The Relevance of Perceptions in Foreign Policy: A German-U.S. Perspective

By Hertkorn, Michaela C. | World Affairs, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

The Relevance of Perceptions in Foreign Policy: A German-U.S. Perspective


Hertkorn, Michaela C., World Affairs


"There is the perception that while France is a complicated country, not posing a problem, Germany is not complicated but can pose a problem."--Representative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 2 February 2001

"America and Germany will never drift apart. We have never been closer. Any tensions are simply due to `Reibungsverluste durch Nahe.' It is like the relationship that grown-up kids have with their parents."--Representative of the German parliament, Berlin

An Economist article in March 2001, "Doubts on Both Sides of the Atlantic," asked whether George W. Bush may succeed where European leaders have not in forging a common European foreign and security policy. (1) During the European Union summit in Stockholm in the same month, European leaders stressed the necessity to step in where the United States either stepped back or decided to take a more hard-line approach. (2) Is this the hour for Europe to develop a common foreign policy and defense capability, as the establishment of its rapid reaction force by 2003 may indicate? (3) What about the role of Germany, arguably still a newcomer to foreign policy ten years after reunification? What about its position as potentially the key regional player, without whose large financial contribution the project of a common European security and defense policy (ESDP) may falter? (4)

This article is based on a research project that I formulated in spring 2000, months before the U.S. presidential elections in November. (5) It was designed to analyze intellectual and public perceptions of U.S.--German relations, focusing on intergovernmental relations and transatlantic regulatory cooperation. My major goal was to discuss and understand recent conflict between Germany and the United States on policy issues of global relevance and mutual interest. I further examined the expectations, particularly in the United States, that Europeans and the European Union (EU) would share more of the burden for crisis management in areas such as the Balkans. (6) I considered recent works in the field of international relations and security politics, (7) aiming to address the following questions: Are the United States and its major European allies drifting apart? Are the ties fraying? If so, regarding what recent foreign and security policy issues has this been observed? What role may anti-Americanism in Europe, particularly in France (8) and Germany, play in all of this? (9) Should America remain "Europe's pacifier" indefinitely? (10) To what extent are Europeans, and particularly Germans, aware of the potentially diminishing willingness of the United States to rescue Europe in both the short and long run? (11) What major challenges does the NATO alliance face in the aftermath of Kosovo? (12) What are the challenges for the United States as an "indispensable superpower"? What are the challenges for European NATO member states and EU members regarding so-called soft and hard power? Ten years after the end of the cold war, what will be the German contribution to the EU and NATO? What can and does the United States expect from Germany? What expectations have not been met? Does the United States want Germany to play a stronger and more influential role or to restrict itself to a foreign policy that was shaped during the cold war? To what extent are German politicians and citizens aware of the expectations of foreign policy elites in the States? (13)

In the following, I will explore these topics and issues, outlining the theoretical background. I will then discuss the relevance of perceptions in foreign and security policy, particularly with regard to ESDP. (14)

As Dutch ambassador Joris M. Vos has pointed out, the aftermath of Kosovo revealed European uneasiness that the EU had not been capable--even if they were willing--of intervening in Kosovo without U.S. help. (15) At the same time Europeans noticed that more than once, U. …

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