Breaking Free? The Status of the German-American Westbindung

Breaking Free?
The Status of the German-American Westbindung

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. Though Germany has accepted an increased position of influence in the international arena and become more self-aware in shaping its own distinct policy, it remains reliant on the U.S. in crucial respects. As a clear shift in the relationship remains disputed, forthcoming political decisions should be monitored, as they are likely to influence transatlantic ties. Depending on the outcome of the TTIP, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the 2017 German federal elections, the German-American dynamic may change. For now, however, the Westbindung still exists as a guiding principle for German policy and German-American cooperation is the realistic prospect for the foreseeable future.


Germany and the United States possess an established yet dynamic relationship. As time advances in the post-WWII era, the relationship between the two has grown to be less of one Germany’s dependence on the United States, and rather one based on mutual dependence. The countries are major economic partners: the transatlantic economy boasts $5.5 trillion in commercial sales annually, including 1.8 million workers each from the German and American sides in a market of 15 million workers (Hamilton, “Uncomfortable Friendship”). In 2015, the United States became the largest single country market for German exports, and Germany remains America’s leading European trading partner; these trade flows alone are worth $172 billion (German Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners”). Germany contributes more than 10% of the United States’ FDI, and more than 20% of its own FDI comes from the United States (GMF, “Longstanding Partners”). The relationship, however, consists of more than just figures and statistics; it is also personal, cultural, and reflects a long history of friendship and cooperation. German-American interactions extend beyond those of German immigrants and heritage in the United States and American military posts in Germany. Around 2 million Germans visited the United States in 2014, and 7.5 million Americans visited Germany in 2013, reflecting a mutual cultural curiosity (GMF, “Longstanding Partners”). Perhaps most importantly, however, there is a political significance to the partnership, as both states are powerful international actors promoting western democratic values, and their synergy is critical to the furthering of such goals.

This “essential and indispensable” relationship, as German Foreign Minister Steinmeier has described the German-American bond, dates back to the postwar era (GMF, “Longstanding Partners” 4). Germany’s accession to NATO under Chancellor Adenauer’s leadership and its pledged cooperation and joint security initiatives embedded the Westbindung, or tie to its western allies, as a main tenet of its foreign policy. In this period, Germany fell into, some argue by necessity, the role of a “Civilian Power”: a power that uses multilateral institutions and economic cooperation to achieve foreign policy objectives, avoids military force except for in a limited, internationally legitimate, and multilateral context, and helps “civilize” international relations by strengthening international norms (Kundnani, “Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 32). Yet, under Chancellor Brandt’s Ostpolitik starting in the late 1960s, in which Germany pursued closer ties with the East, Germany seemed to show signs of autonomy from the West. The Westbindung, however, did not fade; in fact, in the presence of the Cold War, the transatlantic relationship became even more critical for Germany as it looked to the United States to act as a buffer against the East. Parallel to the Westbindung, another cornerstone of German foreign policy has been its “culture of restraint”; its long-established strategic culture, or collective attitude toward national security, has been a “focus on deterrence and war-prevention” (Hyde- Price 612). In other words, Germany has not only resisted war, but has also been a Friedensmacht, or force for peace.

The Federal Republic’s current foreign policy goals under the so-called “Merkel Doctrine” include enabling “strategically important countries to guarantee their own security” to avoid Germany’s entanglement in “unpopular military missions abroad” (Feldenkirchen et al.). According to this doctrine, Germany would opt for a secondary, supporting role in international affairs, and its foreign policy, until recently, has indeed been categorically “reactive, passive, and reluctant,” hesitant to show leadership (Hyde-Price 605). Yet, in recent years, the Eurozone crisis and Germany’s status as the economic powerhouse of Europe have forced it to assume a leadership role within Europe. EU matters have become German matters.

Germany has been described as Europe’s CFO (“chief facilitating officer”), and Merkel has even been referred to as the “EU Chancellor” (Pond and Kundnani; Corn). Furthermore, Germany’s influence and projection of power have extended beyond the European sphere. In the past decade, Germany has behaved increasingly self-consciously and independently, sometimes even opposing American policies. In addition to differences between Germany and the United States’ opinions on foreign policy, economic issues have caused some disagreement, and there have been several hiccups in the relationship, such as that of the NSA spying scandal in 2013, which have caused surges of anti-Americanism among the German public. Consequently, the transatlantic alliance has been called into question, and debates have arisen over whether German-American partnership, let alone friendship, still exists.

Two main lines of thought regarding Germany and the status of its Westbindung can be identified. While some scholars suggest the advent of a more independent Germany, others argue the necessity and endurance of its transatlantic ties due to Germany’s economic and political interests. The first, relatively recent argument suggests that Germany is beginning to pull away from the Westbindung, as witnessed in numerous dimensions of the transatlantic relationship. In the past decade and a half, the respective foreign policies of Germany and America have often diverged. The difference in the countries’ strategic culture alone is staggering; whereas the United States highly prioritizes the use of force and hard power, Germany remains convinced of the virtues of “dialogue, diplomacy, mutual trust, and multilateralism” (Szabo 112). Germany’s behavior has, in the last decade, often diverged from American foreign policy in its decisions on international crisis management, as witnessed by its behavior during the Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria crises. Although Germany’s foreign policy sometimes does still align with that of the United States, such instances are conscious, strategic decisions, rather than obligations; Germany’s Westbindung is now a “choice, not a necessity” (Pond and Kundnani). While it is by no means an independent military power, Germany no longer complacently follows in the United States’ wake on policy decisions. Aside from its differences with the United States regarding international conflicts, Germany’s critical geopolitical position in central Europe, straddled between the East and the West, further puts its interests at odds with the United States, especially concerning its foreign policy toward Russia. Additionally, there has been a large public backlash against increased German economic involvement with the United States through the TTIP. The intangible aspects of the German-American relationship have changed as well; since German reunification, there has been a lack of urgency in the transatlantic relationship, as younger generations, Americans and Germans alike, do not possess the nostalgia of the Cold War generation, which had united the two countries in the latter half of the twentieth century. Furthermore, there have been surges of anti-Americanism in the public sphere in recent years.

The concept of “geo-economics,” or the theory that economic motives and pursuits not only drive, but essentially are foreign policy, corresponds with the idea of a more independent Germany. The theory, pioneered by Edward Luttwak, describes a geo-economic power as reluctant to dedicate resources to resolving international crises, especially through use of force; the only exception is when its economic interests are directly threatened (Kundnani, “Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 42). Geo-economic policy, which essentially follows the “logic of war in the grammar of commerce,” has become a viable course for Germany as its “removal of its pre-reunification constraints” has allowed it to “increasingly define its national interest in economic terms” (Kundnani, “Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 36). At the same time, the costs of reunification put Germany under economic pressure and have made it harder for Germany to pursue any non-economic objectives (Kundnani, “Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 36). Stephen Szabo, who also argues that Germany’s foreign policy is essentially economic policy, further emphasizes the globalization of markets, which has played a critical role influencing Germany’s preferences and behavior. The rise of markets outside of the Western sphere, such as China, have weakened the anchors of Germany’s foreign policy, which have traditionally revolved around its transatlantic relationship (Szabo 10). Thus, increased globalization and Germany’s ardent pursuit of maintaining its economic predominance have led to cracks in the Westbindung.

On the other side of the German foreign policy debate are those who believe that Germany remains irrevocably tied to the United States, as American influence is too strong to resist and because the two countries’ interests ultimately align more with each other than those of other international powers. Rather than recognizing a transition in German foreign policy, they argue that Germany’s economic and political interests remain bound to America; any speculation that Germany is pulling away from the West is a mere “urban legend” (Pond and Kundnani). The significance of the economic ties between the two countries is “impossible to overestimate,” and current geopolitical issues further illustrate the prominence of Atlanticism (Cafruny, “Logic and Tragedy” 8). Germany and the United States share more than just a priority in protecting western democracies, upholding humanitarian values, and combatting terrorism, as seen in the two countries’ stances on the conflicts in the Middle East. Germany and the United States, also, for example, both have shared interests and a large stake in adding Ukraine to the EU and NATO sphere of influence, due to both geopolitical reasons and its economic attractiveness as an export market with opportunity for investment (Cafruny, “Logic and Tragedy” 8). Germany’s sanctions on Ukraine, which contradict German business interests, reflect the still powerful influence of the West. Furthermore, the TTIP, though contentious in German society, includes many provisions that would largely benefit both the American and German economies as well as provide geostrategic advantages (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” vii). Even the citizens of the respective countries retain a mutual interest and respect for each other. While there have been several waves of anti-Americanism in recent years, polls indicate that the German public still approves of American leadership more than it approves of other non-EU countries, including Russia and China (GMF, “Reliable Allies” 16). The theory of geo- economics as the driver of German foreign policy may also be molded to fit this argument about German behavior. Those insisting on the omnipotence of the Westbindung emphasize the high degree of influence and security the United States provides as an international military power. Since Germany can rely on America for international security, it is free to focus on its economy as its main concern in determining and executing foreign policy without involving itself explicitly in military pursuits.

The question of a newly emerged, more independent Germany, however, does not have a black and white answer. Rather, it would be more apt to determine the extent to which Germany is pulling away from the West, if at all. Ultimately, while Germany has the potential to start breaking away from its Westbindung as it acts self-interestedly in isolated cases and as its citizens advocate for a more independent Germany, such signs are still premature and superficial. The foundations of the transatlantic relationship have remained the same. The United States’ incomparable might in both hard and soft power remain too important to ignore, and Germany remains content with U.S. leadership as the primary champion of western democracies and values. A break from Atlanticism is unlikely and unfeasible, as doing so contradicts Germany’s core economic and political interests. The German-American relationship, if anything, has evolved into a more balanced alliance, in which Germany is being taken more seriously, especially in the context of recent international developments and conflicts. One can evaluate the German-American relationship of recent years in three different dimensions: Germany’s military actions and active presence 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. After a comprehensive analysis of the German-American relationship in respect to these elements, a more decisive verdict can be made on the status of the Westbindung. The first, most tangible case study in which to analyze the transatlantic relationship is that of German foreign policy regarding military conflicts in the international arena, and to what extent German and American foreign policy have aligned.

