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A New Chapter in German Foreign Policy? (December 21, 1991)

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One of the reasons for Germany’s reluctance in the Gulf War lay in the Basic Law, which supposedly prohibits German troops from being deployed outside of NATO territory, and which doesn’t even permit them to participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions as Blue Helmets. Although there was talk of a constitutional amendment, no one was in much of a hurry since there is no majority for a reasonable compromise anyway, especially since the SPD is fairly divided on this issue. It’s all the more astounding that Kohl and Genscher, of all people, are pushing for a peacemaking role in Yugoslavia, not least because they’re under pressure from the SPD. And they’re doing this without having the slightest power to implement and maintain peace, and without having thought about the actions that could follow their words. For if it were truly a matter of employing military force, we would have to refer once again to the Basic Law and to the burden of history, justifiably this time in the case of Yugoslavia. Whoever would want to send German soldiers to Yugoslavia must be crazy.

What then is Bonn’s pressing ahead other than an empty gesture, a foreign policy reflex in response to domestic pressures, a case of making a big show? After the unification of Germany, the unification of Europe, and now peacemaking in the disintegrating East. If only that were true! No would need to fear that. But that isn’t the situation; instead, we have to worry that Bonn’s unilateral actions will be detrimental. Detrimental first to the [European] Community, since the cabinet’s decision to acknowledge Croatia and Slovenia represents an open disregard for the EC formula, which requires considerable hairsplitting to be read as an automatism. Otherwise the foreign ministers wouldn’t have convened an arbitration commission or set January 15 [1992] as the date for a joint declaration of recognition. More than anything else, however, these actions could be detrimental to Croatia, since the Serbs must feel like they have a virtual invitation to seize as much Croatian territory as possible before January 15. And no one will be able to stop them. We provoked and goaded the Serbs, and we will disappoint the Croatians. Not only won’t we be sending them any soldiers, we also won’t be supplying the weapons they’re hoping for.

Dangerous good intentions

After the U.N. secretary general reprimanded Bonn for making the situation worse, Genscher defended himself by claiming that the situation there is getting worse every day anyway. That’s just as true as the realization that Europe can’t accept a brutal war on its doorstep. But it’s not enough, since the “how” of the intervention is what’s important. And on this point we can’t avoid the insight that for different reasons the Americans, British, and French aren’t willing to follow our lead. That must be disappointing, particularly for Genscher, for whom the saying applies that nothing is more dangerous than good intentions. As one of the guardians of the CSCE process, he had hoped that its principles could help in the transition in the East, that they could both slow down the dissolution of the Soviet Union and help enforce the right to self-determination. The CSCE, however, is as dead as the old world order from which it emerged. German foreign policy has become more difficult.

Source of original German text: Dieter Schröder, “Der deutsche Alleingang” [“Germany’s Go-It-Alone Approach”], Süddeutsche Zeitung, December 21, 1991.

Translation: Allison Brown

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