Panel discussion, December 14, 2017.
On December 14, the AmerikaHaus NRW e.V and the Center for International Security and Governance (CISG) hosted a panel discussion on “Transatlantic Relations after the German Federal Elections. Challenges, Uncertainties, Opportunities.” Dr. Jackson Janes, President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) and Sumi Somaskanda, senior news anchor at Deutsche Welle News, discussed the state and future of transatlantic relations in times of global political change and uncertainty.
AmerikaHaus NRW e.V. director Dr. Benjamin Becker, stated in his introducing remarks that there is no doubt that transatlantic relations are changing. U.S. president Trump’s policy of “America First” as well as the United States’ geopolitical reorientation from Europe towards Asia calls for greater European – and especially German – engagement in world politics to fill the emerging power vacuum left by the United States, Becker said. He also stressed the importance of preserving the liberal world order in order to avoid a relapse into a system dominated solely by a Westphalian understanding of world order.
In his speech, Dr. Jackson Janes assessed the current state of the transatlantic partnership. He pointed out that what defines the partnership, today, is a struggle between change and continuity. This struggle questions established relations and networks that served transatlantic relations over the last decades. According to Janes, this leads to one central question: Are we witnessing a tectonic shift dealing lasting damage to transatlantic relations or can the current struggle be considered a temporary storm that may impair the state of the alliance, but not the very foundation of the transatlantic partnership?
In this context, Dr. Janes noted that the election of Donald Trump merely marked a change of style in cooperating with European partners, rather than a drastic shift in policy. However, this change of style seem to have made Germany and Europe realize that they are partners among many and cannot expect special treatment. It could serve as a wake-up call for Germany and Europe to take on more responsibility in world affairs.
In order to keep the transatlantic partnership alive, Janes recommends focusing on four simple questions: Where, when, how and why do we need each other? A pragmatic approach to the transatlantic partnership that does “not lose the forest for the trees or, rather, that does not lose the forest for the tweets” and focusses on shared norms, values and interest will preserve the foundation of the transatlantic partnership, Janes said.
In the ensuing discussion, Ms. Somaskanda highlighted open disagreements in the western partnership and expressed her worries about a further deterioration. Dr. Janes noted that it is essential to recognize mutual interdependences and the urge not to set personal relations as benchmarks for the transatlantic community.
Ms. Somaskanda also raised the question of Germany’s and Europe’s potential to lead. Dr. Janes pointed out that Germany has an ambiguous relation towards leadership, which is delicate, because Germany has to stand up for itself and for Europe and at the same time avoid raising fears by its neighbors about Germany become to powerful. To do this, Germany has to attend to its own garden. The issue of migration, turmoil in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, need a strong Germany that stands up for a shared and common European interest.
In his concluding remarks, Dr. Janes argued that in order to maintain strong and deep ties between the United States, Europe and Germany, the latter need to figure out new paradigms of cooperation. To date the impact of Trump’s policy remain unclear, but it should be clear that Trump – whether he is a storm or a tectonic shift – exposes the need for new approaches to transatlantic relations.