The "reorganisation" of Europe is a recurring justification, as well as an expressed goal of German expansionist policy. At the time of the foundation of the German Empire (1870/1871) this "reorganisation" was already being carried out by means of war, at that time war against France. During the following period, the German Empire continued to arm. This economical and political expansion made use of various theoretical structures to disguise the will to conquer. The gravest consequences were to arise from the theory of a European "reorganisation" dictated by alleged laws of "race", "soil" and "great space" (Raum). Numerous authors consider these theories the expression of a medieval world view. They appear untouched by the enlightenment and contain elements of primeval cruelty.
This peculiarly German form of aggression first took effect in colonial policy (extermination campaigns in Africa). Soon after the period of colonial acquisition, on the eve of the First World War, a "reorganisation of Europe" no longer sufficed the imperial program of expansion. It now strove for world dominance. Large sectors of the German population allowed themselves to be implemented in this aim. Increasing nationalist sentiment neutralised social demands, so that any flare-up of the internal contradictions present within society could largely be avoided. In order to integrate opposing and sceptical Germans into this policy of expansion, the "reorganisation of Europe" was presented as a peculiarly German obligation. Its professed goal was the liberation of oppressed European peoples as well as the spreading of economic and political progress. The "reorganisation of Europe" was ostensibly sought only for the preservation of peace.
After losing the war, German foreign policy modified its methods but not its aim. The "reorganisation of Europe" was now to take place in several phases:
- A revision of the Versailles Peace Treaty in order to regain the lost territories.
- Advancement to an equal rank as a major European power.
- A leading role on the continent.
Because of the prohibition of armaments in force after 1918, ordinary diplomatic means were used. These included subversive actions in the neighbouring European states. In the second phase, (secret) rearmament was begun. Undisguised threats of violence and territorial encroachment followed, triggering a new world war. In spite of numerous conflicting interests within both state bureaucracies and private economic groups, the projected German goals remained constant during all three phases: Germanys own area of sovereignty was to be expanded economically to a larger area and politically to all of Europe. Africa and Asia were to be "supplementary areas". The racist elements contained in German geopolitical policy (cf. 1971-1918: Friedrich Ratzel et al) increased in importance from phase to phase. In the final stage of German expansion, racism dominated even economic interests. The ostensible laws of "race", "soil" and "room"aroused enthusiasm among the larger part of the German people. In the "folk community" this particularly German type of aggression escalated to unimaginable crimes.
The resumption of the German potential to power followed the model of the Weimar Republic: as at that time, the results of the war were subject to revision; most particularly there was a demand for the return of lost territories. West Germany promised to remain peaceable, and this was guaranteed within the framework of a "united Europe". After a rather brief period of weakness, economic and military reconstruction followed. The Federal Republic of Germany rose to the position of the leading European power, but remained politically restricted into the nineteen-eighties, because it lacked access to eastern Europe.
Growing economic strength was accompanied by louder German appeals for European "reorganisation". Politicians in Bonn demanded that their neighbours overcome an "antiquated national attitude" and make German sovereign rights part of a common "Europe". While pressure on western European neighbours towards de-nationalisation increased, the Federal Republic pursued an unswerving national policy and achieved the territorial incorporation of the GDR. Writers published in liberal magazines demanded that the lost "eastern lebensraum" must now be regained. The policy pursued since 1945 by the victors of World War II, above all the goal of subordinating Germany to the policy of the USA, ended in 1989 in failure.
The end of the division of Germany led to national self-reflection on its history; this was termed "normalisation". A reunited Germany must now take up its European "responsibility for peace", it was said. Wherever the "autonomy of a people" or "ethnicities" were in danger, Berlin must become active. In the last instance Germany must carry out "peacekeeping through intervention from outside", that is, must wage war. As in the earlier periods of imperialist major-power politics, the "reorganisation of Europe" remains both a justification for and a goal of German striving for dominance. Operational activities are pursued primarily in the east and the south-east of the continent. The Central Europe programme pursued in times of the Kaiser and of the National Socialists was brought up to date. German foreign policy now reaches out to Asia and Africa. By the middle of the nineties at the latest, German claims are measured against the United States, whose leadership role is called into question and disputed with growing frequency. It is maintained that "Europe" can only develop in opposition to America, that Germany must emerge from its subservient role. This concept begins to bridge domestic political differences, leading Social Democrats, Socialists and former opponents of the system to voice demands for an "international German presence".