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Germany: Berlin Seeks To Repair U.S. Ties, But Atlantic Strains Run Deep

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Germany's foreign minister was recently in Washington to patch up the rough spots in U.S.-German relations. But Joschka Fischer didn't appear to make much progress. And analysts say it could well be a sign of things to come as Americans and Europeans, with vastly different world outlooks, grow increasingly estranged.

Washington, 4 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was in Washington last week, seeking to repair ties between Berlin and Washington which have deteriorated into a "poisonous atmosphere," according to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

It was a lonely visit.

Snubbed by President George W. Bush, Fischer's only official meeting came with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Some German officials showed irritation over the lack of a White House invitation.

Both Powell and Fischer acknowledged that U.S.-German ties are still suffering from Berlin's recent election campaign, which was dominated by fierce criticism of what Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder derisively dubbed Bush's possible military "adventure" in Iraq. Things were made worse when Berlin's justice minister, no longer in office, likened Bush to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

But Schroeder's campaign rhetoric, while helping secure his re-election, has come with a price for Germany. Bush and other senior U.S. officials are reportedly still angry about Schroeder's tactics, and some analysts say the affair may be the first step toward a far deeper divide destined to drive America and Europe further apart.

Speaking after meeting Fischer late last week, Powell had this to say: "We don't hide from these disagreements. We don't pretend there are no rough spots -- there are rough spots. But because we are friends and our two nations are allied, we will find ways to get these disagreements and rough spots behind us in due course."

But when? Not any time soon, according to Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a member of former U.S. President Richard Nixon's National Security Council and now a fellow with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Sonnenfeldt told RFE/RL that day-to-day business continues as usual between the two countries. But the same cannot be said for political ties: "I think he [Bush] does feel stung by it -- he was, particularly because Schroeder personalized it and the justice minister personalized it even more. At the political level, the relationship remains a rather tense one."

Others take an even dimmer view of the long-term prospects of U.S.-German -- and U.S.-European -- relations.

During Fischer's visit, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued in a commentary published in "The Washington Post" that Berlin, after the Cold War, no longer feels constrained by the American security blanket. So it used the Iraq issue "as a pretext for the reorientation of German foreign policy in a more a national direction."

It's a worrisome development, the German-born Kissinger said. Schroeder not only blasted Bush. He vowed to forge a "made-in-Berlin" foreign policy -- without mention of Germany's European Union partners -- and said his country would not follow America to Iraq, even if a war is approved by the United Nations. "If Germany can affront the United States, reject UN and act without consultations with the other nations of Europe," Kissinger wrote, "[then] self-righteous isolation beckons for Germany and a return to pre-World War I conditions for Europe."

But while Schroeder has perhaps been Europe's most confrontational leader on U.S. foreign policy, analysts agree that his stance reflects deeper Europe-wide misgivings on Iraq -- as well as on the United States and its propensity to use military force as a solution to international problems.

Robert Kagan is a conservative analyst with Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kagan, who lives in Brussels, is the author of "Power and Weakness" -- perhaps the year's most influential essay on international relations. He argues that with the Cold War over, Europeans and Americans might as well be living on different planets -- so different is the way they see the world.

Kagan says that America for 50 years has provided the military and diplomatic force to pacify and unite Europe around its cornerstone, the Franco-German alliance.

As a result, Europe has had "free security" provided by Washington, Kagan says. And it has used that freedom to focus on unifying its long-belligerent powers in a transnational, "post-history paradise" based on an explicit rejection of its past -- the 20th-century wars and "balance-of-power" politics that produced them. Kagan recently told a forum at Carnegie's offices in Washington: "Europe really has developed a different -- for lack of a better word -- ideology of power, and has a very different attitude toward power as a result of Europe's own experience, an experience the United States has not shared. I'm speaking in particular, obviously, of the awful European century [the 20th century]."

Though the Cold War is over and Europe is unified, Kagan says Americans still view the world as a jungle, where brute force is needed to defend their way of life. But Europeans, having rejected this strategy, now have a deep mistrust of power. They increasingly see their successful emphasis on diplomacy, international law and commerce as a model for the rest of the world.

Kagan said Europe now fears U.S. power, not only because it is so much weaker militarily, but because the American approach threatens the very ideological foundations of Europe's fragile "super state": "They're now wondering whether the United States' sense of what is required to maintain international security is not in fact at odds with the European vision of the kind of world order that they'd like to have."

To balance Washington's influence, Kagan says Europeans seek to "multilateralize" the unilateral Americans. And to a certain extent, he says, they are succeeding at the United Nations Security Council, where veto-wielding France has been able to stymie U.S. efforts to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force without any further consultations should Iraq not comply with UN demands.

Kagan's essay (originally published in the June/July 2002 edition of "Policy Review") has sparked intense debate on both sides of the Atlantic. While critical of his embrace of U.S. force, some European observers have called it an astute reading of the state of Atlantic relations.

Kagan admits he doesn't have a ready-made answer to the chasm separating the world views of Americans and Europeans. As a first step, he says Europe should spend more on defense and try to understand the occasional necessity of operating on a double standard -- that is, living by democracy and law at home, while using force when needed in the "jungle" abroad.

As for America, he chastises the Bush administration for clumsily angering its allies over such issues as the Kyoto global-warming treaty and the International Criminal Court. He said U.S. diplomacy should concede on minor issues to get its way on tougher ones: "I think it's possible for the United States to exercise the great power that I think it needs to exercise and to minimize some of the fallout from that, and not be gratuitous in our unilateral approach to things. But I don't know that this particular administration is going to be very adept at doing that."

German Foreign Minister Fischer, in New York on 1 November, recalled America's central role in his country's history: defeating Nazism, rebuilding his devastated nation, and helping to unify Europe. He said America will remain a "cornerstone" of German foreign policy. But he did not offer a vision for a new direction or foundation for the 50-year-old Atlantic alliance.