Germany and the U.S.

AICGS is pleased to present this collection of essays reflecting on the 25th anniversary of German unification in October 2015. We are grateful to those who have contributed to this collection, all of whom have been affiliated with and supported the Institute in many different capacities. These essays leave us with thoughts not only about the past, but also about the future of German-American relations. Be sure to check back throughout the week for additional insights.

Reunification was not only a seminal event for Germany. While inspiring and giving hope to people across Europe and around the world, it closed a chapter of history that began with the rise of national socialism and World War II. Today, nations across Central and Eastern Europe stand tall as proud democracies. The vision of a “Europe, whole, free, and at peace” may not yet have been fully realized; but the “partnership in leadership” with a reunited Germany that President George H.W. Bush foresaw is indeed very real.

Twenty-five years after reunification, Germany plays a critical role both within Europe and the broader world. I see the anniversary of reunification (and other anniversaries we have commemorated this year associated with the end of World War II) as occasions to remind ourselves of our shared interests and common values. Lessons of history aside, however, multiple recent events have proved that the transatlantic relationship, and in particular the German-American element of the partnership, is essential. Over the course of the past year, we have responded in a coordinated way to a series of complex global crises and challenges—some of which did not even exist when I arrived in Berlin as U.S. Ambassador in the summer of 2013. And Germany is one of America’s strongest allies.

From the standpoint of our mutual security, Germany’s strong foreign policy leadership in the face of ongoing violations by Russia of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has been most visible. Germany has led efforts to implement a diplomatic resolution to a crisis that threatens the governing principles of the international order and a global rules-based system. Germany is engaged in the Middle East, helping to arm and train Iraqi Kurds in the fight against ISIL. It is also paying particular attention to the threats we face from the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and the potential threat they may pose upon return. The U.S. and Germany maintained solid cooperation within the P5+1 framework. The Iran deal proved, once again, how diplomacy can bring about meaningful change—both in terms of the potential peaceful resolution of conflict between nations, and the resulting possibilities for their citizens to thrive.

From the standpoint of global issues, Germany provided significant resources in response to the Ebola crisis and has elevated health issues to the forefront of the G7 agenda. Similarly, climate change is a signature theme of Germany’s 2015 G7 Presidency. As leaders in energy transformation and innovation, this is an area of mutual strategic interest and global concern where Germany and the U.S. can make a real difference. And Germany has showed its leadership in bringing stability to the euro zone, and addressing Europe’s migrant crisis in a constructive and humanitarian manner.

The deep economic ties within the transatlantic community have long been premised on the reality that if Europe prospers, America does so as well—and vice versa. That logic of mutually beneficial interdependence continues to make eminent sense, and it explains our mutual commitment to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Despite the measurable impact of the German-American economic relationship on jobs and quality of life, however, there has been vocal grassroots opposition to TTIP in Germany—opposition that, in my opinion, is based less on the reality of the proposal and more on generalized fears about globalization, as well as an unfortunate distrust of the United States.

In any relationship, including the strong and enduring transatlantic relationship, trust plays a crucial role. And notwithstanding the well-publicized debate regarding our shared intelligence activities, our countries are closely linked by an extraordinary spirit of cooperation, a spirit defined by the principles of responsible and forward-looking leadership that President Bush described in Mainz in May 1989. Together we strive to make the complex world in which we live a bit more peaceful, more just, and more prosperous. The measure of our success will be determined by our ability to live up to the strength of our ideals and, in the words of President Barack Obama, our determination “to make sure we get things right”—even if we sometimes have different ideas about how to achieve the same goals.

Highlighting the processes of constructive, democratic change is the approach I take in discussions about the future of a strong transatlantic relationship. In addition to examples of how we work together, I also point to recent achievements in U.S. foreign and domestic policy that underline our shared values. These include the decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba; the reforms that have been put in place to better safeguard both Freiheit and Sicherheit in our countries; recent Supreme Court rulings guaranteeing a nationwide right to same-sex marriage and upholding the Affordable Care Act; and the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol in response to the tragic shootings at a church in Charleston. There were no violent demonstrations in the wake of that tragedy. Instead, movingly, the families of the victims forgave the shooter. In an emotional eulogy, President Obama spoke openly about racism in the United States—and our power to do something about it. He led the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace”—adding that “if we can find that grace, anything is possible; and if we can tap that grace, everything can change.”

It was that same confidence in positive change, the same commitment to democratic values, the same belief that divisions in the world are not eternal, that inspired the citizens of East Germany, in the fall of 1989, to tear down the wall that for so long had separated them from family and friends and the free world. Less than one year later, Germany was reunified. As we pay tribute to these pivotal events, powerful symbols of the triumph of freedom over tyranny, let us not forget the importance of advancing the values in which we believe. This is what is possible when free people work together for change.

John B. Emerson is the current U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.