Leadership and Responsibilities: Changing Parameters in German-American Relations
In 1989—on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany—President George Herbert Walker Bush asked Germany to be a partner in leadership with the United States. Speaking in Mainz just a half year before the Berlin Wall fell, Bush proclaimed:
“The historic genius of the German people has flourished in this age of peace, and your nation has become a leader in technology and the fourth largest economy on Earth. But more important, you have inspired the world by forcefully promoting the principles of human rights, democracy, and freedom. The United States and the Federal Republic have always been firm friends and allies, but today we share an added role: partners in leadership. Of course, leadership has a constant companion: responsibility. And our responsibility is to look ahead and grasp the promise of the future. I said recently that we’re at the end of one era and at the beginning of another. The world has waited long enough. The time is right. Let Europe be whole and free.”
President Bush did not fully realize how quickly the events of the next few years would eventually lead to a Europe whole and free, let alone the speed of German unification within the following fifteen months. But at the time, the notion of Germany being a partner in leadership with the United States was not enthusiastically received in the then West Germany of a divided Europe. After all, Germany had been the object of American foreign policy for the 40 years of the Cold War as the front line of the east-west divide. Germany was the platform for the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the U.S., and both East and West Germany had understood the constraints which came with those parameters.
What President Bush was asking for in some ways was that West Germany accept this role as more of a subject—meaning to accept more responsibilities, which he felt were the companions of leadership. It was to be a challenging, and at times difficult, adjustment for Germany over the next two decades.
Yet just twenty four years later, a united Germany has become a partner in leadership in more ways than one could have imagined in 1989. It is a partner not only of the U.S., but also of 26 other member states of the EU and its 27 NATO partners. Germany is now a leading partner on the global stage of a world that looks very different than it did in 1989.
Growing German Responsibilities
What about the responsibilities the President Bush spoke of, and have they adjusted over time as well? In some ways, these responsibilities have continued to evolve. German support for the European project has continued to play an important and decisive role in the emergence of the Europe we know today. Amidst the difficult years of forging German unification, Germany pushed equally hard for a stronger Europe, knowing full well that a stronger Europe would in fact assure a united Germany a role and an acceptance within the European community. Germany’s economy began to strengthen even more so on the global stage, having become the dominant economic nation on the continent today and a major player in the global market place.
The continued evolution of the European Union’s integration, including the creation of the first European wide currency since the days of Charlemagne, would not have happened without Germany’s support and leadership. Within its foreign policy agenda and its role as an ally, Germany was to assume responsibilities that in 1989 were far away from those it eventually accepted in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere around a turbulent world.
As George Bush said in 1989, there was a change of eras occurring, with one phase ending and another beginning for Germany. Europe was growing larger, freer, and more whole, and that was to have a significant impact on Germany as a partner in leadership with new and increased responsibilities.
But it was not only in Europe that an era of change was being launched. Things were also changing rapidly in China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South America, and Africa. The last two decades—indeed the last two years alone—in the Arab world have witnessed tectonic shifts of power, mobility, demography, and the subsequent struggle of governance to keep up with such shifts. These larger trends show themselves over decades, be they demographic, environmental, or technological revolutions. There will also be new equations of power among nations that will differ from those of 1945 or 1989. For example, in 1976 China accounted for less than 1% of world trade, but by 2010 it had surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy and is quickly gaining on the U.S.
We all know Europe and the United States together make up the largest economic zone on the globe today, with roughly 50% of global GDP produced within it. But we also know that Europe and the United States will make up a decreasing percentage of the global population over the coming decades. With such a downward shift taking place, the dominant role of the transatlantic community will change in the wake of powerful trends reshaping the global market place, as well as geopolitical equation of power and influence.
It is for these reasons that the current discussion about the role of the United States and Europe—including the role of Germany within Europe—involves looking at new ways to combine resources and capabilities in order to strengthen each other not only in economic, political and military capabilities, but also in terms of the values and standards which we share. The role of law, human rights, the protection of our environment, the need for a shared regulatory regime for markets, and indeed the need for growth are just a few examples of the common catalogue of goals and interests that present new opportunities for transatlantic relations in the 21st-century. This is the very background of the discussion about the potential Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). One should also add that the emergence of an increasingly powerful China and its impact on this laundry list of challenges injects further incentive into this effort, and will continue to do so over the course of this century.
In this context two questions emerge: how much coherence is marking these transatlantic debates and how many centripetal forces are supporting, or attempting to block, stronger EU-U.S. cooperation in leadership? We have both trends no doubt. The question is how to bring them into a balance of self interests and shared vision of the future, just as President Bush encouraged us to do twenty four years ago.
