I, Gerhard A Cheat Sheet to Schröder's Memoirs

Gerhard Schröder's stint as chancellor, from 1998 to 2005, marked the coming of age of the New Germany. The country took an increasingly prominent role on the international stage -- be it in the Balkans, the war on terror or Berlin's outspoken opposition to the Iraq war. Schröder's just-published memoirs provide a unique glimpse into that transformation. SPIEGEL ONLINE provides a cheat sheet.


Portraits of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as illustrated by readers of the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.
DPA

Portraits of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as illustrated by readers of the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.

The date was June 6, 2004 and leaders from some of the world's most powerful countries were gathered on the beach of Normandy to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing during World War II. United States President George W. Bush was there. So were Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Russian President Vladimir Putin likewise showed up. And French President Jacques Chirac was ever the gracious host.

It was a commemoration that had taken place, in some form, every year for six decades -- to mark one of the defining moments in the World War II defeat of German fascism. But this time around, a new visitor was present. For the first time ever, a German chancellor joined the celebrations marking Germany's defeat. The chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said it was confirmation that "the post-war period is over."

It was a sentence that merely corroborated what many had long felt coming -- namely that, especially since the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, it was time for Europe to leave World War II behind. Nevertheless, it is a statement that could stand as a motto for Schröder's entire seven-year term in office -- a career into which Schröder's new memoirs, published on Thursday, provide a unique insight. The book not only gives readers a first-hand look at the major political decisions taken by Schröder during his term in office. It also provides a chancellor's-eye-view of the major events that shook the world between 1998 and 2005.

An international player

When Schröder took office, Germany was ready to assert a new, post-reunification self-confidence. More than that, the country was also ready to leave its days of cowering in the corner of the international political stage behind. From the early days of their two terms in office, Chancellor Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer transformed their country's foreign policy, making Germany an international player to be reckoned with.

The process has not been a painless one. Many Germans were loathe to cast aside the almost reflexive pacifism that served Germany so well during the Cold War. In 2006, though, the debate has become largely academic; there are now some 9,000 German soldiers serving overseas from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa, from the Balkans, through the Middle East to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Schröder, of course, can hardly take all the credit for Germany's foreign-policy reinvention. There were indications that changes were afoot already under Schröder's predecessor Helmut Kohl. The new age of the German army commenced harmlessly in May 1992 when troops set up a field hospital in Cambodia for Khmer Rouge victims. Humanitarian aid in Somalia soon followed.

But it was under Schröder that the German military became actively involved in hotspots abroad. In late 1996, German soldiers helped separate warring factions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and on March 24, 1999, after receiving approval from parliament, he announced to his nation that German planes were involved in NATO bombing raids in Yugoslavia -- the first time the country had engaged in combat since World War II.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Schröder declared Germany's "unlimited solidarity" and began preparing his country for war should it become necessary. The result not long afterwards was Germany's participation in the offensive to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan. Both decisions resulted in bitter criticism of Schröder from within his party and the opposition.

But his alliance with Washington would soon fray as the Bush administration sought to expand the war on terror to Baghdad. Schröder's decision to rebuff Bush as the US invasion of Iraq approached was a clear message that, even if Germany had benefited tremendously from US support after World War II, the country would make its own foreign policy decisions. Schröder also cemented Germany's leadership role within the European Union.

Schröder's memoirs, published just one year after he was voted out of office, lay his foreign policy bare for all to see. SPIEGEL ONLINE has prepared a subject-by-subject compilation of some of the highlights.

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