Six years ago, during his first week in office, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, also the leader of the country’s Green Party, made perfectly clear that he was “the foreign minister of Germany, not of the Greens” and that he would pursue a German, not a Green, foreign policy. Since then, he has not broken his word.
This has given dyed-in-the-wool Greens plenty to sulk about, and even grounds to quit the party altogether. For the direction of Germany’s foreign policy has, at times, looked to leftists more right wing than that of its conservative predecessor. Barely had Fischer moved into the foreign ministry when the new red-green leadership, a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, enlisted Germany in the spring 1999 NATO campaign against Yugoslavia, the first time German troops had entered combat since World War II. Since then, German soldiers have been dispatched to Kosovo, Macedonia, Congo, Afghanistan, Kuwait and the Horn of Africa. (When the red-green coalition took office, there were German troops only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, a deployment that the then-opposition Greens had tried to block.) Germany is now, after the United States, the largest supplier of troops to peacekeeping missions worldwide.
For two decades, both on the streets and in the Bundestag, the German Greens have engaged with geopolitical issues, the moral crux of the matter for the left: post-Holocaust Germany’s proper place in the world. The Greens were born in 1980 amid nationwide demonstrations against the deployment of US nuclear missiles on German soil, and their foreign policy positions still reflect the spirit of those days. Their 1998 campaign platform called for a demilitarized Germany in a demilitarized Europe, an end to military conscription and the replacement of NATO with a pan-European security order. One strand that runs through the left’s critique is a deep distrust of the exercise of national power across state borders, and in particular of German power, which they fear could trigger the resurgence of a toxic nationalism. Like a reforming alcoholic, Germany still has to be kept away from the object of its addiction at all costs.
In contrast to Green positions on domestic issues, like the transport of nuclear waste and renewable energy initiatives, the Greens’ foreign policy agenda never underwent the moderating process of implementation. On the state level, where red-green coalitions had come to power across much of western Germany, the former “anti-party” party learned how to participate in parliamentary democracy: how to compromise, build consensus and implement policy. In the process, the Greens turned long left-wing wish lists into serviceable domestic policies, many of them adopted by the mainstream parties. But as the opposition in the federal arena, the Greens could stake out holier-than-thou stands on foreign affairs without risking anything.