- The mutual indifference
The histories of the United States and Germany have been intertwined since before 1900. Sometimes they were allies, sometimes adversaries. Now, German-American relations are governed by the principle of indifference. By George Friedman
Liebe Leserinnen und Leser,
wir freuen uns, mit George Friedman einen der bekanntesten geopolitischen Analysten für uns gewonnen zu haben. Ab sofort wird der US-Politologe und Leiter des Thinktanks Geopolitical Futures regelmäßig seine gleichnamige Kolumne „Geopolitical Futures“ hier auf Cicero Online veröffentlichen. Seine englischsprachigen Texte sollen nicht nur Ihnen einen Blick über den hiesigen medialen Tellerrand hinaus ermöglichen, sondern auch Leser und Leserinnen aus dem Ausland erreichen. Wir wünschen Ihnen viel Spaß beim Lesen und kluge Erkenntnisse.
Ihr Alexander Marguier, Chefredakteur des Cicero
Diese Kolumne erscheint regelmäßig auf Cicero Online in Kooperation mit der Publikation Geopolitical Futures.
The United States and Germany emerged as major powers at about the same time. Germany united in 1871, and by 1900 it had become Europe’s leading industrial power. The United States pieced itself back together after a civil war in 1865, and in just 35 years it became the leading economic power in the world. Together they destabilized the entire global system, and in doing so undermined the European empires that had been the foundation of that system.
The international system could not accommodate two such enormous economic and political forces without conflict. As the global order changed, war ensued. In time the two emerging powers would come to see each other as potential threats. The first half of the 20th century was dominated by war, and one of the poorly understood but central dimensions of this era was the duel between the United States and Germany over a range of issues. These issues included which would inherit the European imperial system and which would shape the future of Europe itself. Germany was defeated and partitioned, of course, and Europe was divided between those allied with the United States and the Soviet Union.
The USA enriched Germany quickly
In the Cold War that followed, Germany quickly emerged as a potential battleground. Geography dictated that it would. The United States established a close relationship with the western part of Germany in preparation for a conflict. It was in the United States’ interest to enrich Germany as quickly as possible. The Americans wanted the German military to be strong enough to block a Soviet attack, and to demonstrate the benefits of allying with Washington. West Germany was completely devastated in 1945 but was miraculously on sound footing by the 1960s. This was partly engineered by the Americans and in all senses beneficial to the American interest. The Germans who faced the threat of a war on their territory and the possibility of Soviet victory could not evade the danger, but they benefited greatly from the Americans’ grand strategy: containment of the Soviets by a prosperous and powerful periphery.
And so the histories of the United States and Germany have been intertwined since before 1900. Sometimes they were allies, sometimes they were adversaries. But the foundation of the relationship, in either case, was war, and each time that it opposed the United States, Germany was devastated. When it allied with the United States, it prospered. War, or the preparation for war, was the only constant. Economic considerations were important but primarily in the context of conflict.
Germany’s attention to the European Union
1992 radically changed U.S.-German relations. It was the year the Cold War ended and the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union, was signed. In eliminating the threat of war, and in forcing Germany’s attention to the European Union, U.S.-German relations were left without an anchor. A great deal has been said about how the collapse of the Soviet Union left institutions such as NATO without a purpose – which is certainly true – but that elides the fact that the foundations of the U.S.-German relationship had dissolved on a deeper level. When war was an issue, there was at least a periodic intensity to the relationship. The absence of war detached them.
Their relations were then pushed to the margins. There was some animosity and a little concern. The United States had several substantial interests in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe. In other words, Europe was only one of America’s concerns. U.S. interests spanned the globe. Germany was overwhelmingly focused on Europe, and its interests were largely economic.
Americans and Germans have gone their own ways
When Americans think of Germans, they do not think of the EU any more than Germans think of NAFTA when they think of Americans. What they think of is NATO. Twenty million Americans are veterans of the U.S. military, and many of them served in Germany. They remember Germany fondly as an ally and cannot understand what Germany has become. Americans have a mild contempt for the Germans. Germans look at Americans and wonder what has become of them. They remember Americans as disciplined and focused on the issues Germany cares about. The Germans have a mild contempt for Americans, who seem to have lost their way.
In fact, each country has gone its own way, and the points of contact that once reverberated and at times shook the world have atrophied. Speeches will be made, meetings will be held, think tanks will think. But the truth is that Germany cares deeply what happens in Europe, and for the time being, the United States does not. It might be better or worse this way, but it is the way it is. German-American relations are governed by the principle of indifference.