German National Identity and the Primacy of Multilateralism

German National Identity and the Primacy of Multilateralism

More so than that of other countries, the foreign policy pursued by the Federal Republic of Germany displays deep historical fractures and discontinuities. This reflects the country's profound identity crisis in the aftermath of the twin disasters of National Socialism and the Second World War. The failure of German hegemonism and power politics after 1870-71, culminating in the unique crimes of the National Socialist dictatorship, underscored the country's need for a radical break with its old nationalist and militaristic past, and resulted in a renunciation of traditional power politics. Key features of German foreign policy since 1945 include a culture of reticence, accommodation, a willingness to cooperate, and a commitment to the rule of law and human rights.

Guiding the Bonn Republic's statecraft was the conviction that in post-war Europe, the dual challenge of guaranteeing security for -- and from -- Germany could only be resolved by maintaining the closest possible relations with both the U.S. (via NATO) and France (initially via the European Community and, later, the EU). For more than 40 years, the promotion of European integration has not only conformed with Germany's economic interests as an export nation, but has also reinforced a self-defined German identity that emphasizes its European context. The result has been a mutually reinforcing feedback process between Germany's foreign policy agenda and its national identity.

Germany's historical experience also prompted its shift towards a cooperative and multilateral foreign policy, another key component of the German foreign policy identity. Multilateralism was initially practiced vis-à-vis the West and its institutions (NATO and the EC), and later, towards the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, by means of West Germany's Ostpolitik.

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