BONN -- As the inevitability of German reunification became clear this year, countries whose people still wince at the mention of Germany insisted that the united nation disavow the aggressive pattern that led it to wage world war twice this century.

The Germans, anxious for approval of their audacious rush to end the postwar division, acceded to nearly every foreign demand: They promised a smaller military, forswore nuclear weapons and -- after hesitating enough to provoke concern abroad -- assured their neighbors of permanent borders.

But by midyear, the pressures on the reuniting nation had shifted. The financially pressed superpowers wanted Germany to take the lead in rebuilding Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union began to see Germany as its economic savior. The Western allies criticized Germany for being slow to do its part in the international effort in the Persian Gulf.

The new Germany, which Wednesday becomes whole and fully sovereign for the first time since 1945, finds itself in an uncomfortable position: astride the center of Europe, simultaneously a potential threat and benefactor to troubled nations on all sides.

The Germans keep trying to calm foreign concern. After considerable delay, they came up with $2 billion for the gulf effort. They agreed to pay $10 billion to the Soviets, part in direct aid, part to support the 360,000 Soviet troops still stationed in East Germany.

But the truth is, the new Germany cannot entirely ease its neighbors' suspicions because neither the Bonn government nor the German people is yet certain of the country's global role.

"We are not a world power, and I consider it foolish to dream world-power dreams," West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev gave his surprise endorsement of German unity in July.

But this month, after some U.S. congressmen and other allies complained of Bonn's passivity in the gulf crisis, Kohl and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher have expressed a broader view of the new Germany's international responsibilities.

"The united Germany will carry greater weight," Genscher told the United Nations last week. "We will accept this responsibility in Europe and around the world."

After 40 years of successful democracy, will West Germany be replaced by a larger, more powerful country whose strong ties to the Soviet Union and economic and political dominance of Europe make the world wary? Or is the new Germany only a somewhat larger West Germany -- a successful merchant with a shy diplomatic front, a limited military and a deep fear of getting involved?

Divided, Germany was the focus of the Cold War, playing host to the most destructive weapons and most concentrated collection of forces on the planet.

What happens to those forces in the coming years will help mold the future Germany. For now, a modified version of the status quo prevails. The reunified Germany will be a member of NATO, but the Soviet troops will remain, to be withdrawn over the next four years. NATO troops will not be stationed in former East German territory but will stay in the area that was West Germany.

United, Germany will be a country of more than 77 million people, with an economy almost double the size of France's. Even before unification, the West German gross national product was $1.4 trillion, behind only the United States and Japan.

For the next few years, the new Germany will focus on retraining East German workers and updating the disastrous infrastructure it has inherited from the Communist regime. But the new Germany, stretching from France to Poland, soon will be poised to resume its historic role as the business backbone of Eastern Europe, reaching out to new markets with the East Germans' Communist-era contacts and the new industrial plants that West German companies plan for the former East Germany.

The fall of the Berlin Wall last November brought the curtain down on Germany's postwar probation; by endorsing unification, the countries that fought Nazi Germany recognized the success of West German democracy. That makes some Germans feel proud, but it has not clarified the debate over the new Germany's role in the world.

"Feelings of strength are not good for us Germans," said Oskar Lafontaine, the Social Democratic candidate for chancellor whose campaign in the upcoming all-German election includes a strong pitch against any expansion of German power.

"We really have no idea what we want to be," said Robert Leicht, a leading West German political essayist. "If any German had said at the end of 1989 that we want reunification and then a wider role, even a wider military role, the whole world would have seen this as an outrage. But now the economic interdependence of the world makes it impossible to stand aside."

"For 45 years, we've had a marvelous division of labor in the world," said Munich historian Michael Stuermer. "Others did the dirty work and we did the moralizing. Now we are a rich country with worldwide interests. Everyone knows that if civil war breaks out in the Soviet Union, Germany would have to be in the forefront of containing it."

Until the gulf crisis, many Germans saw their united country playing no new role other than that of passive model for the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Countries such as Czechoslovakia and Hungary already are using postwar West Germany as a yardstick, adopting elements of its success, such as a law that admits political parties to the Parliament only after they have won 5 percent of the popular vote -- a way of preventing a paralyzing fragmentation of the body politic.

Kohl sees the conversion of East Germany's Communist system into a market economy as an object lesson to Eastern Europe. "If we cannot make a success out of reunification, who is likely to succeed anywhere else?" he said.

But in recent weeks, Germans have been forced to consider a much more active role for their emerging nation. "We're being pushed onto a track again where we have to act as a national state," said Theo Sommer, editor of the influential weekly Die Zeit. "But if we have learned any lesson, we must proceed through Europe, as one Europe."

The dream of European integration -- not just in economics, but in some as yet undefined political union -- is stronger in Germany than almost anywhere else, in good part because of the discomfort many leading Germans feel about lapsing once more into a nationalist nightmare.

Although British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher continues to resist giving up more national authority to the European bureaucracy in Brussels, Kohl and Genscher, who see eye to eye on little else, are adamant in their insistence that, as the foreign minister put it, "We want not a German Europe, but a European Germany."

That goal -- a desire for continental unity beyond the common trade and customs zone that the European Community is scheduled to become at the end of 1992 -- has grown even more pressing to leaders in Bonn because of fear that East Germans, as they struggle through years of unemployment and other transitional hardship, could impede this development.

