As part of the negotiations on German unification, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States renounced their Allied rights in Germany in 1990, and united Germany regained full sovereignty for the first time since 1945. In terms of population, Germany was now the largest European country west of the Soviet Union by far, and it was no longer situated on the border of two hostile alliances. The end of the East-West conflict created new opportunities for normalizing German foreign policy, but with these opportunities came the growing expectation that Germany would play an active role on the international stage. At the same time, however, there were also voices of criticism and concern, and those who feared the rise of German hegemony in Europe.
With the occupation of Kuwait by Iraqi troops in the summer of 1990 and the collapse of Yugoslavia, German politicians were forced into motion sooner than expected. Both German actions and international reactions were ambivalent at first. Germany played its customary role in the international coalition against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War (1990-91), offering financial support for military intervention but eschewing military involvement. Germany did, however, assume a controversial leadership role when Slovenia and Croatia, the first countries to secede from Yugoslavia, sought to have their sovereignty recognized under international law. Nevertheless, as before, German foreign policy remained centered on incorporating German interests into international organizations, supporting European integration (see Chapter 9), and cultivating transatlantic relations.
As new trouble spots emerged in Yugoslavia and Africa, Germany’s partners in the European alliance and the United States put growing pressure on Chancellor Helmut Kohl to assume more responsibility on the international stage, also in military matters. The Bundeswehr became more tightly integrated into NATO after the end of the Cold War as a result of a major change in security policy that gradually allowed the German military to be deployed in multilateral operations that went beyond the provision of humanitarian aid. A landmark decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court in 1994 paved the way for Bundeswehr participation in military interventions outside NATO territory, provided the Bundestag approved such action. After the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, the Bundestag approved the deployment of German soldiers as part of the peacekeeping mission in Croatia. Since then, the Bundeswehr has developed from a territorial defense army into an international deployment force. Since the 1990s, more than 160,000 soldiers have been deployed in international hot spots; the stationed troop contingents, however, are limited to a few thousand soldiers each. At the end of 2006, approximately 9,000 soldiers were on deployment. The German population’s response to foreign deployment ranges from skeptical to hostile; the public’s attitude toward “citizens in uniform” is politely distanced.
The expansion of the security doctrine largely took place during the red-green (i.e., SPD-Green Party) government coalition (1998-2005), and this made the task easier in some ways and more difficult in others. On the one hand, the expansion was more difficult under the SPD and the Greens because the two governing parties were known for their pacifist positions. As a result, internal party disputes were difficult and at times turbulent. (The about-face was possible because the memory of the Holocaust – “Auschwitz: never again” – was no longer used solely to justify pacifism but also to support military engagement in defense of human rights.) One the other hand, the expansion was also easier under the red-green coalition because the governing parties’ approval of military intervention in Kosovo and Afghanistan paved the way for a broad consensus in politics and society.
After the end of the Cold War, the Federal Republic – by virtue of its geographic location, economic strength, and historical ties – quickly became an important ally of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia (starting in 1933, the Czech Republic and Slovakia), reactions to Germany’s potential new role were divided: German politicians, companies, and organizations were important and welcome as advocates of the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union and as economic investors. But the persistent legacy of Hitler’s aggressive hegemonic and racist policies meant that Germany still had to dispel mistrust. A broad network of relationships quickly developed between Germany and Russia, with economic interests being predominant.
After Europe, the United States is Germany’s most important ally. Therefore, it was more than mere symbolism when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder promised full German solidarity in the fight against terror after the September 11th attacks. But shortly thereafter transatlantic relations soon took a sharp turn for the worse. The vehemence with which the red-green government under the leadership of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder spoke out against a war with Iraq – and its use of the issue as a campaign theme – riled Washington. In view of the United States’ special historical role in building up and defending the Federal Republic, many Germans were disquieted by these transatlantic troubles. There were demands for a return to good relations with the United States, but it was felt that these relations also had to take Germany’s expanded role in international affairs into account. The return to more relaxed relations was only a matter of time. The debate on the Iraq war also raised questions about the coherence of the Western alliance. Had different values developed in Europe and the United States – values that would strain European-American relations in the long term (again see Chapter 9)?
The conflict over the Iraq war made it clear, once again, that while German politicians feel a responsibility toward multilateral foreign policy, they are also inclined to articulate national interests more strongly than in the past, adding Germany’s greater international influence to the balance. These ambitions are not new, but the pace at which Germany established itself as a middle power accelerated after unification and continued to accelerate during Gerhard Schröder’s chancellorship. The limits of Germany’s strength as a middle power became clear, however, when it strove for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council in the early 1990s. Since Germany’s foreign and security policies are supported by a broad consensus of all significant political forces, changes in government do not generally bring significant shifts in foreign policy priorities.