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The Article written by Prof. Dr. Hüseyin Bağcı, published in Foreign Policy Magazine in 2019
THE “US QUESTION” OF THE WEST AND
GERMANY’SFOREIGN POLICY AND SECURITY CHALLENGES
Since the end of the Cold War, the then bipolar international order has been evolving into an undefined direction. The international order, in the views of many, has moving from bipolar to unipolar, then from unipolar to multipolar nature. In the final analysis, the international orderconcerns primarily the power relations and balance between the great powers. Yet, the midsize countries, which are neither a great power, nor any negligible power, like Germany and Turkey, are not immune to what is happening in the international system. They need to follow the evolution of the international system closely, so that they can adapt to new circumstances in a timely fashion without getting their national interests undermined or damaged. In recent times, the changing nature of the international order has become more obvious than before since the election of the current US President Donald Trump in November 2016. In fact, the dissatisfaction of the past US Administrations with the international order, as they believe that it no longer serves the interests of their country in many ways, was known well before 2016. Yet, President Trump’s “America First” Doctrine and the way in which he has so implemented it, have caused concern around the world, including Europe/the EU, regarding the future of the rules-based international order. On this basis, this article examines how successfully Germany deals with the new “US Question” of the Europe in particular and of the international society in general.
Key words: America First, Germany, Merkel, rules-based international order, Trump
“Multilateralism is not all that easy, but
I always have to think of the possible
alternatives. We have populist and
nationalist challenges and we have to
stand up against them.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was born and grew up in the East Germany during the bipolarinternational order of the Cold War years following the World War II (WWII). Following the reunification of Germany under the leadership of the then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, she found the opportunity to enter the politics and climb the stairs of success all the way up. If she stays in power until the end of her term in 2021, she will be among the longest serving German Chancellors since WWII, breaking the record of Helmut Kohl, who also stayed in power for16 years.
Yet, despite many difficulties, challenges and crises Chancellor Merkel has so far faced, the crack in the transatlantic relations due to the apparent “othering” of Europe by the US President Donald Trump appears to be a most development for her. Amongst other reasons, this is mainly because she has regarded America as the beacon of freedoms since her young ages and her first visit to the USA in September 1991 as a young politician in the official delegation of Chancellor Helmut Kohl occupies a special place in her memory and political career.
In fact, despite the early signals disseminated by President Trump during his election campaign regarding his dissatisfaction with the USA’s place in the world, no country, including Germany, was expecting a radical change of discourse in Washington towards the rest of the world. The policies announced by President Trump soon after his assumption of Presidential office were shocking for many leaders around the world, including Chancellor Merkel. She has, however, overcome her initial disbelief rather quickly and led the German Government to develop responses to address this new challenge. Accordingly, Germany appears to have appreciated the upcoming risks well in time and has been making increased and targeted efforts to forestall major risks and damages to its national interests and its perceived position in Europe and in the world. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas frequently underlines the vital importance of relations with the USA. At the same time, German government officials express their conviction that Europe can no longer rely on the USA and needs to take care of its own security.
The policies, which President Trump pursues,seem to be based on the basic tenets of realism. Accordingly, he does not hesitate to push aside the shared international moral principles, norms and values as secondary and negligible items, until the unique place of the USA in the international system based on his perception is restored. He seems to aim at achieving his goals mainly through redistributive re-design of the existing multilateral and bilateral agreements, organizationsandtrade ties.
President Trump by advocating his “America First” doctrinefavours unilateralism to multilateralism, as he believes that the latter disadvantages the US in international relations. The EU, however, prefers a stable and predictable rules-based international order and multilateral alliances.
Yet, as noted earlier, no country, including Germany, was fully prepared for such radical changes in the approaches of Washington that would undermine even its relations with a number of major allies like Germany.
