The Dynamics of Collective Memory and German Foreign Policy Since Unification

In this Policy Report, Ruth Wittlinger, Senior Lecturer in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, UK and former DAAD/AICGS fellow, discusses the extent to which Germany’s Nazi past determined the democratic features of the Bonn Republic and its foreign policy. She then examines how German foreign policy evolved after 1990 and how the shadow of the Third Reich evolved in three cases: Germany in Europe, German-Israeli relations, and the use of military force.

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The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Ruth Wittlinger

Durham University (UK)

Ruth Wittlinger is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, UK. She has published widely on post-unification German foreign policy, collective memory of Germany’s Nazi past and European integration. Her most recent publications include a monograph on German National Identity in the Twenty-First Century: A Different Republic After All? (2010), a number of articles in West European Politics, German Politics and Society, German Politics and German Studies Review and a co-edited collection − together with Eric Langenbacher and Bill Niven − on the Dynamics of Memory and Identity in Contemporary Europe (2013).

During her DAAD/AICGS Research Fellowship in August and September 2013, she worked on a project, which examined memory and identity issues in German-American relations since 1990. The main aim of the project was to shed new light on the nature of the bilateral relationship by looking at the changing dynamics of collective memory in German-American relations in the post-Cold War world. The project identified the dynamics of collective memory in German-American relations since 1990 − e.g. what is remembered and also forgotten − in the discursive construction of German-American relations by political elites. It will also examine what these references to specific periods of the past in the discourse of both countries tell us about the nature of the relationship of the present and about the underlying values of the two countries. Furthermore, it examined which narratives of the past have been used to provide the justification for key foreign policy decisions affecting the bilateral relationship at critical junctures since 1990.