The Need for Cooperation
There are serious centrifugal forces working on both sides of the Atlantic. They are reflected in a trend of turning inward to deal with the problems in front of us, as opposed to dealing with the larger global challenges ahead of all of us. That is pretty evident when you look at the United States and its struggle with the current economic challenges, including the massive mess created around the so-called sequester or budget cuts now being imposed on the country by a dysfunctional Congress and an all too reactive administration. But the fact is that the U.S. is facing several severe choices about the future of the country’s economic health and its corresponding role on the global stage. Those choices will have serious impacts on its foreign policy capacities and priorities. It will also impact the debate over the self perception of Americans. We saw that during the Presidential debates last year in the run up to the November elections. Yet because those perceptions of the global role of the U.S. impact not only our own sense of purpose but also on expectations of our allies and our challengers, it is important that they be made as transparent as possible.
American Perceptions of Berlin
How is the Euro crisis seen in Washington, DC circles and what expectations do Americans have in particular with regard to Germanys’ role in dealing with them? It seems safe to say that there are those in Washington who see Germany as THE leader in the economic arena. For those in this school of thought, Chancellor Merkel is—in real terms—the virtual chairman of the EU board of governors in Europe. Germany is seen as THE leader in partnership with its European allies and fellow EU members. It is also realized by some that Germany is in this role in spite of uncomfortable it might feel in it, but that in practical terms there is no choice in the matter. Germany in 2013 is far stronger in economic terms than anyone else on the continent. It also owes that strength to its role in Europe and indeed has profited from that role extensively. Germany has also profited from the contours of the European Union and the euro system as it has evolved over the last ten plus years. Germany has been an enormous stake holder in Europe as a project from the beginning some six decades ago, complete with being a primary source of financial support.
Does this situation that Germany finds itself in sound familiar? If it does, it might be because it somewhat resembles the American role as it has been cast in the last 100 years on the global stage. The United States became a dominant global nation in the latter half of the 20th century. That leadership role was not always seen by other nations as a positive development—not by the Soviet Union and certainly not by other nations who felt threatened, or indeed disadvantaged, by the dominance of the United States. They were jealous or envious of U.S. power, but in the end they were also angry that they could not do much about this asymmetry of power even though that same situation might have benefited them in some ways.
During the past two decades, Germany has assumed more influence and clout in Europe, but it has also been rewarded with both praise and criticism—praise for setting standards and criticism for appearing to offer only tough love to those countries which remain caught in their own self-made traps. Both Germany’s past and its present play into this equation in dealing with its neighbors. While that results in unfair attacks at times, Germany has not been able to dispel the critique of others bristling at the admonishment they actually often deserve.
From the US perspective, it has seemed that the German emphasis on the importance of austerity, while valuable in its own right, has often seemed to set the bars of recovery too high for its neighbors, particularly those in southern Europe. The result has been a set of urgent messages to Berlin to enable recovery—not only to enforce the discipline required to change recalcitrant habits and institutions. America’s concern here was driven by self interest on the one hand, as a serious slow down in Europe would inhibit growth in the U.S., and by a transfer of the U.S. responses to the great recession on the other. After all, the United States did argue that with the Federal Reserve’s policies of printing lots of money, we were only making sure that there was enough fiscal blood in the body to prevent a heart attack. Surely the Europeans would be equally successful with similar steps. And by the way, Germany might want to increase its role as an economic locomotive by encouraging more growth and purchasing power among its population and worry less about inflation for the moment. Former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner even decided that delivering that message to Minister Schaeuble in person was important enough to make his first visit to the Island of Sylt.
I think the Americans had a bit of a point to make here. When the criticism directed at the creation of the euro was launched at not only Germany but the entire process that went into setting up the euro’s birth, the basic point was the lack of an effective fiscal structure to match the monetary tools that were set up under the euro system. The response from Germany in particular was to say that the decision to go ahead with the euro was largely a political decision designed to integrate Europe. Yes there were problems, but they would be solved down the road. In the end, the decision surrounding the euro was based on bringing the European Union a step closer to full integration. The ongoing crisis of the euro zone seems to suggest that the underlying issues have caught up with the current situation and that it needs to be fixed sooner than later.
In the end, it would appear that the European blueprint for solving this problem is fairly well known by now, but it’s going to take more time to implement a plan then perhaps the Americans anticipated and the Europeans believed. The simple analysis of the decision-making system within the European Union, and indeed within the euro zone, has made it clear that it is going through the same problems that the United States had in the 19th century with the creation of its own currency. We Americans seem to have forgotten our own history here, including the unique circumstances we enjoyed to help solve our problems.
In Need of a Leader
What we have seen during these past few years is a Germany pointing at the combination of its own experiences and tough reforms during the past decade, all of which has helped weather the current storm. The circumstances under which those reforms were introduced and then carried out—first by Chancellor Schroeder and then by Angela Merkel—were of decisive importance. But that formula has not been easily transferable elsewhere in Europe, either in political or psychological terms.