Case Study I: German Foreign Policy

Germany’s foreign policy has long been a topic of much debate given its notorious history. Its unique geopolitical position in Europe, economic might, and traditional “culture of restraint” have been Germany’s sovereign hallmarks and foundations for its foreign policy. Yet, in the past decade, a transition has been occurring. Germany, which has taken a complacent, backseat role since the postwar era by letting the Westbindung dictate its policy, is now demonstrating independence in its foreign policy and a more assertive pursuit of national interests. Its foreign policy is undergoing a fundamental transition as its Friedensmacht or “Civilian Power” status shifts to a position that reflects a greater German self-consciousness and willingness to project power and influence in the international sphere. In the contexts of the conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and recent turmoil in Syria and the Middle East, Germany has left unconditional multilateralism behind and begun an active pursuit of its national interests. Germany’s decisions on Iraq and Libya marked an initial departure from its multilateral and Westbindung-oriented preferences and the beginning of a more self-conscious, independent foreign policy. Furthermore, a marked pivot occurred in late 2013, when national leaders started to call for a more active international role. Germany’s behavior in response to the Ukraine conflict, while aligned with the U.S., showed a newfound leadership and proactivity. Lastly, Germany’s current military policy and involvement in the Middle East epitomize the development of a Germany veering toward a more assertive and robust foreign and security policy. While the Westbindung remains significant, recent German foreign policy developments indicate that Germany’s role in the transatlantic relationship is an active choice to further German interests, rather than a binding necessity. This change notably departs from the previous theories on Germany’s international role and foreign policy.


Germany’s refusal in 2002 to support the US in its endeavors in Iraq was the initial indicator of a German foreign policy shift. The break from Germany’s unequivocal support of the United States indicated a departure from its tendency to pursue multilateral means. Despite its promise of “unconditional solidarity” with the United States following the 9/11 attacks and willingness to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom, its solidarity with the US on foreign policy did not extend into Iraq, regardless of the UN Security Council’s decision on the operation’s legality (Forsberg, “German Foreign Policy” 217). The Schröder government believed the Iraqi threat was not large enough to justify an intervention. Not only was there a lack of conclusive proof of the existence of WMD, but there was also no proof of a direct link between Bin Laden’s group and Iraq (Harnisch 11). Furthermore, Iraq was not among Germany’s highest prioritized threats at the time; Islamic terrorism and international groups such as Al Qaeda were its main concerns. Given these factors, the German opinion that the present containment strategy of Iraq was working, and its insistence that diplomatic means had not yet been exhausted, Germany refused to support the United States’ intervention (Harnisch 11). This was a “uniquely unilateral action” and “perhaps the most dramatic break with multilateralism” in the history of Germany in the modern era (Kundnani, “Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 35). This critical decision set a precedent for a conscious, distinctly German foreign policy.

Many argue that domestic factors caused this decision. There was an upcoming federal Bundestag election only months away, and the Social Democratic Party majority under Schröder and the Green Party wished to preserve their red-green coalition. Public opinion was overwhelmingly against the Iraq war and supported a more “assertive role for Germany in fostering its interests,” which, in the German people’s opinion, was to avoid entangling itself in a war (Forsberg, “German Foreign Policy” 225). The stance on Iraq became a major campaign issue and Schröder declared that his party, the SPD (Social Democratic Party) would increase its re-election chances by emphasizing its stance on the topic: while Germany would “act in solidarity with its allies,” it would “not participate in any adventures” (Harnisch 10). While internal politics played a role to a certain extent, they alone, however, cannot explain Germany’s decision. Ultimately, broader, more systemic factors explain Germany’s choice.

Germany’s divergence from the traditional transatlantic alliance reflects a new course in foreign policy. Its final decision showed a “greater degree of reactiveness and self-centredness of its foreign and security policy” (Harnisch 23). Tuomas Forsberg purports that Germany’s actions can be interpreted as a result of its growing image as a great power and its resistance to an American, unipolar world (“German Foreign Policy” 224). Chancellor Schröder had always been outspoken about the importance of being “auf gleicher Augenhöhe,” or “at eye level,” with the Americans – not necessarily in terms of parity or balance, but at least in terms of serious recognition and consultation when determining joint pursuits (Forsberg, “German Foreign Policy” 224). Thus, at a point when the United States continued to forge ahead with its pursuits regardless of allies’ opinions, Germany refused to acquiesce and asserted its own stance. Germany still regarded its transatlantic alliance as critical; its decision, however, created a more stringent set of conditions for the relationship than it had previously required (Forsberg, “German Foreign Policy” 227). This breach of its historical Westbindung was the first of a recent line of policy decisions reflecting a Germany liberated from the fetters of its transatlantic relationship and set forth the momentum for a more conscious and deliberate German foreign policy. Additionally, German public opinion, while opposed to the Iraq War, still wanted Germany to play a more active role in international affairs, especially within a European framework (Forsberg, “German Foreign Policy” 225). Thus, German foreign policy began to reposition itself by considering playing a more active role while still pursuing national interests. Germany’s behavior regarding the 2011 Libya crisis illustrates the momentum of this initial shift, as its abstention marked an even more controversial deviation from its previously Western- oriented foreign policy.


Germany’s stance on the Libya crisis illustrates yet another strain in the Westbindung and confirmed the existence of a more self-conscious, independent German foreign policy. In 2011, Germany abstained from a vote in the UN Security Council to create a no-fly zone in Libya by way of military intervention. Although it did not vote against the measure, Germany’s abstention effectively pitted it against France, the UK, and the US and placed it on the side of China and Russia. The “cost” of Germany’s abstention was sending reinforcement personnel to Afghanistan, allowing NATO forces there to conduct the Libya operation (Miskimmon  398). Germany’s decision on Libya was extremely controversial, both domestically and internationally, and many viewed it as uncharacteristic of German foreign policy. Despite Germany’s historical advocacy for the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) norm and a 2006 policy paper by the Defense Ministry stating that R2P would form the basis for more military interventions under international legitimacy, the abstention on the Libya vote countered such rhetoric (Bower). Germany defended its abstention on the grounds that the resolution lacked planning, created a risk for involvement in a protracted campaign, and reflected a rush to intervene without first exhausting all non-military options (Miskimmon 403). Current Minister of the Interior and Defense Minister at the time Thomas De Maizière summed up the German position: “although the heart says yes (to a military mission), the cool head says: leave it alone” (Miskimmon 398).

The circumstances surrounding the Libya decision, however, reveal that Germany’s seemingly unorthodox decision ultimately reflected its national interests. The resolution vote, which came quickly, caught Germany off guard, as it was still weighing the pros and cons of the resolution. The swiftness of the vote exposed the “shortcomings in the ways that individual European states coordinate within transnational bodies” (Bower). The behavior of the UK and France toward Germany epitomize such weaknesses. The Germans believed that the French decided rather impulsively and felt “sidelined” by the French and British, who have historically “always sought greater cooperation bilaterally rather than including Germany” (Miskimmon 398). Thus, in moments of crisis such as that of Libya, “cracks in relations between the EU’s big three become pronounced,” and cooperation on the resolution therefore became more difficult (Miskimmon 398). Germany believed it was being rushed into the decision and not given enough autonomy and time to properly assess the situation. In addition to external pressures, Germany remained internally divided. While the conservatives under Merkel and Defense Minister Guido Westerwelle’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) supported the abstention, more leftist politicians, such as the Greens under Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer favored intervention in the name of humanitarianism. Even public opinion was torn; Germans were split three ways over who they should generally cooperate with: primarily with West; with other countries (China, India, and Russia); or with both (Kundnani, “Leaving the West Behind”). With so much internal division, an abstention seemed the appropriate course of action while Germany resolved its collective national preferences. These domestic and European pressures, however, do not alone explain Germany’s decision; a greater, normative debate was at play regarding German foreign policy.

Germany’s decision on the Libya resolution reflects not a restrained, war-averse German foreign policy, but rather an increasingly bold and independent one. Some scholars argue the Libya decision was the “low-point” of German foreign policy because it eliminated the hope of creating an influential EU role in international affairs, threatened Germany’s credibility, and even jeopardized Germany’s chance to secure a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (Hyde-Price 601; Miskimmon 396). This assertion, while making good points, does not hold. The act of abstaining itself was a deliberate decision. Germany did not conform to traditional western alliances and allow its role in international crises to be decided by such; rather, the abstention reflected a debate about Germany’s international role and its national interests and implied an emerging self-perception of itself as increasingly independent. Germany opted out of an active role after fully assessing the case, weighing its options, and considering national interests, which ultimately favored non-intervention. Libya did not pose a direct threat to German security, and Germany’s material interests, due to domestic pressures from the Eurozone crisis, would not have been well served by involvement in the no-fly zone operation (Miskimmon 402). Alister Miskimmon argues this situation created the “perception that German foreign policy is re-aligning according to a more overt sense of German foreign policy interests” (405). This, however, is not a perception, but a reality; the Libya abstention was the second major situation in which an independent German path won out over traditional alliances. Germany’s wish to reduce its multilateral crisis management operations was indeed a fundamental motivation for its decision (Miskimmon 392). Thus, despite the circumstantial factors in the process leading up to the vote, national interests were the deciding factor in Germany’s abstention, again indicating that alignment with the U.S. was no longer a precondition for German foreign policy. In addition to its self-determining behavior in the context of Iraq and Libya, Germany has also demonstrated a desire to pivot toward a more active role in foreign affairs, as recent domestic rhetoric illustrates.

Domestic Rhetoric

Since the Libya crisis, the domestic debate on the nature of German foreign policy has evolved and Germany has explicitly declared its duty to play a more active role in international affairs. A speech by President Joachim Gauck in 2013 triggered a domestic dialogue on the matter. The president voiced that Germany “is not an island,” and consequently questioned if Germany was “fully living up to its responsibility” in the East, Middle East, and Southern Mediterranean, given the “weight that [Germany] carries” (Hyde-Price 602). The federal elections in late 2013 continued the discussion’s momentum. Merkel was reelected for a third term and a new Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and new Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, came into office. These two ministers favor the pursuit of a more active foreign policy. Von der Leyen currently supports “a more robust common European security and defense policy, with Germany as a key motor,” and Steinmeier has similarly stated that “Germany is really too big to merely sit on the sidelines and comment on world politics” (Hyde-Price 603-4). The 2014 annual Munich Security Conference further reflected a German willingness to take on a more active role. President Gauck argued that German politicians should stop using the “historic guilt” of their country to turn away from global crises, and that Germany has a responsibility to confront “brutal regimes” (Hyde-Price 603). He also addressed the employment of the Bundeswehr, which, although it remained the last resort, should not simply be dismissed based on principle (Löfflman). Germany not only has a responsibility to engage, but it also has a stake in it; President Gauck reiterated that playing an active role is in Germany’s national interest because to “invest properly in European cooperation and global order” is to “take a hand in shaping the future,” which is ultimately worth Germany’s while (Hyde-Price 603). Moreover, the German government is expected to release a new national security white paper in 2016 that will “likely stress the nation’s growing international role and increased security responsibilities” (Löfflman). While such rhetoric does not directly affect the status of the Westbindung, it does have indirect implications. A more active Germany will not only engage other countries, but will also publicly recognize and assert its national interests. Thus, if and when these interests conflict with those of the United States, the Westbindung will further be called into question.


