16 August 2018

Why Germany Should Get the Bomb

by Christian Hacke

The U.S. president’s semi-authoritarian attitude and his willingness to make friends with the enemies of democracy has exacerbated doubts about whether the West is at risk of breaking up. President Donald Trump treats once valued allies with scorn and castigates them in public. Under the battle cry “America first,” allies have suddenly become a burden. President Trump is trampling on the core Western values and interests and in so doing, he is gambling away the role of the United States as the leading power of the West. Instead he is chumming up with dictators and squandering America’s reputation as a responsible global power. He is giving up crucial influence, which could lead to alarming shifts of power to the detriment of the free world.

A look in the history books, such as the period between the two world wars, shows that isolationism and protectionism are typical U.S. characteristics. In this respect, the liberal internationalism pursued by the United States during the Cold War can be the seen as an aberration. Accordingly, Trump is very much in tune with popular traditions. So, in a sense what he is doing is nothing new, but he has revolutionized U.S. foreign policy like no other president since the Second World War: friends become enemies while the red carpet is being rolled out to the enemies of democracy.

Trump represents an America that has always been there, but that we Europeans and especially we Germans have never known and whose very existence we have deliberately suppressed: This America prefers to keep the world at arm’s length and feels most comfortable without the burden of international responsibility.

This rapid change in U.S. foreign policy is hitting allies, especially Germany, hard. For more than sixty years, the Federal Republic was a favored European ally, but today it holds the dubious honor of being Trump’s personal enemy number one. Such an about-face is unprecedented in the modern history of America. Germany policy explains why many Germans still seem to be in shock. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s incessant degradations and constant haranguing of Germany have led to a correspondingly angry backlash.

The chancellor handles Trump’s verbal abuse calmly; however, Germany’s moralizing arrogance is no substitute for a viable political strategy. In this case Germany is clearly sitting at the shorter end of the lever, since it needs the United States more than vice versa. The U.S. president is right when he complains about decades of lackluster German defense spending. Thus, is it really so surprising that Washington now regards Berlin as an ungrateful freeloader, who refuses to show military solidarity when it gets dangerous?

Germany is not just being criticized for its inadequate defense contribution within the NATO framework, but also because of the dire state of the German Bundeswehr. Nothing flies, nothing floats, and nothing runs in the German military. The German armed forces appear incapable of defending the country (much less anyone else) and reforms remain half-hearted. Yet, at the same time, Germany’s political elites do not just content themselves with working toward non-proliferation, but emphatically support the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany and the Global Zero campaign.

This mirrors the public’s uninterest in defense policy and reflects a provincial sentiment that regards peace as the natural state of world politics. The occurrence of international crises is met by momentary alarmism, but soon enough public sentiment soon returns to indifference. Thus, Berlin’s strategy can best be described as “close your eyes and hope for the best.”

Yet, basing Germany’s security policy on hope alone could prove fatal—history offers numerous examples! But no, in Germany—the island of the blessed—when it comes to security one wins votes by engaging in naïve idealism. Not just to satisfy the pacifist and increasingly anti-American mood of the general population, but to stoke it even further, now that gets you the votes! Never mind that this puts Germany’s security at risk and fosters anti-Americanism.

Donald Trump’s narcissistic behavior and abrasive style plays right into the hands of this development. However, in their outrage they overlook that in the United States, Trump’s politics have been better received than many Germans would care to admit.

His populist diplomacy based on the pattern of pursuing “friendship with powerful authoritarian leaders and distancing America from its useless allies” is more popular in the United States than many Europeans suspect. The American people are politically exhausted after seventeen years of unsuccessful anti-terror war. However, this perspective is lost in the one-sided Trump bashing taking place in Germany. Particularly concerning is that the dramatic security policy implications this has for Germany are being completely disregarded.

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