Schroeder signals shift, calls Germany a `great power'

In article, chancellor breaks with caution of postwar policy

September 12, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BERLIN -- Marking a clear break with the caution of German foreign policy since World War II, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has laid out a new vision of his country's international role, describing Germany as "a great power in Europe" that will not hesitate to pursue its national interests.

The new definition of German foreign policy, spelled out by Schroeder in an article in the last edition of the monthly review of German unions, appears to signal the formal end of Germany's self-imposed reserve since 1945, even as it underscores the country's irreversible attachment to NATO and the European Union.

"Germany," Schroeder says, "has every interest in considering itself as a great power in Europe -- something our neighbors have done for a long time -- and to orient its foreign policy accordingly within the framework of Euro-Atlantic institutions." This policy, he adds, must be one of "fully acknowledged self-interest."

Under Schroeder's predecessor, Helmut Kohl, and other postwar chancellors, any reference to Germany as "a great power" or to national "self-interest" tended to be studiously avoided.

Rather, Germany portrayed its interests as being synonymous with those of European integration and the NATO alliance, out of a generally unspoken fear that any other policy would be regarded as incipient nationalism or a sign that an ugly history was rearing its head once more. But the ascendancy to power of a postwar generation led by Schroeder, and the government's move from Bonn to Berlin, have signaled a distinct shift whose scope the chancellor has articulated.

NATO used to be an organization "that served to protect Germany, but also as protection against Germany," the chancellor writes, adding that this concept "has no value from now on." In its place, he suggests, a Germany without complexes has emerged.

The term "great power" is generally associated with a country possessing nuclear weapons, which is not the case in Germany. But Germany's prominent military role as part of a NATO force that bombed Kosovo signaled an end to the often repeated postwar principle that "only peace" would "go out from German soil."

The repercussions on European politics appear likely to be most felt in France. The French-German alliance is the relationship long at the heart of European integration.

As a power under Western tutelage, Germany could look to France for political muscle, while France relied on Germany to provide the economic dynamism it lacked. But Germany has declared its intention to wield political power commensurate with its economy, which is one-third larger than that of France, while France has fewer complexes about its fast-changing economy than it had a decade ago.

"France used to be proud of its historical essence and worried by its performance, while Germany was proud of its performance but ashamed of its history," said Dominique Moisi, a French foreign policy expert. "An alliance on that basis made sense, but now everything has changed."

The impact of Schroeder's shift on Germany's relationship with the United States appears likely to be milder as long as Germany's commitment to "national interests" does not involve deviation from NATO.

Schroeder, whose push to wean Germany from Kohl's relentless and painful history lessons, has been generally popular. He makes no overt reference to Hitler or the Nazis in the article and outlines what he sees as the future of a large European power that has paid its historical dues.

"Our partners have shown us that they accept us as equals, and that is the reason why they now expect us to accept and perceive our historic responsibility in a [proactive] way," he writes.

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