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Kerry and Merkel in Berlin Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Getty Images/Afp/Brendan Smialowski

US-German relations

Interview: Nicole Goebel
January 31, 2014

As John Kerry visits Germany, bilateral relations are in a "real crisis" due to the NSA scandal, Sudha David-Wilp from the German Marshall Fund tells DW. But Europe needs to do its bit to boost data security, she says.


Sudha David-Wilp is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund's Berlin office. She oversees its Congress-Bundestag forum, a joint program with the Robert Bosch foundation. Her focus is on German-US relations.

DW: Talks between John Kerry and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel will focus on the transatlantic partnership, Merkel has said. How are relations between the two countries, given the NSA scandal?

Sudha David-Wilp: Revelations about Snowden have definitely damaged German-American relations. This is a real crisis because trust has to be restored, and President (Barack) Obama realizes this, that's why he also invited Chancellor Merkel to the States.

I think it's telling that Merkel, in her state of the nation speech, so soon after Obama's State of the Union address, pointedly said that she is very upset about the spying scandal.

Merkel has said that the US and Germany are "far apart" on the"ethical" issue of freedom versus security. Obama, meanwhile, has said that some countries were "feigning surprise" at some of Snowden's revelations. What is Obama's focus when it comes to data security and intelligence?

His job is to protect the United States and to defend the interests of the US. There are concerns of civil liberties being damaged in this pursuit of security and he acknowledged that.

But he also realized that the Germans and others are in a catch-22, as they also rely heavily on US intelligence to protect their people. So, the US is concerned, but also realizes that Europe needs the US in this ever-changing world.

Obama has had a commission come up and draw recommendations, and he is waiting for Europe to come up with its own suggestions on data security and privacy.

Sudha David-Wilp Copyright: German Marshall Fund
Sudha David-WilpImage: German Marshall Fund

So, the US is saying: 'We're ready, what have you got?'

Yes exactly. And they know it's going to take a while in Europe - there are the European parliamentary elections, the Commission is going to change - but, it's Europe's turn. Let's face it - Germany has been the country that's been the most vocal about it, they need to now come up with an answer.

What about Germany's push for a no-spy agreement? The US is not playing ball there.

The no-spy agreement is a relic of the past. The US recognizes that Germany is a special partner, it's one of its most important allies, but this is not something they want to recreate for today's world.

The world has changed. They want to come up with a new agreement, and I think they need to do that, because technology has surpassed what legislation could cover in the past, in terms of protecting civil liberties.

This is an opportunity for lawmakers to be progressive and think about what the world is like and what it is going to be like in a couple of decades and come up with new standards.

Let's talk about US foreign policy in Europe more generally - does the US still care about Europe, given that there are other regions that appear to be of greater importance to the US?

Obama cares about Europe and there is definite recognition, both on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch, that Germany is a powerhouse in Europe, is in a leadership role in Europe.

People knew that Secretary Kerry was planning to come to the Munich Security Conference, but I think he is making a point by coming to Berlin. He doesn't necessarily need to come to Berlin, he could meet Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Munich. I think it shows deference that Kerry is taking the time to come to Berlin.

What specifically is Europe's role in or significance for US foreign policy?

People are looking for a way to realign the West, to set standards, to uphold values in a globalized world, in a changing world. And the US recognizes that Europe needs to be a part of this standard setting and Europe knows that that's the case as well. Otherwise, other powers will take the chance to set the modus operandi in global politics.

Both Merkel and Steinmeier are now pushing the foreign policy agenda, and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has said she wants to boost the Bundeswehr's involvement in military missions. How is this being received in Washington and where would the US like to see more German involvement?

You name it - there are so many to choose from, but I think, right now, Obama is definitely looking to see a success story in negotiations with Iran, and Germany can definitely play a strong role, perhaps also with its back channels and relations with Russia on Syria.

I'm not saying Germany has to put boots on the ground to make the US happy, but when it comes to Afghanistan for example, it's going through a transition period, and Germany and the US are going to have to work in tandem to see that there will still be stability there after the transition at the end of this year.

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