German foreign policy in reaction to the Ukraine crisis has demonstrated the elevated significance of Germany’s stance as well as Germany’s pivotal role in managing the West’s relations with Russia. While Germany’s foreign policy, ultimately aligning with that of the United States, does illustrate the Westbindung’s endurance, it indicates less that Germany was bound to the West and rather that there was a mutual desire from all western actors to act in solidarity, since Germany’s overarching interests ultimately coincided with those of the U.S.. When the crisis in Ukraine came to a head in February 2014 as Yanukovych was ousted, Germany immediately took action, showing a surprising amount of leadership, decisiveness, and dedication. Germany was willing to serve in a mediating role as well as be a contact partner for Russia. The German government’s subsequent policy toward Ukraine was three-pronged, including implementation of sanctions, facilitation of dialogue between Ukraine and Russia, and a special monitoring mission in Ukraine (Fix). Germany was also willing to support Ukraine with an implicit willingness to implement tougher economic measures if Russia contributed further to the crisis (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 28). Germany ruled out the use of military force from the outset, preferring long-term diplomatic solutions. Merkel engaged in meetings and phone calls with Putin and coordinated international efforts to find a solution to the crisis (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 29). These diplomatic efforts yielded the Minsk and Minsk II Agreements of September 2015 and February 2015. Furthermore, Merkel immediately pushed back against NATO attempts to increase its presence on eastern borders with a permanent deployment of NATO troops in Poland, Baltic countries, and Romania; rather, Germany supported the development of a rapid-reaction force (Speck).

In comparison to Germany’s previous diplomatic dilemmas in Iraq and Libya, Ukraine presented a more serious and immediate threat as well as a more controversial policy issue. Ukraine is a vital German interest geopolitically, as Germany’s Eastern neighborhood poses the biggest potential security threat (Speck). Furthermore, Germany had other, non-security-related motives that supported action in Ukraine. Germany would not only generally benefit from having Ukraine in the EU orbit, but also specifically be able to use Ukraine to its advantage by employing Ukrainian labor in its Eastern Europe supply chain to bolster its export mercantilist system. Germany’s history of diplomatic and business ties to Russia, however, incited much opposition to aggressive measures against Russia from both the political and industrial spheres. Interestingly enough, the strongest opposition came from parties and people outside the core of power, not from German industry and German public opinion (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 37). The Social Democrats were especially cautious about taking action against Russia and opposed sanctions at first. Former chancellor Helmut Schmidt expressed his opinion that sanctions were stupid and other SPD members had the sentiment that it was America, not Russia, who had caused the crisis by trying to bring Ukraine into NATO (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 32-33). Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, often criticized for his friendship with Putin and position as board chairman for Nord Stream AG, even openly defended Russia and criticized the West during the crisis (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 32). This was not the only example of German business hesitant to take punitive action. The chief executive of Siemens met with Putin in March 2014 and yet did not mention Ukraine at all; rather, he emphasized his wish to continue business with Russia (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 34). German businesses, however, ultimately and rather unexpectedly cooperated with their government’s policy, with one third of them withholding their investments in Russia (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 34).

There are contrasting opinions about the implications of Germany’s approach to the Ukraine crisis in the context of the Westbindung. Some argue the German response reflects a desire for western unity. Berlin’s response to the crisis was multilateral from the outset, working in conjunction with the other EU states as well as Washington. Despite considerable EU disagreement at the outset, Germany proactively and persistently rallied EU states’ opinions to achieve a consensus (Speck). Sanctions were and still remain the largest part of the policy, and the U.S. and Europe have continued to coordinate on them; the U.S. even waited releasing its sanction announcements until EU unity on the sanctions had been confirmed (Fix). This insistence on cooperation indicates that transatlantic ties persist. Furthermore, the fact that Germany was willing to take the lead in making economic sacrifices for the greater common good is notable in itself, as it reflects the value it places on the international order and its relationship with the West. Another dimension of the continued Westbindung is that of Germany’s lack of military ability, which illustrates its ultimate dependence on NATO for military invention in Ukraine, should the need arise. As a pacifist, non-nuclear power, Germany can only provide assistance to military missions through training, equipment and transportation (Speck). The bottom line is that “German civilian power can only work if it is backed up – reassured and supplemented – by US military muscle” (Speck).

On the other hand, some scholars such as Kundnani argue that the Ukraine case illustrates a new, more independent Germany despite its coordination with the United States. Germany and the EU, reluctant to impose sanctions at first, were persuaded to implement them not by the United States as some contend, but by the downing of the MH17 plane in July 2014, which incited public opinion (Fix). Additionally, the German and U.S. responses reflect a difference in character and purpose. The American approach, similar to that of the Germans’ three-pronged strategy, emphasized reaffirming the security of central European allies within NATO. However, whereas Germany’s key strategic point was dialogue, initially having sanctions set to expire after only a year, America’s key point was that of deterrence and sought rather to “punish” Putin (Pond and Kundnani). A quick reaction and solution to the conflict was also in Germany’s national interests due to geopolitical and economic reasons, as previously explained. Taking this into consideration, German-U.S. (and consequently EU-U.S.) cooperation stemmed not from an innate sense of mutual ties, but rather reflected two rational international actors working in tandem to further their respective interests.

The reality lies somewhere between these two opinions. Germany’s approach, although consciously aligned with the US, is unfolding in its own manner and demonstrates independence and leadership. Perhaps the quick action on the part of Germany can even be explained by a desire to resolve East-West tensions before Germany, (who, per usual, was caught straddling the fence between East and West), had make a choice to end diplomatic ties with either Russia or the United States. Former foreign minister Joschka Fischer declared Merkel as having a new foreign policy, taking strategic threats seriously and directly confronting them rather than taking “small steps” (Forsberg, “Ostpolitik to Frostpolitik” 37). Kundnani, on the other hand, purports that Merkel did not break with her typical leadership style in the crisis – her cautious, step-by-step approach remains typical. Kundnani contends that the Westbindung is a choice, not a necessity, and that it is now quite possible that new, long-term German foreign policy will emerge “despite Germany’s response to the Ukraine crisis rather than because of it” (Pond and Kundnani). In spite of its alignment with the U.S. and absence of military means, Germany’s economic and diplomatic tactics in Ukraine make it stand out for the first time in years as a leader in handling a major international crisis.

Syria and the Middle East

In contrast to its lack of military response to the Ukraine conflict, however, Germany has recently undergone concrete changes in its military capacity regarding the current crisis in the Middle East. Germany’s role in the recent crisis in the Middle East reflects a pivot toward a more active foreign policy; this willingness to project power stems not from pressure imposed by the Westbindung, but from new national interests. As the situation in Syria grows even direr in the context of the expanding presence of ISIS and the massive refugee influx to Europe, Germany has been increasing its activity in the Middle East. After only four days in the Bundestag, a mission mandate passed overwhelmingly on December 4th (with 445 in favor, 146 against, and 7 abstentions) to send reconnaissance planes, a frigate, and midair fueling capacity to the Middle East to aid the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria (Johnston; Smale). 1200 military personnel will be deployed to the Middle East, and another 650 to Mali to relieve French troops battling Islamic extremists (Smale). The legal grounds for German action, spurred on by the French government’s direct request for assistance following the terrorist attacks in Paris, lie in the November 20th UN Resolution 2249 that called on the international community to take “all necessary measures” in compliance with international law to halt the terrorist actions of ISIS (Johnston). The UN mandate notably did not evoke Chapter VII of its charter, which explicitly refers to military force and had previously had been the implicit criterion for German out-of-area deployment (Johnston). This exception to its typically stringent set of criteria for intervention implies the Germans are willing and committed to playing a more active role in resolving international crises. Furthermore, German public opinion supports the decision; the public service broadcaster ARD’s poll revealed that 59% of respondents support the plan, 34% would back participation in airstrikes, and 22% support deployment of ground troops (Smale). Furthermore, Merkel’s popularity ratings following the decision, which had slipped during refugee crisis, increased back up to 54% (Smale). Thus, the assertive Foreign and Defense Ministers are not anomalies; they reflect the broad opinion of the country, which supports a more active German foreign policy. This increasingly active role in international crises, as seen by Germany’s recent action in the Middle East, ultimately demonstrates a shift in German foreign policy. While this may initially appear to be a renewed wave of support for American involvement, it is more likely that Germany’s participation stems from a national sense of urgency. The refugee crisis has landed in Germany’s backyard, and thus it is in German national interest to address the root of the problem, which lies in the Syrian conflict.

Other current and continued active German military presences and policies also demonstrate a focus on foreign and security interests. There is a continuation of the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan, where German forces have remained to train Afghan troops. This extension has not met any resistance (Feldenkirchen et al.). Furthermore, the Defense Ministry is still considering a mission to Libya as part of a NATO initiative to rebuild Libyan security forces once a domestic Libyan agreement on the establishment an established government reached (Feldenkirchen et al.). Germany has also taken concrete measures in terms of military and security spending, indicating a willingness to project power internationally and assume a greater role in resolving foreign affairs. Germany’s military expenditures as a part of GDP reached a low in March 2015, at only 1.2% of GDP. This number remains low compared to the 2% target of GDP for which NATO members aim. That same month, however, Merkel’s cabinet approved a budget increase of 6.2% over the next five years for the defense budget, amounting to an additional $8.5 billion by 2019. Von der Leyen has stated that Germany will strive for the 2% target, as “security needs investment” (“Germany’s von der Leyen Calls for More NATO Defense Spending”). As of result of the increased budget, 154,000 of Germany’s 180,000 active soldiers will be sent abroad to participate in military exercises, a significant increase from the 73,000 abroad in 2013. Furthermore, Von der Leyen has decided to fully equip all military units – a departure from the previous policy of 70% unless the unit is involved in exercises or deployment – and reversed the 2010 decision to stop acquisitioning spare parts in order to lower costs. The Bundeswehr is expected to invest up to $6.7 billion in repairing a deficient weapon system and undergo a major reform of its weapons and equipment acquisition process. Lastly, Germany plans to meet the NATO target of 20% of defense expenditures for investments from 2016 onward (Löfflman). While Germany’s military remains small and relatively outdated, these decisions focusing on military enhancement indicate a departure from Germany’s historically war-averse “culture of restraint.” In terms of the Westbindung, it remains too early to determine if this change will lead to a decreased dependency on the U.S. and NATO; the current trajectory, however, suggests it will not, as military enhancements remain minimal.

