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US-German Relations

US-German relations have been a focal point of American involvement in Europe since the end of World War II. Germany stands at the center of European affairs and is a key partner in US relations with Europeans in NATO and the European Union.

German-American ties extend back to the colonial era. More than 7 million Germans have immigrated over the last 3 centuries, and today nearly a quarter of US citizens claim German ancestry. In recognition of this heritage and the importance of modern-day US-German ties, the US President annually has proclaimed October 6, the date the first German immigrants arrived in 1683, to be "German-American Day."

US policy toward Germany remains the preservation and consolidation of a close and vital relationship with Germany, not only as friends and trading partners, but also as allies sharing common institutions. During the 45 years in which Germany was divided, the US role in Berlin and the large American military presence in West Germany served as symbols of the US commitment to preserving peace and security in Europe. Since German unification, the US commitment to these goals has not changed. The US made significant reductions in its troop levels in Germany after the Cold War ended, and, on July 12, 1994, President Bill Clinton "cased the colors" at the Berlin Brigade's deactivation ceremony. The US, however, continues to recognize that the security and prosperity of the United States and Germany significantly depend on each other.

As allies in NATO, the United States and Germany work side by side to maintain peace and freedom. This unity and resolve made possible the successful conclusion of the 1987 US-USSR. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the Two-plus-Four process--which led to the Final Settlement Treaty--and the November 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. The two allies extended their diplomatic cooperation into military cooperation by maintaining peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans and working together to encourage the evolution of open and democratic states throughout central and eastern Europe.

Germany was an integral part of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan since its establishment in 2002. Germany was the third-largest troop contributor with 5,000-plus troops and commands the entire ISAF northern region, which encompassed one-fourth of the country. Germany also led two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and operates the main logistics base that supported all forces in the region, including 5,000 US troops. Germany ran one of the largest police training programs in the country and actively trained and mentors the Afghan National Army. Germany deployed AWACs air crews to Afghanistan in April 2011 to free up other allies’ resources and personnel for NATO operations in Libya.

The Bundeswehr is in the process of transforming itself from a purely territorial defense force, as it was during the Cold War, into an expeditionary force capable of deploying up to 10,000 soldiers at a time. US and German troops work together effectively in NATO and UN operations worldwide due in part to the joint training and capacity-building performed at US military installations in Germany. With over 1,000 troops on the ground, Germany is the largest contributor to international peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. German and American maritime forces are also deployed to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa.

Following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, Germany was a reliable US ally in efforts against terrorism. As two of the world's leading trading nations, the United States and Germany share a common, deep-seated commitment to an open and expanding world economy. Personal ties between the United States and Germany extend beyond immigration to include intensive foreign exchange programs, booming tourism in both directions, and the presence in Germany of large numbers of American military personnel and their dependents.

The United States and Germany have built a solid foundation of bilateral cooperation in a relationship that has changed significantly over 6 decades. The historic unification of Germany and the role the United States played in that process have served to strengthen ties between the two countries.

German-American political, economic, and security relationships continue to be based on close consultation and coordination at the most senior levels. High-level visits take place frequently, and the United States and Germany cooperate actively in international fora.

The ties between Berlin and Washington had been deteriorating steadily over geopolitical, financial, and environmental issues since Donald Trump took office in January 2017. Trump had a strange obsession with the country of his ancestors -- with German cars, German economic power, the German chancellor. German politicians joined the chorus of European officials growing increasingly concerned for the future of the US-European relationship under Donald Trump. In an op-ed for Bild am Sonntag on 22 January 2017, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of "turbulent times" ahead for Europe. Steinmeier stressed that "the old world of the 20th century is over for good," explaining that he was referring to the order established following the Second World War, and in the quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

"The order of the 21st century, and how tomorrow's world will look has not yet been decided, it is totally open," the politician added. Steinmeier emphasized that "as always when power changes hands, there are uncertainties, doubts and questions about the course the new leadership will take," and warned that "in these times of a new global disorder it is about more; today there is a lot at stake."

Steinmeier indicated that of course Berlin would be seeking dialogue with the Trump administration, and would look to outline "our position, our values and our interests," as well as Germany's "expectations" for a new partnership with the USA. If that failed, he added, Berlin would be "certain to find interlocutors in Washington who know that big countries also need partners." Openly favoring Hillary Clinton and shocked by Trump's surprise election victory in November, Steinmeier has been seen as one of the most outspoken detractors of Trump in the German government. Soon after the election, he warned that things would be "more difficult" for Berlin under a Trump administration.