In fact, due to the relatively restrained foreign policy pursued by President Obama because of “intervention fatigue” facing the USA due to its several major international military interventions since the end of the Cold War, this difference of approach between the USA and the EU was quite obvious even before President Trump. However, the widening gap between the two shores of the Atlantic has become increasingly noticeable since President Trump came to power. This has made the life for Chancellor Merkel more difficult in managing the relations with the USA, as she has been making efforts to repair the damage caused to transatlantic relations due to the stance of her country in 2003 opposing a US-led intervention in Iraq.
In this respect, it was argued by Robert Kagan already in 2002 that the EU and the USA should stop pretending they have “shared view of the world,” and should act as their worldviews and perceptions of interests necessitate. Similarly in the same year, it was claimed by Charles Kupchan that “the next clash of civilizations will not be between the West and the rest but between the United States and Europe.”
Accordingly, with President Trump in power, US behaviour toward Europe has displayed tangible changes. For instance, unlike the US approach in the past, President Trump has publicly criticised governments made up of mainstream parties, including the coalition government in Germany, for being inefficient in the face of massive and irregular refugee/migration flows and therefore causing changes to “European culture.” Consistent with President Trump’s unusual remarks on the internal affairs of EU states, the US Ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, has acted outside the established diplomatic practices and made statements insinuating sympathy and support for populist and anti-European integration movements across the EU. As a result, German politicians have called on the US Administration to withdraw its Ambassador from Berlin as his interference with domestic politics was unacceptable.
Some relate this unusual US policy to the fact that President Trump’s administration looks at relations with Europe only from a transactional perspective, does not have a strategic vision for European integration and even considers the EU’s institutional entity a “foe” and a “German vehicle,” instrumental in extracting unfair and imbalanced trade benefits from the USA. President Trump’s hostile approach to the European integration project comes in a period when the EU faces multiple challenges, ranging from Brexit and the rise of populist and anti-EU movements, to irregular migration and institutional reforms.
As to the approaches of the EU and the USA towards the RF, despite their differing views, in general, the EU countries consider the RF’s growing military power and recent interventions destabilising its neighbourhood a threat to European security and stability. On the other hand, President Trump regularly praises Russian President Putin and has made efforts to establish friendly relations with his Russian counterpart. After the NATO Summit in Brussels on 11-12 July 2018, he had a summit with President Putin in Helsinki on 16 July 2018. Particularly in a period when the USA and the EU have imposed and maintain sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Crimea in March 2014, Trump’s policy towards Russia and personal high opinion of the Russian President have caused concern in Europe and added another area of tension to the transatlantic agenda.
Still, the EU leaders appear not to have given up on President Trump completely. On proper occasions like bilateral contacts or multilateral meetings like NATO Summits, they spare no efforts and try to change his perception about transatlantic relations, multilateral co-operation and rules-based international order. A main argument which they use is that the USA and the EU are both stronger and more effective when they act together. President Trump, however, does not seem to be changing his view that the EU countries like Germany, hiding behind EU norms and regulations, have been enjoying an unfair and imbalanced trade relations with the USA and “robbing” his country “like a piggy bank,” and that this must end. Therefore, the EU side has been coming to the terms with the fact that the nature of transatlantic relations is transforming into something that cannot yet be clearly described at this stage, and that they need to adjust their approach accordingly and engage with the USA in different ways.
In terms of ensuring Europe’s security, the EU/European countries do not yet have a credible alternative to NATO. Transatlantic relations remain asymmetric, in the sense that the USA has the upper hand and the ability to influence decision makers in Europe, although this influence varies from one country to another. Under these circumstances, after the NATO Brussels Summit of 11-12 July 2018, President Trump stated that he might withdraw the USA from the NATO but was not considering taking such a step at this point in time. Being aware of the privileged and even hegemonic position the USA enjoys in Europe thanks to NATO and the US commitment to European security, he may not really have meant to leave NATO altogether.In May 2017, the Alliance moved to its new headquarters in Brussels, which due to the generous use of glass and steel in its exterior design, is presented as “an image of power and renewal” and cost allies USD 1.45 billion. The real objective of President Trump in making such statements may be to get NATO allies to where he wants in terms of burden-sharing, and also by taking advantage of Brexit, to strengthen US leadership within the Alliance and in Europe so that it can maintain asymmetric relationship with Europe.
