Germany as an International Actor

Prof. Dr. Tarık OĞUZLU
02 December 2014
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Germany has been one of the major winners of the Cold War era despite the bifurcation of German land into two in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Germany’s aggressive and assertive foreign policy stance in the first half of the twentieth century, reflecting the imaginations and theories of German geopolitical thinkers, constituted the prime reason for the outbreak of First and Second World Wars. Longing a lebensraum for Germans scattered across Europe and drawing on biological racism, Adolf Hitler wanted to transform Germany into Europe’s hegemonic power. Despite the initial German victories against French and Russian forces in the early years of the Second World War, Germany had to surrender to Allied forces in 1945 following the United States’ entry to the war and the heavy bombing of its war industry by superior American air power. Following the end of the war, German leaders, both Christian and Social Democrats, reached the conclusion that prewar German geopolitical thinking needed to be replaced by a new understanding that would make Germany both a legitimate power in postwar era European politics and enable the industrious Germans to rise from their ashes again. During the forty five years of the Cold War era, a number of conditions combined to have produced the so-called German miracle. At stake today is whether Germany can still rely on those factors which made Germany rise to the status of a leading country in European politics as well as the key European power in the global arena.     


First, Germany’s re-incorporation into European politics in the postwar era was made possible through her amalgamation to other European powers, notably France, through the European Union. The more European Germany has become throughout the decades-long EU integration process, the more other European powers accommodated Germany’s rise in their midst. Germany has benefited from the EU in many ways. The supranational economic integration process inside the EU has not only served Germany’s export-oriented economic development model but also allowed Germany to shape Europe’s economic policies overwhelmingly. It is not a coincidence that the structure of the EU’s integration process to a significant extent resembles Germany’s federal administrative system. Adopting a Europe-first stance in major policy areas, Germany has appeared a normal country in the eyes of other European countries. Multilateral and pro-EU oriented policies in different policy areas has not only facilitated Germany becoming the most powerful European actor, but also reassured other European actors of Germany’s benign intentions. This process has continued following Germany’s re-unification in 1990. A reunified Germany has begun to pay more importance to the EU integration process than ever before, because if the reunification process had not been managed meticulously and carefully, it would have likely aroused strong doubts on Germany’s rising power capabilities. This to a significant extent, accounts for why Germany has been the most ardent supporter of EU’s federal deepening and widening processes over the last two decades. In contrast to the predictions of structural realists, Germany did not choose to become a normal country in the wake of the historic reunification. Acting as a geopolitical actor that first and foremost values the enlargement of its sphere of influence at the expense of others, and putting unilateralism and nationalism at the center of its political engagements have not replaced Germany’s traditional pro-European and multilateral stance.


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