As it began, so is our century drawing to a close, with Germany once again the economic powerhouse and geostrategic hub of Europe. What is remarkable is how quickly this happened, how unbidden and unanticipated: the toppling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989; the reunification a year later; the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in late December 1991; a resurgent impetus to West European integration in 1992; and NATO enlargement, which was approved in July 1997 and will be formally consecrated in April 1999 on the occasion of NATO’s fiftieth anniversary. This chain of events has profoundly affected Germany’s situation, resulting in immediate benefits and even brighter long-term prospects.
For the first time since the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949 and the painstaking process of creating democratic institutions, the German elite must look beyond the continuing task of state building and deal with a set of formidable new problems. The security concerns that dominated Bonn’s outlook and led to its usual acquiescence to Washington’s preferences on foreign policy and defense issues are now of secondary importance, and the mindset formed in a divided and dependent Germany that had little room for independent maneuver vis-a-vis a powerful Soviet Union and its East German satellite requires serious recalibration in Europe’s changing environment.