Steinmeier wasn't the only one to outline his concerns with the new president. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel got in trouble on 20 January 2017 after he complained that Trump's inauguration speech supposedly came close to using Hitleresque language. Warning Germans that they would be in for a "rough ride" under the new president, Gabriel blamed Trump's rise on the "serious radicalization of American society." Saying that Trump's inaugural speech featured "high nationalistic tones" with its "America First" pledge, Gabriel suggested that all that was absent were references comparing parliament to a "talking shop," a term used by Hitler in the 1920s before he took power to criticize the Weimar government. The vice chancellor argued that Brussels and Berlin must now join together to "defend our interests" and prevent this form of nationalism from spreading to the European continent as well.

When Trump began criticising German Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policy and the general European foreign policy outlook towards the rest of the world, there were murmurs at the Bundestag in Berlin that the old alliance, forged in fire after the Second World War, was shaking. Trump was seen as unpredictable, he had been highly critical of European Union, so it was to be expected that he might be a difficult president for the Germans. But the people in the government wanted to see how his presidency develop first, and to meet the people who would be their working contacts.

After a White House meeting 17 March 2017 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Donald Trump said he supported NATO but renewed a call for member nations to increase their financial contributions to support the military alliance. Sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, Merkel’s suggestion of another handshake went unheard or ignored by Trump — an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions. In a frequently awkward joint press conference, Trump and Merkel showed little common ground as they addressed a host of thorny issues including NATO, defense spending and free trade deals. For most of the 30 minutes in the East Room, Merkel was stony-faced as Trump ripped into Washington’s NATO allies for not paying for their “fair share” for transatlantic defense and demanded “fair and reciprocal trade” deals. "Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe," said Trump.

"Joking about the US surveillance of Merkel is probably the most tone-deaf moment so far of Trump's time on the international stage," said Stephen Farnsworth, a scholar of the presidency and the media at Mary Washington University. "Trump needs to remember that he doesn't need to crack jokes like he is still on reality television's 'The Apprentice.'"

Neither side tried to make small talk about Trump’s own background. His grand-father came from Kallstadt, a tidy village nestled in southwest Germany’s lush wine country. His grand-father left for America more than a century ago fleeing teh draft and later, after a brief return, further trouble with the law.

Merkel rejected Trump’s suggestion that individual European countries should negotiate free trade deals with the United States, rather than under existing EU-US negotiations. “I hope we can come back to the table and talk about the agreement” between the EU and US, she said.

Germany does not owe the US and NATO “vast sums of money,” as the alliance has no “debt account,” the German defense minister said 19 March 2017. “There is no debt account at NATO,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said. According to von der Leyen, it is wrong to link Germany’s defense expenditure only to NATO, as its military spending also goes to UN peacekeeping missions, European-run operations, as well as Berlin’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). “All we want is a fair burden-sharing, and this requires a modern security concept which will include a modern NATO, but also a European defense union as well as investments into the United Nations,” the minister added.

The German Foreign Ministry sought clarity on controversial comments made by the new US ambassador, Richard Grenell. In an 03 June 2018 interview with Breitbart News, he said he hoped to "empower" the right wing in Europe. He told Breitbart: "There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on," adding that the groundswell in conservative support could be tracked back to the "failed policies of the left." His comments were described as a breach of diplomatic protocol, which required ambassadors to be politically neutral in the domestic politics of the countries where they serve.

Rolf Mützenich, deputy leader of the Social Democrats in parliament, said the issue should be addressed swiftly with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "Clearly the US ambassador sees himself as an extension of a right-wing conservative world movement, and not as a representative of his country entrusted with improving and protecting political, economic and cultural relations between the US and Germany." Mützenich added that Grenell's actions violated the 1961 Vienna Convention, under which diplomats do not interfere in the domestic affairs of a country. Martin Schulz, the former head of the center-left Social Democratic Party, compared his behavior to that of "a right-wing extremist colonial officer."

Trump strongly criticized NATO counties for approving the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Ahead of the 11 July 2018 meeting with the NATO secretary general in Brussels, he bashed Germany, calling it "a captive of Russia."

"We're protecting Germany, we're protecting France, we're protecting all of these countries. And then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they're paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia," Trump said. "Germany is a captive of Russia. They got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear, they're getting so much of their oil and gas from Russia. I think it is something NATO has to look at," he added.

"So we're supposed to protect you against Russia and you pay billions of dollars to Russia and I think that's very inappropriate," Trump noted. "Germany is totally controlled by Russia cause they are getting 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline," he said, adding that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was the chairman of Nord Stream AG, which was also inappropriate. As for defense spending, "Germany is a rich country, they talk about increasing it a tiny bit by 2030. Well they could increase it immediately, tomorrow, and have no problem," the US president said.

