German Foreign Policy Research Paper

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German Foreign Policy

Following World War II, Germany remained ideologically and geographically divided between the two opposing sides of the Cold War, and only after the fall of the Soviet Union did the country reunify and begin to formulate a coherent foreign policy of its own. However, over the last ten years, this foreign policy has often put it at odds with some of its allies (especially those in NATO), and recent events suggest that this rift between Germany and its neighbors and allies will only widen in the future, as economic instability and democratic uprisings in the Middle East threaten to destabilize the relatively fragile relations between countries, especially at a time when national leaders are increasingly thinking of their own country's individual needs to the exclusion of international relations.

Before examining Germany's foreign policy over the last ten years and its effects on global politics, it will be useful to summarize the country's history following the reunification of 1990 because as Hellman (2009) notes, German reunification "changed the landscape of European politics" to such a large extent that "since 1990, no other country (the U.S. aside) has received as much attention from mainstream IR [international relations] theory as far as its foreign policy is concerned than Germany" (Hellman, p. 257). Examining the development of German foreign policy immediately following reunification will allow the subsequent analysis of Germany's foreign policy over the last ten years to be seen in its proper historical context.Download full
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TOPIC: Research Paper on German Foreign Policy Assignment

Hellman uses two literary allusions to describe what foreign policy analysts thought might be Germany's destiny following reunification because "German foreign policy [had] moved centre stage in the global competition between realism on the one hand and liberalism and constructivism on the other" (p. 257). The realists thought Germany would become "a rising Gulliver," when in fact "Germany's extremely high degree of enmeshment with the international economic system in general and its western European neighbors in particular" gave rise to "a country which was well aware of the sirens of power and the need to add to the institutional bonds that tied it down." Thus, "pursuing a strategy of autonomy (or even power) maximization as predicted by realists was perceived to be self-defeating for a 'trading state' such as Germany," and so "in order to dampen whatever fears may have existed, 'the German Ulysses' was seen 'to tie himself to the European mast'" (Hellman, p. 257-258).

Germany's decision to dive headfirst into a cooperative, integrated relationship with its European neighbors following reunification set the stage for the foreign policy developments of the last decade, because everything from the creation of the Eurozone to the recent NATO bombing campaign in Libya can be interpreted through the lens of Germany's developing relationship with its neighbors and allies. In fact, one may even extend the liberal literary metaphor from the aftermath of reunification to the last decade and propose that the relatively tumultuous developments in Germany's international relations over the last few years represent that point at which Ulysses, finally ensnared by the siren's song, struggles to free himself from the mast against the protestations of his crewmen (perhaps demonstrated most explicitly in Germany's grudging acceptance of the various bailouts for faltering Eurozone countries).

Having briefly examined the origins of Germany's current foreign policy in the ideological upheaval following the end of the Cold War, it will now be possible to analyze the country's foreign policy over the last ten years and make some reasonable predictions regarding these policies going forward into the future. Firstly, it will be important to note how Germany's foreign policy over the last decade represents a marked change from its policy decisions in the 1990s, because this rhetorical and political shift will help to explain some of the attitudes of Germany's neighbors, allies, and other major member countries of international organizations of which Germany is a part.

The biggest difference between the years following reunification and the last ten years is that "in recent years, German foreign policy decision makers have employed a more "self-confident" rhetoric, and some observers have concluded that Germany displays signs of a less-inhibited or even more "assertive" policy in European and international affairs" (Overhaus, 2005, p. 27). However, the motivations behind and ultimate goals of this more assertive policy are not those identified by the observers Overhaus mentions, because Germany's foreign policy assertiveness has often been "assertively" inactive, at least when it comes to military matters. One might expect a more assertive ans self-confident foreign policy to include a greater influence on military might or coercive authority, but in fact, in 2002 when Chancellor Gerhard Schroder "introduced the notion of a "German way," which resonated in the domestic and international context […] he explicitly related the term to economic, educational and labor market policies-not foreign affairs" (Overhaus, p. 27). However, in this same speech, Schroder used the notion of a "self-confident" Germany as a means of supporting the decision not to intervene in Iraq alongside the United States and its NATO allies, claiming that Germany's "pro-active role in the fight against international terrorism […] gave Germany the self-confidence to oppose an "adventure" in Iraq, even one chosen by the country's long-standing American ally" (Overhaus, p. 27).

Thus, the self-confidence espoused by Schroder was not the self-confidence that might lead a country to belligerently invade another on false pretenses or fallacious intelligence, but rather the self-confidence that allows a country to say no to its allies. As The Economist noted in the summer of 2005, just as Overhaus was analyzing Germany's "new way," "Germany might be conceived of as an atom at the centre of a molecule that is Europe," and so "to keep this structure stable [...] Germany must balance relations with France, its key ally in the European Union; with Britain, the other big EU country; with smaller EU members, with central Europe and with Russia, the giant to the east; and, overarching these, with America" ("Rebalancing, not realigning; German foreign policy," The Economist, 2005). According to Overhaus, "this balancing act failed during the Iraq crisis," because "one might argue either that Berlin failed on both accounts (it damaged NATO and the European Union) or that it chose France (and the European Union) over Washington (and NATO)" (Overhaus, p. 28). However, this analysis clouds the subject, because it presents a false binary between the United States and France that likely did not actually play into Germany's considerations regarding the Iraq war.

In fact, the reality is far more nuanced, because even Overhaus fails to identify the central point of Germany's decision regarding the Iraq war. Far from choosing between France and the EU or the United States and NATO, Germany chose to support Germany's best interests. That this happened to coincide with the position of France and other European Union members is simply an after-effect; far from representing a continuation of the Germany tied to the European mast, the decision to refrain from the invasion of Iraq represented a marked shift in its foreign policy, even if this shift was clouded by the appearance of European partiality on the part of Germany. The idea of a foreign policy which necessarily must choose between the United States and Europe actually benefited Germany, because it allowed the country to continue on unharmed by most of its allies for a few years longer than it would have been able to had the extent of its "self-confidence" been known in 2002, when it neglected to help invade Iraq. To see how the "self-confidence of a grown-up nation, which does neither have to feel superior nor inferior to anyone" led to Germany's decision to put its own interests ahead of both the United States and its neighbors, one must look at more recent developments, when Germany has resisted the desires of nearly all its allies.

Although one could look to a number of foreign policy decisions over the last decade to demonstrate Germany's increasing independence from its allies and neighbors, such as the negotiations and referendums regarding bailouts for floundering Eurozone economies or Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement that multiculturalism is "dead," this study will look to Germany's recent decisions regarding politics in the Middle East, because these decisions will serve to demonstrate that when it comes to Germany's foreign policy the country has no qualms ignoring the desires of any of its allies, not just the United States. Two details will serve as the basis for this argument: first, Germany's diplomatic relationship with Iran, which stands in stark contrast to that of its NATO allies and Israel, and second, Germany's decision to refrain from the bombing campaign in Libya, even in the face of surprisingly widespread support amongst its European, American, and some Middle Eastern allies.

Germany's relationship with Iran is one of the most obvious example of the country's self-confident divergence with most of its allies, and especially Israel, to the extent that "its top diplomat, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran at a time when… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "German Foreign Policy" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

German Foreign Policy.  (2011, May 28).  Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

MLA Format

"German Foreign Policy."  28 May 2011.  Web.  16 January 2022. <>.

Chicago Style

"German Foreign Policy."  May 28, 2011.  Accessed January 16, 2022.