds on this issue. Enlargement would expand the internal European market for German goods. German manufacturers are already taking advantage of the much cheaper skilled labor to be found just over the border by relocating production there. Last, but by no means least, Germany would be at the center of this wider Europe.

Against: This option would have substantial short-term costs. Unlike the eftans, these new members would definitely not be net contributors to the EU budget. Cheaper imports from east-central Europe could also undercut more expensive German products. In the short term, keeping industrial jobs in Bohemia could mean losing them in Bavaria. In the long term, such a bracing wind of competition would be good for the German economy, just as the North American Free Trade Agreement will be good for the American economy. But tell that to German trade unions and to voters already peevish about not getting richer.

Such an opening to the east would also be resisted by some of Germany’s less economically developed EU partners. (Keeping agricultural jobs in Polish Galicia can mean losing them in Spanish Galicia.) As now constituted, the EU aggregates rather than transcends national, sectoral and regional special interests. Hence its continued overt and covert protectionism against eastern goods. Thus far, Germany’s key European partner, France, has been extremely reluctant about enlargement, preferring to keep a smaller Europe with France still at its center.

There is no major lobby for this option in Germany. Less tangibly, there is no great tradition of Germany giving priority to its poorer and weaker eastern neighbors. Historically, when Germany looked east, it looked to Russia; this brings us to the third possible priority.

Moscow First

This is the classic eastern option of German foreign policy. The new-old great power in the center of Europe develops a new-old special relationship with what is still the most powerful state in eastern Europe. In doing so, over the heads of the peoples between, it argues that such a policy best serves the interests of Europe, indeed of the world. For what could be more important than a cooperative, peaceful or, at least, stable Russia?

For: Perhaps there is still gratitude for Moscow having agreed to German unification. Some may still see a grand symbiosis between Russia’s abundant raw materials and primary energy sources and Germany’s know-how (Germany as Ivan Stolz to Russia’s Oblomov). There is also that part of German foreign policy tradition that puts order before freedom. Finally, there is fear.

Against: This is the great development that has not occurred over the last four years. In 1989-90 there was real German-Soviet euphoria. Germany’s western and eastern neighbors looked anxiously for signs of one of Europe’s oldest special relationships developing out of "Stavrapallo," as the Kohl-Gorbachev accord of mid-July 1990 was dubbed. Subsequently, Germany has given the lion’s share of Western economic assistance to Russia (although much of the German contribution has been specifically related to unification or tied to trade promotion). Helmut Kohl has tried to establish with the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, something of the personal rapport he had with Mikhail Gorbachev.

But, if anything, the Bonn government has privileged the relationship with east-central Europe over that with Moscow. And if anyone has had a policy of "Moscow First," it has been the Clinton administration. In one of those curious transatlantic role reversals that happen from time to time, the United States has played Germany to Yeltsin’s Russia, while Germany has played America to east-central Europe.

If the Bill Clinton-Strobe Talbott gamble were to have paid off, that is, if Russia were set on course to become a cooperative capitalist democracy, then there would be a powerful case for Germany giving priority to its relations with Russia. But it has not, and it seems unlikely that it will in the foreseeable future. A strong but cooperative Russia would be a great partner for Germany. A weak but cooperative Russia could still be a partner. A strong but uncooperative Russia would be a sparring partner. But a Russia that is both weak and uncooperative?

World Power

Germany would give top priority to seeking both the rights and the duties of a world power, starting, of course, with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. The Federal Republic would seize with both hands the United States’ offer to be "partners in leadership." As once America was (reluctantly) prepared to "take up the White Man’s burden" from Britain, to use Rudyard Kipling’s disgracefully non-pc phrase, so now Germany would take up the GI’s burden. This would mean enhancing its military power to match its economy, size and social magnetism. Thus equipped, Germany would be the captain of a great European trading bloc, dealing as an equal with the United States, the captain of the North American bloc, and with Japan and China, rival captains of the Asian bloc(s).

For: Such a prospect would appeal to many nations. The quiet widening of the bounds of German power has been a central purpose of the foreign policy of the Federal Republic for more than 40 years, and old habits die hard. The idea of Germany as a normal nation-state, taking its rightful place at the head table of world politics, is one of the two main visions of Germany currently being canvassed there.

The United States seems to have few qualms about German leadership in Europe; it has even pressed the role on it. This American encouragement is accompanied by the implied threat of a continued reduction of the American military commitment to Europe, an old familiar theme from the history of transatlantic relations, but more credible in the post-Cold War world.

