The German reunification, the Gulf War and strategic culture

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 107-112)

The German reunification has not spurred much meaningful debate in terms of German strategic culture (unlike the debates concerning foreign policy) besides the more general notion of a structural change, crystallized in the new security and defence political reality after the collapse of bipolarity. This is all the more surprising in the sense that the German reunification GHILQLWHO\ PDUNHG D ZDWHUVKHG PRPHQW LQ *HUPDQ SROLWLFDO KLVWRU\ if not another Stunde Null, since the reunification was a process that was both de jure and de facto pre-requisite for Germany to rethink, develop and especially execute genuine foreign, defence and security policies as a re- unified nation based on its own values and norms that were and are part of the one-of-a-kind German strategic culture. But perhaps at least as significant was the possibility that the re-unified Germans could really come to clearer terms with their Nazi past and the memory of World War II. These reflections on the past and how they con-tinue to shape the present German strategic culture will be dealt with in de-tail in Chapter 5.

However, there are a number of good explanations for the lack of academ- ic debate on strategic culture and German reunification. Firstly, the lack of this debate is partly understandable since Germany’s future had been institu- tionally, economically, politically and perhaps most importantly also militari- ly tied to the rest of Europe and the transatlantic alliance for decades and German policymakers had done their best not to convince anybody otherwise since the end of World War II. Perhaps this has also something to do with the inability of social sciences in general to predict the end of the Cold War or

even fully grasp its meaning in terms of the development within specific poli- cy fields and institutions. But with certainty, it has even more to do with the fact that strategic culture is inherently built on the foundation of continuity that is most likely expected to last even after major structural shifts in the international system.

This continuity can be witnessed in the traditional ways different political parties and the whole German society have been disposed to the question of peace and war during and after the end of the Cold War which was closely connected to the respective threat images and lessons of history during the long Cold War decades. Interestingly enough, the post-Cold War threats such as the emergence of international terrorism with its global reach and conse- quences have had a profound effect on partly cementing the role played by the historical lessons of the World War II on German foreign and security policy making, but also facilitating policy change in terms of the substance of German strategic culture which can be seen for instance in a reconceptualiza- tion of German international responsibility, national interests and participa- tion in out-of-area peace-keeping and military conflict management.

However, even though the view of Germany as a civilian power came to be the most popular view outside the realist camp in the 1990s, continuity as such wasn’t a particular mantra among the mainstream IR and FPA litera- ture on German foreign and security policy after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Realists found themselves watching the clock, waiting for the return of the belligerent Boche because in (neo)realist theory sudden gains of power will result in an unbalance of the international system which will be brought into balance through war.247 The grand old man of (structural) realism Kenneth

Waltz argued in 1993 that Germany was likely to be on its way to becoming a great power once again.248 However, as the first Gulf War already showed,

the long-awaited German ‘return to normality’ (Wiederkehr zur Normalität) did not materialize, if by normality we understand the realist account of statehood based on military power; and becoming ‘normal’ in that sense would suggest a Germany also actively aspiring for a great power status, a thing which has yet to materialize on realist terms. Yet equally important was the realization during the 1990s that the core idea of continuity in German strategic culture, based on the premise of civilian power, was no longer an omnipotent answer to the changing threat environment or the widening scope of German security political agency. The decade following unification was the most tumultuous in terms of redefining a strategic direction for a

247 See Waltz, Kenneth 1988, ‘The origins of war in neorealist theory’, Journal of Interdisciplinary

History, vol. 18, no. 4 (Spring 1988), pp. 615-628; Waltz, Kenneth 2000, ‘Structural realism after the end of the Cold War’, International Security, vol. 25, issue 1, pp. 5-41; Mearsheimer, John J. 1990, ‘Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War’, International Security, vol. 15, no.1 (Summer 1990), pp. 5-56.

248 Waltz, Kenneth 1993, µThe emerging structure of international politics’, International Security, vol.

reunified nation in its search for a robust security political identity – under- standably so given both the need and the demand for adjusting to the chang- es in the international system and the domestic political environment.

