17 December,


In era of Trump, Germany seeks a stronger role abroad

Analytical Wing

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The changes ushered in by President Trump mean that Germany, and Europe, must define and defend their own interests and embark on a more independent and assertive foreign policy, Germany’s acting foreign minister said on Tuesday.
 
The official, Sigmar Gabriel, called for a new willingness to clash with Washington on any range of issues, including trade and Iran.
 
Mr. Gabriel made his remarks in a speech to a foreign policy conference hosted by the Körber Foundation in Berlin, before he traveled to Brussels, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived to a cool reception even as he tried to reassure his European partners that Washington remained committed to the trans-Atlantic partnership.
 
Mr. Tillerson is reported to be on the verge of being fired by Mr. Trump, which the president has denied. Mr. Gabriel’s speech made clear that important allies of the United States remain not only skeptical of the Trump administration but are preparing to part ways on significant issues.
 
“We must be able to define our own position and, if necessary, draw red lines, in partnership, but oriented around our own interests,” Mr. Gabriel said, adding that the Trump administration sees the world as an arena for competition in which even Europe can be an economic adversary.
 
Washington’s role as a protector of Europe’s security and economic interests, set out by George C. Marshall 70 years ago, has begun to crumble, Mr. Gabriel argued. Under the Trump administration, Germany is no longer viewed as special, but one partner among many, he said.
 
He pointed to the most recent United States sanctions against Russia passed by Congress this summer, which may affect German economic interests, as well as to Mr. Trump’s disavowal of the Iran nuclear deal and the American president’s plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
 
Mr. Gabriel, President Emmanuel Macron of France and other world leaders have warned the Trump administration that such a shift on Jerusalem could reverberate throughout the Middle East and set back attempts for peace.
 
“A solution to the Jerusalem problem can only come through direct negotiations between the two parties,” Mr. Gabriel said. “Everything that exacerbates the crisis is counterproductive.”
 
German skepticism regarding the shift in the trans-Atlantic relationship has been building since Mr. Trump’s early threat that Washington’s support for NATO was conditional on other members meeting their financial commitments.
 
More Germans now see their country’s relationship with Washington as a larger foreign policy challenge than the threat posed by North Korea or Iran, according to a survey commissioned by the Körber Foundation in October.
 
While the arrival of more refugees remained Germans’ biggest foreign policy concern, identified by 26 percent of the 1,005 people questioned, 19 percent of respondents identified ties to Washington as a primary reason to worry.
 
In May, Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear Berlin’s increasing skepticism that Europe could still count on Washington.
 
“The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over,” she told voters after a contentious NATO summit meeting in Brussels and a Group of 7 meeting in Italy.
 
The chancellor also called for Germans to be ready to “fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”
 
Part of that must include a renewed commitment to Europe, along the lines of the French president’s vision for “a more integrated Europe” as the path to “real sovereignty.”
 
Mr. Gabriel’s remarks deepened the acknowledgment of that widening divide between the United States and Europe.
 
But they also highlighted a vacuum of leadership among the once-tightly knit phalanx of like-minded Western nations, as the United States increasingly appears to be jettisoning that role.
 
As the United States withdraws, no one has looked to Europe to fill the void, Mr. Gabriel said. Instead, he warned, that space was being filled by Russia in the Middle East and by China in Africa.
 
“The world sees Europe as rich, but weak,” Mr. Gabriel said, reminding Germans that their economic prosperity has come thanks to the country’s geographic location and political role at the heart of Europe.
 
But progress in Europe is stymied until Berlin can get its own political house in order, after a general election on Sept. 24 that robbed Ms. Merkel of a clear path to form a new government.
 
Against the backdrop of such political uncertainty, it was not clear exactly if Mr. Gabriel was speaking on behalf of the chancellor, but he remains Germany’s top diplomat in Ms. Merkel’s caretaker government.
 
The German election, for the first time in postwar history, sent seven parties spanning the breadth of the political spectrum to a Parliament that has swelled to 709 seats.
 
Among them is the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which through a combination of drawing support away from the large centrist parties and motivating previous nonvoters emerged as the third strongest force.
 
Because none of the traditional parties is willing to cooperate with the AfD, Ms. Merkel — whose party lost seven percent of the vote, despite remaining the strongest force — has had a hard time forming a coalition.
 
She is now seeking to try to revive the cooperation with the Social Democrats, her governing partners of the past four years who had vowed they would not enter into another coalition government.
 
In recent weeks, however, some political leaders in Berlin have been citing the need for leadership in Europe to prod the Social Democrats to join a coalition.
 
The Social Democrats will hold a party congress this weekend, where they are to decide whether their party should enter into negations with Ms. Merkel’s conservatives.
 
In his speech, Mr. Gabriel, a Social Democrat, reminded Germans that in the future, they would have to get used to taking risks, including risking failure, if the European project was to remain a force in the world.
 
Germans remain largely ambivalent to any use of force on the international stage. The survey for the Körber Foundation showed a majority, 52 percent, felt Germany should show restraint on the international stage.
 
Earlier in the year, a survey for the Pew Research Foundation found the same number of Germans, 53 percent, said they did not think their country should provide military force to defend a NATO ally if it were attacked by Russia.
 
If Germany truly hopes to play a stronger role on the world stage, such attitudes will have to change, Dominique Moïsi, of the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne, said on Tuesday at the Körber Foundation conference.
 
“You cannot remain a soft power, if by the end of the day, you don’t have a minimal element of hard power,” Mr. Moïsi said.

 

The New York Times

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