THOUGH lacking popular consensus, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government wants to make Germany a global player, bringing its diplomatic clout in line with its economic power.
The success of Mr. Kohl's effort to expand Germany's international clout will depend greatly on how the nation decides to use its military, or Bundeswehr. But Germans are deeply divided on what the Bundeswehr's mandate should be.
Some German allies, particularly the United States, say Bonn must share more of the global peacekeeping burden before it can be accorded full privileges as a major power, including a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
But Germany is struggling to meet expectations. Its ability to exert international influence was limited after World War II, primarily due to constitutional constraints on deploying its military abroad.
Those restrictions are now gone. In July, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled that German troops could participate in any multilateral peacekeeping mission under UN or NATO auspices.
Germans give scant support for Bundeswehr action abroad, and German foreign-policymakers remain reluctant to participate in peacekeeping. Even Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, normally a foreign-policy activist, urges ``a culture of restraint'' in military deployments.
Over the last 40 years, Bonn has projected influence primarily by contributing cash rather than troops to stabilization efforts. But following German unification in 1990, Bonn began to pursue a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In return, Germany faced pressure to change its troop deployment stance, resulting in the Constitutional Court's July decision, which essentially overturned the ban on global peacekeeping participation.
Due to its vulnerable geopolitical position, Germany must assume a more activist foreign role, argues Defense Minister Volker Ruhe. ``Either we export our stability today, or we will have to import the instabilities of the world tomorrow,'' he says.
THE need for Germany to increase its diplomatic, and thus military profile, also has an economic argument. Germany's export-dependent economy, the world's third largest, needs world stability to thrive.
To meet new global needs, however, German military capabilities will require reorganization.
``We are all too well-prepared for the most unlikely case - an invasion from the East - but we are poorly prepared for the most likely case: an intervention somewhere in the world,'' Mr. Ruhe says. ``The Bundeswehr must become a lot more flexible.''
Ruhe wants to create a ``crisis reaction force.'' But there are few funds for reorganization. Constrained by the enormous cost of reunification, Germany must modernize the military while slashing its budget. The military is slated to shrink to 320,000 troops by 1995, down from 495,000 in 1984 during the height of the cold war.