In the context of the current refugee crisis stemming from the turmoil in Syria, the role of Germany is more relevant than ever. As the European country who initially took the lead in addressing the EU crisis and accepting refugees, it has a direct stake in the stability in the Middle East, and has recognized this. Once hesitant to lead in foreign policy, Germany is now forced to, as it “reap[s] the results of its own reluctance to engage abroad” due to “its failure, as the leading country in the European Union, to galvanize fellow member states” against the mass atrocities in Syria (Wergin). An active role may mean not only personnel support, but a future military presence. Former Minister of Defense and the current conservative party’s deputy floor leader Franz Josef Jung said “foreign and security policy must now be increasingly focused on combatting the causes of refugee flight,” and that “the Bundeswehr has to play an explicit role” (Feldenkirchen et al.). While this reflects more conservative German political opinion, a new consciousness across the domestic political spectrum has broken out, recognizing the need for Germany to increase its international presence if it wishes to defend its security interests on the national level.


Germany’s transitioning role in international affairs make its foreign policy difficult to define. The clear departure from a preference for multilateralism with traditional allies indicates that Germany is no longer a pure “Civilian Power” and raises doubts about the purportedly unshakable nature of the Westbindung. Germany no longer needs the multilateral institutions the way it used to, nor does it rely on NATO the way it did during the Cold War. Germany as an economic powerhouse is less constrained than it used to be and is thus free to be “selectively multilateral” (Kundnani, “Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 36). Moreover, multilateral actions are harder to achieve as Germany more assertively pursues its unique, economy-driven national interests. The argument that Germany is a pure geo-economic power has a strong basis, but it also remains insufficient in explaining recent German foreign policy decisions regarding sanctions on Russia in the Ukraine conflict and involvement in Syria. The post-2013 rhetoric of German officials, current involvement in the Middle East, and increase in the defense budget and upgrade of military resources also refute the theory that Germany pursues foreign policy through solely economic measures. Ultimately, this transition of German foreign policy reflects Germany’s security interests, as it seeks internal and external stability context (Johnston). Many scholars do accept that German foreign policy is undergoing changes. Miskimmon concedes that German foreign policy “is going through a period of transition to address new challenges,” (405) and Kundnani foresees Germany being “increasingly willing to take decisions independently of – and sometimes in opposition to – its allies and partners,” as it did during the Libya crisis (“Germany as a Geo-Economic Power” 42). Given its foreign policy decisions in the last decade, it is clear that German foreign policy no longer corresponds with any existing theories on its international role, and a new theory on its shifting foreign policy must be synthesized.

The most recent major foreign policy decisions of Germany of the past decade are not isolated incidents that only reflect circumstantial and domestic factors. Rather, each situation has built off the previous. When viewed holistically, a transition to an independent German foreign policy with an increased willingness to participate in ventures abroad as a result of national interests can be observed. Germany’s decision not to support the Iraq War, regardless of the UN Security Council’s opinion, was not a one-time exception to its break from multilateralism. The abstention on the no-fly zone resolution in Libya confirmed the existence of a more independent German state. Added to Germany’s more self-conscious position in its international behavior was its declaration in 2013 to play a more active role, including militarily, in foreign crises.

While Germany’s facilitative role in response to the Ukraine conflict appears Westbindung- oriented at first glance, upon closer inspection, one can see the geopolitical and strategic interests Germany itself had in keeping Ukraine under Western influence. Germany’s current presence in the Middle East and recent decision to upgrade the status of its military illustrate its concrete policy pursuits to address a national threat – the refugee influx that has stemmed from the conflict in the Syria. Although the respective decisions regarding the West’s involvement in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria – opposition, abstention, and two instances of support – seem to show a discrepancy, the reasoning behind Germany’s behavior demonstrates consistency. Germany is basing its decisions on its national security interests, which have become increasingly urgent. In conjunction, Germany has been unafraid to break from traditional alliances and display independence in foreign policy decisions. This combination of factors reflects the shift to a new German foreign policy and international role as Germany recognizes that it is indeed, as Minister Steinmeier articulated, too big to sit on the sidelines. Germany will not totally defect from the United States; it is not in its national interests to break away from arguably the most powerful nation in the world. Rather, it will continue to uphold the Westbindung, but from a more voluntary stance and with a greater position of influence. Germany is the “sleep-walking giant” of the world who has finally woken up (Hyde-Price 613). It is in the inception phase of a transition to a more active foreign policy in which not only the current state of international affairs demands German engagement, but German involvement itself is first determined by German interests rather than Western preferences.

Case Study II: Germany and the TTIP

The magnitude of the transatlantic economy is stupefying; worth $5.5 trillion annually, employing up to 15 million workers, and accounting for three quarters of global financial markets and over half of world trade and world GDP, the market cannot be ignored (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” ix). Within this transatlantic market, Germany and the United States have particularly important ties. The United States is Germany’s fourth largest trade partner in terms of trade volume (Popławski 13). German firms employ 600,000 people in the USA and US companies employ 800,000 jobs in Germany (Popławski 13). Furthermore, according to the Federal Statistical Office in 2014, the US was the second largest outlet for German exporters, who sold goods there worth 96 billion euros (8.5% of total German exports). US manufacturers, on the other hand, sold 49 billion euros worth of goods (5% of German imports) to the German market. In this economic relationship, Germany has an overwhelming surplus in trade of 47 billion euros (Popławski 6). This number is not surprising, as the German economy is based on its export-mercantilist foundation. According to World Bank, German exports account for 51% of the country’s GDP, whereas in the US it only accounts for 13% (Popławski 14). Germany is one of the countries with the highest trade surpluses in the world, while the United States possesses one of the highest trade deficits.

Germany and the United States appear to be the trading antithesis of each other, yet in actuality have potential to complement each other, increase their prosperity, and strengthen the Westbindung by further liberalizing markets through the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Popławski 5). While both countries have much to gain, the agreement also raises concerns, particularly on the European side. Past economic disagreements also reflect a different economic mindset that may congest a streamlined path to a trade agreement. Despite their status as major trading partners, the United States and Germany have had numerous economic disputes and played the ‘blame game’ with each other, particularly post-2007 in the wake of the economic crisis. In 2010, the US accused Germany of pursuing a harmful mercantilist policy focused only on stimulating its own exports and not balancing this with imports. In turn, Berlin responded by accusing the US of being too uncompetitive and criticized the American tendency to accumulate debt (Popławski 11). The benefits of economic partnership between the two countries, however, are too large to ignore, and thus the TTIP persists as a viable economic move going forward.

This chapter will explore the TTIP specifically in the context of German interests and existing transatlantic relationship. After briefly outlining the history and major provisions of the TTIP, its benefits for Germany will be discussed. Conversely, the German concerns about certain provisions of the TTIP and about the meaning of the general agreement itself will be closely examined, as well as German public opinion, which has played a large role thus far in raising awareness about the TTIP. Finally, the conditions for and implications of a successfully negotiated TTIP will be analyzed and the future of the German-American relationship in the context of this economic agreement will be assessed. First, the origins and provisions of TTIP must be laid out in order to understand Germany’s consequent stances on the issue.

TTIP’s Provisions

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the TTIP, is a proposed trade agreement between the United States and the European Union that will further liberalize trade between the two economic blocs. The TTIP’s negotiations were started in June 2013 after a joint declaration of President Obama and European Commission President Barroso at the G8 summit.

The European Council has named several reasons for starting such negotiations, including the global economic crisis, the inefficacy of the World Trade Organization’s multilateral negotiations, and the difficulties in agreement on the rules for agricultural subsidies in the EU and the United States (Popławski 7). The EU’s Directorate General for Trade and the United States Trade Representative are the respective European and American positions conducting the negotiations, and negotiations transpire within the narrowest circles possible as to eliminate pressure from lobbyists and public opinion (Popławski 7). Ultimately, the goals of the TTIP fall within three categories: eliminating customs duty in trade and reducing the non-tariff barriers between the two economic blocs, harmonizing standards and technical norms, and creating legislation to offer more protection to foreign investment (Popławski 7). These categories constitute the three pillars of the agreement, which is comprised of twenty-five chapters in total. The first pillar revolves around market access including tariffs and rules of origin, the second pillar focuses on reducing non-tariff barriers and harmonizing U.S. and EU regulation, and the third pillar seeks agreement on norms and standards on issues such as investment, intellectual property rights, discriminatory industrial policies, and state-owned enterprises (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” ix). Given the rapid process of globalization and ever- changing trading norms, rules, and regulations, the TTIP would likely not be a final document, but a “living agreement,” including consulting mechanisms to address perpetual innovation, legislation, and trade and technology developments (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” ix-x). The most recent, twelfth round of negotiation talks began in Brussels the week of February 22nd, 2016, introducing the topic of “investor protections” for the first time (“New Round”), and negotiators aim to reach a consolidated text by July 2016 in order to pass the agreement before Obama leaves the White House (Brevetti). A successfully negotiated TTIP with such provisions would bring about major economic benefits for both actors, specifically in Germany.

Potential Gains

Aside from the overall economic gains from increased liberalization of trade, the specific provisions and specific economic characteristics of Germany render it one of the countries with the most to gain from the agreement. If TTIP negotiations come to fruition, the transatlantic market will expand to cover 800 million consumers, 50% of global production, 30% of global trade, and 60% of global investments, all within a few years’ time (Popławski 7). While a zero- tariff agreement could increase EU and U.S. exports by 17% each, there are even more benefits associated with the reduction of non-tariff barriers (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” x). For example, there are currently a plethora of administrative barriers such as licenses, permits, and approvals, such as regulations regarding food and product safety. According to the Germany Ministry for the Economy, the prices of German goods on the American market could be 20% higher than it could be due to additional European requirements (Popławski 14). Furthermore, 80% of the overall potential wealth gains would come from cutting bureaucracy and regulation costs as well as trade liberalization in services and public procurement (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” x). German producers specifically have the most to gain, as Germany has a more competitive economy than that of the US and the most competitive economy within the EU (Popławski 14). Due to the nature of the provisions revolving around certain industrial standards, the areas in which the most benefits will arise are in the metallurgical, food processing, chemical, transport, automotive, and industrial product industries. Germany’s dominance in these industries suggest high potential gains (Popławski 16).

