Goodbye To Berlin?

Goodbye To Berlin?

Mini Teaser: A declining Germany gets no respect from Red State America--yet it wants a veto over U.S. policy. Surrendering this conceit is the first step back toward influence.

by Author(s): Walter Russell Mead

Providing real answers for these questions is a vital part of advancing the peace agenda whether one shares American or German assumptions about the relative importance of Arab and Israeli obstacles to the peace process. Supporting this agenda is pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, but it is not anti-Israeli. It does not depend on concessions from either side, and it is something that terrorists and extremists cannot interrupt. Working on this agenda together is a way that Germans and Americans can move toward common goals while respecting the independence and points of view of both parties.

Third, a new conversation between Americans and Germans about the future of Europe is also important. There has been a serious breakdown of trust on both sides. Germans have questions about whether and to what extent the United States still supports European integration; Americans need to be reassured that the European project is not being hijacked and converted into an instrument of national power by its two largest members.

Both sides need to think through their understanding of the future place of Europe in world affairs. This cannot be exclusively a U.S.-German conversation, but a vital U.S.-German conversation must be a central part of it. Does Europe really want to be a world power? What (if anything) do Europeans mean by the oft-repeated cry that Europe should be an "equal partner" in the transatlantic alliance? To Americans, this makes sense in the context of a narrowly focused alliance agenda--when the alliance is focused exclusively on defending Europe itself from foreign foes. When it comes to the defense of Europe itself, greater parity for the two partners, accompanied by greater European spending on defense, is something that Washington has welcomed and will continue to welcome.

But sometimes we get the impression that Europeans who speak of this have in mind some vague concept of a joint Euro-American global condominium, in which Europe and America jointly set an international, economic and institutional agenda to the rest of the world. The United States can never accept this model. In fact, as Asia continues to grow more rapidly and become more important, the United States is likely to support Asian efforts to revise the balance of strength in institutions ranging from the Security Council to the IMF and the g-7 in ways that generally will reduce Europe's historic profile. The United States is a global power; without radical changes that seem unlikely, Europe will remain a strong regional power with significant extra-regional interests. A global power must deal with its regional partners on a basis that accords them equality with each other rather than with itself, and if Europe expects anything else, it will find continuing disappointment. Can we find ways of thinking these issues through together, or should we work together to minimize the impact of any mutual unhappiness on this issue on other aspects of the relationship?

For America, which never has thought of itself as a normal country and does not want to begin now, part of its historic and psychological bond with the Bonn Republic was that both countries saw themselves as following a difficult and challenging vocation that transcended foreign policy as it was traditionally understood. Both were trying to construct international structures (one global, one in Europe) that at least to some degree replaced the old rules of power politics with new and more stable ones. Both had to make painful tradeoffs; both had the difficult duty of basing foreign policy intended to serve a wider, transnational community on public opinion in a national democracy.

It was in large part because they faced common and complementary international tasks that the two countries communicated so well and on so many levels. This common experience was a major factor in the great weight which Washington attached to Bonn's views. The feeling in Washington was that Germans understood us better than most others--inside and outside Europe--and because of this, Americans had more to learn from Germany than from other states.

Even as the United States reconsiders the place of institutional structures and of Europe in the global edifice, it remains committed to a global policy that aims at more than hard power projection. President Bush is as committed to a transcendental, transformational foreign policy as any of his predecessors since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Germany's choices today do not seem as different from Bush's as much rhetoric on both sides would have it. Germany remains committed to large and wide goals in both Europe and the wider world, but it has decided to pursue its European agenda making a fuller use of strictly national instruments of power.

Possibly, we could reignite the discussion and rebuild the community of strategic thinking among Germans and Americans on this highest level of statesmanship-even without resolving all the moral and cultural differences between us. This is a more difficult and challenging discussion. But once achieved, it would lead to the greatest rewards. If we managed this, German policymakers would once again find themselves insiders in Washington debates in a way that few could match and many would envy.

Essay Types: Essay