After Sept. 11, Berlin offered “unlimited solidarity” to the U.S. Then it refused to support Bush's Iraq war plans. There have been errors, but the rift demonstrates the growing self-confidence of German foreign policy.
German Chancellor Schröder and French President Chirac have been vocal critics of Washington's Iraq policies.
"Things will never be the same again." This was the most frequently uttered sentence in the confusing aftermath of Sept. 11. It's a sentence that also applies to German foreign policy.
Germany has become very poised in its foreign policy decisions. It has not only learned to confidently say "yes" without limitations, but for the first time also articulated a very clear "no." German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder uncompromisingly pressed parliament for German military deployment in Afghanistan. He disciplined the coalition factions with the question of confidence: members of parliament had to agree, otherwise the continuity of the government would be threatened. A year later: Just as uncompromising was Schröder's rejection of military action in Iraq, regardless of its justification.
Unlimited solidarity with the United States on one hand, total refusal on the other hand. As paradoxical as it may sound, each depends on the other. Both decisions were based on an emancipation process, showing the steadfastness of Schröder's government. Schröder entered the Chancellery with the declared goal of turning a reunified Germany into a "normal country". In all composure, a new generation of politicians saw themselves as representatives of Germany, because they were no longer the ones carrying the massive burden of crimes committed during the Nazi era. A stronger international role for Germany, with all its rights and obligations, was also part of this.
This new self-confidence first had to be pushed and anchored in domestic politics. It was a agonizing process, especially for government parties with pacifist traditions, and ultimately for Chancellor Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer themselves. The Schröder-Fischer team began with the difficult decision for war in Kosovo. Two years later, the tedious row over military action in Macedonia showed how difficult it was to bear the new responsibilities in foreign policy.
September 11 then became as a severe catalyst. The government found itself before the necessity of acting quickly and convincingly, and it did not hesitate for long. The rigor with which Schröder forced the government factions to support military action in Afghanistan finally gave him the ineradicable freedom to act in foreign politics. Germany proved itself to be a reliable alliance partner and thus created the conditions for its emancipation from the United States.
German foreign policy matured at a time-lapse pace, not in a planned process. But this pace also engendered recognizable strategic deficits. Far too many decisions, especially the Schröder's, were borne of necessity or made spontaneously. During the election campaign, the staging of resistance to war in Iraq as an absolute refusal was a mistake that prevented all further exertion of influence. The government should have yielded its increased power in foreign matters much more intelligently. German criticism would have been taken more seriously had it not shut all the doors of diplomacy.
The fact that relations to the United States will not remain disturbed in the long term is ultimately owed to the course of postwar developments and mistakes on the part of the U.S. government. U.S. President George W. Bush, as can already be determined, has accepted the fact that he still needs his German allies.
What also should be considered is the fact that this acceptance may not have been possible without Germany's past input. Germany's activities in Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan had already proved that it can shoulder and bear international responsibility. Germany will also play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq because it is in Germany's interest. Representing this interest and paying the price -- that is what German foreign policy has learned.