The strategic orientation of the reunified Germany was codified in the new German Basic Law (Grundgesetz), which basically endorsed the view of Germany as a civilian power and consolidated the meaning of the lessons Germany had drawn not only from World War II but also the long Cold War. The preamble of the German Basic Law states that “(c)onscious of its respon- sibility towards God and people, inspirited by the desire to contribute to the world peace as an equal member in a unified Europe, the German people has, based on its legislative powers, given this Basic Law.”249 Moreover, at the

time, any German military deployment, notwithstanding the defence of Ger- man territory, was ruled out by the Basic Law – even though the debate con- cerning possible German participation in UN peacekeeping operations had been undergoing ever since Germany’s membership in the UN in the early 1970s.

German strategic culture wasn’t the most pressing issue on the agenda as the new German Bundestag convened for the first time on 12 December 1990 in Bonn. The period of German reunification was first and foremost a period of strategic cultural continuity in a very particular sense: it showed Germans that political objectives, which indeed seemed untenable as well as mostly unrealistic during much of the Cold War, could be met with peaceful means. Moreover, the unification had a direct impact on the further development of German strategic culture in the sense that it created both the external expec- tancy and the internal need for German strategic action in an unprecedented scope and depth; things which would unravel the discrepancy in the idea- tional structure of German strategic culture step by step – the tension be- tween the different lessons of ‘never again’. This discrepancy within the idea- tional structure would begin to unfold during the first major post-Cold War crisis, the Gulf War, and the German government’s early adoption of the recognition policy towards Slovenia and Croatia a year later.

When the Gulf War broke out on 2 August 1990, German politicians were still negotiating the future status of a reunified Germany in terms of the uni- fication treaty and the former Allied Quadripartite powers on the so-called Two-Plus-Four-treaty.250 Negotiations were also underway on the issues of

the Allied jurisdictional powers and their troop presence in Germany. Fur- thermore, the new Federal Republic was also preparing for its first elections as a unified country. The German left, most notably the SPD, had been very

249 The Preamble of the German Basic Law. Available at: (


250 Two-Plus-Four-treaty between the two German states and the four victor states of World War II

established the shape of Germany as the combined territories of the FRG and the GDR, guaranteed the country’s borders, limited its weapons and military forces (from 490 000 to 370 000 troops), regulated the withdrawal of former allied troops, and ensured Germany’s continued membership in NATO.

supportive of the idea of collective security and a vocal supporter of strength- ening UN’s role in international politics.251 But now, in the context of the Gulf

War, these institutions required a vehement military response to Saddam Hussein’s war of aggression – a line which the Social Democrats as a party were not willing to cross. Even more painful was the realization of the fact that some German firms had sold technical material to the Iraqis which ena- bled their troops to broaden the effective range of their SCUD-missiles so that they now threatened Israel with a gas-attack.252 When the plea for mili-

tary assistance was voiced to the Germans by the Israeli government, it caused massive disarray especially within the SPD and other parties as well. It was a political nightmare par excellence, since Germany’s special respon- sibility towards Israel, besides being ever-present in the consciousness of the German nation as a whole, is also written down in the German Basic Law. Even so, Germany rejected the plea for deploying any German ground troops in the region but raised its economic aid to the participating countries to ap- proximately €12 billion in 1990-1991253. Additionally, Germany functioned as

the main transfer hub for the Western coalition troops that were sent to the Persian Gulf. Germany also supplied ammunition and artillery shells for the coalition troops and supplied Israel with eight armoured reconnaissance ve- hicles (Fuchs Spürpanzer) as well as agreeing to sending two submarines to Israel (three submarines were delivered between 1998-2000).254

In Germany, the refusal to provide military assistance was not scandalous behaviour by any means at the time but a rather well-established political practice during the Cold War decades, a practice which meant that the Ger- man military was to be deployed only in cases of defending German territory or considered to be deployed within the NATO operational area according to Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. This practice was reaffirmed and seemed to back up the continuity in German strategic culture all the way to the final years of the Cold War as the German government refused to send military vessels to back up Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in 1987, in

251 For an extensive analysis of SPD positions on security in the period after reunification, see Gerster,

Florian 1994, Zwischen Pazifismus und Verteidigung. Die Sicherheitspolitik der SPD, Nomos Verlag 1994.

