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.
In a very intense and thought-provoking week in April, 30 American and German fellows gathered in Berlin to present their strategies and concrete projects aimed at modernizing transatlantic relations in the form of an Atlantic Action Plan. The 30 fellows taking part in the Atlantic Basecamp represent a fine selection of the two previous Expeditions and cover a broad range of professional backgrounds – from economics and law, to governmental policies and banking, to journalism and international institutions as young professionals or advanced students. Their diverse and multidisciplinary expertise has been a crucial asset in developing policy and communication recommendation.
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 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.
Let’s be traditional first: The main purpose of the transatlantic relationship in the 21st century will look familiar to those who have studied its history since 1949: To prevent a situation from emerging in which Europeans feel they need to call Moscow first, instead of Washington, in questions of international politics. Add Beijing to the equation, and you get an idea of how daunting the task will be.
Transatlantic relations are the permanent suspension of conventional geopolitics for the purpose of limiting other powers’ influence over a Europe they could otherwise own. Look at the map, and you understand that, based on size, wealth, population and location, it is Russia that should dominate Western and Central Europe. It does not do so because America’s presence and promise of security to Europe creates an artificial barrier that Moscow has been unable to overcome since the end of World War II. With NATO and EU expansion, this barrier has moved eastward by a few hundred kilometers, and this is where, if all goes well, it will remain for some time to come.