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Understanding Germany

The Wall Street Journal published a special feature on Germany (via: Daniel Florian), which is very positive about our economy and fair in its analysis of our foreign policy. The feature even includes reading tips on how to best to understand Germany from Chancellor Merkel and two foreign policy experts. All books are great and highly recommended, I have not read Günter de Bruyn's book though.

The main article What is Germany's place in the world: a leader, or another Switzerland? describes how President Obama honored Merkel with a State Dinner and the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 7, tactfully suggesting "Germany could be doing more to help out with international conflicts." And what is Merkel doing in return? She puts out the red carpet for China's Wen Jiabao and hosts the first meeting of German and Chinese cabinets.

The WSJ goes even so far as to turn Foreign Minister Westerwelle's statement on the Libya vote into a new foreign-policy doctrine that values China, Russia, Brasil and India as much as the Western allies:

In a speech to Germany's parliament, Mr. Westerwelle denied the country was isolated, because it had voted the same way as "important countries and partners such as Brazil, India, Russia and China." The implication was that in Germany's new foreign-policy doctrine, the BRICs-Germany's booming new export markets-are interchangeable with the West as Germany's partners, depending on the circumstances.

I don't agree with the conclusion, but I think it is fair enough, since Westerwelle has been pretty awkward on Libya and has failed to reassure allies afterwards. The German government, however, has not made any deliberate choice to pursue such a doctrine. It just looks that way at the moment. The trouble is that, at the moment, we don't have a doctrine at all.

The article argues that "NATO allies are worried by the revival of a pacifist stance under German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle." I think "pacifism" is the wrong term. After all, there is not much opposition in Germany against arms sales. I think most Germans are not convinced that America's current wars are advancing our security significantly. We are war-weary rather than pacifist. To understand why most Germans do not want to send troops, I would add to the above reading recommendations the movie Das Boot, which is based on the book by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The battle of Stalingrad is still very strong in the collective memory and informs many Germans' positions on contemporary wars IMHO, but I don't know if any movie or book is responsible for it.

Another interesting quote from the same article:

German leaders argue that they don't want to tinker with a winning formula, and they're already making significant contributions to the EU and NATO. But critics see it differently. They attack the country for wanting to be a big Switzerland: a trading nation that profits from the business opportunities of a globalized economy but shirks the dirty work of globalization, including international involvement in armed conflicts.

Germany's traditional allies even fret that the country is losing interest in Europe and the West. After all, when you've carved out a lucrative niche selling precision machinery and luxury cars to fast-growing emerging economies such as China, who needs stodgy old Europe?

"Germany is rising in a Europe that's coming apart at the seams," says John Kornblum, former U.S. ambassador to Berlin. "How is this country-the only major economy in Europe that can keep up with globalization-going to fit into this Europe?"

Both NATO and the EU were built around Germany, by allies that wanted to bind Europe's strongest country into a multilateral structure. Germany, rueful of its history, also felt more comfortable inside their embrace.

Today's Germany, more confident of its own strength and virtue, exudes the sense that it no longer needs either alliance quite as much as it used to. Only 24% of Germans see more upsides than downsides to EU membership, while 31% see more downsides and 40% say it's a mixed bag, according to a survey published in German newspaper Die Zeit in March.

Other articles in this Wall Street Journal feature are:

Germany's Merkel: A Flexible Leader
The Politics of Pragmatism
German politics has gotten a lot more complex. And nobody has navigated that complexity better than Angela Merkel.

What Is Germany's Mittelstand?
The Engines of Growth
Forget the familiar big global brands. Germany's economy is powered by a legion of smaller companies.


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