The shorter-term security agenda for the German-American relationship this year is likely to focus on the intertwined crises of ISIS, Syria, and refugees. We should expect more ISIS-inspired or directed attacks in Europe, to include Germany. This complex of related threats will pull the West into larger security concerns about what to do in Syria. This will likely be followed by the NATO Warsaw Summit, where there is likely to be friction between those eastern members who will push for a more visible territorial defense commitment and Germany, which will resist measures which German leaders may fear will only escalate the stand-off with Russia. The U.S. and Germany will have to work out a common position on a new NATO strategy well before the Warsaw Summit. The Ukraine situation is not likely to escalate militarily, so here Washington and Berlin will have to continue to manage a coordinated Western response on Russia policy, especially on sanctions.
Beyond these immediate challenges, the bigger question will concern where both countries are headed on grand strategy. The Obama administration’s Pacific Pivot has made it clear to the European defense community that it will be more on its own in the next decade. This shift out of Europe is likely to continue in the next administration, no matter who is in the White House, but there is a need for a serious reconsideration of this strategic drift. The German defense ministry will publish its first White Book in ten years and German leaders will need to come to some agreement on how much of a defense policy restructuring will be required not only because of this broader strategic shift, but also given the sorry state of the Bundeswehr. Germany has neglected defense policy for at least a decade and now must face a serious force modernization. This is part of a larger trend among all European members of NATO toward a downsizing of defense just at the time that Russia has taken serious steps to modernize its forces. Germany will not be like France and Britain, but given that both of these traditional military powers are also downsizing, there will be a need for serious efforts toward a Europeanization of defense.
Dr. Stephen F. Szabo is the Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy (TA) and a Non-Resident Fellow at AICGS.