US-German Relations: Spat or Separation?

US-German Relations: Spat or Separation?

Wolfgang Ischinger, German Ambassador to the United States

"Frank talk among friends is the best kind of diplomacy," according to Ron Rogowski (UCLA PoliSci) in response to remarks on US German relations made by the German Ambassador to the United States Wolfgang Ischinger at a luncheon seminar at UCLA on November 26.

Germany is not interested in a spat or separation. We are only interested in an intelligent debate about how to use power.

German-American relations are experiencing "neither a spat nor a separation," according to German Ambassador to the United States, Wolfgang Ischinger.  The Ambassador made his remarks at a luncheon seminar hosted by the Center for European and Eurasian Studies at the UCLA Faculty Center on Tuesday November 26 to a gathering of UCLA faculty, students, policy analysts, media, and business representatives from around the Los Angeles area. The real question, Ischinger argued, is whether or not Germany has been a good ally in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. 

Germany has been sympathetic and supportive of US efforts to combat terrorism in the wake of 9/11.  There was no greater outpouring of support from any nation as the spontaneous gathering of tens of thousands at the Brandenburg Gate to mourn victims of the attack, and he noted that German companies donated $50-70 million in aid.  Of greater significance for Germany, is the first deployment since World War II of German troops outside its borders.  According to Ischinger, the presence of German soldiers in Afghanistan today answers the age old question posed by Konrad Adenauer: Is Germany with the East or with the West?  Germany, the Ambassador argued, is clearly with the West, and the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan are the first Germans in a century to die fighting on the right side of a war.  Finally, Germany is becoming a "normal country," and it should be remembered that the 10,000 German troops deployed abroad are the largest peacekeeping force of any country other than the United States.  Germany has been a very good ally, Ischinger concluded.

Yet allies, no matter how good, do not always see eye to eye on every issue, and this is the case on the issue of Iraq.  In a frank discussion of recent international policy debates, the Ambassador offered several reasons for this difference of opinion.  Noting that Germany is not the only European country to question US policy initiatives on Iraq and that the issue is intensely debated in France, for example, Ischinger argued that the Europeans believe in a joint commitment to fight the international war on terrorism together with the United States.  The invoking of Article 5 of the NATO treaty is a testament to this commitment.  The European concern is that, if we focus on Iraq alone, it may damage the international coalition against terrorism. Military action against Iraq today could lead millions of Muslims to react to what may be seen as yet another humiliating defeat of a Muslim nation.  On the basis of intelligence reports, Germany and many Europeans simply do not agree that the threat from Saddam Hussein is so imminent and urgent that military action is required.  Rather, Ischinger argued that the war on terrorism should be addressed first and a comprehensive strategy on a greater Middle East should be developed.

There are three important elements to a comprehensive strategy for the Middle East, and the issue of Iraq, according to the German Ambassador.  First, military action with Iraq could well lead to adverse effects on the  Israeli/Palestinian problem, while a process of negotiation could minimize such effects.  Second, the bigger challenge is Iran and there is currently no clear strategy on Iran vis à vis Iraq.  Saddam Hussein is clearly a dictator, but he is not a fundamentalist, while Iran is a fundamentalist regime that could become more powerful in the region as a consequence of action against Iraq.  Most Europeans advocate a strategy of working with Iran as a counterweight to Iraq, while US experts generally do not see this as useful. Third, there is no international consensus on how to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  "Is the only strategy to combat such weapons, counter-proliferation," Ischinger asked, "or are there not non-military strategies that will work?"  The international community has failed in the case of India and Pakistan but has met with more success in the former Soviet Union and in South Africa.  These experiences should be considered in terms of the Iraqi regime. 

"It is not my job to criticize the Bush administration and second guess US policy," but the Ambassador suggested that the US needs to lead by example and take credible steps toward negotiated solutions.  The best example is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;  if the US will not sign then no other countries will.  The United States has demonstrated an exceptional ability in multilateral international diplomacy, Ischinger commented, but in order for continued success we must lead by example.  The US is perceived in Europe as the benevolent hegemon that smaller states can admire, according to Ischinger.  America has been able to pursue its own national interest but not at the expense of the greater good.  This is the purest form of Wilsonian idealism.   America is a European power, and Germany is not interested in a spat or separation.  "We are only interested," Ischinger concluded, "in an intelligent debate about how to use power."

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Published: Tuesday, November 26, 2002