To prevail in Asia, the US needs Germany — and Europe

To prevail in Asia, the US needs Germany — and Europe
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As tensions in the Pacific rise due to Kim Jong Un’s truculence and simmering U.S.-China competition, peace and prosperity in the Euro-Atlantic arena remain a vital interest to the United States. That’s particularly true of U.S. relations with Germany.

In the post-World War II world, the U.S. kept Europe at peace and helped it to achieve increasing economic prosperity through a massive military presence. Indeed, the price of the Marshall Plan and NATO deployment was high, but the benefits were higher: both sides of the Atlantic “lake” boast a combined GDP of $37 trillion in 2016. Together, the European Union and the U.S. produce about a third of world GDP.

The post-World War II Pax Americana produced not just prosperity, but also the unprecedented success of western democracy, expanding free and thriving societies. However, these cannot not be taken for granted. Right-wing populism is on the rise in Germany, represented by the success of Alternative fur Deutschland, a coalition of anti-immigrant libertarian and ultra-nationalist politicians. At the same time, alt right forces are gaining support in this country. In addition, Antifa and other extreme left groups are challenging both our security and freedom of speech through murdering cops and through political correctness run amok, from the campus to the city square and street.

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Democracy, the rule of law, and human rights are not only a Western achievement, but also a model followed elsewhere in the world, from Kenya to (South) Korea, and from Brazil to India. Yet, only if the West is strong and united will peace and prosperity prevail.

 

Challenges to the West include geopolitical pressures from Russia and China, who are bringing their weight to bear in a two-fold manner: directly in the South China Sea in the east, Ukraine in Europe and Syria in the Middle East; and indirectly through de-facto support of North Korea and Iran.

Domestic challenges on both sides of the Atlantic are of a different nature, reflecting a deep moral and spiritual crisis of a post-Christian, multi-racial West in search of new systems of values and beliefs — and lacking a clear and present danger to counter.

Finally, radical Islam of both Sunni variety (al Qaeda/ISIS and beyond), and the Shia Iranian brand (including Hezbollah et al.), continue to threaten the West, with potentially dire implications especially if and when they acquire weapons of mass destruction – something the Iranians are eager to do.

These combined challenges to the U.S. and the E.U. demand a revitalization of a trans-Atlantic alliance, with Germany at its heart. While the U.K. remains our English-speaking cousin, it will be sorting out Brexit complications for years, and is under threat from its radical left-wing, anti-American Labor Party led by Jeremy Corbin.

Thus, Merkel’s re-election is an opportunity to put past sniping and disagreements behind. The renewed relationship should address four key areas:

First, as America is focused on the Pacific, Germany should play a bigger role in securing Europe. This should be commensurate with Berlin’s economic might, and will require a massive rebuilding of the Bundeswehr. Today, Germany barely has 200 modern tanks in working order, and less than 50 combat planes — a shame!

Germany will need to play a leading role not just within NATO, but also along its periphery: in the Balkans, in Ukraine, and in the Caucasus — to keep Russian ambitions in check, but without further spoiling economic relations with Moscow. For example, Germany can play a prominent role in the UN monitoring missing in Ukraine’s Donbass, currently under debate.

Second, U.S. and Germany need to work together to anchor the future of German security in NATO, to lower costs to the U.S. of alliance support, and to avoid any future Rapallo scenarios (this was a pact between the Soviet Russia and the Weimar Republic in the 1923, when the losers of World War I expanded military cooperation).

Third, the American complaints about German trade surplus are justified, but concerns may be alleviated, now that the Euro has strengthened considerably. Still, Germany could rectify the imbalance by buying more American capital goods, from civilian aircraft to weapons, and by investing in the crumbling American infrastructure.

Finally, we need to address our disagreements about environmental policy. With global climate change a roaring reality in the Caribbean, Florida, and Texas, the writing is on the proverbial wall. American and German engineers could work together on problems of energy intermittency from solar and wind, and smart grid, making renewables economically affordable.

As storm clouds gather over the Pacific, and Russia rattles its saber, U.S.-German relations are more vital than ever. It would be an inexcusable error to miss the opportunity to rebuild them after the Merkel election victory.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D, is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a member of the U.S. Committee on Germany and the Council on Foreign Relations. He directs the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, and is the principal of International Market Analysis Ltd.