In Other Words

Can Germany Grow up?

WeltTrends, (WorldTrends), Fall 2000, Potsdam When German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder arrived at United Nations headquarters in New York City for the U.N.’s Millennium Summit last September, he brought with him a pet concern of Germany’s foreign-policy elite — a bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Schröder announced that, should the U.N. ...

WeltTrends, (WorldTrends), Fall 2000, Potsdam

When German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder arrived at United Nations headquarters in New York City for the U.N.'s Millennium Summit last September, he brought with him a pet concern of Germany's foreign-policy elite -- a bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Schröder announced that, should the U.N. increase the number of permanent Security Council members, Germany would be ready to accept "adequate responsibility." In doing so, Schröder echoed the opinion of an increasingly vocal segment of Germans: that after 50 years of restraint, Germany must shed its reputation as an economic giant, but a foreign-policy dwarf.

Western politicians and diplomats have already let fly with skeptical, albeit unofficial, takes on the readiness of Germany's foreign-policy elite to follow through on their internationalist intentions. And in Germany itself, some doubt that the government or the public are ready to handle high-profile international politics (not to mention military conflicts). In the German foreign-policy journal WeltTrends, Leipzig University political scientist Hartmut Elsenhans argues that these doubts are due to Germany's history -- and by that, he means more than just World War II. Taken together, Prussia's focus on the European continent, plus Germany's belated arrival as a nation, its lack of a colonial past, and its postwar focus on European politics have produced a parochial foreign-policy tradition. According to Elsenhans, the German elite has never learned a basic ingredient of world leadership: the cosmopolitanism necessary to co-opt client-state elites and build informal international coalitions.

WeltTrends, (WorldTrends), Fall 2000, Potsdam

When German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder arrived at United Nations headquarters in New York City for the U.N.’s Millennium Summit last September, he brought with him a pet concern of Germany’s foreign-policy elite — a bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Schröder announced that, should the U.N. increase the number of permanent Security Council members, Germany would be ready to accept "adequate responsibility." In doing so, Schröder echoed the opinion of an increasingly vocal segment of Germans: that after 50 years of restraint, Germany must shed its reputation as an economic giant, but a foreign-policy dwarf.

Western politicians and diplomats have already let fly with skeptical, albeit unofficial, takes on the readiness of Germany’s foreign-policy elite to follow through on their internationalist intentions. And in Germany itself, some doubt that the government or the public are ready to handle high-profile international politics (not to mention military conflicts). In the German foreign-policy journal WeltTrends, Leipzig University political scientist Hartmut Elsenhans argues that these doubts are due to Germany’s history — and by that, he means more than just World War II. Taken together, Prussia’s focus on the European continent, plus Germany’s belated arrival as a nation, its lack of a colonial past, and its postwar focus on European politics have produced a parochial foreign-policy tradition. According to Elsenhans, the German elite has never learned a basic ingredient of world leadership: the cosmopolitanism necessary to co-opt client-state elites and build informal international coalitions.

Ralf J. Leiteritz of the World Bank agrees that Germans are ill-suited for an international role, but he blames Germany’s outdated university system. Unlike the United States, Great Britain, and France, Germany has almost no specialized schools that produce foreign-policy experts; German universities focus on lofty theory at the expense of real-world training. The foreign service has to retrain university graduates. Leiteritz does not think, however, that better education alone would enable Germany to become another "great power,"as permanent membership on the Security Council would imply. Instead, the country should tap its experience with multilateralism and compromise. If Germany becomes a leader in reconciling the interests of governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations, Leiteritz suggests, it might define a new kind of leading global role for itself, one where its lack of a colonial or great-power past is actually an advantage.

But that will require Germany to produce great individual leaders. Frankfurt Goethe University’s Gunter Hellmann deplores the sometimes unprofessional performance of German politicians and diplomats; for instance, the unsuccessful candidacy of the German Caio Koch-Weser for managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Insisting that "it was their turn," German diplomats did not confirm beforehand that Koch-Weser was acceptable to the United States. And it is symptomatic of Germany’s shortage of qualified personnel that the successful candidate, Horst Köhler, is not from the ruling coalition, but actually a protégé of Helmut Kohl, Germany’s previous chancellor and chief adversary of Schröder. But Hellmann reminds readers of the successful German mediation that helped to end the war over Kosovo. The French-British-American Rambouillet negotiations relied on traditional power politics, but failed to achieve peace. When former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic finally pulled his forces out of Kosovo, Hellmann argues, it was not only because NATO had started bombing Serbian power plants and water supplies but also because German behind-the-scenes diplomacy had managed to get the Russians on board, leaving Milosevic isolated.

The great powers, it seems, might actually have something to learn from a dwarf.

Christian Boulanger is a doctoral candidate at Free University in Berlin.

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