By DAVID B. MORRIS
On Sept. 10, the European Division hosted an all-day conference on German-American relations one year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The conference was co-hosted by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies of Johns Hopkins University and the Center for German and European Studies of the University of California, Berkeley.
Four panels examined how the attacks of September 11 affected the German-American relationship in each of four different areas: defense and foreign policy, domestic security, economic relations and mutual perceptions. In an effort to examine the issues from the perspectives of both countries, each panel consisted of a German and an American expert. In addition to the panelists, speakers included James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress; Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), vice chairman of the Congressional Study Group on Germany; Wolfgang Ischinger, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States; and Robert Hunter, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
The timing of the conference was auspicious, as it took place on the eve of the first anniversary of the attacks and with 12 days remaining in a hotly contested German federal election campaign in which transatlantic differences over major foreign policy questions had begun to overshadow the German-American relationship to a degree not seen in decades. As a result, issues such as the use of military force against Iraq, the appropriateness of multilateral versus unilateral responses to the terrorist threat, and different attitudes between the two countries on basic issues of war and peace dominated the conference and made for lively discussion.
The duality between the historically close German-American relationship and the recent round of escalating tensions was a recurrent theme. While highlighting the Library's vast German collections as a monument to the importance of the historical links between the two countries, Billington remarked that "the success and longevity of any relationship, between states as between people, depends on how successfully it meets the challenges that inevitably test it over time."
In his keynote speech, Gutknecht praised the strong ties between both countries since the end of World War II and the outpouring of support for the United States among the German people and their leaders following the terrorist attacks. He was sharply critical, however, of the German government's refusal to support military intervention in Iraq, even under a U.N. mandate, and of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's use of this issue to gain support in the federal election campaign. Remarking on what he saw as a "low priority given to fighting terrorism in Germany" and a "refusal to confront the problem of Iraq," the congressman asked whether Germany will "lead, follow or step aside" in the effort to combat terrorism and deal with other important international issues.
In his luncheon address, Ambassador Ischinger offered a German perspective on these questions. He stressed the "unlimited solidarity" with the United States that Schröder proclaimed soon after the attacks and the high degree of cooperation between German and American law enforcement. However, he also noted that there was strong opposition among the German public and its political leadership to a war in Iraq and stated that there was little chance of obtaining, absent unambiguous proof of a link between Iraq and a real terrorist act, the parliamentary mandate necessary to go to war.
The individual panels provided the opportunity for German and American experts to grapple with specific aspects of these broad issues. In the panels devoted to defense and foreign policy, the participants argued that both countries have contributed, either by action or inaction, to the escalation of tensions in the relationship.
Joachim Krause, director of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, claimed that "the current U.S.-German debate about Iraq is a typical example of a regional crisis turning into a transatlantic crisis because of wrongdoings and lack of professionalism on both sides." He criticized the United States' brusque abandonment of international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court as detrimental to the kind of international cooperation and goodwill the United States now seeks from others in the war against terrorism. But he also reproached the German government for taking up the Iraq issue in a populist way in order to win the upcoming elections and for ignoring the roots of the problem and the genuine inadequacies of past diplomatic efforts to solve it.
Similarly, Stephen Szabo, professor of European Studies at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, spoke of the strengths and weaknesses both sides bring to the German-American relationship. Pointing to the rhetoric of the German election, the large and persistent disparity in military expenditure between the two countries, and the devolution of NATO into an ad hoc "tool kit" for regional crises, he raised the question of whether Germany and America were growing more distant from each other as a result of "diverging strategic cultures."
The panel discussions on domestic security and economic relations indicated that the German-American relationship is less problematic in these areas. Rainer Haberland of Germany's Bundeskriminalamt (roughly equivalent to the FBI) and Philip Anderson, director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that domestic security has become far more complicated for both countries in the wake of September 11, but also that German-American cooperation in this area generally has been excellent.
Anderson deplored what he saw as the lack of coherence in the U.S. assessment of the terrorist threat, arguing that "no one in government has yet conducted the kind of creative, exhaustive analysis that is necessary to determine which threats should be accorded the highest priority—and which should be accorded the least."
In the panel on economic relations, Klaus Friedrich, chief economist at Allianz Group/Dresdner Bank, and Steven Weber, of the political science department at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed that the attacks of September 11 have done little to change the relationship between Germany and the United States in this area. However, some aspects of economic relations have become more urgent following the attacks. Among these are the move from surplus to deficit in U.S. fiscal policy and Germany's shift toward a broader European, as opposed to transatlantic, agenda as European Union enlargement progresses.
The final panel on mutual perceptions provided an opportunity to review much of what had been discussed throughout the day, since so much of what has dominated German-American relations and the turbulence they have undergone since September 11 is related to each country's assessment and interpretation of the other's actions.
Peter Rudolf of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin and Ronald Steel of the international relations department at the University of Southern California both argued that the dissonance and room for misunderstanding between the two countries have increased dramatically. Rudolf claimed that U.S. actions and rhetoric since the attacks have caused bewilderment among Germans by making America appear too eager to emphasize notions of "war" and the "evil axis" (which have powerful connotations for Germans) without giving due consideration to multilateral and diplomatic solutions.
Steel expressed understanding for these perceptions, but placed them within the context of a long cultural tradition of European and German critical thought toward America that, in its most recent form after September 11, stems from a basic feeling of powerlessness and lack of influence vis-à-vis the world's last remaining superpower. This panel revealed a thread that ran through the entire conference: if Germany and America are to avoid the tensions that inevitably result between partners of radically disparate power, then Europe must make greater strides in forging a common foreign policy identity sufficient to command America's attention.
In his concluding remarks, former Ambassador Hunter gave an overview of the effects of September 11 on America and on transatlantic relations while incorporating many of the themes explored during the conference. He emphasized that for all the personal tragedy of the events of September 11, its overall effects on America and its foreign relations should not be overestimated. German-American relations may have been affected at the margins, he said, but the elements of mutual interest and cooperation that have formed the foundation of this relationship for more than 50 years have not changed.
David B. Morris is a German area specialist in the European Division.