17 JULY 1993, Page 14


John Laughland catalogues

Germany's recent agonising efforts to create its very own foreign policy

Munich `WE REALLY must start having some for- eign policy again.' The German foreign minister's recent peremptory declaration sounded rather like the bourgeois gentle- man deciding to take dancing lessons. Like many of his compatriots, Herr Kinkel thinks of his country as emerging timidly from four decades of political hibernation, blinking and stumbling towards her place in the unaccustomed sunlight of world affairs. As the Germans have rule-books for most things, politics included, Herr Kinkel might turn to the Historical Lexicon of Socio-Political Language in Germany for help. But, alas for the diplomatic debutant, its 6,000-page section on 'Basic Historical Concepts' has no entries for 'Foreign Poli- cy', 'Foreign Relations', 'Diplomacy', `International Relations', or even for `Nation' or 'Nation State'.

No doubt Herr Kinkel would say that this just goes to show how unaccustomed Germany is to international politics. Because she is ever so guiltily conscious of the evil she perpetrated the last time she had a world role, this time round she wants to be seen to be doing the right thing. However, as the debate about her future world role gets under way, recent months have seen this reasonable preoccu- pation turn into something of an obses- sion, allowing it to determine both foreign and domestic policy-making.

When Herr Kinkel appeared before the German Constitutional Court last week to argue against the alleged illegality of the Maastricht Treaty, and found himself out- faced by the sophisticated juridical reason- ing of the Treaty's opponents, he turned to the judges and protested, 'You cannot throw this Treaty out. Germany's interna- tional reputation would suffer too much.' Even the judges found this argument (the diplomatic equivalent of 'Whatever will the neighbours say?') so obviously out of order that they told him to come back the next day with some better answers.

Worrying about the neighbours has always been a favourite German neurosis: being in the middle of Europe, Germany has more of them than most other coun- tries, and this gives her political life a whiff of suburbia. But last month Herr Kinkel used the very same argument in a debate on a totally separate matter, immigration policy. He spoke in favour of the new asy- lum bill, principally because he wanted to stop the Germans from incinerating any more Gastarbeiter. However, his remarks betrayed less concern with the repellence of the attacks themselves, and more with the damage they were doing to Germany's image abroad. Perhaps he got the idea from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which had written worriedly, The pho- tographs and reports of this violence go all around the world. As a result, foreigners invest less in Germany, they buy fewer German products out of protest, and they take their capital out of the country.'

Obsession with what others think is usu- ally a sign of self-doubt, or worse. To explain it, many Germans argue, like the

historian Sebastian Haffner, that 'Germany has forgotten how to use power'. An histo- rian of German foreign policy, Gregor Schollgen, points out that whereas in France there is still a political magazine called Geopolitique, that discipline has been so totally expunged from the German mind, following the discreditable use made of it by the Nazis, that the Germans are quite unprepared for the power of their recently re-acquired geopolitical position in the middle of Europe.

And so German politicians serve up con- stant bromides about not wanting more `power', but only more 'responsibility'. Last week, the Americans suggested giving Ger- many a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The proposal was immediately welcomed by Bonn, even though only three months ago Messrs Kohl and Kinkel had been ruling out such a step. (Hans-Dietrich Genscher used to say it would be like offering liqueur-filled choco- lates to an alcoholic.) The finance minister, Theo Waigel, spoke with pantomime bash- fulness: 'We did not ask for it; we pres- sured nobody. However,' he added magnanimously, 'we are ready to take on more responsibility.'

But the very manner in which recent for- eign policy decisions have been taken has betrayed a rather curious understanding of the notion of the political responsibility of which German politicians say they want more. In the last two months, the judges at the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe have been asked to rule on a whole series of pol- icy issues, including two significant foreign policy ones: whether the Constitution allows Luftwaffe engineers to repair the Awacs planes policing the no-fly zone over Bosnia; and whether German troops could be sent to Somalia as part of the UN contingent.