As a result, the projected long-run increase of German GDP is 4.7% according to the IFO Institute in Munich (Popławski 16). The institute also predicts an addition of 109,000 new jobs in Germany, provided that the maximum amount of liberalization is executed (Popławski 17). Germany would not only benefit in its transatlantic trade, but also in its trade within the EU. Since trade barriers would be reduced between EU countries, Germany’s producers would more easily sell its products that had previously been barred; for example, the protectionist barriers that Italy and France have against German car manufacturers would be more limited (Popławski 15). A successful TTIP would also allow for the diversification of energy supplies in Germany, including exports of American gas and oil to Europe, which are currently prohibited, as only countries with which the US has a free trade agreement can receive such exports (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xxvi). Furthermore, provided the TTIP reduces some of the restrictions on American oil exports, the liberalization of procedures will provide for “stable institutional conditions for foreign trade in raw materials” (Popławski 32). This benefit is more than just an economic advantage; it is also provides geopolitical leverage – an implication of the agreement that will be later discussed. Despite the wealth of benefits Germany stands to gain, however, there are major provisions of the agreement that have galvanized Germans against the TTIP.

Potential Pains

Germany’s two main grievances with the TTIP are the prospect of lowering German standards, thereby detrimentally affecting the average consumer and worker, and the concerns revolving around the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. In general, the Europeans are much more cautious with product standards than the Americans; whereas the European way is to live by the “precautionary principle,” creating preemptive restrictions before harm is caused, the United States focuses on innovation first and creates restrictions only if harm or threat has been proven. As a result of these differing processes, Europeans view American standards as inferior to their own. To illustrate, 91%, 85%, 96%, and 94% of Germans trust the European standards for auto safety, data privacy, environmental safety, and food safety more than the American standards, respectively (Sparding 4). Such inherent distrust has caused Germans to negatively resonate with the TTIP, as 61% of Germans fear that TTIP would lower German food, environmental, and auto safety standards (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 2015). Concerns revolve around not only the German consumer, but the German worker as well. German trade unions are worried about worker and union rights. Again, European and German labor standards are much higher than those of the United States, so “only a harmonization at the most advanced level can protect European workers from a potential downward spiral” (Sparding 9).

The second major German objection to the TTIP, which has received even more negative public attention than the issue of standards, is that of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. Although Germany is already partner to more than 130 such investment protection agreements, this is the first time it has caused major concern (Sparding 11). With this system, foreign investors and corporations would enjoy more protection than they do currently. Such courts would exclusively protect investors and potentially allow corporations to sue governments over any piece of legislation it deems threatening, which is an enormous amount of power for a corporation (Knight). Essentially, corporations would be allowed to sue governments for lost future profits if regulations are changed to their disadvantage; for example, a US company could sue if they stood to lose profits as a result of a German new environmental legislation law (Knight). Critics view this as giving too much power to foreign actors. Furthermore, in such a system, ordinary courts would be bypassed. Not only would private- sector trade lawyers would be paid very high fees on temporary contracts, but there would also be no means of appeal and therefore “any hint of a democratic process would be gone” (“New Round”). Even small and medium sized German businesses are against this clause because the high procedural costs of the mechanism would be too expensive for them, essentially allowing only corporations to take advantage of this provision (Sparding 11). As a result of such protest against the ISDS, in late 2015, “Investment Courts” were proposed as an organized alternative to the improvised courts that would be used in the initial ISDS proposal. Many, however, found this suggestion unacceptable, as it would create a parallel justice system for corporations (Knight; “New Round”). The German Magistrates Association (DRB), however, has outwardly opposed this Investment Court System (ICS), saying the special courts “had no legal basis.” The DRB also said they had “serious doubts whether the European Union has the competence to institute an investment court” (Knight). Klaus Ernst of the German Left Party has voiced the popular sentiment against such a system, arguing “we don’t need any special courts…every special court is a violation of the European court system” (Knight). ISDS has thus “become a symbol of broader, unwelcome trends: a loss of democratic control, growing corporate influence, and a lack of transparency” (Sparding 12).

The Domestic Response

The German government and public are divided on the TTIP, reflecting ideological lines and business sympathies. The current governing party, the CDU, and Chancellor Merkel support the deal. The German federal government supports the European Commission’s goal completing the negotiations during 2016, and Merkel has further emphasized this. While the Christian Democrats support the TTIP on principle, such haste on Merkel’s part could be largely due to the fact that she wants the negotiations concluded before the TTIP has a chance to become a major issue in the 2017 federal elections (“New Round”). The SPD had avoided criticizing the deal at first, by October 2014 it had changed stances and it currently opposes the TTIP. Party leader, Vice Chancellor, and Minister for Economic and Energy Affairs Sigmar Gabriel is diplomatically attempting a “balancing” act between the conservatives and the Social Democrats, but his party remains opposed, particularly concerned by the investor protection regulations and want them removed from the agreement (Heide, Popławski 25). The Greens, Pirate Party, and the Left are vehemently opposed to the deal. All argue the same assertions: that the deal is simply a conspiracy between big corporations to maximize their power and profits that will ultimately lower consumer standards, limit democratic legitimacy, and detrimentally affect workers’ rights and product standards (Popławski 25). They also bring up that the TTIP is a threat to the German welfare model, assuming the agreement will provide for integration with the US market. (Popławski 27). They believe the TTIP will “further entrench the privileges of multinational corporations and financiers over the rights of citizens and elected governments” (“New Round”).

German businesses, on the other hand, generally support passage of the TTIP. German Industry Association and German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, for example, support the deal “almost unreservedly” – even the investor-state dispute settlement regulations (Popławski 30). As previously stated, prices of German goods on the US market remain artificially higher due to customs duties and production standards differing from those applicable in the EU. German producers hope, in addition to the benefits of eliminated customs, that the US public procurement market will become more open to them. Foreign companies are currently give access to only 33% of such tenders in the USA, while foreign companies in the EU receive 90%. (Popławski 6). There is, however, some opposition to the TTIP from the smaller and medium sized German businesses. More than 2,000 small and medium-sized German businesses have joined the initiative “SMEs against TTIP” (von Hein).

Within the public sphere in Germany, opinion on the TTIP remains divided, but the opposition has voiced its sentiment the loudest. In April 2014, less than a year after negotiations had begun, 55% of Germans and 53% of Americans supported it, and only 25% of Germans and 20% of Americans were against it, according to the Pew Research Center (Popławski 26). Yet, a year later, only 41% of Germans think TTIP would be a good thing for Germany; down 14 percentage points (Pew 2015). In October 2015, more than 100,000 Germans protested in the streets of Berlin, and over half of the 3.28 million signatures on the European Citizens’ Initiative to ‘Stop TTIP’ in November 2015 were German (Heide). As previously stated, the general German public fears a decrease in standards and product quality above all; only 45% of Germans (as opposed to 76% of Americans) backed the idea of harmonizing us and EU standards on products and services (Popławski 26). Furthermore, the German public may also fear that the TTIP will allow American corporations more opportunities to interfere with German citizens’ private data, a fear that was intensified as a result of the NSA spying scandal (Popławski 30).


German opinion on the TTIP in the context of the United States’ opinion on the deal is particularly revealing of the German-American relationship and illustrates a German distrust of America. The German public believes the agreement is imbalanced. A July 2015 public opinion poll showed that 58% of Germans believed that Americans would benefit more from TTIP than Europeans (Sparding 13). Germans have reason to gripe. For example, many American corporations fail to comply with German law, yet simultaneously enforce strict treatment of EU firms strictly, such as the United States’ high financial penalties on the European banks that violate US regulations Germans (Popławski 30). Germans believe that America is holding Germany to a double standard, and that the TTIP would simply perpetuate American dominance in an “economic NATO” that would subvert German economic interests.

The shroud of secrecy which surrounds the TTIP negotiations give Germans further reason to worry. The ambiguous, unknown nature of the TTIP’s ultimate payoff makes the agreement even less appealing to the average citizen. Whereas the TTIP’s “potential gains are more abstract and broad,” its “potential pains can be translated into negative, personalized anecdotes,” such as the pervasive depiction of Europeans forced to eat chlorinated chickens if the agreement passes (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xxiv). The lack of transparency has also resulted in protests that the TTIP is developing in an undemocratic fashion. To avoid a concerned public, an EU advisory group of 14 experts was formed, consisting of representatives of trade unions, consumer organizations and business groups. Since October 2014, the mandate and many details concerning the negotiation process on the part of the EU have been declassified as a result of pressure from European public opinion (Popławski 7-8). The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs has also created a German TTIP-advisory board to contribute toward consolidating specifically the German position on the agreement. The group, which includes representatives from business associations, unions, the cultural sector, church leaders, and NGOs, was meant to placate some of the opposition, but has been virtually ineffective in its attempt to do so (Sparding 7). In light of the continued protests against the negotiations’ lack of transparency, on February 1, 2016, a reading room was opened in the German Economics Ministry allowing members of the German government, Bundesrat, and Bundestag to view the negotiation documents. Despite this measure, mistrust remains. Any member who publicizes information from the negotiations faces a prison sentence. Opponents, however, do not find this measure constructive. Critics argue specifically the undemocratic nature of the negotiations. Members of parliament are supposed to debate on behalf of the electorate, yet it is impossible for the electorate to form an opinion if they themselves remain prohibited from accessing the negotiation provisions (von Hein).

The questions thus remains when the TTIP will pass, if at all, and what implications the agreement would have for the transatlantic relationship and future of the Westbindung. Currently, the TTIP negotiations are in the “middle game,” in which the uncontroversial topics are dealt with first, and then the tough issues are covered (Riegert). This strategy, however, is risky, because there remains a possibility that the “difficult” issues will never be agreed upon, as negotiations are already taking longer than expected – the initial prediction for the completion of negotiations was the end of 2014, but now the partners are scrambling to close the deal by the end of 2016 (Blenkinsop). In light of the upcoming American presidential elections, July 2016 is the target date for attaining a consolidated text. If not reached, it may become extremely unlikely if not nearly impossible to pass the agreement in after Obama leaves office (Riegert). The option of TTIP “light” has been suggested, which would leave out all “difficult” issues and could be passed by summer. This option, however, is viewed skeptically by Europeans, as important sectors, such as the engineering industry, would be excluded. This is not ideal for those German businesses, as the US is the largest market for German engineering companies (Riegert). The US would not be fully on board with this diluted option, either, as TTIP “only makes sense if it is an ambitious, comprehensive and balanced agreement” (Brevetti). President Obama visited the world’s largest industrial fair in Hanover in late April, during which he pushed for the TTIP agreement. Despite the presence of 35,000 protestors against the agreement, Obama’s visit may reverse the lack of inertia the trade talks seem to be experiencing, but other measures are required in order to ensure a fruitful conclusion to the negotiations (Hjelmgaard).

