MUNICH - The first panel at the 2012 Munich Security Conference examined whether Germany should assume a role as the regional, benign hegemon in Europe. But one speaker, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, told the Germans that it's just never going to happen so they shouldn't even try.
The question posed to Sikorski and the other panelists at the Friday evening discussion was whether Germany could play a role in Europe today similar to the role the United States played in Europe after World War II. Sikorski said that Germany doesn't have the attributes of a hegemon, such as an overwhelming economy, a large military budget, and an international role commensurate of a preeminent regional power.
"So you will not be a benign hegemon in Europe and you shouldn't even try," Sikorski told his largely German audience. He even referred to lingering concerns about German power left over from the WWII period.
"Why is Russia always a bigger security challenge than Germany for Poland? When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies," Sikorski said. "So don't get too dizzy with success."
"Germany cannot be said to be said to be similar to the United States [in the post WWII period]," Sikorski said. "The position of benign hegemon for Germany is not attainable, and therefore I would propose your actual position in the EU, which is a very honorable one, is the position of the largest shareholder."
Economically, Germany is only marginally larger than France and Britain, whereas the United States economy dwarfed its rivals when it became a world power, Sikorski said. Also, German trade is largely localized, with 9 out of its 10 largest trading partners located in Europe.
Sikorski said a hegemon must have a significant share of resources, must be able to supply public goods to the wider community, and others must believe the hegemon pursues policies that are at least relatively beneficial to all. Germany doesn't fit the bill, Sikorski said, even when one looks at Germany's defense budget, which is about $43 billion.
"[Former German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl was more right than [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger. Kissinger said [Germany is] too big for Europe, [but] too small for the world. Kohl said [Germany is] too big to be first among equals, but too small to dominate in Europe," said Sikorski.
Nevertheless, Sikorski graciously offered to aid Germany's role as the largest, if not the dominant force in Europe.
"Poland declares that we are ready on a pragmatic basis, despite the history, to help you," he said. "As long as we are working towards European solutions."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.