Germany's Waning Influence: An Outsider on the Global Stage
Angela Merkel's recent trips to India, Singapore and the US revealed a lot about Germany's current international role. On her foreign visits, the chancellor is a listener rather than a talker, eager not to ruffle any feathers. In its desire not to offend, Germany is becoming increasingly marginalized on the global stage.
Is it possible that Angela Merkel has "inspired" millions worldwide, and that she is an "exceptional" leader? Is it possible that Merkel has made an "outstanding" effort to promote "harmony, stability and progress" in a time of international transition? Is it possible that Merkel exudes a "warmth and kindness" that contributes to her "stabile and clear vision?"
In other words, is it possible that Germans are largely wrong in their view of their own chancellor?
At home, Merkel hasn't read or heard such praise about her in a long time. She had to fly to Washington and New Delhi, and accept the American Medal of Freedom and the Indian Nehru Award, to be able to hear such nice things being said about her. In Washington, she sat in the White House Rose Garden and listened to US President Barack Obama's enthusiastic words of praise. In Delhi, she sat in a magnificent palace and listened to a flowery laudatory speech by Indian President Pratibha Patil.
She seemed to have been transported to a dream world, one in which she was Merkel the Great. There is indeed some truth to the praise. Merkel is undoubted valued internationally, and there is nothing false about the awards. Nevertheless, they are not the whole truth.
This year, Merkel's Germany embarked on a curious course, a new version of Germany's famous Sonderweg ("special path"), if you will. It let down its Western allies in the war over Libya, and it was the only country to conclude, as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, that it had to get out of nuclear power as quickly as possible. And in the euro crisis, Germany has acquired the reputation of being principally concerned with protecting its own money.
In principle, this behavior reflects postwar Germany's fundamental fear of war, nuclear power and inflation. And these fears are currently shaping Merkel's foreign policy.
She has made two trips abroad in the last couple of weeks. They were two trips along Germany's new special path, so to speak, a small test of the country's role in the world outside Europe. She traveled for a total of 113 hours, of which 44 were spent flying, and visited three cities -- Delhi, Singapore and Washington -- and three completely different systems: India, a democratic emerging economy with a population of 1.2 billion, the authoritarian city-state of Singapore, which manages to maintain an almost permanent economic miracle, and the United States, the battered superpower that clings to its desire to shape the world using military might.
The trips amounted to three different Merkels appearing in three different worlds. How did she do it? What version of Germany was she representing? And what is the country's role on the international stage?
Catching Up on Her Sleep
An initial answer was provided on the chancellor's plane, the "Konrad Adenauer," as it was en route to Delhi. Iran felt there was a problem with the plane's flyover rights and forced it to circle over Turkey for two hours. While the diplomats in Berlin, Tehran and on board the plane grappled over a solution to the problem, Merkel slept.
In fact, she slept through the entire crisis, and when she was awake and was asked to comment on it, she played it down and said it wasn't worth making a fuss about. She had already done her hair and makeup, but she still had a bit of sleep in her eyes. Because of the delay, she had been able to sleep two hours longer than planned. Crises, it seems, can also have their advantages.
A century ago, an incident of this nature would have prompted the countries in question to send out their gunboats, but Germany is no longer particularly sensitive when it comes to questions of honor. And Merkel certainly isn't, either. She prefers to keep a low profile.
- Part 1: An Outsider on the Global Stage
- Part 2: Merkel's Talent for Looking Cute
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