BERLIN – Germany’s reunification, nearly 25 years ago, once again placed at the heart of Europe a large power whose location, economic potential, and, yes, history, raised suspicions of revived hegemonic ambitions. Major European leaders at the time – including Giulio Andreotti, Margaret Thatcher, and François Mitterrand – worried that Germany might seek to revise the results of the two world wars.
In German political circles in 1990, the very idea would have seemed monstrous and absurd. But the end of Germany’s partition also meant the end of the Cold War’s bipolar world order; and, as the world confronts an accumulation of dangerous regional crises and tensions (in Ukraine, the Middle East, and East Asia), the absence of a new order has become dangerously apparent.
Worries about the return of history’s ghosts so far have been unfounded, at least as far as Germany is concerned. Though the global financial crisis and its effects on Europe have de facto turned Germany into an economic hegemon, it is not a role that the government sought or relishes. The reunited Germany remains a peaceful democracy, recognizes all neighboring borders, and remains firmly anchored in NATO and the European Union.
But, while Germany today poses no threat to its neighbors or the European order, this obviously was not always so. For the first 70 years after its unification in 1871, Germany sought to enforce – more or less alone and against France – its political and military dominance in Europe. Failure in WWI led to radicalization under Adolf Hitler, which ended in total defeat and Germany’s partition.