German foreign policy since 1949 has been characterized by a virtually uninterrupted continuity, and political changes have not been much disturbed, either by the return of the left wing in 1998 nor by the victory in 2005 of Angela Merkel. As indicated after the Waldemar Besson war, the “State Reason” of Western Germany imposed accepting the leadership and protection of the United States, strengthening the Western Atlantic camp, accepting the division of the country in the name of the balance of power of the Cold War, implementing a policy of restraint regarding the Soviet Union and enhancing its association with developing countries. Today, after the fall of the wall and the demise of the USSR, the two major issues are still: the Atlantic alliance and the strengthening Europe.
But the political data has changed: in 1999, with the military action (carried out without UN’s approval) in Kosovo and in 2001, with the eruption of international Islamic terrorism. The East-West antagonism was replaced by U.S. unilateralism on a disproportionate scale, while building Europe, after the demise of the constitution, became a second priority. At the moment, the attempts to maintain continuity in foreign policy in view of this new situation, have failed.
The legendary “abstention practice” professed by Germany collapsed and the country was unable to formulate, together with Paris and Moscow, a diplomatic alternative to the U.S. policy in the Middle East and Iraq. The dream of a seat on the UN Security Council is an illusion, mediation regarding Iran’s case is at a dead-end, military missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan are compromised and the German influence on the Middle East is virtually nil. Even Turkey’s accession, presented by Joschka Fischer as the cornerstone of a political strategy for peace in the Middle East, is running the risk of getting ruined.
The new government will not be able to do much about it. It had announced that it would focus on repairing transatlantic relations and improving relations with Eastern Europe, especially with Poland, which was wounded by Schröder’s Russophilia. But in this case, the focus has to be on beautiful statements –especially when part of its electorate imposed a revision of the historic vision pertaining to refugees in 1945. Regarding Washington, friendly relations could be established, but without supporting a military commitment in Iran nor accepting to send the Bundeswehr to Iraq. A different image of the “Old Europe” presented by Schröder and Chirac is being sought but how to present the other Europe is not well understood. The idea is to be more severe on Vladimir Putin but without upsetting relations with Moscow, which are considered vital. China will be kindly scolded for disregarding Human Rights but it should not be ignored that this country is the main industrial investor in Germany. In conclusion, it is about Business as usual.
The German right wing is divided between the Atlantists who side the United States and the “Gaullists” who quietly applauded Schröder’s vision of Europe as a world power that would reinforce the pivotal role placed by Germany. Obviously there is a cultural and political distance between the German left wing and the United States, but the real anti-Americans in Germany are the right wing advocates, especially the friends of Merkel, the CSU, that still revere Franz Josef Strauss, a persistent preacher of a Germany which is a nuclear power with Gaullist tones. But Germany does not have the means today to afford “neo-Gaullism”, starting with the lack of close partners, and the Atlantists calls that Merkel makes to Tony Blair that would encounter an immediate obstacle. Siding with London and Washington means having soldiers in the neo-conservative internationalist front – and that is politically risky. Just as Schröder won when he opposed Bush, the Eastern Foreign Minister would pay a high price for the impression of submission to Washington. The continuity of the current “moderate and abstentionist” policy, no matter how impossible it might be, is the only possible choice.

Deutsche Welle (Germany)

Außenpolitik unter Angela Merkel”, by Claus Leggewie, Deutsche Welle, November 4, 2005.