Weapons of Mass Destruction as Challenge for German-American Relations

By Voigt, Karsten D. | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, October 15, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Weapons of Mass Destruction as Challenge for German-American Relations


Voigt, Karsten D., Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


The year 2003 was a turbulent one for transatlantic relations. The advent of the fourth German membership in the UN Security Council coincided with a period of great differences of opinion between Germany and the US. The difference of opinion on the invasion of Iraq was so great, with the stakes so high on either side, that the rhetoric quickly became much sharper than usual. Talk of the irrelevance of "old Europe" countered the outcry that the US was acting unilaterally and in conflict with the UN Security Council and international law.

On the other hand, however greatly the motivations behind the war in Iraq have been disputed and perhaps even discredited, the danger of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of non-democratic states provides one convincing point of agreement between the US and Germany. Today, in the first flush of the new year and with some distance from the debates of a year ago, I would like to take this opportunity to enumerate the issues surroundingWMD proliferation and to share with you my vision for cooperation on non-proliferation and in general on the future of transatlantic relations.

Let us take a look at the current challenges which we face on both sides of the Atlantic. We are living in a time of new and more dangerous forms of international terrorism, and not only since September 11th, 2001. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of non-democratic regimes such as North Korea and Syria could represent or represent today already a clear danger to international security. At the same time crumbling governments and failed states, when coupled with the willingness of non-state actors to use large- scale violence, create a threat even less predictable. This threat makes it clear that the international community must be prepared to strengthen those existing legal concepts and instruments which remain useful, and to dispose of those structures which no longer work.

The visions for the campaign against weapons of mass destruction are somewhat different in the US and in Germany. This is not surprising, for though the US was instrumental in building up the government and legal structures which exist in Germany today, the backgrounds of each country contribute to very different viewpoints on international law. During the crisis over Iraq, the US government did not take into account the extremely high value placed on international law in Germany, which is the logical result of our experiences in and after World War II. Multilateralism is a necessity for Germany not only because of our history but also because of our geostrategic position and role within Europe.

This is quite different from the position of the US, for which multilateralism is an important, I hope a preferred, method, but is by no means the only approach available. This tension is not new, but was newly accentuated during the Iraq crisis.

Also on the German side, however, a lack of consideration influenced relations for too long. The degree to which the events of Sept. 11th affected the national consciousness of the US was underrated. The United States' feeling of security which had reigned, despite the attack on Pearl Harbor, for over 100 years, was shaken to its foundations. Through this experience an old worldview gained new ground, a worldview which says that a nation can only increase its security through increasing its "hard power." The degree to which the US is therefore willing to use military means to this end was long underestimated in Germany.

The danger of weapons of mass destruction presents the transatlantic community with new challenges, and we in Germany and Europe have been very active in meeting them. Very soon after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Germany actively contributed to the review of arms control policy of the EU in light of terrorist threats. On December 10th of that year, the Foreign Ministers of the EU adopted a targeted initiative to strengthen instruments for non- proliferation, tighten export controls, cooperate on disarmament and enhance political dialogues with third countries.

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