Like most members of the Atlantic Alliance, Norway has been unsettled by the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Policymakers and commentators struggle to understand how Trump’s Washington works. Most unsettling, perhaps, is the overall impression that in an ever more complex world and in an ever more challenging security environment, Norway’s most important ally fails to show leadership. Instead, Trump is unraveling the multilateral order on which countries like Norway rely.
Germany and the United States have a deeply intertwined relationship, historically, politically, economically, and culturally. The end of the Cold War, however, has arguably catalyzed a transition to a new world order, in which Germany has broken away from its traditional dependence on the West, the so-called Westbindung. Given the two divided camps of thought this development has caused, this thesis analyzes if, how, and to what extent the German-American relationship has changed. I evaluate the German-American relationship of recent years in three dimensions: Germany’s military actions and role in international crises compared to those of the United States, in respect to the Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria conflicts; Germany’s economic policies and preferences regarding the TTIP; and German public opinion of the transatlantic relationship. To inform my thesis, I conducted a literature review of existing academic opinion on the subject, analyzed German media coverage of the case studies in question and extracted data from polls conducted of German citizens. I conclude that a break from Atlanticism is unlikely, as doing so would contradict Germany’s core economic and political interests.
The sustainability of the transatlantic alliance lies not so much on the external environment that surrounds it but rather on the will of the people than live within it. Why citizens in France, the UK, Hungary or the US have decided to question that order so openly must surely be one of the central questions that analysts of transatlantic relations attempt to answer. And yet, what one normally finds at the core of analyses produced on the state of transatlantic relations are exogenous structural factors. These are issues like Russian revisionism in Eastern Europe or the rise of China and its geopolitical consequences. On both accounts the argument normally goes as follows: These emerging and revisionist powers pose a particular threat to shared European and American interests.
The transatlantic democracies are an alliance in search of a mission. The European powers have differing views about what that mission should be in the age of Trump. On the other side of the Atlantic, more than a year into office, it remains unclear whether the Trump administration has a contribution to the debate. These facts were on full display last week with the visits of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington. The receptions each received were a study in contrast. Macron was welcomed with the honors of a full state visit, including President Trump’s first state dinner. The two leaders almost reveled in their physical embrace of each other. The Merkel-Trump interaction, on the other hand, was short and to the point, warm but business-like.
Ours is a time when even the most Atlanticist countries talk about Europe’s need for strategic autonomy, and when some of its leaders are realizing that “the times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over,” to use Angela Merkel’s words. So readers may have been surprised when they saw France’s president praise his relationship with his US counterpart, especially with this US president, who was instrumental at convincing Merkel that “we have to fight for our own future ourselves.”
But if Emmanuel Macron is taking great care of his personal relationship with Donald Trump, it does not mean that he dismisses France’s traditional pursuit of independence. Since his election, Macron has been rather consistent with his campaign references to De Gaulle. Beyond the displays of “bromance,” Macron had several occasions in Washington to make his differences clear, and he seized them.