To sum up the introduction, inevitably, the time may have come up for Europe to make a strategic decision on whether to pursue its strategic interests, which, on some critical matters, differ significantly from the policy objectives of the USA. At the end of the 1990s, the USA was working to prevent Europe’s de-coupling from NATO. Nowadays Europe is making efforts to keep the USA committed to European security. It is clear, however, that for both sides, developments indicate increasing differentiation of strategic objectives and interests, which in time may lead to a “mutual de-coupling”.
Based on this introduction, the following sections of this article dwell on some central questions like; in which direction the international order is heading, where Germany sees or would like to see itself in the international order, which implications President Trump’s America First doctrine bears for Europe and Germany in various areas and how the German Government navigates in this new uncharted period in the world history.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT WORLD ORDER AND WHAT DOES THE USA REALLY WANT?
The USA pursues harsh policies towards not only its rivals such as China, but its allies and partners like Germany and Turkey. Therefore, the current isolationist foreign policy of the USA cannot be described only as isolationist. Beyond that, it also alienates the USA from its allies, friends and partners around the world. Moreover, the preference of President Trump to use social media to publicize his views even on key issues is a major cause for concern and resentment among the USA’s allies and friends.
In this regard, the USA appears to be applying contradictory foreign policy behaviours. On the one hand, it pursues isolationist policies insensitive to vital economic and security interests and concerns of its allies. While behaving so, on the other hand, it expects increased respect and reconfirmation of its hegemonic influence from the same countries. This approach causes friction and widens the psychological distance between the USA and its allies like Germany and Turkey.
The US policies in Syria, for instance, are puzzling for many, but certainly causing deep frustration and reaction in Turkey. The military assistance provided by the USA to PYD/YPG, a group classified as terrorist by Turkey causes reaction not at the governmental level, but also among the public. The ultimate objective of the USA in Syria remains uncertain for Turkey. This picture has become a main source of friction between Turkey and the USA. In this, he went so far to threaten a US ally like Turkey by economic devastation if it would not act as expected by the USA in northern Syria.Having noted this, the US policy in Syria is not the only reason for the recent friction and alienation between these two allies.
On the other hand, given the fast rise of China to the status of great power in its region and beyond, the USA may not have the luxuryto isolate itself from the rest of the world. Isolationist policies will certainly lead to power vacuum in the regions concerned and as the nature does not sustain such vacuums for too long, they will sooner or later will be filled by other powers, like China and the RF. This partially explains the current picture in Syria where the RF has become the dominant actor mainly due to the hesitant and isolationist policies pursued by the two successive US Administrations.
Additionally, the USA seems to be distancing itself from the core principles and values which the West has so far shared and promoted around the world. The US withdrawal from key environment treaty like Paris Climate Agreement, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, due to its overly close alignment with Israel, from a key UN organization, UNESCO are just a few to name.President Trump has recently threatened to withdraw the USA from the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well.
In the opinion of most of its European allies, first and foremost, Germany, the current behaviour of the USA has the potential to undermine the rules-based international order. The ever-widening crack between the USA and its European allies may indeed lead to a further and faster decline of the Western influence in the global politics.
Despite all the tension and disagreements between the USA and the EU, according to democratic peace theory, even if the USA leaves NATO and withdraws from Europe, common democratic values would continue binding the two shores of the Atlantic and prevent any major conflict. The USA and EU have enough experience, channels of communication and tools at their disposal to address their differences in a peaceful manner. On both sides of the Atlantic, governments are under public scrutiny and democratic control, therefore, particularly the USA, as a great power, would not resort to the use or the threat of the use of force against Europe.
