Friendship under Strain or Fundamental Alienation?: Germany-US Relations

Article excerpt

DESPITE TWO PERSONAL MEETINGS between German chancellor Gerhard Schroder and US president George W. Bush during the G8 summit in Evian and the UN General Assembly session in New York, Germany-US relations remain in their deepest crisis of the post-Second World War era. Immediately after the German elections in September 2002, the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, called the bilateral relationship "poisoned," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to meet his German counterpart during a conference in Warsaw, and President Bush avoided a personal meeting with Schroder during the Prague NATO summit.

The most visible reasons for this tension have been the political differences between the two governments over Iraq, namely on the questions of whether Saddam Hussein had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to regional and international security, what the appropriate means to disarm Iraq could be and--if force was necessary--which institutional framework should be used to legitimize and implement it.

But the German-American conflict over Iraq was only the tip of the iceberg and has revealed structural incoherencies between the two partners which began much earlier and whose sources and more complex than the Iraq issue alone. Since the inauguration of the Social Democratic-Green coalition in October 1998, the pre-existing gap between the political elites on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean has widened even further, so that a fundamental alienation between the two former partners can be diagnosed. The issues which came to the forefront during the Iraq debate were actually the same as those that already clouded the first phase of the Germany-US relationship under the Schroder/Fischer government: the use of force in international relations, the structure (unipolarity versus multipolarity) of the international system, and the role of international institutions in the foreign policy of the US and Germany.(1) To fully understand that development, it is necessary to analyze first the development of the bilateral relationship from Schroder's assumption of office in October 1998 until the end of the Iraq war in the spring of 2003. Next this article will discuss three underlying determinants in German politics and society responsible for the structural rift in the Germany-US relationship, of which the Iraq debate is just an outward sign. Finally the paper analyzes the future prospects of bilateral relations from a German point of view and proposes some necessary steps to avoid a transatlantic break.

THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC-GREEN COALITION AND THE US: THE IDEOLOGICAL DIMENSION

Common political wisdom holds that Germany enjoys a broad foreign policy consensus supported by all democratic parties, in which the most fundamental foreign policy orientations of post-Second World War Germany are included: reconciliation and co-operation with the west European states within the framework of the European integration process; the obligation to support the transformation process of the east European states, which belonged to the Communist bloc until 1989 contributions to European and Atlantic security via NATO membership; the multilateral implementation of German foreign policy; the rule of international law; and finally the German-American relationship, which has been a cornerstone of Germany's foreign policy since 1949. The Federal Republic enjoyed the special attention of the US not only because of its central location in Europe and its relevance as a major political and military battleground. Because of the large US military presence, a range of political and academic exchange programs and the growing "Americanization" of German society since the 1950s, the United States not only was regarded by the political elites as Germany's most important partner in the international system but is also deeply embedded in German society.(2)

Given this foreign policy consensus, continuity was expected when the Social Democratic-Green coalition won the elections in September 1998. …