Rearmament in Germany
NATO campaign in Kosovo has brought to the front a critical issue in post-Cold
War Germany – the country’s concern over military rearmament. On the 1st
of May 1999, twelve thousand people gathered in a rally to demand an end to the
NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, the German military’s first combat
operation since World War Two.
According to US President Bill Clinton, Germany’s support of the NATO campaign
was crucial. Only then need the other NATO allies collectively approve any
military action against Serbia.
Indeed, as Franz-Josef Meiers articulates, the rearmament debate centres on the
“insistence” that Germany accept a key role in international security
leadership. On the other hand, residual concerns over the country’s military
power have resulted in a German “reluctance” to pursue policies contrary to
national self defence.
In arguing for a more assertive Germany, Meiers suggests that the rearmament
issue has raised two fundamental questions: whether Germans are willing to bear
new global responsibilities, and whether German allies and partners are prepared
to accept the country’s new assertiveness in the light of its historical past. Consequently, this paper
will examine the historical roots of the rearmament question, analysing its
broader significance towards regional and domestic stability, as well as
suggesting a change in attitudes as a possible way to resolve the issue.
the Second World War, the victorious Allies were faced with the important
question of how to deal with the defeated nation of Nazi Germany. At the key
Potsdam Conference of 1945, the three powers agreed to a “complete disarmament
and demilitarization” of Germany.
In addition, Allied fears of a possible German military resurgence led to the
country’s consequent division into four occupation zones.
the polarisation of the world into US and Soviet-led blocs, Germany was divided
into East and West Germany. Against the backdrop of the 1948-49 Berlin crisis,
the complex issue of German rearmament arose. Walt Rostow argues that an
“immense” ground force was needed in West Germany to deter the Soviet Union
from attempting any military action against Western Europe.
However, West German opinion was divided internally with fears that rearmament
could justify Soviet excuses for war or reawaken militant aspirations.
Externally, strong opposition came from France with its long-standing animosity
with the German nation.
Consequently, the plan for rearmament was postponed until a cooling of
Franco-German rivalries in 1950. The subsequent creation of the European Steel
and Coal Community paved the way for West German admission to NATO in 1955 and
its subsequent rearmament later in the year.
the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the rearmament issue resurfaced due to a
de-classification of regional security in purely Cold War terms. However, with
the emergence of unified Germany as the third largest economic power in the
world, external pressure was on the country to assume a leadership position.
Internally however, public perceptions remained deeply adverse to
remilitarisation, preferring a “civilian power” policy and adhering to
“strict military abstinence”.
the significance of the rearmament question, it is understandable that the issue
has generated such widespread concern. This is especially since the European
continent has experienced a certain degree of stability, and a military build-up
could ignite old rivalries, or even threaten the unity of the European Union.
Consequently, Europeans are circumspect with respect to the danger that
remilitarisation could cause towards destabilising the region. Indeed,
rearmament can be likened to sharpening the teeth of a tiger that had once
caused global military instability. Such rekindling of residual fears is similar
to the uproar raised against Japan and its role in peacekeeping and regional
security. Domestically, public sentiment is understandably cautious as political
and economic stability have brought about a comfortable measure of life, and
people are therefore wary about ushering a military-strong Germany in the fear
that such a situation could destabilise both the regional and domestic
in attempting to resolve the question of remilitarisation, it is essential for
attitudes to be changed. Internally, the German public and leaders have to
define a new role of conduct that neither “shirks responsibilities” of
international leadership, nor revives fears of German power.
This shift of attitude is necessary in the wake of the Kosovo bombings, which
have changed the nature and extent of Germany’s military involvement. As a
result of responsibly defining such a German role, it would then be possible for
external attitudes to change, effecting a positive response towards Germany’s
new role in the international community.
above essay was written by Mark Lim Shan-Loong on 3rd February 2000.
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