Courtesy Reuters

Germany's Russia Question

A New Ostpolitik for Europe

Last July, more than 200,000 people flocked to a public park in Berlin to hear Barack Obama, then the Democratic candidate for president of the United States, deliver a speech calling for renewed transatlantic partnership and cooperation. The choice of Germany's long-divided capital as the backdrop for his only public speech in Europe was deliberate. To the Germans listening to him that summer evening in the Tiergarten, Obama made a special appeal, citing "a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people," the same "dream of freedom" that was the basis of the relationship between the United States and West Germany during the Cold War. Now that Obama is president, will Germany respond to the call and join the United States as a key European partner in addressing global challenges and threats?

There are many reasons for Germany to rise to the occasion. For one, there is a dearth of leadership elsewhere in Europe. The European Union remains embroiled in a debate about institutional reform. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- despite his confidence during the current financial crisis -- remains disengaged from both the EU and the transatlantic alliance. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, shows more Atlanticist inclinations than any of his predecessors, but he has yet to prove that he can build lasting coalitions in Europe or convince his country of the need for economic modernization.

Likewise, there are many reasons why Obama should look to Germany for leadership: its 82 million inhabitants, its strategic location at the crossroads of the continent, and its strength as one of the world's foremost exporters, even in the current economic downturn. Germany has thoroughly examined its guilt for perpetrating the Holocaust and World War II -- and in the process has become a robust democracy. Since regaining full sovereignty after unification in 1990, Germany has developed an increasingly active foreign policy, with more than 6,500 troops currently dispatched on operations outside the country, from the Balkans to Afghanistan. Last October,

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