To encourage passage of the TTIP, main concerns surrounding the negotiations must be addressed. As many relevant documents as possible should be published so as to put forth a proactive, rather than reactive, façade (Sparding 13). Misperceptions should also be addressed – for example, the idea that Americans will benefit more from the deal – by policymakers emphasizing the specific European and German interests in the TTIP beyond the simple assertion of “generally positive effects” (Sparding 14). Rainer Sontowski, a deputy in the German Ministry of Economics, has called the TTIP “a great example of miscommunication,” which poor reporting and the German media’s tendency to focus on the negative has only worsened (Heide). Thus, policymakers should also consider releasing intermediate negotiation agreements to mitigate public concern, even if this would decrease the flexibility of the negotiators (Sparding 14).

A successfully negotiated transatlantic trade agreement would have implications for the transatlantic relationship in more than just the economic arena; political and geopolitical gains as well as increased global influence and legitimacy are also areas in which both economic blocs would benefit. First and foremost, closer economic ties would imply better political relations, as “mutual economic dependence may create conditions for the improvement of the political climate” (Popławski 5). Furthermore, the TTIP would be the first congressionally-ratified agreement between the United States and the European Union (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xii). A formal agreement would, if nothing else, at least formally solidify the transatlantic partnership, opening up potential for further cooperation. Perhaps even more important, a successful TTIP would have tremendous geopolitical implications. An economic partnership with the scope of TTIP would create a “more strategic, dynamic, and holistic U.S. – EU relationship” that could more effectively engage third party countries and address regional and global challenges (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xi). This point is particularly pertinent regarding U.S. and EU relations with Russia. The TTIP would increase the resilience of central and east European economies due to the enhanced market conditions from the agreement, ultimately strengthening them to resist a revanchist Russia. The opportunity for this is substantial in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xviii). Russia also has historically had a stake in preventing Europe and America from uniting; for example, it has its own economic initiative of the Eurasian Economic Union. More cooperation between U.S. and EU, particularly on the energy front, would “blunt Russia’s monopolistic approach to European energy markets” and allow the United States and Germany to put more pressure on the Kremlin, an advantage that both countries have long desired (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xix).

The TTIP’s aftereffects would extend beyond increased power in just the American and European spheres of influence; with a united front, the transatlantic partnership would have the scope and influence to raise standards on a global level. As reduced customs tariffs and integrated standards and regulations would make the transatlantic market more liberal and competitive, emerging economies would also be pressured into opening their markets (Popławski 5). The Doha round of the WTO, which has stagnated after almost fifteen years of negotiation, could also be revived, as TTIP may act as a catalyst to reenergize multilateral efforts (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xx). The TTIP could also offer the EU more leverage when negotiating with third party countries on trade (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xvii). For example, China has not yet fully adopted all provisions of the international rule-based order, but a united American-European front could pressure it to do so. To illustrate, in the past, China only reduced the lead in its exported toys after a joint conversation with America and the EU, rather than after individual talks with those respective actors (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xvii-xviii). Finally, a successfully ratified TTIP would increase the legitimacy of both the United States’ and European Union’s democratic processes (Hamilton, “TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” x). Resulting economic growth may revive public confidence in the EU institutions, which is especially critical now considering the recent surge of Euroscepticism that has proliferated through the Union. Furthermore, ratifying the agreement through approval of all twenty-eight member states would also provide additional legitimacy to the democratic process of the EU and defend against critics’ claims of the EU’s “democratic deficit.”

The U.S.-EU relationship is critical, as it is one of the foundations of the global economy and rule-based international order. Daniel Hamilton emphasizes, “Americans and Europeans literally cannot afford to neglect” their ties with each other, yet despite this, the relationship “regularly punches below its weight” (“TTIP’s Geostrategic Implications” xii). The future of the TTIP remains uncertain. The resources and power still exist on the German side to push the deal through, as the ruling government and big German business favor the agreement. Despite trade officials’ outwardly positive outlook on achieving a comprehensive agreement, however, the controversial issues have yet to be agreed upon, and negotiations have already taken longer than predicted. Furthermore, the Obama administration will soon draw to a close. TTIP critics are not only passionately opposed, but also incredibly outspoken, and there is fundamentally a European, particularly German, mistrust of American products, standards, and even intentions.

Even without the TTIP, however, the transatlantic economic relationship would still exist; a TTIP that does not pass will not reduce economic ties or undo the amount of market liberalization that has already occurred. A failed TTIP would rather raise the question of the Westbindung’s trajectory. While a successful TTIP would unquestionably strengthen the transatlantic partnership, a failed agreement would raise doubt in the German and American populations on the potential for an aligned, cohesive, and unconditional transatlantic alliance, both economically and in other aspects. Given the still undetermined nature of the TTIP, it is ultimately too early to say. What can be concluded, however, is that the fact that there are doubts at all reflects a sign of increased German national consciousness. This mentality has manifested itself in German society as a whole, which numerous public opinion polls reflect. Next, German public sentiment will be analyzed in the context of the transatlantic relationship to further evaluate the status of the Westbindung.

Case Study III: German Public Opinion

The public side of the German-American relationship is full of contradictions. On the one hand, Germans and Americans possess many ties and affection for the other’s culture; Germans relish all products “American-style” as consumers, many watch the Superbowl each year with as much enthusiasm as Americans themselves, and some even possess an unexplainable “fascination” with the “wild” American West, as many German television programs and films reflect (Eddy). Ties between the two countries’ governments, on the other hand, are less amiable in nature. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared Germany “America’s premier ally” (Johnson 52). Despite this proclamation, however, America continued to lead the world without significantly increasing its receptiveness to Germany. There is a large consensus that a start of the decline in the opinion of the United States began with George W. Bush’s wars in the Middle East. Germans believe this contributed to the instability of the region, and the military intervention in Libya, although originally a European idea, is blamed on the Americans. Only two years later, the summer 2013 NSA spying scandal only compounded the problem, subsequently increasing tensions between the two countries. Obama, despite his resounding popularity at the outset of his presidency, was only one individual; he alone could not improve German opinion of the United States (“Germany’s Low Opinion”). Many Germans, in contrast to their “Americophile” German counterparts, are vehemently opposed to the transatlantic relationship. For example, Markus Feldenkirchen, a Spiegel reporter, has called the German-American relationship a “Devil’s Pact.” He voices that cooperation is obviously required in matters such as trade and foreign policy, as there are shared interests in those areas, but that there is “little room in the relationship for more than that” (“Merkel Must End Devil’s Pact”). Regardless, eloquent rhetoric on the German-American partnership endures, and the question now remains as to whether this “partnership” indeed exists, or if it is simply empty words. The Cold War is long past, and the aspects of the German-American relationship appear more strategic than sentimental (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 8).

Although many of the German state’s actions reveal its stance toward its relationship with the United States, the public dimension also plays a large role. Overall, there is a disparity in findings between what Germans expect of their relationship with the United States and what they expect of the United States in general as a world leader. They do not mind the U.S. playing a major international role, but they themselves want more freedom from the gravity of the American hegemonic orbit. Ironically, they continue to rely on the U.S. for security, implying an endurance of the Westbindung. The results of various German public opinion polls will be evaluated in the following section. First, German opinion of the German-American relationship in general as well as the German opinion of the United States and its global role will be considered; second, German public opinion on the specific topics of military involvement, the TTIP, and NATO will be examined; and lastly, the implications of these findings will be discussed.

The German-American Relationship

Recent German public opinion regarding the German-American relationship in general reveals an ironic divide in preferences. While most Germans ultimately wish Germany to become more independent of the United States, they are content with the United States’ power as it continues to the lead the world as a guarantor of security. Regarding German public opinion of the United States specifically, approval has plummeted. Favorability of the U.S. dropped from 68% in 2013 to 58% in 2014, with an additional 40% of the German population expressing an explicitly unfavorable opinion of the U.S. in 2014 (George Marshall Fund, “Transatlantic Trends 2014” 19). Not only favorability, but also trust, is at stake. Following the NSA spying revelations in 2013, an ARD and Die Welt newspaper poll revealed in November 2013 that only 35% of Germans considered the U.S. government trustworthy (“Spying Fallout”). Although this number bounced back to 50% in August 2014, this number continues to remain low, especially in comparison with the German approval rating of the EU, which has remained at around 75% over the past five years despite the euro crisis (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners”5). There has also been a decrease in overall approval of Obama despite his initial popularity. When asked the question, “do you approve or disapprove of the way the president of the U.S., Barack Obama, is handling international policies?,” approval skyrocketed to 92% in 2009, yet plummeted to 56% by 2014, with a 20 percentage point drop from 2013 to 2014 alone (George Marshall Fund, “Transatlantic Trends 2014” 18).

In terms of German expectations for the transatlantic relationship, opinion has been shifting away from a preference for mutual dependence to a preference for national independence and a focus on national issues. Exactly 50% of both Germans and Americans think that their country should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own challenges (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 9). The younger generation in particular possesses this mindset, with 54% of young Germans aged 18-29 voicing such a stance (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 9). Even in the context of EU-United States relations, inclinations toward a partnership have declined. When asked the question “Do you think that the partnership in security and diplomatic affairs between the United States and the EU should become closer, should remain about the same, or should (the partners) take a more independent approach?” in 2014, only 19% of Germans wanted a closer U.S.-EU relationship; 24% wanted it to remain the same, and the majority, 57% preferred a more independent approach. This reflects a 17 percentage point increase of the latter answer since 2013 and was the first time the majority replied they would want a more independent approach, which the German Marshall Fund considers “most notable” (George Marshall Fund, “Transatlantic Trends 2014” 22).

German public opinion splits from that of American public opinion on the issue of Germany’s international role. Ironically, Americans “appear more eager for German leadership” than the Germans themselves are (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 10). Whereas 54% of Americans believe Germany should play a more active military role, only 25% of Germans think the same; 69% of Germans think Germany should limit its military role given its history – and, interestingly, there is no German partisan divide on this issue (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 9). Furthermore, the United States is the only partner hoping for closer ties, with a plurality of Americans (34%) reporting wanting a closer transatlantic relationship (George Marshall Fund, “Transatlantic Trends 2014” 17).

In light of the German consensus on wanting more autonomy from the German-American relationship, German public opinion on the role of the United States appears somewhat contradictory, as polls also suggest Germany is satisfied with complacently letting America lead. In 2014, 60% of Germans said that the U.S. should exert strong leadership, compared to 63% in 2013 and 65% in 2009 (George Marshall Fund, “Transatlantic Trends 2014” 23). The lack of trust in the United States and its leadership has not altered the Germans’ perception of the United States as a reliable ally, either: 62% of Germans see the U.S. as a reliable ally, with 13% regarding it as very reliable and only 31% expressing the opinion that the U.S. is not a reliable ally. While this percentage is lower than the 72% of Americans who see Germany as a reliable ally, it still reflects a mutual trust and alliance (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 6).