252 See Hippler, Jochen 1991, ‘Iraq’s Military Power: The German connection’, Middle East Report, No.

168, Jan-Feb 1991, pp. 27-31; Cooper A.H. 2004, ‘Media framing and social movement mobilization: German peace protest against INF missiles, the Gulf War, and NATO peace enforcement in Bosnia’, European Journal of Political Research, 41:2002, p. 37-80.

253 Bennett, Andrew, Lepgold, Joseph & Unger, Danny 1994, ‘Burdensharing in the Persian Gulf War’,

International Organization, vol 48, No.1 (Winter 1994), pp. 39-75.

254 Nassauer, Otfried & Steinmetz, Christopher 2003, Rüstungskooperation zwischen Deutschland und

Israel, Research Report 2003.1. Berliner Informationszentrum für Transatlantische Sicherheit (BITS), p. 18.

response to a request of the US to do so.255 Germany referred to the prohibi-

tive nature of its Basic Law and refused to send military assistance beyond the NATO operational area. This practice was ended – or rather further re- fined – by the decision of the German Constitutional Court in 1994 which allowed the deployment of German troops in out-of-area missions as part of the institutions of collective security and de facto neglected through the German participation in the NATO airstrikes in Kosovo in 1999 (without UN authorization).256

Importantly, the end of the Cold War and the subsequent international crises revealed the first cracks in the German foreign policy consensus that had lasted for decades. The first Gulf War was the first real test for the old consensus. Externally, Germany was referred to as engaging in ‘cheque-book diplomacy’ that averts risking its own neck in tough situations that might require the use of military force.257 Internally, some politicians began to

question the foreign policy direction and asserted that Germany might have to reconsider its position as a mid-sized European power and that Germany should also begin to take more responsibility militarily.258

To sum up, the German reunification and the Gulf War certainly created more confusion as to the future German strategic orientation that was in- tended by the Germans themselves. It showed also that the urgent need that was expressed both externally and internally for bearing international re- sponsibility and taking a more active role in world affairs might not so easily be transformed into a behavioural credo of military abstinence. Hence, the importance of German reunification lies not only in the growth of both Ger- man capabilities and external/internal expectations towards a more active role in international security affairs but also in the fact that German strategic culture had to reconcile two interpretations of German historical responsibil- ity. These interpretations which culminated in the principal norms of never again were not under pressure during the Cold War decades because they conformed to the realpolitik of the Cold War and offered viable policy choices for Germany whose international agency was quite limited at the time and ensured a domestic political consensus on the issues of war and peace. How- ever, the difficulty of conforming to these principles became apparent as the Gulf War revealed the discrepancy between ‘never again alone’ and ‘never

255 See Baumann, Rainer & Hellmann, Gunther 2001, ‘Germany and the Use of Military Force: ‘Total

War’, ‘The Culture of Restraint’ and the Quest for Normality’, German Politics, April 2001, pp. ‚Bundeswehr – Billige Worteµ, Der Spiegel 3.8.1987, 32/1987.

256 )RUPRUHGHWDLOVHH Chapter .3.

257 See Bjola, Corneliu & Kornprobst, Markus 2013, Understanding international diplomacy: Theory,

Practice and Ethics, Routledge 2013, p.105 ; See also Lantis, Jeffrey 2002, Strategic Dilemmas and the Evolution of German Foreign Policy Since Unification, Greenwood Publishing 2002, pp. 17-18; ‚Die Deutschen an die Frontµ, Der Spiegel, 4.2.1991, 6/1991.

258 Schwab-Trapp, Michael 2002, Kriegsdiskurse.Die Politische Kultur des Krieges im Wandel

again war’ in terms of what they meant for German strategic behaviour. Moreover, the Gulf War also disclosed that the question which historians had more or less deemed settled a few years earlier – namely that Auschwitz and the Holocaust should be seen as sui generis historical events generally in- comparable with other atrocities in the world history, did not seem as politi- cally clear-cut an issue given the wide comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Hitler at the time, comparisons, which were repeated during the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.259 Beginning with the Gulf War, the pressure to-

wards a re-interpretation of German historical responsibility reached its eclipse in the debates concerning German military involvement and the scope, depth and purpose of the use of military force in Bosnia and most no- tably, in Kosovo.


In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 107-112)