While many believe there is unparalleled and dangerous uncertainty in US-European relations in Trump’s era, there is reason to believe that an ascendant and unbounded Germany is the real reason for the demise of the most important alliance in the world: the critical and long-lasting transatlantic relationship.
The western Alliance has stood the test of time over 70 years, united against a common, totalitarian enemy which threatened to end humanity. The causes –- politically, economically and culturally—of the current trough in transatlantic relations comes not just from external risks but primarily from internal factors that suggest a significant and seismic shift. This is an earthquake of unprecedented proportion. It is not a topic on the G-20 agenda but it should be lurking in the minds of the assembled leaders in Hamburg this week.
Change is part and parcel of international relations, whether you are a realist or an idealist. Patterns move, politics is fractious, and competition is dynamic. Much has been made about the so-called volatility, or the “speed of change” in our technological times. Doubtless, it is even trite to say the speed of change is accelerating. Technology will cause havoc to governance and economies in the decades ahead. But the significance and scope of change is what is more apparent in the rapidly diminishing US-European marriage cum divorce.
From the US side, this new President, a true outsider, may be pedantic, pugilistic, petulant, patriotic and populist—but he is nonetheless—President of the United States of America. The US, while not a typical hegemon, is the only global superpower and in effect a G-1. It would be a tragic mistake therefore to ignore let alone obstruct and condemn him or, as Chancellor Merkel appears to be doing, castigate him and thereby risk everything and leave the relationship in tatters. Truth be told, significant parts of the European Project is in shambles, one bungled election away from a complete do-over. Even its President, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently offered up five radically different scenarios for the future of the EU.
If you actually go to all the European capitals and talk with the people and not just the elites—you quickly realize that there are at least 27 such scenarios, as many as there are member states, now that the UK is in Brexit mode. In fact, in many European countries the nationalist/populist elements are at 30 percent or more in the polls and still rising. Not jokingly, if you put any two-country letters in front of the word EXIT—you have a potential movement to leave either the EU or the common currency, if not both. Europe is in chaos, even if it pretends otherwise.
From the shores of the Mediterranean teeming with more newcomers than southern Europe can deal with, all the way up to the rebellious Intermarium countries who refuse to be governed from Brussels and back to the double-digit unemployment rates of multiple large, keystone member states – Brussels is in denial and therefore hyper-defensive. But the EU is objectively in decline, has lost power, and the world is pivoting elsewhere—namely, to Asia, while Germany is left to hold it all together.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had a sound purpose but that rationale has become “obsolete” to quote Presidential candidate Trump, even if he now has come to be convinced that we may need to reinvent it for future use. The original Eurocentric reason behind NATO was supposedly: To keep Russia (well, the USSR) out; to keep the United States in; and to keep Germany down. That all worked, until the Wall came down.
Merkel, up for re-election in a few months, has turned her election into a European referendum on Trump, thereby politicizing the alliance. It remains a mystery how the German Chancellor can keep a straight face in opposition to Trump while she votes against gay marriage in her own country. Germans themselves were ferociously opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), with Merkel herself putting the screws on Brussels to make it less capitalist and more protectionist-dirigiste. A large contingent of her governing coalition – the social democrats, or the mainstream German left – opposed the Paris climate accords on the grounds that it was insufficiently environmentalist and would only serve as a giveaway for global capital to greenwash their planetary pillage.
Likewise on foreign relations: Germany’s ostpolitik served as a chilling dance on the knife-edge for the transatlantic alliance, and the early Merkel governments were some of the most open embracers of President Putin and his Russia. The ostensible opposition to Putin over Ukraine is overshadowed by Germany’s crushing dependence on Russian gas to keep its citizens from freezing in winter – again, because Merkel’s hypocritical embrace of denuclearizing their energy supply. Russia is not the USSR; the US under Trump is more impatient and isolationist, looking to its own greatness, and yet Germany is acting much more shrewdly in embracing the west’s old nemesis – not that you’d know that by listening to Merkel’s criticisms of the White House.
Nowhere is the hypocrisy more blatant than on the question of NATO spending commitments. Only 5 of its 28 members are carrying their freight by paying the agreed 2 percent of their GDP for common defense, but this hides Germany among those countries with valid extenuating circumstances – banking crises, 50% youth unemployment, major budget deficits, etc. Germany, the biggest economy in Europe by far, is also the biggest laggard in NATO with their 1.2 percent of GDP in military spending. This despite having the most robust geconomy and a huge current account surplus – 6 billion Euros in 2016. Germany could crank up spending to 2% tomorrow and still not blow past the EU-mandated limits on deficit spending. In effect, American taxpayers – who don’t get much of a welfare state themselves – are subsidizing European and particularly the Germany welfare state, by picking up so much of the tab: 70 percent of the NATO budget. It can’t continue and Trump has now read them the riot act. Our patience has worn thin and the new sheriff is not taking ‘no’ or ‘later’ for an answer any longer.
Despite all this, we will still see Mrs. Merkel, the not quite Iron Lady Chancellor, going into an election season, playing her anti-American card for all it’s worth. She has said: ”Europe must stay united because it cannot fully count on the US.” Far worse, her Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, has said in no uncertain terms that Trump is: “a threat to peace and prosperity.” Somehow, Merkel and her cabinet get away with this unexamined criticism of the United States, despite being further to the right on social issues, environmentalism, cosier with Russia, benefiting from protectionism domestically while turning the EU into a protectionist bloc, and doing much less for NATO than they should be while calling America’s commitment to the alliance into question.
While Der Spiegel despicably portrayed a severed Trump head on its cover, Germany marches to its own and dangerous drumbeat dragging the entire EU along for the ride. Gone are the common values of the past. Peace, security and economic growth are being sacrificed for raw Merkelian ambition camouflaged in new European clothing and the blue flag with gold stars. Before it is too late, the US and the G-20 has to step up and call out Germany for this hypocrisy. The world and the European continent should not be forced to sustain the chancellor’s almost two-decade long reign over the Bundesrepublik, at the cost of the most important relationship in the world: America’s alliance with Europe.
I have been a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, a speaker for the CDU /CSU, a frequent visitor all over Germany, to their stiftung (think tanks), and a visiting professor at their oldest university, and while I respect German order and science--it behooves us to realize that today’s political order in Germanys have always wanted to rule acted only in Germany’s interest and won too much for too long.
The transatlantic alliance in this century demands honesty and burden sharing as well as common principles and purpose. The interests of Germany alone should not dominate it. If Germany is not on board it can go it alone, realizing the US will no longer pay for it, defend it, protect it, or watch idly as it transforms the continent into a collection of puppet states. Europeans who value their nations and their own freedom should come to their own conclusions but America should not and cannot appease Berlin or accept this state of affairs any longer.
Theodore Roosevelt Malloch is a scholar, diplomat and strategist whose memoir is entitled: Davos, Aspen & Yale: My Life Behind the Elite Curtain as a Global Sherpa.