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The “German Question” from the geopolitical perspective and the German government's response in January 2023

The term “German Question” is commonly used to refer to the recurring problem of German unity in various forms in European history between 1806 and 1990.

After the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the gradual emergence of the European nation-states, Germany was also faced with the question of which borders and which territorial order it should have. From the Frankfurt National Assembly to the Constitution of the German Empire, the First World War, the Weimar Republic, the Second World War and the Cold War up to the Reunification, controversial discussions and warlike disputes were held over this question again and again in different contexts. From time immemorial, the territorial order of Germany, partly because of its central position in Europe and its existing resources, has been closely interrelated with European history and the development of the balance of power of the respective great powers.

With German unity in 1990, a fundamental reshaping of East-West relations took place12, in the framework of which the German Question was settled, in particular through the Two-plus-Four negotiations and the conclusion of the corresponding “Treaty on the Final Settlement in Respect of Germany”. Since then, it is generally considered to have been settled34. At that time, the then Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker said at the celebration of German reunification on 3 October 1990: “The day has come when, for the first time in history, the whole of Germany will find its permanent place in the circle of Western democracies.”5 

This “place in the circle of Western democracies” was underpinned by the inclusion of the reunited and now, for the first time since the Second World War, fully sovereign Germany in NATO and the EU. Against the background that the clarification of the German Question in 1990 was only conceivable with the clear assignment of the reunited Germany to the “West” and that integration into NATO and the EU was a basic prerequisite for reunification, it is not surprising that the reunited Germany has always intensively cultivated these relations with the “West” since then.

At the same time, however, after reunification, also against the background of the general relaxation of the old East-West conflict, there was also an approach of the reunified Germany to Russia: after the peaceful reunification in 1990, Germany was grateful for the smooth handling of the aftermath, at the same time felt itself to be an impulse generator and motor for a stronger integration of Russia into European structures and promoted loans and investments in Russia. With the chancellorship Gerhard Schröder and the economic upswing in Russia under Wladimir Putin, German-Russian relations, especially in the field of economy, but also in political dialogue has never been so intense. Since 1998, bilateral government consultations have taken place annually at the highest level.6

However, at the latest since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the old East-West conflict has flared up again, and it affects Germany in a special way due to its historical development and its changing interdependence with the two great powers, the USA and Russia. In 2015, Georg Friedman, a prominent US geopolitical expert, formulated a new “German question” that had to be addressed: who could tell him how Germany would position itself on the US strategy of preventing Russia from cooperating with Germany and establishing a so-called “cordon sanitaire” against Russia (line from the Baltic to the Black Sea): “Whoever can tell me now what the Germans will do will tell me the next 20 years of history.”7 

Friedman described Germany's relations with Russia as “complex” and the connection of German capital and technology with Russian resources and labour as “the only combination that has terrified the United States for centuries.” For Friedman, the answer to the question of what Germany would do was far from clear. Germany had always been economically powerful, but geopolitically very vulnerable: “Since 1871, this has been the German question. The clear question of Europe.”8

Eight years later, on January 6, 2023, the German government George Friedman's “German Question”: Germany is supplying - as Chancellor Scholz puts it “internationally coordinated” - Ukraine with tanks.910

  1. Federal Agency for Civic Education, "The German Question in International Politics" (“Die deutsche Frage in der internationalen Politik”)
    14 March 2023
  2. Cicero, magazine for political culture, "The German Question" ("Die Deutsche Frage")
    14 March 2023
  3. dt. Wikipedia
    27 February 2023
  4. Federal Agency for Civic Education, "Negotiations with the Four Powers" ("Verhandlungen mit den Vier Mächten")
    14 March 2023
  5. Address by Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker at the State Act on the "Day of German Unity"
  6. dt. Wikipedia, "German-Russion relations"
    14 March 2023
  7. George Friedman, "Europe: Destined for Conflict?", Chicago Council on Global Affairs
  8. George Friedman, „Europe Destined for Conflict?“, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
    14 March 2023
  9. German government announces delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
    06 January 2023
  10. List of military support services
    27 February 2023