Diverging views on global matters between the West and Russia in a new poll don’t signal the advent of a new Cold War, German Marshall Fund president Karen Donfried tells DW. But there is still cause for concern.
Karen Donfried has been president of the German Marshall Fund since April 2014. Before that she served as special assistant to US President Barack Obama and as a senior director for European Affairs on the National Security Council. In this capacity, Donfried was President Obama's principal adviser on Europe.
DW: A key finding of your new opinion poll indicates that Germans want their country to play a more independent role from the US and that there is also a general decline in German sentiment toward the US. Are you surprised how deeply the NSA scandal has apparently affected Germans' attitude regarding the US?
Karen Donfried: I think this survey is confirming a trend that we have seen over the past year of the German public being more skeptical about US policy. I think we were anticipating that result, but it certainly is very stark in the survey how much opinion of the US has fallen over the past year.
Many in Germany feel that the US administration has not adequately reacted and registered how damaging the NSA scandal is for transatlantic ties. Should the results of this study be ringing alarm bells in Washington?
I think this is one of those cases where the view is different on both sides of the Atlantic. So, if you were sitting in the US administration the view was that in fact US policymakers took this very seriously. Traditionally in the US, when issues come up relating to the intelligence services, no comment is made.
I think President Obama understood from the very beginning that he needed to engage on this issue. And you saw it already when he was in Berlin on June 19 of last year. A question came up at the press conference that he had with Chancellor Merkel and the president spoke at length about the issue. That was followed by other public comments as well. You also had a couple of reviews of policy that were under way in the US. And the findings of those reviews resulted in the speech that the president gave in January of this year announcing changes to the programs. And many of these changes are still being put into place. And, of course, John Podesta, a very senior adviser to President Obama, participated in the German-US cyber dialogue in Berlin this summer.
So the feeling on this side of the Atlantic was that the administration had taken very seriously these charges. But, as you point out, the perception in Germany is a very different one. So clearly this remains an issue in the German-American relationship, but I do think that there is earnestness on both sides of wanting to resolve this and move on at a time when there are so many global challenges that we are facing together.
The study also highlights widely diverging views between the West and Russia on the Ukraine conflict and Russia's role in the world. Is this the blueprint for a new Cold War?
I do not think this is a blueprint for a new Cold War, because I think the world is a different place than it was during the Cold War and there are so many ways in which Russians and Europeans and Americans are engaging that they didn't have in the past. If you look at business connections, tourism and exchanges there are a lot of ways that our societies are interconnected, so I don't think we are going back to the Cold War.
That said, I think there is no question that the crisis in Ukraine is presenting us with a challenge to the post-Cold War order that we have not seen since the end of the Cold War. It was really quite remarkable to think that you could have war in Europe and I am not sure we are passed that. Certainly, in February, when we saw 40,000 Russian troops deploy with field hospitals on the border of Ukraine there was a very real concern. At the moment we have a ceasefire – even it is a bit shaky – so hopefully we are moving past that point of outright war. But the fact that you have Russian troops on Ukrainian territory and other elements is deeply concerning. So I do think it is a fundamental challenge to the post-Cold War order that we, together with Germany and other European allies, have been very committed to.
But on the issue of Russia and Ukraine Germany seems to stand out again. According to your poll, Germans, in contrast with most other countries, were evenly divided on the questions of tougher sanctions - and Germany was also the only country where the disapproval rate of Russian global leadership dropped. Are you worried about the potential emergence of a new German 'Sonderweg?'
What you are pointing out is very important – the differences across countries when you look at Russia. And there is no question that there are deep German economic, business and cultural ties to Russia that we are seeing in this survey. And we have also seen them in terms of public response to the crisis in Ukraine.
That said, Chancellor Merkel has taken a very tough stance on this and the fact that we have seen the EU agree on several level of sanctions against Russia is very much indicative of German leadership in the EU on this issue. So it is interesting to think where the German policymaking community is and where public opinion is. I would also point out that this survey was taken in June before the downing of that Malaysia airliner and I would be curious if public attitudes have shifted in these intervening months.