A United Germany at 25: Taking Responsibility, Exercising Leadership
AICGS is pleased to present this collection of essays reflecting on the 25th anniversary of German unification in October 2015. We are grateful to those who have contributed to this collection, all of whom have been affiliated with and supported the Institute in many different capacities. These essays leave us with thoughts not only about the past, but also about the future of German-American relations. Be sure to check back throughout the week for additional insights.
Twenty-five years on, it is hard for many to remember that nothing about German unification was preordained. Leaders at the time seized an extraordinary moment and created new realities on the ground. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Germany’s unification gives us the chance to remember and celebrate the remarkable outcome. Those reflections should also inspire us to look for opportunities today to make our world better.
If we flash back to 1990, the one capital that celebrated Germany’s unity with unbridled enthusiasm was Washington, DC. President George H.W. Bush and his team didn’t share the fears of most of Germany’s neighbors that unification would again lead to a Germany too big and too strong to be balanced by the other continental powers. Instead they saw the incredible opportunity of a Europe on a path to being “whole and free” after decades of imposed division. U.S. policymakers engaged in first-rate diplomacy from the moment the Berlin Wall fell to achieve an outcome of unification less than one year later. President Bush had already espoused the view of Germans as “partners in leadership” back in May of 1989 to mark forty years of the Federal Republic. For Americans, the prospect of unification conjured up images of a future Germany that would continue to be imbedded deeply in European and transatlantic structures, but would be economically and politically stronger and thus a better partner for the United States.
Even today, however, Germans are still reluctant to speak of German “leadership.” “Responsibility” is their term of choice. Bush spoke of responsibility as the “constant companion” of leadership. Leadership remains a loaded term for Germans even seventy years after World War II and 100 years after World War I. President Joachim Gauck, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen all spoke about the need for greater German foreign and security policy responsibility at the 2014 Munich Security Conference. Whatever term one wants to use, Germany in 2015 is in fact exercising greater responsibility, dare I say leadership, especially in Europe.