THE INDISPENSABILITY OF THE USA FOR GERMANY IN TERMS OF EUROPEAN SECURITY AND MAINTENANCE OF THE RULES-BASED INTERNATIONAL ORDER
Keeping the transatlantic ties strong and maintaining a rules-based international order remain high priorities for the EU and its leading economic powerhouse, Germany.
In 2017, a document with the title of “In Spite of All, America, a Transatlantic Manifesto in Times of Donald Trump- a German Perspective” was issued by several think-tanks in Germany and the German Marshall Fund in the United States (GMFUS), which, inter alia, noted the following:
“The liberal world order with its foundation in multilateralism, its global norms and values, its open societies and markets – is in danger. It is exactly this order on which Germany’s freedom and prosperity depends. The order is being challenged from various directions and sources: rising powers strive for influence; illiberal governments and authoritarian regimes are ascending; anti-modern thinking is gaining traction and influence even within Western democracies; Russia is challenging the peaceful European order; and new technologies are disrupting old economic structures.”
In line with this spirit, Germany seems to be doing all what it can under the current circumstances, using the means and possibilities at its disposal. In this regard, Germany, together with France, is currently promoting a new initiative called“Alliance for Multilateralism”. The aim of this new initiative was announced as “promoting global cooperation at a time of rising nationalism and isolationism”.
In terms of handling major crisis, the EU appears still incapable to take care of its own security alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s humanitarian approach, a kind of “open door policy” toward Syrian refugees, turned into a most contentious issue in Germany and the EU. It played a significant role in the election campaign ahead of Federal Parliamentary elections held in Germany in September 2017, and in subsequent protracted coalition talks. Due to the rising illiberal movements across Europe, the refugee policy remains a most controversial issue in many EU countries. As mentioned earlier, even President Trump criticized Chancellor Merkel for her migration/refugee policy, claiming that the migration/refugee flow in 2015-2016 has deeply affected European culture, and Chancellor Merkel’s policy was seen by potential immigrants and refugees in the Middle East and Africa as an incentive to seek ways to reach Europe.
This unprecedented refugee crisis has highlighted and reconfirmed the fact that NATO remains the backbone of the European security, is still capable and prepared to assume additional roles, like operations against illegal migration in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. In 2016, in the face of a massive flow of irregular migration resulting mainly from Syria, Germany succeeded in its efforts to ensure that the NATO deploys a naval mission at the Aegean Sea. NATO mission, under a German commander, has successfully fulfilled its mandated tasks. NATO has described what was facing Europe as “the greatest refugee and migrant crisis since the end of WWII”. NATO’s intervention has saved the EU from deeper social, political and economic troubles.
As to the NATO’s traditional role as the provider of territorial security to Europe, largely thanks to the assets and capabilities provided by the USA, NATO, as a collective security organization, is still unique and irreplaceable for Europe. That is why, in the absence of continued US engagement in and through NATO, without putting in place alternative arrangements and significantly strengthening its defence capabilities, the EU/Europe would not be in a position to deter or eliminate the major threats to its security alone and for instance, would be unable to counterbalance the military power of the RF. This imbalance and security deficit would be most obvious in terms of nuclear arms. Therefore, a US decision to disengage from European security may lead to the most serious security dilemma facing Europe and its militarily weak geo-economic power Germany since WWII.
GERMANY’S EFFORTS TO KEEP TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS CLOSE AND STRONG
Since 1949, EU defence and security policies have been developed under the shadow of NATO and within the limited space allowed by the Alliance and its leader, the USA. Since the 1990s, successive American administrations have, on the one hand, encouraged European states to develop their own capabilities, but on the other hand, always put a strong emphasis on the need to avoid duplication. In other words, aspiring to achieve its strategic autonomy and avoiding duplication of NATO’s assets and capabilities have become a permanent dilemma for the EU.
In 1999, the then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defined the parameters in which the EU could develop its defence and security framework, structure and capabilities. She announced the “3 Ds” to set the EU’s framework. According to this US position, the EU’s objective should not “duplicate” NATO assets, not “discriminate” against non-EU NATO members and not “decouple” the EU from the transatlantic security architecture.
