AFTER Germany's second unification Oct. 3, a key question is, what principles and objectives will guide its foreign policy? The same issue was faced more than a century ago after the first unification. In 1871, after waging three wars in seven years, Prussia under the leadership of Wilhelm I and Bismarck succeeded in unifying the many Germanic political entities. This achieved, Germany faced the fundamental question of what type of foreign policy should it follow. Would it continue to wage an aggressive foreign policy, attempt to increase its acquisition of lands and peoples, and risk upsetting the European power balance?
In 1877 Chancellor Bismarck issued the answer in his Bad Kissingen Decree. Germany was satisfied. It would seek no more gains, neither in Europe nor in other areas of the globe being contested so hotly by other European states in their imperialistic quests for colonies. Later leaders of Germany, Wilhelm II and Hitler, would choose otherwise.
Germany now finds itself at a similar historical juncture. That it will soon rise to the ranks of major-power status no longer seems in question. American historian Fritz Stern recently characterized Bonn, Washington, and Moscow as the ``three centers of power in the world today.''
Certainly in an economic sense it has achieved this during the past decade. The economic surge it has experienced for the past eight years has been called the country's ``second economic miracle.'' Its growth rate last year was a phenomenal 4 percent. It has enjoyed trade surpluses the entire decade, with its 1989 surplus reaching over $75 billion. It is one of the world's leading exporters. It is the chief Western trading partner of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
The political manifestation of this power began well over a year ago. Last spring West Germany for the first time publicly defied its major allies, when it demanded that NATO begin negotiations with Moscow on reducing short-range nuclear weapons. This has been followed by German leadership in fashioning economic aid from its hesitant allies for the Soviet Union.
A curious aspects of the march toward unification that began with the crumbling of the Berlin Wall last Nov. 9 was the overwhelming importance placed on the unified Germany's membership in the Western alliance, apparently to prevent any German aberration. This issue monopolized the headlines until the Soviet Union suddenly on July 16 dropped its objection to Germany's NATO membership. The emphasis placed on the necessity of this seems to have been based on the assumption that alliances exert overriding influence on a state's foreign policy.
This is not borne out by the record. While Italy belonged to the Triple Alliance in 1914 it chose not to enter World War I on the side of its allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, declaring that the war did not come within the terms of the treaty. NATO did not prevent the British and French from invading Egypt in 1956 nor Turkey from invading Cyprus in 1974 and fighting the Greek Cypriots supported by Turkey's supposed ally, Greece.
Allies and alliances influence but do not determine a state's foreign policy. Furthermore, they can be ephemeral things. NATO has not been transitory, but now its fundamental reason for existence, the Soviet threat, has paled.
Genuine grounds for optimism about Germany's behavior come from other sources. First, close to 80 percent of the population of the new Germany will have lived for over 40 years under genuine democracy. In Chancellor Kohl's words, Germany has ``proven itself to be a freedom-loving, democratic, and socially oriented state governed by the rule of law.''
Second, faith can be drawn from its recent deeds and its Basic Law. Foreign Minister Genscher declared on Aug. 30 that Germany would in three to four years reduce combined East and West German armed forces to 370,000, a figure less than the current West German armed forces. The conscription period has been reduced from 15 to 12 months. Kohl has also stated that a reunited Germany will renounce the right to manufacture, possess, and dispose of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and will remain a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Moreover, Article 26 of its Basic Law states that ``acts ... with the intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for aggressive war, shall be unconstitutional.''
Third, Germany will be fully preoccupied with internal affairs for some time - breathing life into eastern Germany with its market economy, transferring its welfare state, modernizing the east's rail and road networks, and, most of all, leading the minds of the East Germans out of their totalitarian cave into the democratic light.
From a historical perspective, assurance can also be drawn from the fact that the conditions which spawned Hitler do not exist: There is no punitive, humiliating, dictated Versailles Treaty, no shaky Weimar Republic, no economic chaos, and no military claiming a ``stab in the back.''
In graffiti scrawled in large letters on a street corner in Bonn are the words, ``Kein Neues Grossdeutschland'' (No New Great Germany). These words reflect the hopes of not only the majority of the German people, but also of Germany's neighbors. It will be some years after this second unification before we know if these hopes are well-founded. The greatest hope of these neighbors and the greatest challenge for Germany is to aspire to greatness through Germany's contributions to international civilization and society, not in vanquishing of them.