Sign Up

Germany — Drifting No More

Is the European shift to the east changing how the international community views Germany?

March 12, 2003

Is the European shift to the east changing how the international community views Germany?

It's more than ironic to see with how much fervor Washington strategists and power writers are happily chirping these days about the fact that "Europe's center of gravity has moved eastward."

Until very, very recently, any such trend would have been cast as a deeply troublesome event. It would have definitely set off all the alarm bells at the Pentagon at the same time.

After all, it was more than a good slogan that a key purpose of NATO was to keep the Germans centered, meaning firmly rooted in the Western camp.

This seemed like an important strategic goal considering that the Germans, at various stages in history, showed some aspirations of focusing more in an Eastern direction.

Never mind that, to most Germans, such worries about drifting have always seemed spurious. Why would, why should the country turn toward the east? That was not where the riches were. And that's not where dynamism could be found.

If anything, it was the people living in the East of Europe who had a tendency to drift westward — with Germany, if not Vienna, Prague or Budapest as a first stopover point in that journey.

Alas, that popular reality did not conform to the stereotypes of the bipolar world, so to hell with reality, the strategic thinkers of the era seemed to suggest.

As a matter of fact, they desperately kept on beating that dead horse — even well after the demise of the Soviet Union.

As recently as one or two years ago, one could read breathless — and backhandedly alarmist — commentaries from some of Washington's finest commentators that the Germans were once again drifting east.

Those comments and innuendos were journalistic, if not exactly strategic shorthand for what might be characterized as the "shut up and follow" doctrine. "Oh, no," they seemed to signal, "there's the specter of Germany rearing its ugly head once again by having its own, independent opinion."

"Oh, don't we remember that whenever Germany does have a mind of its own, the world will pay a terrible price?" In short, a certain degree of independence of judgment in Germany's case was always swatted down with great precision and swiftness, on the basis of charges that Germany was about to embark on territorial expansion again.

And failing such displays of neo-imperial lusting on Germany's part, as the impeccable logic held forth, Germany must have designs on secretly shifting Europe's center eastward.

In short, it was at least viewed as keen to reinvigorate all those crypto-communist nations that will never really shed their anti-capitalist, anti-Western, anti-American disposition.

That logic was held up firmly by the finest guns on the Washington commentator firmament until a few weeks ago — when this long-term core tenet of U.S. designs for alliance management was thrown overboard virtually overnight.

What happened? U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld presented his theory of the "new Europe." It holds that the true vigor and dynamism in Europe today is found among the ranks of the formerly communist Warsaw Pact nations.

In contrast, it conceives of America's long-term allies — especially Germany and France — have exhausted themselves to the point of becoming as lame and ready-to-collapse as Moscow circa 1990.

And so, here we are. Germany no longer stands accused of drifting eastward — or of secretly scheming to shift the continent's center of gravity in that direction.

No, in the new strategic concept it is viewed as being too weak and passive to shoulder the dynamism required to join the continent's new east-central dynamic core.

In that sense, the Germans should cheer the fact that they are now cast as part and parcel of the "old Europe." At least, the old moniker of portraying Germany as an unreliable drifter got lost in the process of introducing the Rumsfeld doctrine. It now rests where it should have been put a long time ago: on the ash heap of history.