British and German Foreign Policy in Transformation - Unilateralism in Britain and Multilateralism in Germany - What has changed after the 1990s? - A comparative analysis

Seminar Paper, 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Germany’s Foreign Policy Doctrine
2.1. The Cold War Period (1949-1990)
2.2. Continuity and Change of German Policy in the Post-Cold War Era

3. Britain as a “Global Power with Global Interests”
3.1. The Policy Making Process in the Years of 1949–1990
3.2. The Challenges of the Post-Cold War Era

4. Comparing “Unilateral” Great Britain and “Multilateral” Germany
4.1. The Influence of External and Internal Factors
4.2. Multilateralism and Unilateralism
4.3. The Question of Security
4.4. “Europeanization” of Foreign Policies
4.5. The Role of NATO, EU and UN – Marshall Fund’s 2005 Survey

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

7. Figures

8. Tables

1. Introduction

The process of development of the major European states’ sovereignty after the sixteenth century is characterised mainly by different internal struggles for political authority. In comparing the international order of the Cold War period to the international system in the years after 1989, the analysts observe enormous, far-reaching changes which influenced to a great extend the foreign policies and in particular the strategies of the majors states in pursuing relations with the three significant international organizations - NATO, UN and EU.

After the end of World War II Winston Churchill envisioned Great Britain as “a global power with global interests” (White, 2002). During the Cold War Period its foreign policy was largely defined by the three “concentric circles of the world politics (The British Empire/Commonwealth, the Atlantic community, and a United Europe)” (White, 2002). Identity and sovereignty were seen as essential foreign policy values. But nowadays Britain faces the need to adapt its policy to the fast changes in the modern international system.

The developments in the global environment during the Post-Cold War Era have put many demands on British policy makers and have thereby defined Britain’s place in the world of today. Contemporarily Britain can be clearly seen as a “less sovereign” state, if it is described in terms of realism (Reynolds,1991). However, it is also a state that has always behaved in a sovereign manner and has actively exercised its sovereignty, rather than renouncing it. Britain today is in a situation in which its functions and the way in which it formulates its external relations are affected dramatically by the new international environment, thus challenging its status as a sovereign state. The unilateral strategy of Britain and its commitment to NATO have made it difficult for the country to be an active member in other forms of international organisations (where Transatlanticism does not play such an important role). Despite these challenges for the country’s foreign policy strategies, however, we can also observe a change in the state’s orientation towards Europe.

British policy makers are reflecting about the future role of the United States in Europe, not only in terms of security matters but also economic and social development. The relationship between Britain and the United States has always been a specific one, particularly during Cold War and Post-Cold War Period – a relationship based on common language, a reasonable degree of understanding between the armed services of both countries and their intelligence organisations, as well as on the shared culture and friendship between the leaders of the two states. As stated by Michael Clarke (1992): “British policy- makers would have to take an explicitly integrative, rather than separatist, view of the future of Anglo-American relations within a strengthened European community….”

Germany on the other side – a large country in the centre of Europe, which has also been playing an important role in the history of international relations – is another good example of a country whose foreign policy has been marked by substantive changes. Due to the dependence on US protection during the Cold War, German leaders often had to make compromises and agree to controversial decisions under the pressure of their NATO allies. The policy makers in West Germany were preoccupied with three main problems in this period, namely - the security of the country, its reunification and its economic development. The state’s reunification in 1990 did not suddenly bring back Germany to the platform of international politics in terms of its economic power, but the international Cold War constraints on its foreign policy disappeared astonishingly fast.

Today the country’s foreign policy is marked by continuity and change in its policies, as well as in its strategies for pursuing relations with international organizations like the NATO, the EU and the UN. Two historical facts will give us a clearer picture of the continuity and change of German foreign policies after the state’s unification: Firstly the use of military force outside NATO and secondly the strong commitment of Germany to the European integration. The New Germany of today is a powerful actor in regional and international affairs, managing a foreign policy still based on multilateral cooperation and domestic consensus.

In comparison to Great Britain, Germany has always followed a more regional orientation and has shown unceasing commitment to the process of European integration. Some analysts claim that the European integration and the evolution of German politics “have reflected two sides of the same coin” (Lantis, 2002) during the last decades. Nowadays we observe a change in the political culture and an emerging complex model of German European policies modified by both external and internal influences. However, this change is not only a result of a new international environment, but also of internal factors like the state’s political party organizations, the individual leaders of the main political parties (SDP, CDU, FDP, the Greens, etc.) and their different beliefs, the public opinion and attitudes, the “core values” in German foreign policy. The new character of international order have caused a gradual evolution of a domestic political culture of restraint in the country which also raises a lot of questions about the future strategies of the state in its international policies and future orientation.

Germany and Great Britain are two excellent examples of countries with very clear, consistent orientations in their international relations – regional and global respectively. This opens the possibility to look at the changes of leadership that occurred during the last decades and their relation to the contemporary foreign policies of these countries.

2. Germany’s Foreign Policy Doctrine

2.1. The Cold War Period (1949-1990)

From 1949 until the collapse of the Soviet system after 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany was part of a static and rigid bipolar international system and highly dependent on its relations with the West. The country was very limited in its independence and – as a semi-sovereign state – seeking close relationships with the West, accepting the United States’ nuclear umbrella as the best guarantee for its security in Europe. Moreover, in the first 20 years of its existence the Federal Republic of Germany did not recognized the existence of the German Democratic Republic. For this reason, dealing with Eastern-Western relations was mostly left to the USA and other European states.