Nevertheless, someone has to assume the lead role in forging the set of common denominators in Europe if there is to be a future for a more united European Union marked by ever increasing synchronization, such as through debt mutualization , a banking union, and political institutional cohesion. Again, the United States had to work through this as well, but with the benefit of more time and a far less complicated political situation. Europe is trying to compress this process into a much tighter time frame with multiple decision making levels involved. This happened earlier in the history of the EU with effective leadership, and it can happen again now through the familiar cycle of crisis and renewal.
What has been perplexing to some U.S. observers is the slow pace with which Germany has dealt with the challenges of the current crisis. The hesitations and the caution about the chain of crises has made it appear as if the two sides of the Atlantic have been watching different clocks driven by different political decision making processes. For the Americans dealing with the crisis on their side of the Atlantic, the message has been focused on a quick response. For the Germans, who fear inflation as well as the equation between economic growth and real reforms needed to secure it in the long run, the focus has been on a steady and careful approach. In some ways it resembles a game of multiple level chess. Berlin is dealing not only with Brussels and the individual members of the EU, but also with its own constitutional court in matters pertaining to the crisis. This has all made for an extremely complicated management of multi-level challenges for Germany.
Reason for Hope
At the moment, the challenge Europe faces is enormous. The euro crisis is interconnected with sensitive political decisions about the future of the European project. The effort to avoid a breakup of the euro zone has not dispelled an atmosphere marked by crisis management. Questions about a Europe of multiple speeds can have a negative impact on the outlook for a Europe capable of unitary political decisions. In fact, in a decade Europe may not look like the EU of 2013. A serious step forward will involve more transfers of sovereignty, but such a transformation will run counter to populist feelings spurred on by anti-EU sentiments, as were illustrated in recent elections in Italy. Stresses on governability of the individual states can generate nationalist resurgence in times of economic uncertainty, despite the extensive economic interdependence marking Europe and the transatlantic community.
Yet let me end this particular debate by referring to another American President for some helpful advice—John F. Kennedy. Of course, his 1963 speech in Berlin will be remembered this year in June with the iconic “ich bin ein Berliner” phrase. But there was another Kennedy speech on the occasion of the American Independence Day celebration in Philadelphia that might provide some encouragement by recalling a few passages:
“That spirit of interdependence is today most clearly seen across the Atlantic Ocean. The nations of Western Europe, long divided by feuds far more bitter than any which existed among the 13 colonies, are today joining together, seeking, as our forefathers sought, to find freedom in diversity and in unity, strength.
The United States looks on this vast new enterprise with hope and admiration. We do not regard a strong and united Europe as a rival but as a partner. We believe that a united Europe will be capable of playing a greater role in common defense; of responding more generously to the needs of poorer nations; and of joining with the United States and others in lowering trade barriers, resolving problems of commerce, commodities, and currency, and developing coordinated policies in all economic, political, and diplomatic areas. We see in such a Europe a partner with whom we can work on a basis of full equality in all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations.
It would be premature at this time to do more than indicate the high regard with which we view the formation of this partnership. The first order of business is for our European friends to go forward in forming the more perfect union which will someday make this partnership possible.
A great new edifice is not built overnight. It was eleven years from the Declaration of Independence to the writing of the Constitution. The construction of workable federal institutions required still another generation. The greatest works of our Nation’s founders lay not in documents and declarations, but in creative, determined action. The building of the new house of Europe has followed the same practical, purposeful course. Building the Atlantic partnership now will not be easily or cheaply finished.
But I will say here and now, on this Day of Independence, that the United States will be ready for a Declaration of Interdependence, that we will be prepared to discuss with a united Europe the ways and means of forming a concrete Atlantic partnership, a mutually beneficial partnership between the new union now emerging in Europe and the old American Union founded here 175 years ago.
Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish justice throughout the world; we cannot insure its domestic tranquility, or provide for its common defense, or promote its general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. But joined with other free nations, we can do all this and more. We can assist the developing nations to throw off the yoke of poverty. We can balance our worldwide trade and payments at the highest possible level of growth. We can mount a deterrent powerful enough to deter any aggression. And ultimately we can help to achieve a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion.
For the Atlantic partnership of which I speak would not look inward only, preoccupied with its own welfare and advancement. It must look outward to cooperate with all nations in meeting their common concern. It would serve as a nucleus for the eventual union of all free men–those who are now free and those who are vowing that some day they will be free.”
That message is as important today as it was a half century ago for both sides of the Atlantic.
 George Herbet Walker Bush, Remarks to the Citizens of Mainz, Federal Republic of Germany, 31 May 1989, http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/public_papers.php?id=476&year=&month=
 John F. Kennedy, Address at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, 4 July 1963, http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/JFK/003POF03IndependenceHall07041962.htm..
For photos and information about the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung event entitled “EU-USA: Partner in der Wirtschafts- und Schuldenkrise?” at which these remarks were presented, click here.