German Foreign Policy In Europe

October 20, 2011

On October 20, 2011, the American Institute for Contemporary Studies (AGI) hosted a discussion on “German Foreign Policy in Europe: From Vanguard to Laggard – and Back Again?” During the seminar, Mr. Benjamin Herborth, DAAD/AGI Fellow, discussed broader patterns of change in German foreign policy in terms of an underlying dynamic of generational change.

To begin, Mr. Herborth underlined that if German foreign policy has made global headlines recently it has been, for the most part, as a source of trouble and befuddlement. Reading through what has been written on German foreign policy, from a variety of scholarly and political angles, and during conversations held both in the U.S. and in Germany, one gets the distinct impression that there is a general sense of confusion. Considering the euro crisis and the upheavals in the Arab world, Germany’s position is being examined and is difficult to evaluate. According to the speaker, the best way to understand Germany’s decisions, for example the abstention from the UN Security Council vote on Libya or its course of action during the euro crisis, is to try to get a better understanding of how Germany and its government has changed as well as how Germany might act in the future. Mr. Herborth emphasized that, in his opinion, it is impossible to give a precise answer and that a tendency toward change is normal and small episodes of contention is a general pattern in foreign policymaking.

Moreover, Mr. Herborth pointed out that a generational shift in Germany’s foreign policy can be observed with great regularity. Since the red-green government under Gerhard Schröder, key positions in the German government have been occupied by individuals who have no personal memory of World War II. While historical memory remains important, it begins to matter in new and different ways—a trend that is evident in the fact that many of the core issues of contention in German foreign policy in recent years are caused by a generational cleavage rather than a party cleavage. In order to better understand where German foreign policy is heading, it is important to understand not only how Germany imagines its future, but also how it comes to re-interpret its past. Mr. Herborth came to the conclusion that while the old routines of German foreign policy seem to have worn out, new ones have not yet been established.