Germans regard the United States as an especially trustworthy ally and protector in the context of NATO. In response to the question “if Russia got into a serious military conflict with one of its neighboring countries that is a NATO ally, do you think that the U.S. would or would not use military force to defend that country?” 68% of Germans believe that the U.S. would come to the defense (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 9).

Furthermore, even if Germans do not overwhelmingly approve of the United States, the transatlantic relationship remains necessary, even if calculated and strategic, and Germans recognize and accept this. To describe Germany’s predicament bluntly, of all the options it has, allying with a western, democratic America is its best option. In comparison to German trust in other states, the U.S. is still the most trusted non-EU partner. A majority of Germans (57%) think it is more important for Germany to have strong ties with the United States than with Russia, whereas only 15% prefer stronger ties with Russia and 21% think ties with both countries should be equally strong (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 11). There is a portion of Germans, especially in former East Germany, with Putinverstehen, who speak to and laud the historic bond between Germany and Russia. Such relations, however, are overestimated, and exist as the exception rather than the rule. From 2007 to 2015, the percentage of Germans having favorable view of Russia decreased from 34% to 27%, and confidence in Putin decreased from 32% to 23%. Compared to 2003, when 75% of Germans had confidence in Putin to do the right thing regarding world affairs, such a figure suggests the Russo-German relationship is not historically engrained, as some would suggest (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 16). Similar findings reveal themselves in public opinion polls comparing the value of the relationship with the United States versus that of with China. Ultimately, the Westbindung prevails, as “despite recent dips in opinion poll data, Germans, Europeans, and Americans trust each other more than most others” (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 18).

The crux of the German-American trust stems not only from common western, democratic values, but also from shared strategic interests. Currently, German and American foreign policy, while sometimes diverging on specific issues, align in terms of overall priority. First and foremost, Germany and the United States are both “heavily invested in maintaining the liberal order” (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 10). Both have profited off the model and it is in their national interests to perpetuate it. Furthermore, many current global issues – the crisis in Syria, Islamic extremism, a revanchist Russia, weapons proliferation, failed states, global warming, and pandemics, to name a few – stand high on the agendas of both Germany and the United States (Hamilton, “Uncomfortable Partnership”). In response to many of these problems, particularly the military crises, a consistency in the transatlantic partners’ reactions exists. While there are “some differences in tone” between the two states’ responses, the overall objectives of both are in accordance (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 10). Several more specific issues, such as the German attitude toward military involvement and the TTIP, warrant a closer look at public opinion. Additionally, German sentiment toward NATO, the physical embodiment of the transatlantic alliance, proves revealing for the status of the Westbindung.

Military Involvement

In the past decade and a half, Germany’s policy preferences have significantly diverged from the strategies of the U.S. American government, often opposing military involvement in international affairs. Germans have conventionally been thought of as a pacifist folk, and while German public opinion surrounding international crises have varied issue-by-issue, the German public has indeed consistently been more war- and force-averse than that of its transatlantic counterpart. Yet, in the last few years, there has been much rhetoric from the new foreign and defense ministers about Germany becoming more active in international crises, though there has been little concrete action supporting such speech. After an analysis of recent German foreign policy, the George Marshall Fund suggests that Germany’s current priority is to “engage the United States” to help Europe with its security challenges in the southern and eastern parts of the EU (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 10). This again suggests a potential German desire not only for active engagement in crises, but also for the possibility of a strengthened Westbindung. While the foreign policy decisions of the German government regarding the Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria crises have already been analyzed in a previous section and the policies have generally reflected the sentiment of the German public, it is worth briefly discussing German public opinion of the conflicts and of United States during these periods.

Germans displayed a high amount of disapproval of the happenings leading up to and including the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Immediately after 9/11, public opinion of America began to rapidly decline. While in summer 1999, 80% of Germans had a positive opinion of the United States, this number plummeted to 61% by summer 2002 and was only 23% in spring 2003 (Forsberg 221). Although some scholars, such as Dan Diner, argue that German anti-Americanism is a deep-seated, longstanding phenomenon, others purport that such a drastic swing in public opinion reflected a dissatisfaction with President Bush’s policies, rather than with America and the American people themselves (Forsberg 222). Elizabeth Pond, an American journalist based in Germany, explicitly stated that during the German antiwar marches in 2003, there was a clear “effort of protestors to differentiate between their opposition to the Iraq war and their affection for the United States” (Forsberg 222).

In the case of Libya, domestic conditions, as explained in the first section, had a considerable effect on Germany’s decision to abstain from the vote on the UN resolution. After a decade of conflict in Afghanistan, a large portion of Germans were tired of military action. In spring 2011, 51% of Germans wanted Germany to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, and 19% wanted to reduce German troops there (Lindstroem and Zetterlund 28). In the case of Libya, whereas 59% of Americans approved of the military action there, only 37% of Germans approved of a military intervention and a mere 18% would have supported sending their own troops to assist the rebels (Nyiri). Thus, in yet another stark contrast to the American stance on foreign policy, the Germans not only opposed involving their own forces, but also involvement in general.

The issue of Ukraine reveals much more about German foreign policy and public sentiment, as Ukraine is a polemical, geopolitical issue that directly involves German economic and political interests; interestingly enough, this has corresponded with a higher degree of policy harmonization between the United States and Germany. Germans, in their usual pattern, have overwhelmingly supported economic, rather than military means, as a form of foreign policy. Germans recognize the economic and geopolitical importance of Ukraine in the context of a revanchist Russia. 50% of the Germans polled believe it is more important to be tough with Russia than to have a strong economic relationship with it, while only 35% think it is better to have a strong economic relationship with Moscow (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 12). Views on exactly how to deal with Ukraine, however, differ from those of Americans. Whereas 62% of Germans believe the U.S. position with regard to Russia is too tough (27%) or about right (35%), over half of the Americans polled (54%) believe the U.S. is not being tough enough (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 12). Correspondingly, 62% of Germans believe the EU actions against Russia are too strong (18%) or about right (44%), whereas 59% of Americans believe the EU is not being tough enough, once again confirming the placid and hawkish tendencies of Germany and America, respectively (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 12). These statistics stem from public attitude toward the methods of addressing the conflict, specifically regarding the use of NATO arms. While 46% of Americans are in favor, only 19% Germans support sending NATO arms to Ukraine (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 9). The Germans, per usual, overwhelming support sending economic aid (72% of Germans) compared to American support of it (62% of Americans) (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 19). Radical, anti-American branches of the German public, such as the PEGADA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Americanization of the Occident ), have even called America’s involvement in Ukraine “a push for a third World War at the expense of Germany and Western Europe in the hopes of engendering a U.S. economic boom” to “rejuvenate its dying economy” (“Anti-Americanism”). Lingering German-Russian ties also reveal themselves in public opinion surrounding the conflict. Only 1 in 5 Germans want more economic pressure applied to Moscow, and Germany is the only country that show interest in decreasing sanctions on Russia, with 29% supporting such (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 22).

The most recent and ongoing conflict in Syria and the Middle East reveals the most change in German public sentiment, particularly in light of the current refugee crisis and massive migrant influx into Europe. After the 2013 pivot in the rhetoric of German ministers advocating for a more active Germany in international affairs, public opinion has also revealed an upward swing in support of more German action and an increase in its military responsibility and capability. German public opinion is not only supportive of the rhetoric, but also of the actions that have stemmed from it. The German public service broadcaster ARD conducted a poll in 2014 which revealed that 55% of Germans agreed that Germany should spend more in the medium term on defense (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 12). In reference to the German plan to send more military personnel and equipment to Syria in December 2015, another ARD poll showed that 59% of respondents supported the plan, 34% would back participation in airstrikes, and 22% supported deployment of ground troops (Smale). Furthermore, Merkel’s popularity ratings following the decision, which had slipped during refugee crisis, recovered back to 54% (Smale). Thus, the assertive German Foreign and Defense Ministers are not anomalies; they reflect a consensus, albeit a very slowly-growing one, within the country that supports a less stagnant and more proactive German foreign policy.

The recent trend in German attitude displaying a greater acceptance of an active German state, although aligning with the wishes of the American government, was not necessarily precipitated as a direct result of the Westbindung’s existence. This can be proven by the Germans’ continued reluctance to support and even lack of support of NATO. Germany increasingly disapproves of NATO, Ukraine joining NATO, and allowing NATO to use its military capabilities. First and foremost, a declining percentage of Germans have a favorable view of NATO. Approval dropped from 73% in 2009 to 55% in 2015, revealing a -18 percentage point change and the largest decrease in approval of the eight countries that were polled (U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK). As earlier discussed, Germans strongly oppose use of force in the Ukraine crisis. Germany was also the country with the strongest opposition (58%) to NATO responding with armed forces if Russia attacks a neighboring country that is a NATO ally (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 23). Furthermore, Germany most strongly disapproves of Ukraine joining NATO; 57% of Germans oppose Ukrainian membership, whereas 62% of Americans support membership (Pew Research Center, “NATO Publics” 20). Clearly, any sign of German preference to become more active internationally is not in conjunction with NATO, but rather independently of the transatlantic tie.


Germans show reluctance to the Westbindung not only in military commitments, but also in certain economic matters. Although the European and American markets are irrevocably interconnected and are highly likely to remain so in the future, Germans have balked at the prospect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has often been referred to as an “economic NATO” (Poplawski 10). As discussed in the previous section, there is a large disparity between the wishes of the German and American elite and their public counterparts. Only 41% of Germans think TTIP would be a good thing for Germany, down 14 percentage points from 2014 (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 10). In contrast, German elites and businesses such as the German Industry Association and the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce wholeheartedly support the deal, which would open up many new opportunities for the German economy (Poplawski 30). Public backlash against the TTIP does not necessarily stem from anti-American sentiments, but rather a lack of trust. Above all, Germans (61% of those polled) fear the TTIP would lower German food, environmental, and auto safety standards (Pew Research Center, “Reliable Allies” 11). Germans fear, for example, American imports of “Frankenfoods,” such as the ubiquitously mentioned chlorinated chicken (Faiola). Despite the many projected benefits of the TTIP, the aura of confidentiality surrounding it has also compounded the misperception that the TTIP is a “U.S. project that is being imposed on reluctant Europeans” (Sparding 13). Such findings reflect a disparity betweenwhat the German public desires versus what the German government believes is in its best interests. The German elites have a distinct agenda from that of the German public, especially regarding economic matters. Often, German policy, which tends to be a very “elite affair,” reflects this (Pond). Thus, the TTIP, rather than a being polemical issue stemming from pure anti-Americanism, provokes controversy due to Germans’ personal concern for their own product standards and quality of living.