Militarily Germany was an occupied country. Politically it was not fully sovereign and its policy decisions were highly influenced by its allies. Economically the country was dependent on assistance from its neighbours and friends. The strategies of the country in pursuing relations with international organizations were based on three main preoccupations connected with its security, reunification and economic development, and these strategies were shaped to a great extend by the existing international constraints.

Konrad Adenauer - the first chancellor of Western Germany deemed the cooperation through international institutions as the only way to assure the security of the country, its sovereignty and to achieve its main goals in the years after World War II. Faithful to his beliefs and as time went by, the German chancellor created a high level of policy dependency between Germany and the USA.

After NATO was established in April 1949 and Germany was offered a membership in the alliance, Adenauer agreed on conditional German rearmament, believing that the NATO membership is the chance for his country to reach greater sovereignty and legitimacy again. On a domestic level there was disagreement with the Chancellor’s strategy and he met a strong opposition, which was also a clear indicator for the clash between the international pressures on the country and its political culture of restraint. After all, the attempts of the German Chancellor to establish a domestic coalition were successful and Western Germany joined NATO in 1955.

Another strategy of the German Chancellor, based on the idea of ensuring the state’s security, was the creation of a particular relationship between Germany and France. For Adenauer, a close Franco-German relationship was not only an instrument to assure German security, but also to stimulate the state’s economic development and even promote its unification. The question of nuclear weapons was another source of conflict between Germany’s commitment to foreign policy and its political culture of restraint. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor who managed to gain support for NATO alliance and the deployment of nuclear weapons in Germany. In so doing he took the direction of multilateralism.

The question of German security was tightly related to its reunification. Chancellor Adenauer sought Soviet support for free all-German elections. But as later on the negotiations between the German Chancellor and Nikita Khrushchev did not bring about the desired results in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the division of Germany became even deeper by the conflicts emerging in Eastern-Western relations.

About a decade later the social democratic chancellor Willy Brandt initiated a different strategy. He pursued closer relations with the East and was ready to engage Soviet leaders in dialogues on the status of divided Germany. In 1970, Brandt and the Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev signed the Moscow Treaty, pointing a way to the mutual reunification of the country.

The strategies of the Western German government aimed to economic development were supported to a high degree by assistance from the West. The Marshal Plan sponsored by the United States provided billions of dollars for the reconstruction of the state. All this promoted a successful partnership between the government officials and businesspersons in Germany to conduct a sound fiscal monetary policy and low inflation levels. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established. Germany participated actively in the coordination of the economic policies in the sectors of trade, industry, agriculture and environment, thus leading to a stable process of further European Integration.

2.2. Continuity and Change of German Policy in the Post-Cold War Era

In November, 1989 the communist regime in East Germany collapsed, and was followed by the “Two-plus-Four Conferences” (East and West Germany, plus the four allied occupation powers).The negotiations between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, in August 1990, led to October 3, 1990, and the unification of Germany. “German unification had occurred not against but within Europe, indeed for Europe….” (Anderson 1999)

Many of the goals formulated in the cold war foreign policy programs have been achieved and the political leaders announced that the new Federal Republic of Germany would behave in the same way like the old one during the transition period. After all the new international system characterised by significant political transformations compelled Germany to adapt to the new geopolitical territory which it entered after its unification.

Germany’s territory has increased by almost 50 % through unification, its population- by one third (from 62 million in 1989 to 81.2 million in 1994), but in its military strength it kept the position of middle power and being of the countries most strongly affected by the restructuring it couldn’t invest enough on armed forces’ modernization.

In the Post-Cold War Period the international environment influenced the strategies in the foreign policy relations of Germany to a great extend. But it was mainly the impact of the domestic policy of unification in the country and the role of the new actors, problems and structures which shifted German policies towards Europe. The strategies by which the country pursued relations with the international organizations like NATO and EU could be explained by the value system and political culture of the country and the conditions of the whole environment. The elites, the political parties, and the public attitudes, which have had a significant impact on the post-war political culture of restraint, played a very important role once more. A domestic mix of interests and institutions changed Germany’s coherent relationship with European Community into a state of potential disorder. In the years after the unification the Bonn government developed a belief system based on social market economy and European multilateralism and adopted a unification policy of rapid institutional transfer.

Table 1. Policy comparison

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Anderson (1999)

In sum, the German foreign policy in the Post-Cold War Era was characterised by continuity and change. Table 1 reveals the complex character of change and continuity in the German policy since the unification. It represents continuity in trade and market affairs, subtle change in environmental and energy policies and changes in market liberalization in the German position on the structural funds and the CAP to meet the new demands. These results could be explained by the fact that the national officials were mostly subject to variable international pressures and the possibilities after the unification to press for changes in the German position.

As already mentioned the continuity and change in German foreign policy could be illustrated best by the German use of military force outside of NATO area, and the European integration.

The crisis in the Persian Gulf with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait turned to be the first important foreign policy challenge for Germany. The request from the USA for deployment of troops to join Operation Desert Shield led to a serious domestic disagreement about the crisis. The German Basic Law forbade the country’s military involvement outside of NATO area and the country announced that it would only provide economic assistance to the states which are in an utmost need after the invasion, as well as, financial support for the military coalition against Iraqi Forces. Germany refused to deploy troops in the region.


[1] producer group-led

[2] land government-led

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British and German Foreign Policy in Transformation - Unilateralism in Britain and Multilateralism in Germany - What has changed after the 1990s? - A comparative analysis
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Bistra Ivanova (Author), 2006, British and German Foreign Policy in Transformation - Unilateralism in Britain and Multilateralism in Germany - What has changed after the 1990s? - A comparative analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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