The New Parameters of German Foreign Policy

The election of Donald Trump threatens to radically change the parameters of German foreign policy that go back to the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. Germany has benefited from a particular configuration of the liberal international order in which the United States provided security and acted as a consumer of last resort. During the last decade the United States has become gradually less willing to provide each of these two public goods and may now cease to do so altogether. Germany is thus particularly vulnerable — even compared to EU member states like France and the United Kingdom — to an abdication of U.S. “leadership.” Thus, a shift in the U.S. foreign policy under President Trump could be an asymmetric shock that will disproportionately affect Germany.

The logical response to the new situation created by the election of Trump would be for Germany to take steps to reduce its vulnerability — in particular, by seeking alternatives to the U.S. security guarantee and reducing its dependence on exports for economic growth. But Germany has increasingly come to see itself as a Friedensmacht, or “force for peace,” and as an Exportnation, or “export nation.” In a sense, therefore, “free riding” has become central to German national identity. This makes it difficult for Germany to radically rethink its security model or its economic model. As a result, Germany will likely take a wait-and-see approach to policy for the time being, while hoping for the best.

Europe should be a way out of the dilemma Germany now faces. In particular, it could provide an alternative source of both security and of demand. This means a grand bargain between EU member states — centered on a compromise between France and Germany — is now more urgently needed than ever. But Germany remains unwilling to make concessions — especially on economic issues. In the meantime, the uncertainty about the U.S. security guarantee under Trump may transform relations between EU member states and erode the position of power in Europe that Germany has developed since the end of the Cold War and in particular since the beginning of the euro crisis.

This report was published by the Transatlantic Academy in February 2017. Download it here.

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.

Hans Kundnani

The German Marshall Fund of the United States

Hans Kundnani is a senior transatlantic fellow in The German Marshall Fund's Europe Program, based in the Washington, DC office. He works on a mixture of internal European economic and institutional issues (in particular the British question), Europe's role in the world, and on the link between the internal and external dimensions. He will also focus on relations between Europe and Asia through a transatlantic perspective. Prior to joining GMF, Hans was the research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.