West German officials are confident that, contrary to worries that the German preoccupation with unification will steal the momentum of European integration, German unity will actually boost the European process because, as one official said, "No one wants a dominant Germany."

Opinion polls show the West German people firmly behind their government's wish to ease the German burden by investing more heavily in an integrated Europe. But when it comes to broadening their country's political and military global role, West Germans part company with their leaders. And the East Germans, focused on their own economic plight, are even more likely to back a neutral path, polls show.

Even the gulf crisis, which has so dominated public attention in the United States and other Western countries, remains a secondary story in the German media, lagging behind not only reunification but other local concerns.

West Germany has the largest military in Europe outside of the Soviet Union, but the legacy of two world wars has created a public that strongly rejects any participation by German troops in the Persian Gulf.

A survey by the respected Allensbach Institute this month indicated West Germans opposed by 53 percent to 32 percent to the constitutional change Kohl has proposed to allow German troops to take part in United Nations military actions. Only 24 percent said German troops should respond even if another country asks for help.

West German officials say the Nazi drive for world domination makes Germany reluctant to send troops to the Middle East even if the role of the German military is broadened by constitutional amendment -- a legal change many scholars call unnecessary.

"You will not see German troops in any role anywhere near Israel or anywhere in the Balkans," one Bonn source said. "Our history simply will not allow it."

The strong antimilitary strain in German society is part of a strong popular reluctance to expand the country's profile abroad. Guenter Grass, the West German novelist and opponent of reunification, said that a united Germany is "doomed to failure" because "our unified state filled the history books of the world with suffering, ruin, defeat, millions of refugees, millions of dead and a burden of crimes which we will never be able to throw off."

Grass's view, although reflective of a distinct minority in Germany, contributes to a broader belief that the newly sovereign Germany should no longer be the base for hundreds of nuclear weapons -- part of a national tendency toward neutrality that worries Germany's NATO allies.

As Soviet troops pull out of East Germany -- with Bonn paying for their transportation, job training and housing back home -- popular pressure will rise for the United States to remove its nuclear weapons from West Germany, the former front line in the East-West confrontation. Germany already has declared the former East German territory to be a nuclear-free zone.

"It's going to be extremely hard to keep nuclear weapons of any kind in Germany," said Hans Binnendijk of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Lafontaine, Kohl's challenger, has called for the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear weapons. Kohl's Christian Democrats, who are heavily favored to win renewed support in the December elections, dismissed Lafontaine's proposal as a step toward neutrality and reaffirmed their commitment to NATO.

U.S. and other Western diplomats here say they hope to maintain a nuclear presence in Germany by relying on a "no nukes, no troops" formula, an appeal to the many Germans who believe that a continued U.S. troop presence in their country is essential to their security, especially given the volatile state of the Soviet Union.

Despite smooth progress toward German unity and the relative ease of winning international agreement on unification, many West German leaders are wary of the future. The Soviet troops in East Germany remain a potential flashpoint; several hundred already have deserted, and officials here fear many more will be emboldened by the idea of being behind "enemy" lines after unification.

Only three months ago, some West German commentators spoke of an emerging Washington-Bonn-Moscow axis, a new structure for the post-postwar world in which the reunited Germany would take on political and perhaps military responsibilities commensurate with its size. Under this scenario, as the superpowers' financial might declined, the new Germany would outgrow the Nazi legacy and be more willing to lead. Its first task would be rebuilding East Germany and Eastern Europe; a united Western Europe would follow.

But the first world crisis since the unification juggernaut began less than a year ago has made that vision seem simplistic.

"The word 'axis' is wrong," said Oxford historian Ralf Dahrendorf, a longtime Germany observer. "There are two special relationships -- Washington and Bonn, and Moscow and Bonn, with Britain and France disappearing somewhere. But you can be sure that Washington's dealings with Moscow won't be through Bonn. Germany's role expands, but we cannot yet know how. This is really the emergence of a Germany that no one understands."

Area: 137,743 square miles, more than half the size of Texas. It combines West Germany's 95,975 square miles with 41,768 square miles of East German territory.

Population: At least 77.6 million, 61 million from West Germany plus 16.6 million in East Germany. Berlin, with 3 million residents, is the largest city and the united nation's capital, as stated in the treaty uniting the Germanys. Bonn will be the interim seat of government. The all-German parliament (to be elected Dec. 2) will decide if the seat of government stays in Bonn or moves to Berlin.

Economy: The most powerful of Western Europe and the most powerful of the East bloc. Restructuring East Germany's economy to bring it to Western standards may cost $775 billion. Unemployment in what is now East Germany could reach 2 million as formerly state-subsidized firms go bankrupt. Germany has pledged to pay more than $7 billion to the Soviet Union to pay for the withdrawal of the Red Army from East German territory within four years.

Government: A federal democracy, run by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and President Richard von Weizsaecker. The three now hold those posts in West Germany.

History: East Germany and West Germany were founded in 1949 after the victorious World War II Allies divided Germany. West Germany was created from territory occupied by the United States, France and Britain. East Germany was composed of territory occupied by the Soviet Union.

Germany was first united in 1871 under Kaiser Wilhelm I. The Weimar Republic replaced the imperial government at the end of World War I. Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler replaced the parliamentary government in 1933 and ruled until his defeat in 1945.