As these statistics reveal, there is a paradoxical aspect to German public opinion of the United States. While some pockets of anti-Americanism do abound in Germany, the disapproval of the United States stems mainly from Germans’ critical view of the United States’ foreign involvement, particularly its military pursuits. At the same time, however, Germans rely on America as the primary provider of global security and leading actor in addressing international conflicts. Germany is essentially holding the United States to a double standard. While it often scorns American military pursuits, Germany itself is willing to free ride on the security such actions provide. Traditionally the “financier and guarantor of German security,” above all during the Cold War, the U.S. can “reasonably be expected to continue its ‘security umbrella.’ Therefore, the German public “may not wish to pay for services, which will likely be provided in any event,” which helps explain reservations toward intensifying Germany’s foreign and security policy (Davis 351).

Several explanations for the growing German desire to disassociate from the transatlantic relationship exist. First, there is a historical framework. In the current post-Cold War era, there is a lack of nostalgia among the younger generation; such nostalgia had traditionally held together the transatlantic relationship. As a result, any relationship now is very strategic, rather than sentimental. The pull away from the Westbindung could also reflect a “larger trend of political fragmentation and disaffection among German citizens,” due in part to the rise of populist Eurosceptic parties, like AfD and the PEGIDA movement, of which there is even an anti-U.S. element manifested in the PEGADA offshoot (George Marshall Fund, “Longstanding Partners” 9). The movement’s members, who erupted in protests in early 2015, claim that German politicians continue to “pull the wool over [their] eyes,” because through NATO, pure American interests are being pursued with German money, soldiers, and weapons, ultimately robbing Germany of autonomy (“Anti-Americanism”). Furthermore, the younger generation of Germans now has its own, different, and sometimes negative associations of the U.S., including the war in Iraq, Guantanamo, casino capitalism, and the NSA scandal (Hamilton, “Uncomfortable Partnership”).

German public opinion of the United States and recent foreign policy issues in the context of the Westbindung yields interesting conclusions. Overall, there is a German desire for more independence from the United States. Germany is increasingly trusting itself in its capabilities to handle its own foreign policy issues in a more active manner. At the same time, approval of the United States and transatlantic-based policies have declined. The reasons for such viewpoints remain ambiguous; while there are strategic motives, there are also personal explanations for German public opinion. The cultural fondness for America may very well still exist, but it is neither relevant nor strong enough to unite the two countries in the context of power relations and international conflict. Although small currents of anti-Americanism are present in German society, this also is not the cause of German desire for more autonomy in the transatlantic relationship. Rather, Germans have grown tired of hawkish American behavior. They are ready for increased autonomy. Ironically, so is the United States – Americans welcome a more active Germany. Daniel Hamilton concisely summarizes the contradictory nature of the transatlantic relationship: “Just as Americans have come to expect more from Germany, Germans have come to expect less from America (Hamilton, “Uncomfortable Partnership”). Germans are no longer satisfied with their country’s situation as America’s “premier ally” in name yet “junior partner” in practice. The Westbindung and NATO, while not necessarily growing in strength, are not on a trajectory toward extinction, either; such alliances are still engrained in the transatlantic partnership. In any case, so long as the U.S. remains the guarantor of international security, the status of the transatlantic relationship will not change significantly. A comprehensive final section will subsequently put these three case studies in context with each other to draw final conclusions on the status and future trajectory of Germany in relation to the Westbindung.

Conclusions and Implications

It cannot be denied that Germany possesses greater strength and influence than it did fifteen or even five years ago. The American position, however, remains even stronger and more influential. Germany’s transatlantic ties still exist, and moreover are a leading factor in shaping German policy. Nonetheless, Germany is exhibiting a shift in its self-identification as an international player. While the overall trend of German policy has shown continuity in its adherence to the Westbindung, there have been intermittent cases of German leadership and independence. Given Germany’s economic strength and public opinion, there is concrete potential and public sentiment to set out a more distinctively German path. On the other hand, Germany’s military weakness alongside long-term economic fragility and dependence on the United States indicate a necessary adherence to the Westbindung in order to ensure German security and economic vitality.

Each dimension of the German-American relationship has varying and nuanced implications for the Westbindung. German foreign policy in recent years has not always aligned with that of the United States, indicating Germany’s recognition that its interests are not always synonymous with western interests. Exchanging its preference for unconditional multilateralism with selective multilateralism, Germany has become more particular in choosing allies and even deviating from traditional alliances to pursue its own path. Its behavior regarding the Iraq War and Libya crisis, in which it did not follow the path of the United States, exemplifies this. Since Libya, Germany has explicitly stated it would play a more active role in international crises. Its response to the war in Ukraine reflects such, as Germany has been a leading actor in managing the West’s response to the crisis. Ukraine, the most critical geopolitical matter Germany currently faces, demonstrates mixed signals regarding the Westbindung. Germany, the EU, and the United States have shown remarkable cooperation in dealing with the crisis, even if their interests are not identical. Recent German activity in the Middle East, sending personnel and equipment to support the fight against ISIS, as well as recently expanded military budget and military policy reflect Berlin’s aspirations to have a larger international presence. In the case of foreign policy and military pursuits, however, Germany remains bound to the Westbindung. Its military capacity compared to that of the U.S. is almost nonexistent and it explicitly relies on NATO for security on its own continent.

In terms of the German-American economic relationship, there is a strong element of continuity. While Germany is an economic power, the United States’ economy dwarfs it in comparison. The two partners are mutually dependent on each other with respect to trade and investment. In particular, Germany relies heavily on exports to the American superpower to maintain its export mercantilist trade strategy. Given the questionable nature of the TTIP arrangement even being passed at all, it is difficult to say how this will impact the Westbindung. A successfully negotiated trade agreement would undoubtedly solidify the Westbindung and reign in Germany, as the economic agreement would also have political and geopolitical implications reaffirming transatlantic unity. Yet, if the TTIP fails to pass, the transatlantic economic ties still will not lessen; they will remain critical for both actors. Rather, a failed TTIP would raise doubts regarding the possibility of future enhanced cooperation. If Berlin and Washington cannot agree now on policy, there is a chance they will continue on diverging trajectories, causing a loosening of the Westbindung, however small.

German public opinion also reveals a great deal regarding the transatlantic relationship. Ironically, while the Germans show growing disapproval and mistrust of the United States, and desire that each country focus more on its own national issues, Americans express a desire for a closer transatlantic relationship and more active German role in international affairs. German public sentiment on the German-American relationship, while it indicates the trend of a more independent Germany, changes abruptly when the issue at hand becomes security. Germans continue to prefer a United States that will serve as a protector and ally and are content with relying on NATO for its military clout. Thus, German public opinion reflects a Germany willing in theory to exercise independence, but that in practice perpetuates its high expectations of and reliance on the United States to take initiative on the western response to armed international conflicts.

Other factors that could be further explored point to an ambivalence in the Westbindung’s status. Germany’s relations with third-party countries reveals a weaker Germany that does not have the capacity to abandon the transatlantic relationship. Germany’s production chains are located in Central and Eastern Europe, where Russophobes abound and Americanism is the norm. As Germany relies on these production chains for the livelihood of its export-based economy, it must heed such pro-Atlanticist sentiments. Furthermore, the Franco-German relationship continues to deteriorate, leaving Germany more exposed and alone to fend for its economic interests in the face of a chaotic and declining EU. In the context of the refugee crisis, Germany, although having taken the lead in the later summer and fall of 2015, has reached a point of urgency in the crisis, pushing it to agree to a humiliating deal with Turkey to deflect the masses of asylum-seekers fleeing to Europe. Yet, despite these developments leaving Germany in a vulnerable position, Berlin refuses to back down on other matters and continues to assert self-determination against the United States in other aspects, implying a Germany that is not unconditionally obedient to the U.S. For example, Germany continues to resist the United States and IMF’s calls for it to fiscally expand in order to accommodate the rest of the economically sick EU. Furthermore, Germany continues to push through with the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline deal, a Russian-German project that has provoked large opposition within the EU and has been called “anti-European” (Bauerova and Tomek). Thus, despite Germany’s clear compliance with the West on the Ukraine conflict, this endeavor indicates that Ostpolitik is not over.

Signs of a Germany both less tied to the Westbindung yet still reliant on its transatlantic partnership exist. These mixed signals reveal Germany’s precarious balance as it pursues distinctly pro-German policy in some aspects while remaining aligned with its western allies in others. Compared to its positon only ten years ago, Germany is more tenacious in asserting its interests, and there has been a change in the dynamic of the German-American relationship. In absolute terms, however, Berlin ultimately remains dependent on Washington, as Germany’s military influence is virtually nonexistent and as its economy is dependent on that of America’s, as strong as the German economy may be relative to the EU. The Westbindung is currently such that Germany remains undeniably tied to the U.S., albeit in a slightly looser form. Germany is more willing to challenge American policies. At the same time, while the German people are more resistant to the Westbindung and perceive Germany as stronger and more capable of independence, the German government under Merkel has a more sober recognition of Germany’s vulnerabilities. The question of the trajectory of the German-American relationship remains. Given that the two states have overlapping economic and political interests and are irrevocably tied to one another, it appears likely that the Westbindung will persist for decades at the very least. As the refugee and euro crises continue to unfold, Germany’s changing position in Europe – whether it gains or loses influence – may affect its willingness and capacity to adhere to U.S.- encouraged policy. Upcoming political events and agreements are also likely to shape the relationship; depending on the outcome of the TTIP, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the 2017 German federal elections, the German-American dynamic may change. As this thesis has shown, Germany has accepted an increased position of influence in the international arena, but it remains reliant on the U.S. in crucial respects. The Westbindung is a long way off, if at all, from a final Auf Wiedersehen, and German-American Zusammenarbeit, or cooperation, is the realistic outlook for the foreseeable future.

Charlotte Carstens

World Politics Senior Thesis

Hamilton College

Photo from the U.S. Department of Defense


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I hereby pledge that my work is entirely my own. All others’ works have been properly cited.

Charlotte Carstens is a convinced transatlanticist. She is currently residing in Berlin as an International Parliamentary Scholar of the German Bundestag. After having graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York with a double degree in World Politics and German Studies, she completed a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Nuremberg, Germany. In the fall of 2018 she will begin her Master of Arts in German and European Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. You can contact me at:

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