Germany Table of Contents
Imperial Germany's foreign policy, from Otto von Bismarck's founding of the empire in 1871 until the empire's collapse at the end of World War I, was influenced by the country's exposed geographical situation, Germany's Mittellage , as well as by domestic difficulties. Looking abroad, German policy makers were often obsessed with the threat of encirclement (Einkreisung ) by hostile neighbor states. Thus, after 1871 German foreign policy objectives centered on two principal tasks: to keep France, Germany's historical rival and enemy, isolated; and to balance the other major powers of the day in order to ensure that no single power would be able to exert pressure or militarily confront the newly united German state.
"Modern Germany was born encircled," writes David P. Calleo, a noted foreign affairs specialist. Indeed, German leaders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often concerned with their country's vulnerability. They were preoccupied with national frontiers and responded to this preoccupation with a heavy emphasis on military power. Yet the international policy, or Weltpolitik , of Bismarck (1862-90) and Kaiser Wilhelm II (r. 1888-1918) differed little from that of other major European powers of the day, such as Britain or France. But Germany would come to fight and lose two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century. And the disastrous consequences of German militarism and the barbaric actions of Nazi Germany, in particular, had a profound impact on the development of West Germany's foreign policy between 1949 and 1989.
At first glance, the situation facing united Germany in the 1990s resembles the situation faced by imperial Germany, insofar as Germany has reclaimed a Mittellage and has returned geographically to the heart of the continent (surrounded by nine immediate neighbors). Yet the parallel ends there. Peaceful relations exist between Germany and bordering states. Like Germany, the country's neighbors are democratic. Relations between Germany and these neighbors are characterized not by confrontation but by economic cooperation and interdependence. In the first years following unification, there was no dispute about continued German membership in NATO. And Germany remains a faithful member of the EU--even as German policy makers have begun to reexamine their country's foreign policy and to search for a new hierarchy of German interests in Europe.
Data as of August 1995