Wake Up, Berlin!

February 22, 2017
Yascha Mounk
2 min read
Photo credit: Michael F. Hiatt / Shutterstock, Inc.

Photo credit: Michael F. Hiatt / Shutterstock, Inc.

The United States can no longer be considered a reliable partner to Western Europe. This poses a particular problem to Germany, which has long relied on the United States to assure its defense. But while German foreign policymakers are starting to acknowledge the extent of the challenge, they have so far refused to rethink the strategic direction of their foreign and military policy. The best response to a situation of radical uncertainty, official Berlin has been saying, is to wait and see.

This is a big mistake. By remaining inactive now, Germany creates three big risks for the long-term survival of the transatlantic alliance. First, it is foregoing an opportunity to bind the United States to Europe by increasing the military might it can bring to the table. Second, it is increasing the likelihood that future German governments will have to appease Trump’s America because of their deep military dependence. And third, it may even raise the incentive for Germany to take a position of neutrality between East and West if the United States really should take an isolationist turn.

To maximize the chances of preserving the transatlantic alliance, Germany should instead undertake a radical transformation of its foreign policy. To this end, the country should rapidly and radically increase its military spending with the goal of significantly improving its defensive capacity. Recognizing that populists might come to power in the capitals of Europe as well as North American countries, Berlin should jettison its commitment to a European defense strategy that makes it impossible for the Bundeswehr to operate effectively without buy-in from multiple European countries. And understanding the danger in being open to blackmail from Russia, it should finally embrace energy independence as an urgent strategic imperative.