This priority could find support among both the Atlanticist and the economic mondialiste tendencies in Germany. America, too, was historically drawn from being a continental trading state, protected by the military power of others, to doing its own protecting and power projecting.

Against: Germany is not like most nations. It has special burdens of history and self-doubt. Hitler and Auschwitz are less than a human lifetime away. For all the profound, historic changes in Germany, for all the trust in the liberal, democratic Federal Republic, many people around Germany and, quite as important, many Germans would be loath to see it even attempting to play such a role. Moreover, it is not big enough, not powerful enough, not rich enough. Germany does not even have that preponderance in Europe that America had in the world in 1945. If, however, the proposition were that of being junior partner to the United States, this policy would soon reactivate the complex but deep reactions known by the simplistic label of "anti-Americanism." The other three possible priorities seem closer to German concerns and better matched to Germany’s means.


What, then, will Germany choose? It will, I think, choose not to choose. True to its foreign policy tradition, the Federal Republic will try to do a little of all the above. Sowohl-als-auch, or, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, "If you see a fork in the road, take it!" This tendency will be strengthened by any likely outcome of the 1994 elections.

Even without Genscher, Germany will genscher. To some extent this is inevitable for a major power in Germany’s complex geopolitical position. But with increased demands on limited resources, the danger is that by trying to do everything Germany will end up achieving nothing.

Moreover, to choose not to choose does not mean you make no choices. It means only that the choices will be made reactively, as a response to the combination of unexpected external developments (especially in eastern and southeastern Europe) and internal pressures from political, published and public opinion. Again, this phenomenon is not peculiar to Germany. In a way, it is further proof of the Americanization of the Federal Republic. That may be small consolation.

In a probably vain attempt to make this prophecy self-negating, I shall now take the liberty of saying what I think Germany should do.

I am deeply convinced that Germany should pursue the second option: giving top priority for the next 20 years to building a wider Europe, extending the EU and NATO eastward step by step.

Of course Germany could not do this alone. It would need to win the agreement and active support of the United States, France, Britain, Italy and, so far as possible, other EU partners, for this priority. American support should and probably would be the easiest to secure. Although on present form one must seriously doubt the capacity of British politics to produce any coherent European policy at all, such a redefinition of European purpose, starting with the advance planning for the EU’s intergovernmental conference in 1996, would be a way out of Britain’s present hiding to nowhere. Britain could and should take it.

Italy has traditionally been a passionate advocate of deepening rather than widening the existing European Union, but with a new foreign minister who was a founding member of the Thatcherite Bruges Group, with its own interests in central and eastern Europe, and with scant likelihood of itself being included in a Carolingian inner core of European monetary union, Italy too might now be ready to embrace this priority. The most difficult partner to win for such a course is also the most important one: France. Helped by the United States, Britain and Italy, Germany would simply have to argue the case to its closest European partner, and even now there are signs of a revision of France’s defensive little-Europe strategy.

In Germany, the argument for this priority is generally made negatively, in terms of the threat of mass immigration, the dangers of instability in eastern Europe, even the need for a cordon sanitaire. It can and should be made positively.

The voluntary westernization of what became West Germany after 1945 was a peaceful revolution for the better. (A revolution was proclaimed in the East, but happened in the West.) With all its faults, the old Federal Republic was a model bourgeois democracy and the best German state in history. But the job was only half done: West Germany’s inner security and peace of mind came from its firm geopolitical and existential anchoring in the West; its insecurity, uncertainty and even schizophrenia came from the ghosts of the past and the fact of division.

Now it has a historic chance to finish the job. To recreate those virtues of the old Federal Republic across its larger territory, and find a lasting inner equilibrium, Germany not only needs to achieve the westernization of the former East Germany. It also needs to assist in the westernization on which the new democracies to its east have themselves embarked, and to bring them into the structures of Western and European integration to which the Federal Republic already belongs. If you really want to be a normal country like Britain, France or America, then you need Western neighbors to your east.

The strategic goal of German foreign policy in the 20 years after 1970 could be summarized in one sentence from the so-called letter on German unity: "to work toward a state of peace in Europe in which the German people regains its unity in free self-determination." The strategic goal of German foreign policy for the next 20 years should be to work toward a state of freedom in Europe in which Germany has Western allies and partners to its east.

This is not only a clear, positive goal. It is also a realistic one, proportionate to the country’s size, resources and the limited readiness of its citizens to sustain larger external commitments. More would be less.

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  • Timothy Garton Ash is a Fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and author most recently of In Europe’s Name: Germany and the Divided Continent.
  • More By Timothy Garton Ash