German Chancellor Angela immediately responded to Trump's remark: "I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions."

"We are not prisoners, neither of Russia nor of the United States. We are one of the guarantors of the free world and that will stay that way," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on the sidelines of a NATO summit.

Europe can no longer "completely rely" on Donald Trump after the US president referred to the European Union (EU) as a "foe" with regard to trade, Germany's foreign minister said on 16 July 2018. "We can no longer completely rely on the White House," Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. "To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe." Maas said Europe "must not let itself be divided", however "sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be".

The Der Speigel magazine published a profile of the ambassador in January 2019, they interviewed 30 American and German diplomats, cabinet members, lawmakers, high-ranking officials, lobbyists and think tank experts. The magazine claimed that "almost all of these sources paint an unflattering portrait of the ambassador, one remarkably similar to Donald Trump, the man who sent him to Berlin. A majority of them describe Grenell as a vain, narcissistic person who dishes out aggressively, but can barely handle criticism." Grenell is politically isolated in Berlin because of his association with the far-right Alternative for Germany Party, causing the leaders of the mainstream German parties, including the Chancellor herself, to avoid contact with him.

The majority of Germans see the United States as the main threat to global peace and security, the results of a poll out on 13 Febr;uary 2019 showed. The survey, conducted on January 5-17, found that 56 percent of 1,249 respondents perceived their NATO ally as dangerous, up from 40 percent in 2018, according to the NTV news channel. North Korea was regarded as a threat by 45 percent of Germans, trailed by Turkey with 42 percent and Russia with 41 percent. The Centre for Strategy and Higher Leadership, which co-authored the report, noted that Russia was feared by 45 percent of Germans in the west and only 21 percent of those living in the east. "The 2019 security report points clearly to one main insecurity factor that citizens fear and it is called the US governed by Donald Trump," the Centre’s managing director, Klaus Schweinsberg, commented.

US ambassador Richard slammed Berlin over the Nord Stream 2 gas project with Russia and in its dealings with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. Grenell's condemnations of Germany's military budget sparked furore among the country's politicians and media, eliciting further public calls for the envoy to be expelled owing to his alleged gross interference in Berlin's internal affairs. "An ambassador is not supposed to act like the spokesman of an occupying power," said Wolfgang Kubicki, the deputy leader of the Free Democrat Party (FDP). "Any US diplomat who acts like a high commissioner of an occupying power must learn that our tolerance also knows its limits," said Kubicki, who is also one of five deputy speakers of Germany's Bundestag parliament. Kubicki called on German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to declare Ambassador Richard Grenell 'persona non-grata,' which made headlines across Germany, Europe and the US.

Martin Schulz, the former head of the Social Democratic Party, compared Ambassador Grenell's behavior to that of "a right-wing extremist colonial officer". Soon Carsten Schneider of the Social Democrats party followed up, in comments to the German news agency DPA, Schneider said, "Mr Grenell is a complete diplomatic failure."

Can Germany have and pursue its own interests? The answer from Washington seemed clear: only with the blessing of the US government. The US threatened to impose sanctions on European companies involved in completing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. This pipeline, which by mid-2020 was 96% finished, is designed to transport natural gas along the bottom of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, bypassing all other countries, and from there on to other EU states. Germany depends on exports and its industry needs energy security. That is why German businesses and the government are backing the construction of the pipeline. But Berlin was also trying to take into consideration the reservations certain countries — in particular, Poland and Ukraine — expressed about the project.

The White House couldn't care less about all this, however. President Trump is determined to stop this pipeline no matter what it takes. One of the people egging him on is Richard Grenell, the former US ambassador to Berlin. This rather undiplomatic diplomat has now at last made a significant contribution to bilateral relations: He resigned on 01 June 2020 and left Germany.

Ted Cruz, the ultra-right Republican senator from Texas, is also an outspoken opponent of the pipeline. This is a man who is called the "devil incarnate" by some of his fellow party members. Others say that if Cruz were lying seriously injured in Congress, nobody would call 911. Cruz had for years been sponsored by the American fracking industry. That industry, in turn, would like to sell its gas in Europe. The problem is that the American gas, which is produced at great operating expense, is more expensive than the Russian gas.

Every dispute among Western nations strengthens Beijing's hand against Washington. With behavior like this, the Americans can hardly count on EU support in the trade dispute with China — quite the contrary.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:06:07 ZULU