Multilateralism in One Country: The Isolation of Merkel's Germany

April 18, 2017
Gideon Rachman
2 min read
Photo credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com

Photo credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com

A potentially frosty relationship with the leader of the United States would be unnerving for any chancellor of Germany. But the conundrum posed by Donald Trump is all the more troubling for Angela Merkel’s government, because it forms part of a pattern of growing German isolation – a development that is profoundly troubling for a country that has made integration with the West and the community of democratic nations the foundation stone of its post-1945 foreign policy.

If Merkel looks out from the chancellor’s office in Berlin, there seems to be trouble on every horizon. Collectively, the situation threatens to revive the old German nightmare of being a large, isolated power at the center of Europe. The common thread connecting all these challenges to Germany’s global position – Trump’s America, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, Brexit Britain, and populist Poland – is that many of Germany’s most important partners are re-embracing nationalism and challenging core elements of the liberal, internationalist consensus to which Germany remains wedded.

Germany cannot entirely avoid the role of moral leader and champion of liberal internationalism that has now been thrust upon the country. This role as guardian of the liberal international order is not merely a burden for Germany – it is also an opportunity. As the country is forced to respond to global events with a more proactive foreign policy, it can nurture its reputation for moral leadership and the soft power that goes with it. If Germany retains its reputation as a good international citizen, it will find others nations much more welcoming of a more dynamic German international role.