Germany, due to its military history particularly in WWII, has been distant to the idea of sending its troops abroad. Nevertheless, despite the technical and legal obstacles that it has faced, Germany has changed its traditional position and stood by the USA in facing the terror attacks carried out against some targets in the USA on September 11, 2001. With a view to enabling such deployments, the German Constitutional Court issued a new interpretation in 2003 similar to the one it adopted in 1994 on deployment of the German troops abroad.
The fight against terrorism continues to serve as a strong common denominator for the international community. NATO (even though it did not take part in military operations) and some of its members also support the US-led Global Coalition against DAESH in Syria.
On the other hand, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014has served as a wake-up call and accordingly, put collective defence back at the top of the NATO agenda. Questions of defence spending and burden-sharing, however, have gained a prominent place in public debates, particularly in some European countries including Germany.
At the NATO Wales Summit in 2014, Allies committed that those Allies who were spending less than 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would “move toward” 2% by 2024.Although this guideline has existed in NATO for more than a decade, in Wales in 2014 the Allies made this defence spending pledge at the highest political level for the first time and reaffirmed it during the Warsaw Summit two years later. President Trump appears to argue, however, that this represented a firm commitment and Allies who have not achieved 2% already are somehow in violation of it. Therefore, the view promoted by President Trump can be considered a misperception. In practice, although there has been an increase in defence spending in real terms since 2014, only a handful of countries fulfil the 2% threshold. Given that this guideline has been contested on several grounds ever since its introduction in 2006, the way in which the current burden-sharing debate is framed seems harmful for NATO’s cohesion and image.
Regarding the debate on burden-sharing, it may be interesting to note that the figures from the Cold War period are striking. Between 1975 and 1984, NATO members’ defence budgets stood at an average of 4.7% of their respective GDP and the USA’s defence budget was nearly 6% of its GDP. Currently, the defence budget of Germany, Europe’s wealthiest nation, is about 1,2%, even after increases in recent years. This was above 3% during the Cold War as West Germany faced an imminent threat from the Soviet Union, which was keeping East Germany under its control and influence.
Today, due to the large size of Germany’s GDP, going from 1,2% to 2% of its GDP would mean an increase of almost 30 billion Dollars in its defence budget. Yet, in an effort to forestall President Trump’s expected criticism, Chancellor Merkel a few months before the NATO Summit of July 2018 stated that Germany is considering raising its defence budget to 1.5% of its GDP by 2025 and to 2% by 2030. As expected, however, the preventive move from Germany fell short of satisfying President Trump’s demand that all members should increase their defence budget to 2% of their GDP as soon as possible, preferably until 01 January 2019. As a result, this issue remains subject to debate in Germany and other NATO countries, whose defence budgets are below the 2% threshold.
It is safe to assume that President Trump will continue keeping this issue on the agenda and expressing his criticism privately and publicly to his counterparts in NATO countries. However, President Trump’s approach does not appear meaningful due to the lack of proper understanding of how Allied defence budget works. It appears that he does not pay attention to the difference between NATO’s budget as an international organization and national defence budgets of the individual NATO members. Furthermore, the way he urges NATO Allies to meet the 2% target before 2024 and even to increase it to 4% also reflects that his approach does not take into consideration economic and financial realities in the majority of NATO countries. By this approach, he gives the impression that his primary objective is not to ensure achievable increases in the defence budgets of NATO Allies, but to demonstrate that he is the unquestionable political leader in the Alliance, whom the rest should just follow and show to the American public that he is a strong and prominent leader in the international politics.
On the other hand, as a striking example, there are arguments that, when it comes to pushing Germany to significantly increase its defence budget, the US needs to be careful what it is asking for. In case Germany invests an additional amount of close to 30 billion Dollars annually in its defence sector by going up from 1.2 % to 2% of its GDP, this may upgrade the country’s military capabilities in a rather short span of time to the extent that soon it again becomes a major military power in Europe and this would upsets the fragile balances in the architecture of European security.
