Saturday, August 28, 2004

Germany's Place in the Sun

The Economist is carrying a story (subs. reqd.) on Germany's push for a bigger place in the international arena as befits its economic might. I myself am not so enthusiastic about such a prospect, but not for the reasons one might expect.

CAN the world trust Germany, and can Germans trust themselves? Nearly 60 years after the second world war, such questions must seem almost insulting. Yet Germany is still not a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. And it is one of the few big democracies not to allow referendums. Now change is in the air on both fronts. The German government is campaigning hard for a permanent Security Council seat. And, after the British and French decisions to hold referendums on the European Union constitution, the pressure is building for Germany to follow suit.

Neither issue is new. Ever since reunification, German governments have expressed interest in being on the Security Council. But even Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who thinks Germany is a big country that should be treated as such, has not pushed hard. Yet now that the idea of a common seat for the European Union is receding, he is more insistent on one for Germany. His foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, is lobbying around the world.


Germany has a good case for a permanent voice among the world's powers. Only America and Japan contribute more to the UN budget than Germany (see chart). Japan is also lobbying for a place at the top table. And, with 8,600 soldiers now on duty across the world, Germany is also among the leading contributors to UN-mandated missions. Yet such figures count for little in the power struggle over UN reform.

Instead of new permanent members, the panel working on UN reform seems to want a new class of semi-permanent members, elected for five years, a solution that would not satisfy Germany. What is more, some permanent members are not keen on Germany joining them. France and Britain are said to be in favour, but probably only to fend off demands to turn their seats into a single EU one. The Italians are against there being a seat for Germany, but not for Italy. More important, Germany's recent actions as a non-permanent member are seen in Washington as unhelpful, not just on Iraq but also over such issues as the International Criminal Court.


Some critics denounce demands for a place on the Security Council as “left-wing nationalism” and a shift away from European integration. Meanwhile proponents avoid all the hard questions. Would a permanent seat not entail spending more on defence, and sending soldiers on real combat missions?
My aversion to Germany being granted a place on the UN Security Council has nothing to do with whether or not Germans can be "trusted": I see no evidence whatsoever that a Fourth Reich is on the horizon.

My real problem is hinted at by that bit about Germany's "unhelpfulness" over Iraq and the International Criminal Court, as well as in the final quoted paragraph; the Germans have proven themselves more than willing to play the role of spoilers when it comes to international initiatives, but whenever there's a risk of bleeding, they're never anywhere to be found. We've seen this repeatedly not just with Iraq but also with the Congo, with Darfur, with the Ivory Coast, with Haiti and with several other places around the world where Australian, British, French and Canadian troops are currently risking their lives to maintain order.

If Germans don't think the troubles of faraway countries of which they know little have any real bearing on their own lives, other than to make the odd cash donation, and that only when pressed, then I don't see why they're in the least deserving of a place at the big boys' table. Let them play at being a giant Switzerland if they wish, but they must also expect to be treated like a Switzerland, i.e, as a nation to be ignored other than on matters of trade.