The Germany government´s odd approach to international politics came to the fore again over the weekend. Peter Struck, Chancellor Schroeder´s messenger at the Munich Conference for Peace, was clearly uncomfortable with his master´s message. Struck had been no more in the loop on these interesting plans than NATO´s Secretary General or any of the other NATO partners. He´s only the Defence Minister, after all.
Calling for outside consultants to define a new role for NATO sounds like standard-issue political blether, but is actually an embarrassing faux pas which badly exposes the German government´s incoherence on international matters. A consultative process is already underway at NATO, as both Donald Rumsfeld and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO´s chief, pointed out.
To undermine NATO whilst angling for a German seat on the UN´s Security Council seems to be Schroeder´s current tactic. But he has alienated a number of key players in executing it - as Rumsfeld´s jocular reactions to Struck´s speech showed. Germany now finds itself in a strange position. It needs to build bridges - not beyond the wit of a Joschka Fischer, who, if he survives the current visa scandal, will have a big budget with which to impress doubters.
But Germany needs to build more than bridges. It needs to define its own international role far more urgently than NATO does. Its current diplomatic line - probably deriving more from lazy incompetence and bungling than from any master-plan - needs to be recast, fast. There is an inconsistency between Germany´s UN ambitions and its desire to undermine NATO in favour of an EU-based trans-Atlantic talking shop. One doubts Joscka Fischer is quite the man to reconcile this. He is wounded by the visa scandal, and is wedded to a very 1970s view of world politics. But he can´t easily be sacked, and there is no obvious candidate to succeed him as Foreign Minister.
In the meantime, Germany´s interesting plans for NATO will be dumped, and everyone will have forgotten about them by the end of the week.