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World

US stands to profit from plucky Germany

Germany should step up its involvement in foreign policy issues, according to President Gauck. DW spoke with Michael Werz from the Center for American Progress about what this means for Europe and the US.

DW: German foreign policy is displaying a new-found self-confidence and determination. President Joachim Gauck's speech was the culmination of this development. Is this an old American dream come true?

Werz: Washington is following the discussions in Germany with great interest. This is mainly because Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is a good friend. He played a central role in the first rounds of the Iran negotiations, and we know that he's not afraid of making difficult foreign policy decisions. Hence the foreign minister's address in Munich - where he called for Germany to assume more global responsibility - attracted even more attention than the President's speech.

DW: What exactly do the Americans expect, what does the Obama Administration expect, following these quite promising announcements?

There aren't any specific demands or requests of the German government. Washington knows that you don't get anywhere by constantly lecturing the Europeans that they aren't spending enough money on defence and aren't active enough on an international scale. An entirely different discussion has developed here focusing on longer-term strategic questions, such as development-policy challenges or issues of climate security. And in these areas, Germany is extremely well-positioned. So it's clear that as well as the current everyday political issues like the Palestinian question, Iran, Afghanistan and the dispute with Russia, these strategic debates will run their course.

How do you personally see German's options?

Germany clearly plays a central role - not only in major European issues such as the integration of Eastern Europe and the stabilization of the southern countries, but the Federal Republic has also become an important partner for the US in dealing with foreign policy questions. This bond even goes beyond the relationship that the US has traditionally shared with the United Kingdom and France.

A test case for the now self-assertive German foreign policy is Ukraine. Steinmeier has raised the possibility of sanctions. How is this being seen in Washington?

This has been welcomed unanimously. Steinmeier's position is seen as an expression of strong transantlantic cooperation, because what happens in Ukraine will determine the relationship between the western alliance and Russia in the long term.

Michael Werz

Michael Werz

Given how the NSA scandal has played out in the US, could the new German self-confidence also have something to do with a profound disappointment with the American partners?

These issues belong together, but here they aren't seen as cause and effect. It would be too simplistic to say that the Germans are drawing up their own foreign policy because they're disappointed by American spying activities.

The willingness of the Germans to look after their own interests could indeed go against the interests of the United States. Is that how it's seen here in the US?

Such concerns don't exist, especially since negotiations about a transantlantic free trade agreement point in a completely different direction. Here in the US, it's clear that with global challenges such as climate change, regional conflicts, ethnic clashes or migration, it's no longer possible to speak of national interests in the traditional sense. Instead it comes down to global and regional stability.

There's not just a new (old) foreign minister. With Ursula von der Leyen, there's a new defence minister as well. Do you anticipate that the US will more quickly and readily call for Germany's military engagement?

No. The Obama Administration is perfectly clear about what the limits of German's military capacity are and knows of the burdens their most important European ally has to carry sometimes. Moreover, you don't need to explain to European experts over here that a high level of consensus in the parliament in Berlin is necessary to justify any type of military action. It's not so much a numbers game about the quantity of capable soldiers, as an important normative question: can you really stick to the Cold War dictum that using military power should only ever be a last resort? There are conflicts, for example, in Macedonia, Kosovo, Rwanda and now also Syria, where an earlier intervention could have prevented an escalation.

At the beginning of the interview you addressed broader policy discussions, ranging from climate change to the Mediterranean region. Which strategic areas should the Germans and Americans work together on in the coming months?

The first point is a comprehensive European security strategy for the Mediterranean region. This means the Europeans need to set in motion the painstaking process of making it clear to their citizens that the border to Africa is the Sahara, not the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean region also needs to be recognized as a cohesive political and economic unit. That would also spark a great deal of interest here in the US.

The second point is the question of climate change and climate security, as well as the consequent impacts on foreign and security policy. In US domestic politics we're lagging behind in this area, and Secretary of State John Kerry has put it high on the government's agenda. Germany, in this case, is the best partner you could hope for, because the discussions within the grand coalition have progressed further than in Washington.

Thirdly, it's important to devise a European position outlining what a collaboration of the old western alliance in a new arena, namely the Pacific Ocean, would look like. That's where significant US foreign policy, economic and military resources are expected to be shifted over the next 10-15 years.

Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

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