In this respect, it would be prudent to keep in mind that there are intra-European balances among the major EU countries, which may not be rivals, but still compete with one another. For instance, recently, France promotes its vision of “Europe that protects” and to this end, is seeking to receive more funds from other EU countries to build up an EU that protects its members and citizens. In response, despite Chancellor Merkel’s supportive statements, Germany appears to be considering pros and cons of the French proposal, given the fact that the US commitment to European security is weakening. As a result, these two countries are making progress in implementing some new EU security/defence initiatives.
In fact, the European allies in the NATO have from time to time since WWII been attempting to develop their own military capabilities so that they can achieve some degree of “strategic autonomy” from NATO and US hegemony. The United Kingdom (UK), however, as a member of both NATO and the EU, has been putting a brake on the EU’s efforts to undertake meaningful and large-scale defence and security initiatives, thereby obstructing the development of EU strategic autonomy. In this regard, the UK has been seen as the USA’s “Trojan horse” inside the EU.
Against this brief background, by taking advantage of the upcoming Brexit, France and Germany appear to be developing and moving ahead with a number of defence and security initiatives. At the end of 2017 the EU launched a new initiative called the PESCO (Permanent Structured Co-operation). The Initiative aims to strengthen the defence capabilities of participating EU member countries and that of the EU as a whole. Only the UK, Denmark and Malta opted to stay out of PESCO. PESCO initially took 17 projects under consideration.
The quick progress achievedin launching PESCO may be interpreted as the first practical implication of Brexit on security and defence co-operation within the EU. Through PESCO, EU members will invest more in their own security, and the projects to be implemented under PESCO may contribute to the development of the EU’s autonomous defence/military capacity.
It is announced by the German Government that PESCO does not aim to create a European army, but rather to strengthen the EU’s capacity to act autonomously and react to security issues drawing on its own resources. In fact, the new mode of co-operation simultaneously pursues two aims: 1) support and complement NATO capabilities and 2) enhance the EU’s capacity and strategic autonomy as a credible international security partner.
Time will show how much PESCO will contribute to the advancement of the EU’s and its individual members’ defence capabilities.
While undertaking these new initiatives to achieve its objective of strategic autonomy, the EU pays attention to not disturbing the USA and the NATO. This delicate approach is obvious in the EU document titled “A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS),” issued by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the EU Commission, in September 2016, the EU recognizes the importance of close co-operation with NATO by stating that:
“The EU will invest further in strong bonds across the Atlantic, both north and south. A solid transatlantic partnership through NATO and with the United States and Canada helps us strengthen resilience, address conflicts, and contribute to effective global governance. NATO, for its members, has been the bedrock of Euro-Atlantic security for almost 70 years. It remains the strongest and most effective military alliance in the world. The EU will deepen its partnership with NATO through coordinated defence capability development, parallel and synchronised exercises, and mutually reinforcing actions to build the capacities of our partners, counter hybrid and cyber threats, and promote maritime security.”
Still, the concept of “strategic autonomy” is mentioned five times in the EUGS and this indicates how high an importance the EU places on achievement of this objective.
As the EU seeks “strategic autonomy” from NATO and the USA by strengthening its own military and defence capabilities, the outcome of these efforts, one can argue, can affect the balance of power and defence co-operation in transatlantic relations and in Europe. The talk about US disengagement from Europe or a significant reduction in its commitment to European security appears to have triggered a security dilemma in Europe, particularly after the separation of the UK from the EU, because the EU’s combined relative military power vis-à-vis the RF will have diminished significantly. In this context, it may be further argued that, by observing the military capabilities of the RF as a benchmark, the EU/its member states can feel the necessity to strengthen its military capabilities as quickly and soon as possible. The EU states, especially the leading actors France and Germany, would find themselves relatively in a weaker position against the RF especially in terms of nuclear capabilities. In view of this new reality, Germany, which currently does not have its own nuclear capabilities, may start seeking to change the existing multilateral arrangements and limitations on proliferation nuclear weapons, so that it can acquire its own nuclear capabilities.
