U.S.-German Relations: Germany is “Dominant but Not Dominating”

U.S.-German relations remain essential to addressing global issues.

Our long history promoting educational exchange and professional training programs between the two nations, such as the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange and the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program, is why Cultural Vistas is particularly invested in the promotion of transatlantic partnerships.

Such programs have left an indelible impact on countless individuals, myself included, and institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, and are important means to maintaining a strong alliance for generations to come.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Berlin to attend a conference organized by the American Council on Germany and the Atlantik-Brücke entitled “Security and Prosperity in a New Era of the Transatlantic Relationship.” The conference brought together more than 500 decision-makers and opinion leaders to reflect on history, consider the present, and look to the future of the transatlantic community.

Robert Zoellick, the U.S. lead negotiator on German unification and former World Bank President stated at a recent transatlantic conference, “Germany is dominant, but doesn’t want to be dominating.”
Robert Zoellick, the U.S. lead negotiator on German unification and former World Bank President stated at a recent transatlantic conference, “Germany is dominant, but doesn’t want to be dominating.”

The assembled speakers included past and current U.S. Ambassadors to Germany, members of the German government and Bundestag, transatlantic experts, and a distinguished panel of diplomats who negotiated the Two-Plus-Four Treaty leading to German reunification 25 years ago. They shared valuable insights and perspectives on the current and past challenges facing the transatlantic partnership.

Here are some of my key takeaways from the meeting:

1) TTIP is as important as NATO

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is perhaps as important to the transatlantic partnership as the creation of NATO and the “Two-Plus-Four Treaty” that led to a reunified Germany in 1990. Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Robert Kimmit, the current U.S. Ambassador John Emerson, and others argued that TTIP is an opportunity to create a strategic and economic foundation for the 21st century that not only can help strengthen shared values in the transatlantic relationship but potentially also set the framework for the global economy.

Germany’s Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in his remarks stressed the importance of the transatlantic partnership in providing global stability by creating strong economic markets and collaboration that allow the United States and Europe to meet other global responsibilities such as migration, security concerns, and environmental sustainability.

2) U.S.-German transatlantic partnership still needs strengthening

The transatlantic partnership must be strengthened in order to remain in a position to shape global structures and policies based on the values of freedom, equality, and the rule of law rather than through the control of physical space that some countries such as Russia and groups in the Middle East have been pursuing.

The global institutions of the post-WWII era, established mainly by nations in the transatlantic community, may need some adjustments to be more inclusive in a multi-polar world, but they have also served as the foundation for one of the most peaceful and prosperous periods in history.

3) In 25 years, Germany went from divided to the most influential in Europe

Germany, 70 years after the end of WWII and 25 years after reunification, has become in the words of Ambassador Emerson “an indispensable partner to the United States” and the most important and influential country in Europe. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed the critical role the United States played in supporting the recovery of West Germany after WWII. The Marshall Plan, membership in NATO, and the efforts of the United States from 1989-1990 to provide Germans with “the gift of German reunification” in the span of just 10 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall were essential.

For many Europeans and Americans, the idea of a reunited Germany in the heart of the continent was not necessarily welcomed. However with the window of opportunity provided by Gorbachev’s glasnost, vision, trust, and reconciliation on the part of the United States, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, and the will of the German people in both East and West, what seemed impossible for decades became a reality and effectively ushered in the end of the Cold War.

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Leaving the conference, I felt a renewed sense for the importance of the U.S.-German transatlantic relationship and Germany in world affairs. As Robert Zoellick, the U.S. lead negotiator on German unification and former World Bank President stated at the conference, “Germany is dominant, but doesn’t want to be dominating.”

As Germany celebrates its 25th anniversary of reunification this October, we should all celebrate Germany’s evolution over the past 70 years to one of the United States’ most valued partners, a leader in the European Union, and a critical actor in world affairs on a wide range of issues.

Robert Fenstermacher

A true believer in the merits of cultural exchange, Rob's interest in study and work abroad programs dates back to his very own experience as a high school exchange student in West Berlin in 1987.
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