THE headlines of two Januaries captured the confusion created by Germany's emergence from geopolitical purgatory. Last year at this time, the United States, Britain, and France expressed disappointment at Germany's decision to stand on the sidelines during the Persian Gulf war. This year, we read that those same countries are disturbed by Germany's assertiveness in confronting Serbian aggression in Croatia. The common denominator in these two very different cases is that Germany seems not to be "one of u s."
In recognizing Croatia and Slovenia this month, the Federal Republic of Germany took one of its first significant, independent foreign-policy positions. In itself, that is not a problem. It becomes one only in light of the unspoken fears and unrealistic assumptions that surround German unification, European integration, and changing transatlantic relations.
To be sure, the Federal Republic is much more stable and benign than any previous manifestation of German statehood. But leaders in the US, Britain, and France have legitimate concerns about Germany's recent tendency to lie low during international crises, the strength of its commitment to close ties with North America, and its potential to dominate Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Rather than engage Germany in a straightforward dialogue about those concerns, however, these officials seem to alternate bet ween ritual intonations of faith in German democracy and assuming the worst when Germany deviates from alliance solidarity.
Part of the blame for Germany's peculiar international image resides with the Germans themselves. Germany's current interpretation of its constitution, which was used to preclude any German participation in the shooting war against Iraq, is but the most obvious recent example. A German leader typically exhibits one of three attitudes toward the nation and its role in world politics, and these positions transcend party lines.
One large and growing group of Germans would have us believe that a New German Man has emerged, so devoted to integration, peace, and social justice as to be oblivious to the alternatives. Such paragons inhabit international conferences and articulate their country's obsessive commitment to the European Community (EC) and other multinational forums. And when Germany is implicated in greed or special-pleading - for example, the recent evidence of German chemical and nuclear sales to various despots - this
posture appears even more cynical and defensive.
A second group of Germans remains terrified of their nation's own shadow. These Germans will take a foreigner aside in a room full of their countrymen and point out behavioral tendencies that echo a frightening past. One is left shaken, wondering whether they might be right.
For a third group of Germans, the nation's past is part of the strategic calculus for regaining influence - requiring an extra measure of patience and a multinational umbrella on the road to proportional representation in global affairs. Few if any in this group have blatantly aggressive designs. Instead, they believe that Germany has much to offer the world in the way of ideas, methods, money, and even strategic stability. That the expansion of its influence would be very lucrative for Germany goes with out saying. These Germans may be the most honest, but that is also what makes them the most disconcerting to some foreigners.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Germany is the driving force behind European integration in all its dimensions: economic, political, and strategic. Integration is a very capacious church, in which the three groups of Germans can all feel comfortable: the first because they truly believe in it, the second because they hope that it will contain Germany, and the third because they see it as a vehicle to turn German ways into the ways of Europe. At the same time, most other European countries view the European Community as their best hope for keeping Germany in check.
An EC that exists to muzzle German foreign policy or stifle the legitimate external goals of any other Community member will be fraught with needless tension. It is difficult to imagine that the all-important economic widening of the EC to include more northern, eastern, and southern European countries will proceed if membership also entails foreign policy micromanagement by the Community. The issue of diplomatic recognition in the Balkans has already exaggerated differences of style and timing into misl eading evidence of fundamental conflicts in the EC.
Similarly, although the US has grounds for expecting Germany to do away with constitutional cop-outs precluding joint military actions, the US-German relationship will be weakened if Washington fails to accommodate Germany's different priorities and approaches to international relations.
The difference between placing a country above suspicion and giving it the benefit of the doubt is an important one. Germany's history, vast economic power, and pivotal geographic position will never allow its intentions to go unquestioned, but Germany has earned the benefit of the doubt. If we give Germany that, rather than expecting it to forswear its national interests and independent diplomatic reasoning, the rest of the Atlantic alliance and European Community will receive in return a much healthier
relationship with the unified nation.