As an important element of its global strategic vision, Germany makes constant efforts to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council as frequently as possible. In fact, Germany has served in that capacity in the UN Security Council five times in the past years. Currently, starting on 8 June 2018, it joined the Security Council for the sixth time to serve there in the period of 2019-20. Moreover, together with Brazil and India and Japan, Germany calls for reform in the UN Security Council so that it can also become a permanent member of this important UN body.
E3+E3 format in the international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear programme has been very interesting in terms of Germany’s inclusion in the “club of big powers” without being a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The statement issued by the E3 countries namely France, Germany and the UK, and the EU High Representative, on 4 May 2019 underlined the continuing interest of Germany to remain involved in future discussions on Iran’s nuclear programme and sanctions re-introduced by the USA against Iran since November 2018. Germany publicly opposes the US decision. In fact, this issue has become yet another indication that Europe’s and USA’s strategic interests tend to differentiate, and the two sides continue to de-couple.
As a different example about Germany’s regional initiatives, one can observe that in recent years Chancellor Merkel makes increased efforts to forge closer ties with African countries. Early May 2019, she visited the Sahel countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, focusing on security and counter-terrorism co-operation. In the same context, German Foreign Ministry has recently unveiled a comprehensive plan to further develop its relations with the African countries.Similarly, Turkey too has been paying a special attention to its relations and co-operation with the African countries, which got intensified by introduction of a policy of Opening Up to Africa in 1998. Once they overcome their political differences, there may be a huge potential for co-operation between Turkey and Germany in Africa in many fields.
On the basis of this example, if it really wants to counterbalance China in global politics, the USA may wish to consider encouraging such co-operation schemes between its allies, instead of alienating and punishing them for no good or credible reasons.
Immanuel Kant’s Democratic Peace Theory appears to be applicable to the differences between the democratic states and there seems to be no reason to worry about military conflict between the countries in the West in the foreseeable future. However, this does not rule out the possibility of major conflict of interests when it comes to economic and security matters.
In such an international environment, U.S. President Trump has been pursuing protectionist and transactional foreign policy by withdrawing his country from several multilateral arrangements. By doing so, he appears to be aiming to lead international economic and trade relations to a period of uncertainty and hoping that during such a period, multilateral arrangements are re-constructed in a way that generates more benefits to the USA. His “America First” doctrine is mainly based on this reading of the current international order.
This approach of the USA to make redistributive changes in the global trade and economic configurations and its trade disagreements also with the EU and Germany, alongside China, may be interpreted that the friction between the two sides of the Atlantic may continue for some time to come.
As to European security, NATO, an alliance that has served as the main pillar of Europe’s security architecture since 1949, has been no exception to President Trump’s perception that in terms of their costs and benefits, multilateral organizations have become a burden on the USA. The most striking term he used to describe NATO during his election campaign was “obsolete.” Even though he later appeared to have changed his mind, this has had the effect of a cold shower across Europe. Indeed, President Trump has been voicing loudly and publicly his discomfort and uneasiness about burden-sharing with regard to European security under the leadership of the NATO, which his predecessors had already been stating, albeit in a more diplomatic and discreet manner.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Europeans/EU, led mainly by Germany and France, have already been seeking, particularly since the end of the Cold War, to develop advanced military capabilities so that the EU could achieve its strategic autonomy and undertake peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond. Accordingly, as part of its CSDP, the EU has deployed many overseas missions in several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, by employing a combination of military and civilian elements.
