Conflicts in the U.S.-German relationship over the last 67 years are legendary from the chicken wars of the 1960’s to the deployment of nuclear missiles in the 1980’s. However, these fights were about policy and whether the American policy stood to protect Germany or endangered the country. Common commitments to a set of values define each country.
If in the U.S. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have defined the American political culture. Germany’s constitutional commitment to the inviolability of human dignity and determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe determine German policy. Despite differences, German and American political cultures are joined at the hip, until now.
In these seven decades, the Germans have sought to overcome their 20th-century history and to comply with James F. Byrnes conditions for returning to the community of nations, which the country has achieved. The current American attacks on Germany’s commitment to helping refugees, to compete in international trade, to promote European integration in the EU and euro zone, and to contribute to European security have come as a shock.
Somehow the bilateral policy debates over stimulus versus austerity; over military deployments and the 2% NATO contribution; over bilateral trade surpluses; over the value of the euro have reduced the relationship to a set of competing interests and accusations of German hegemony at America’s expense.
On the American side the rejection of NATO’s Article 5 guarantee, the call to renegotiate trade treaties, support for isolationism, banning Muslim immigration, plans to erect a wall against Mexico, rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership while calling on Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons undermine the relationship. The one assertion, the president’s suggestion he would recognize Russian annexation of Crimea, has greatly unsettled current policy in dealing with Russia.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s congratulatory statement to Trump made it clear that the close partnership Germany has with America is through common values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human dignity. He did not respond.
When Chancellor Merkel arrives on Friday, she will look for some basis to work together. She will also need to understand whether Trump stands by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty; whether he understands Germany’s obligation to respect human dignity of refugees; whether the economic partnership will be undermined by import duties or the death of TTIP; whether the low value of the euro is accepted; whether he supports continued sanctions against the Russian annexation of Crimea; and whether the relationship still rests on common values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law and respect for human dignity. It is a heavy agenda.
Donald Trump’s populist appeal, based on fear, hate, and discrimination, secured the Republican primary election as that party’s nominee and that has continued after he has taken office, gives considerable skepticism that the partnership can tackle together the great challenges of terrorism, climate change, poverty, hunger, disease, and intervention for peace and security.
Chancellor Merkel offered close cooperation to the new president and understood most things worth doing are not easy. In any case, the task of defending our values and maintaining transatlantic unity has indeed become more difficult. I conclude my speeches in Germany with the plea not to give up. After all, hope dies last. We shall see what Friday in DC brings.
To a better future,
Professor James D. Bindenagel
by Prof. James D. Bindenagel
Henry Kissinger Professor
Head of the Center for International Security and Governance
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn