Most of the second half of the 20th century was marked by a strong German-American relationship whose primary roots were the United States’ military contributions in the fight against Nazi-Germany during World War II and its generous Marshall Plan to help rebuild a moribund German post-war economy. After the outbreak of the Cold War, deepening the transatlantic relations, for example with the creation of NATO whose member Germany became in 1955, was a strategic necessity for both sides of the Atlantic, given the imminent geopolitical threat from the communist Soviet Union. In the decades to follow, ameliorating the partnership with the United States was, besides fostering European integration, the major goal of German foreign policy.
The transatlantic relationship changed significantly after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s; some scholars call the years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the “war against terror” the “lost years” of transatlantic relations. Authors like Robert Kagan even claim that Europeans and Americans have lost their common view of the world.
What caused those increasing divergences? First, communism was not a threat to Europe any longer, and the United States’ security concerns started to focus on other regions of the world. Second, European integration had sped up, both in terms of geographic widening and substantial deepening via a series of treaties beginning with Maastricht in 1992. Third, Europe had begun striving for a more independent security strategy and had turned from a mere “consumer” of security to a “producer”.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the German-American relationship was put to a particularly hard test. Although the Schröder administration’s first reaction was unlimited solidarity and support for the invocation of Article 5 of the NATO treaty, Germany did not support the United States’ decision to go to war in Iraq, which implied serious tensions with the Bush administration. This was not the first time of irritation between the two allies – for example, there had been trade disputes in the 1950s, animosities between German chancellor Schmidt and president Carter and critique against the Vietnam war in the 1970s, and debates about new weapon technologies in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the intensity and duration of the crisis at the beginning of the 21st century was surprising, given the strong German-American political, military, and economic cooperation in the past decades as well as their common beliefs in democracy and market economy.
This paper’s purpose is to show how the relationship between Germany and the United States has evolved during the last five years. In the first part, I would like to illustrate the evolution of Germany’s foreign policy towards the United States in the aftermath of September 11 until the outbreak of the Iraq war. I will describe the primary factors leading to the drastic deterioration of transatlantic relations, such as chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s opportunistic exploitation of the Iraq issue in his election campaign. But the leaders’ personalities alone do not suffice to explain the whole picture. Thus the paper’s second part will elaborate on the German public mood, characterized by anti-Americanism, pacifism, and emancipation from the United States. The third part will be dedicated to the question why Bush and Schröder’s successor Angela Merkel get along so well – given their different backgrounds and taking into account that the Grand Coalition has not significantly changed policy on issues of division with Bush. An outlook in the future of the German-American partnership will conclude the paper in the fourth and last part.
1. FROM 9-11 TO THE OUTBREAK OF THE IRAQ WAR
After George W. Bush’s inauguration a period of skepticism, nourished by the new president’s perceived unilateralism and close links to influential economic interest groups, swept over most of Europe and Germany. Nonetheless, the European public mood shifted immediately after New York and Washington were struck by terrorism on September 11, 2001. Shortly after the attacks, the German chancellor Schröder announced “unconditional solidarity” with the United States. A remarkable wave of solidarity encouraged millions of people all over Europe to demonstrate their support for America in the streets – among them almost 250,000 Germans at the Brandenburger Gate on September 14 under the motto “No power to terrorism”. Schröder even went as far as connecting a vote in the Bundestag on military missions in Afghanistan with a vote of confidence for his government, thus putting his chancellorship at risk.
Although the atmosphere between the two leader was still relatively warm at their meetings in Washington in February 2002 and in Berlin the following May, the transatlantic relationship deteriorated substantially thereafter. Bush’s intention was to fight terrorist cells in the “axis of evil”, thereby focusing on Iraq. Saddam Hussein was said to cooperate with Al Qaeda, and foreign minister Colin Powell presented alleged proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the Security Council of the United Nations – both accusations later turned out to be misleading. In July, Schröder chose to play the anti-war card for the upcoming elections in order to shift attention away from domestic economic troubles, which was a clever move by somebody known as opportunist. He knew that a broader coalition of the left was essential for his re-election. The prospect of war in Iraq was suitable to recapture his base and mobilize both pacifists and nationalists in Eastern Germany. Styling himself as “Chancellor of Peace”, he used phrases like “the German way” and “reckless adventure” with regards to an eventual Iraq war although his foreign policy advisers warned him to weigh his words carefully. He excluded the possibility that Germany would support a war, even in the event of an authorizing resolution by the Security Council. After Minister of Justice Helga Däubler-Gmelin had compared Bush with Hitler in a meeting with trade unionists, Schröder merely wrote a half-hearted letter to Bush, which only worsened the hostile mood – leading to Condoleezza Rice’s description of the mutual relations as “poisoned”.
 For a more detailed sequence of events, see Szabo 2004, chapters 2 and 3.
 In Schröder’s recently published memoirs („Decisions“), he dedicated one chapter to „Courage for Peace“ – still today, he definitely enjoys presenting himself as a hero standing up against the war (Schmiese 2006).
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- School of Advanced Internatl. Studies – School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
- German-American Schröder Merkel Europe Cold