And Yet, Europe: Atlanticism after the German Election
“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out.” With this momentous quote, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted at a new era of transatlantic relations earlier this year. Now, with talks to establish a new German government underway, questions arise over how a new coalition will approach old allies, namely the United States. At the core of the discussion: How is a new German government going to approach the current U.S. administration? What challenges await those leading Germany when dealing with their most important global ally?
The consensus: The current U.S. administration poses too critical a challenge for transatlantic relations to continue as usual. A new German government needs to develop a strategy to meet the volatility and unpredictability presented by 140-character rants, weekly personnel turnover, and lack of vision in the White House. Key national interests diverge between the two partners. With President Trump’s refusal to believe in values, the United States no longer is the guardian of the international liberal order it once was.
The United States and its European partners now disagree on fundamental issues such as military engagement, trade, and climate change.
The transatlantic alliance has been treading on shaky grounds in the past year. With President Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the U.S. general elections, discrepancies have arisen and trust on both sides has been damaged. The United States and its European partners now disagree on fundamental issues such as military engagement, trade, and climate change. The biggest challenge in the upcoming years for the alliance will therefore be to bridge gaps and re-establish trust by returning to common ground and shared values.
Concrete measures to address this rift are to differentiate between lack of a joint vision, conflict management, and progress. The transatlantic partners will have to prioritize issues on which cooperation is still possible over those on which agreement is unlikely under the current administration. Additionally, Europe needs to take the lead on shared values and develop a stronger voice to assure coherent policy choices and cooperation initiatives until at least 2020.
Especially with Germany, the United States will have to find a compromise. The country has long become a leader on the European continent, conquering the economic and political struggles of reunification and sailing safely through the economic crisis of 2008. With Germany as a determined leader in various fields, a declared “European,” and a diplomatic strategist, Trump has a counterpart who is not willing and likely to be dictated to. At the same time, Germany needs to both accommodate Trump’s impulsiveness and realize that with increased power comes increased responsibility. This holds especially true for the security realm, in which Germany is still reluctant to play a bigger role. It does, however, become evident that that is exactly what the United States expects of its European partner.
Some already term current developments “Post-Atlanticism”: the end of transatlantic cooperation and alliances as we know them. An article in Die Zeit from October talks about “an attack on the pillars of the U.S. founded liberal international order coming from the White House.” It goes on to state, “In this situation it would be outrageous for Germany and Europe to hope for a revival of Atlanticism” — and provides an overview of post-Atlantic Western politics.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, director GMF’s Berlin office, disagrees. In his recently published, highly acclaimed transatlantic manifesto he argues that any post-Atlantic sentiment is premature. A turn away from the United States would bring “insecurity to Germany and ultimately to Europe.” The ties to the United States are within Germany’s core national interest and the country continues to gain significant advantages from its connection to the political heavyweight on the other side of the Atlantic. The United States still functions as a necessary and welcome guarantor for security and political resources.
What fundamentally connects the United States and Germany is values: The partnership is based on a democratic political system and despite all current challenges, both countries remain democracies.
What fundamentally connects the United States and Germany is values: The partnership is based on a democratic political system and despite all current challenges, both countries remain democracies. This grants grounds for cooperation and leads the way for Germany to develop a strategy for bridge-building with the United States into the post-Trump age.
So how will U.S.–German relations move forward in the future? Maintaining cooperation is key, especially on the issues where there remains common ground. The hope for a return to the status quo ante is an illusion, however. Rather, the political leadership must identify areas in which consensus is possible, in which compromise can be reached, and where cooperation must be postponed until a later point in time. This allows for a constructive approach to the current administration and also builds the foundations for longer-term strategies which address the political and social changes that are underway. The political trends we see now are here to stay; they will outlive the current U.S. administration and pose questions that will have to continuously be addressed in the future. Beyond that, however, there is significant potential for a return to shared values and common ground. The questions posed toward the fundamentals of the world order and liberal ideas will likely be resolved with a new administration. A long-term, bridge-building strategy is therefore the way forward for a new German government and its relations with the United States.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.