Furthermore, even though the UK’s Brexit decision as a result of a June 2016 referendum came as a shock to the EU and caused a brief hesitation in its efforts also in the CSDP areas, the EU came out of this shock rather quickly, and adopted and publicized its EUGS in September 2016. Building on the EUGS, it has taken effective follow-up steps, introducing the European Defence Fund (EDF) and 17 projects under PESCO, and lending increased momentum to European Defence Agency’s (EDA) work. All these efforts are intended to serve one purpose: the achievement of strategic autonomy, balanced transatlantic relations and a healthier co-operation with the USA/NATO.
The reaction of the USA to the progress the EU will achieve in further developing and implementing its CSDP, EUGS and several projects, which aim to enhance its defence capabilities, will be important, perhaps decisive, in determining the limits of the CSDP’s practical implementation. In case the USA is sincere about its traditional and recently emphasized desire and vision that the EU should develop its defence capabilities and take care of its own security, the EU may have a good chance to achieve strategic autonomy in the medium to long term. In case the USA is just pushing the EU to strengthen its defence capabilities, by raising its defence budgets to a minimum of 2 percent of individual NATO members’ GDP and to spend these increased budgets for purchasing military hardware from the USA, this approach may please the US President as a transactional gain for his country, and on the other hand, strengthen the EU’s military power, but may not bring to the EU its long-desired strategic autonomy.
On the other hand, intra-EU balances, particularly the harmony and common strategic vision to be achieved between its remaining major powers, France and Germany, should also be expected to play a decisive role in bringing these efforts forward. In the EU’s efforts to further enhance its defence capabilities through European initiatives/projects, a key precondition remains the provision of increased financial resources and under current economic realities, the generosity of Europe’s “geo-economic power” Germany is important and called upon by France.
To sum up, U.S. President Donald Trump has a consistent course of pushing his country’s European allies to increase their defence budgets and in fact, U.S. Administrations even before President Trump has been pursuing a similar policy. The US President’s emphasis on transactional relations with NATO allies and his impatience to see all allies meet the target of 2% of the GDPs to be spent on defence have become a cause of tension and friction at the high-level NATO meetings. Coupled with the US security strategy of pivoting to Asia by reducing its engagement to European security, a key conclusion would be that the EU and its members states, particularly the EU’s economic leader Germany, committed to gradually increasing their respective defence budgets.
In view of the above, undermining and weakening transatlantic multilateral organizations, arrangements and co-operation, including NATO, might serve neither U.S. nor the EU interests, as it may pave the way for serious conflicts between the US and its European partners in the medium to long run. Given the decades-long US efforts and huge investments to pacify Germany by integrating it into the West, any decision by US policy makers to disengage and distance from Germany’s and Europe’s security may not contribute to reinforcing the sense of security on either side. The NATO serves as the anchor keeping the two sides of the Atlantic together. Once the shared norms, principles and commitments under the NATO are abandoned, it would be difficult to guess in which direction the tide would take the actors on both sides of the Atlantic. In this respect, Germany’s recent efforts to keep the transatlantic relations close and strong are praiseworthy. One needs to wait and see whether the USA will reciprocate Germany’s good will and steps. Taking another look at this issue from the US perspective may be worth undertaking further research and analysis.
 *HüseyinBağcı teaches as a Professor at the Department of International Relations of the Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara/Turkey. Prof.Bağcı received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University in Bonn in 1998. He is a member of IISS in London and Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels, Belgium. He has been visiting Professor at the University of Bonn as (Anna Maria Schimmel Professor) 2007, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, 2007 (Italy) and University of Lublin, 2008, (Poland) and 2010-2011 Humboldt university Berlin (Germany). He has published several books and many articles on European Security, Turkish Foreign Policy and Turkish-German relations. National and international media frequently seeks the views of Prof.Bağcı on the Turkish Foreign Policy and global developments. (For more information, please visit http://osce-network.net/partner-institutions/middle-east-technical-university-metu-department-of-international-relations/)
**This article is written on the basis of my student HidayetÇilkoparan’s masters thesis on European Security Challenges and Transatlantic Relations accepted at the Department of International Relations/METU in 2018. Accordingly, I thank Mr. Çilkoparan for his comprehensive contributions to this article.
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