In the Awacs case, the court was asked to resolve a disagreement between the Free Democrats (whose leader is the foreign minister himself) and the Christian Democrats. It is rum that such political decisions should be left to judges; and even rummer that they explained their decision to approve the use of the engineers by say- ing, rather like Herr Kinkel, that there was a need to preserve Germany's image abroad — a very strange argument to hear in a court of law.

The court has in fact become a kind of Ersatz-Foreign Ministry. (Indeed, Ersatz- Parliament might be more accurate, for the court's hearings into Maastricht were far more interesting than anything which had been said in the Bundestag.) The use of apparently independent bodies for political purposes has become a German pastime: just as thorny foreign policy decisions go to the court in Karlsruhe, so difficult econom- ic choices are generally left to the Bundes- bank in Frankfurt. But the silly pretence that there were constitutional obstacles to the deployment of troops should have been dismissed from the outset; and so, far from showing evidence of a new willingness to assume political responsibility in the exer- cise of power, this use of the court has betrayed considerable readiness to abdi- cate from it.

Moreover, when Somalia was debated in the Bundestag, the discussion centred exclusively on the general question of whether Germany should be able to deploy its army outside the Nato area. Of the real issues — of Somalia itself, of the civil war and the famine, or even of Germany's gen- eral policy in Africa — there was not even the most superficial mention. The starving Somalis were mere diplomatic guinea-pigs in Germany's internal wrangles over her future foreign role, evidence of the old German tendency to discuss politics in excessively theoretical terms.

It will be a surprise for some to learn that Germany is a shrinking violet in inter- national politics. Hardly a day goes by without Chancellor Kohl or a member of the Bundesbank council demanding that the 'independent' European Central Bank — and de facto control of European mone- tary policy — be sited in Frankfurt. (One would think that if it is to be truly indepen- dent, it would not matter where it is sited; it is also curious that the EEC will not take this important decision until after the Treaty has been ratified.) But here, again, is the rub: excessive self-identification with

the abstract notion, 'Europe', nourishes this illusion of German political inno- cence, as does the fact that her strength is now monetary and economic rather than political or military.

There is now an increasingly widespread view among commentators and politicians that this German tendency to discuss poli- tics in abstract terms will be cured only if the country deigns to get its hands dirty in the political fray, and starts to throw its weight around. Michael Stunner, the his- torian and adviser to Chancellor Kohl, argues that Germany must 'come down from her position of moral outrage and political abstinence'; the foreign editor of Die Zeit insists that Germany needs 'more politics and fewer principles'; Arnulf Bar- ing, a professor of politics in Berlin, insists that states have no friends, only interests, and that Germany must start to pursue her own more vigorously; Gregor Schollgen insists, in a book on Germany's 'fear of power', that 'Germany must re-learn power politics'.

This is essentially a right-wing view, while the Left remains pacifist, abhorring the notion of Germany taking a stand on anything. Speaking at a foreign policy con- ference held under the kitschy slogan 'Peace — Prosperity — Co-operation', Theo Waigel attacked the Left, reproach- ing the Social Democrats for their opposi- tion to sending troops to Somalia. 'Ger- many cannot forever remain on an island of Saints,' he said. But his metaphor shows that, like the historians, he shares with the Left exactly the same old German preju- dice that politics is a messy, immoral busi- ness, and differs from them merely in thinking that Germany can no longer abstain from involvement in it.

In 1846, Lord Palmerston said, 'The real policy of England — apart from questions which involve her own particular interest, political or commercial — is to be the champion of justice and right.' One search- es in vain in Germany for such a balanced statement, where the possibility that poli- tics itself may be connected with moral principles does not seem to enter into the equation. Even on the Yugoslav issue, where Germany could have been the cham- pion of justice and right against the shabby Anglo-French alliance, there have just been a few ham-fisted interventions. Per- haps it is this mistrust of her own motives which explains the German need for reas- surance and the obsession with her image abroad; but there is precious little evidence of 'new thinking' here. On the contrary, as long ago as 1912, the Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, wrote dolefully, 'We Germans are too strong, too parvenu, and simply too repulsive to be liked.'