FOR the Germans, one result of the Gulf war is that it is pushing them in the direction of ``normalcy'' as a nation, says Vernon Walters, United States ambassador to Germany. After having stood glaringly alone as the only major nation in Western Europe that did not send troops to the Gulf, the Germans ``are moving into a post-Kuwait era,'' in which they will take on the same responsibility in the world arena as their European partners, says the ambassador in an interview.
Mr. Walters, who has served nearly 50 years in the US government, has been twice president of the United Nations Security Council, and speaks eight languages, including German. He's an outspoken ambassador respected in this country for his knowledge and understanding of the Germans, whom outsiders often find hard to fathom.
There is nothing the Germans want more, Walters emphasizes, than to be ``integrated in Europe and be just like everybody else.''
They bristle at being singled out. Yet, in the Gulf case, he implies, the Germans brought this on themselves by pointing to constitutional restrictions (real or perceived) on German troop deployment.
``I think they [the Germans] understand that if they're going to play an important part in the Europe of tomorrow ... it's going to be very hard for them to have a position, whereby everybody else ... can send troops in case of an emergency and they don't.''
The Germans are debating how they will change their Constitution, and in two to three years, estimates Walters, ``the Germans will be playing their part fully without these self limitations.''
Critics who say that Bonn's hesitancy on the Gulf proves that Germany is not fit to be a ``partner in leadership'' with the US (as President Bush described the US-German relationship two years ago) are ignoring the strides Germany has recently made in this direction, the ambassador points out.
For instance, the talks at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, broken off because of a contentious US-European dispute, ``are starting to move, and largely on the basis of a German authored compromise,'' Walters says.
The sending of German troops and jets to Turkey, a NATO ally, was also a ``leadership'' gesture that escaped the critics, says Walters. It was a decision carried out by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the face of severe opposition in the Bundestag.
People outside Germany have ``no concept of what it was to send those troops. The French and the Americans and the British have been sending people overseas for years. There's no [postwar] tradition of this in Germany,'' he says.
The Germans, the ambassador says, ``haven't been used to leading.... The very word `F"uhrer,' has become a bad word in the German language and it simply means `leader' or `guide.' They're coming out of this psychosis.''
In the news media, in the public, and among lawmakers, German-American relations took a nose dive in January. German antiwar protesters came across as anti-American. For two weeks, the loud protesters in Germany broadcast a minority opinion to the world, while officials in Bonn remained silent.
``I think they were just appalled that war had started,'' says Walters of the Bonn government at that time. But after these ``first few moments, ... the government notified full support for us.''
On the working official level, says Walters, US-German relations are good. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (after much prodding in the German press), visited Washington last Friday. Mr. Kohl is expected to visit Washington soon.
Since the Gulf crisis began, says the ambassador, ``I never presented a request to the German government that was denied.'' To the contrary, he says, the Germans went beyond the call.
For example, the US ordered 20 Fox chemical-warfare detection vehicles from Germany. Instead, the Germans gave the US the 20 Foxes, plus 40 more, all without charge, ``which was about all they had available,'' says the ambassador.
In addition, he continues, the Germans ``gave us thousands of vehicles from the East German Army. Now, people say, `Oh, that was old junk.' It was not old junk. The East German Army was one of the best equipped armies. We drove something like a 1,000 of those trucks to the docks under their own power after they'd been stored away for God-knows-how-long.''
So far, Germany has promised about $11 billion to the US for the Gulf war. The ambassador says that, now that the war is over, the Germans will likely pay an additional ``residual'' of US Gulf war expenses, but ``not on the same order'' as the billions already in the pipeline.