The Resurgence of the "German Question"

BERLIN/WASHINGTON |

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - The flagship foreign policy periodical of the United States is warning of a resurgence of the "German question." Following the outbreak of the euro crisis and Germany's imposition of austerity dictates, distinct front lines crystallized within the EU, where there was much talk of creating a coalition in opposition to German dominance, reported the globally read specialized periodical "Foreign Affairs" a few days ago. Germany, on the other hand, sees itself under attack in its prosperity by allegedly "weak economies." This article was published just prior to last week's NATO anniversary summit in Washington, where the conflict between Berlin and Washington again escalated. The Trump administration has repeated its demand not only for a rapid increase in the German military budget, but also for an end to construction on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. This conflict is flanking German-European efforts to gain greater "strategic autonomy" in relationship to the United States.

"No Feast among Friends"

NATO's 70th Anniversary Celebrations were accompanied by serious tensions within the western war alliance. Commentators in Germany's pro-government media opined that "NATO's birthday party" had "not been a feast among friends."[1] Compared to the majority of military alliances that suffered a relative early demise, NATO has already survived to a "biblical age," according to clearly transatlantic oriented journals that depicted the festivities as a celebration "pulling the emergency brakes."[2] The western military alliance was referred to as the "alliance of the unwilling," going through "the worst crisis since its founding."[3] Within the circles of the political elite in the United States, the "frustration with Berlin" is growing, explained a former NATO ambassador from the USA. Germany must "assume its responsibilities" and "fill the vacuum," left by the Trump administration in transatlantic relations.

Military Spending

At first glance, the dissention between Berlin and Washington, which resurfaced during the festivities, appeared to have been centered on Germany's defense budget, which the Trump administration once again publicly criticized. US President Donald Trump insists that Berlin increase its military expenditures to two percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which, in 2014, NATO set as its member states' benchmark. Whereas, Berlin promises to raise its military budget to 1.5 percent of its GDP by 2024, with further increases following.[4] The United States spent around US $643 billion on its armed forces in 2018 - 2.5 times more than NATO's European partners combined, whose defense budgets totaled US $264 billion. Germany - the largest economy in the eurozone - spent US $45 billion on its military, France, US $53 billion, Great Britain, even US $56 billion.[5] Their budgets have exposed the allegation as false that the increase in military spending is necessary to meet threats from potential enemies. Russia's military budget - at US $63 billion - is but a little more than the individual respective budgets of France or Great Britain. Even China's military budget - with approx. US $168 billion in 2018 - remained far below the total expenditures of NATO's European countries.

"The Russian Aggression"

As part of the 70th Anniversary celebrations of NATO's founding, US Vice President Mike Pence linked his criticism of Germany's alleged insufficient armament efforts to his renewed attacks on Berlin's energy policy cooperation with Moscow.[6] We "cannot ensure the defense of the West," alleged Pence, making reference to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would reinforce the direct natural gas link between Russia and Germany "if our allies grow dependent on Russia." Germany, as "Europe's largest economy" cannot "ignore the threat of Russian aggression" and thereby "neglect its own self-defense and our common defense." Since some time, Washington has been intensifying its pressure on Nord Stream 2 and calling, instead, for a more comprehensive purchase of liquified fracking gas from the USA. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) Pence explicitly declared during NATO's celebrations that should Berlin insist on continuing with Nord Stream 2, "the German economy will literally be converted into a Russian hostage."

German "Multilateralism"

Berlin's open claim to leadership over the EU - which would be enhanced by Nord Stream 2, making Germany the main hub for Russian gas to Western Europe - as well as the growing German-European efforts to attain "strategic autonomy" vis-à-vis the United States (german-foreign-policy.com reported [8]) are being carefully observed in Washington. One example is the German-French initiative to strengthen "multilateralism" in several political fields, launched in early April.[9] Berlin and Paris would like to demonstrate that "multilateralism and the United Nations" are supported by a majority of states, the German and French foreign ministers declared, making a gibe about the Trump administration's unilateralist policy. They seek to cooperate in the fight against climate change, inequality, and the consequences of new technologies. They also want "to show the world what could be the consequences of unilateralism and isolationism, and nationalism" French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian noted.

NATO's Founding Motives

With this in mind, the US foreign policy elites - including those circles, critical of the Trump administration - are now formulating serious reservations.[10] A few days ago, the flagship foreign policy periodical of the US, "Foreign Policy, " openly wrote about the resurgence of the "German question. " Since the founding of the Reich in 1871, Germany had been a too large, too populous power in the heart of Europe. This led to the breakdown of the European balance of power and helped produce "two world wars," according to "Foreign Affairs." NATO was not only established "to meet the Soviet challenge" but also "to settle the German problem." The aim was to "keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." The European integration process under US hegemony was "the only conceivable solution for the problem of Germany's relation to the rest of Europe." European integration that suppresses nationalism, must be a Europe that particularly suppresses "German nationalism," which "had played such a destructive role in Europe's bloody past."

The 1871 Constellation

At present, the crisis-induced erosion of the pillars of the postwar order and the growing nationalism is reviving the inner-European 1871 constellation - however, this time on a "geo-economic" level contends "Foreign Affairs."[11] When the eurozone crisis hit, front lines similar to those in the late 19th century were drawn, because "Germany's economic dominance allowed" it to impose "its preferred anti-debt policies on the rest of Europe," stirring up anger against Germany in large areas of the EU. Outside Germany, there was much "talk of an anti-German common front," and inside Germany, there was "a sense of victimhood" - and Germany saw itself encircled by "weak economies." Due to the historically favorable constellation - prosperity, free-trade, US-hegemony, European integration - the "German question" had been previously "buried deep under the soil." In view of the crisis and nationalism, the favorable "set of circumstances" no longer exists. One can't help but wonder "how long the calm will last if the United States and the world continue along their present course." One could think of Europe today as an unexploded World War II bomb, the periodical writes. In this analogy, Trump behaves like a "child with a hammer," gleefully and heedlessly pounding on the explosive device. However, from Washington's point of view, the bomb itself is a problem completely independent of Trump.

 

For other reports and background information see Struggle for Global Power Status.

 

[1] NATO-Geburtstag: Kein Fest unter Freunden. dw.com 04.04.2019.

[2] Lorenz Hemicker: Feiern ohne Trump. faz.net 04.04.2019.

[3] Robert Birnbaum, Malte Lehming, Susanne Güsten, Claudia von Salzen: Allianz der Unwilligen. tagesspiegel.de 03.04.2019.

[4] Daniel Brössler, Hubert Wetzel: Maas: "Wir beabsichtigen, unser Wort zu halten". sueddeutsche.de 03.04.2019.

[5] Lucie Béraud-Sudreau: On the up: Western defence spending in 2018. iiss.org 15.02.2019.

[6] Pence calls Germany stance in NATO "unacceptable". yahoo.com 03.04.2019.

[7] See also The Power of the Pipes.

[8] See also Berlins Kampfansage.

[9] Edith M. Lederer: France and Germany launch alliance to back multilateralism. foxnews.com 04.04.2017.

[10], [11] Robert Kagan: The New German Question. foreignaffairs.com 02.04.2019.