There's plenty for Chancellor Merkel and President Obama to discuss on her visit to Washington, says political scientist Christian Hacke. Just don't expect them to find as much common ground as they used to.
DW: Mr. Hacke, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is visiting Washington for the first time since being re-elected. This is also Merkel's first meeting with US President Barack Obama since it emerged that America's signals intelligence agency, the NSA, eavesdropped on the Chancellor's cell phone. Has the Atlantic divide widened since then?
Christian Hacke: It certainly hasn't lessened. The Americans' actions were a huge breach of trust, and that has had ongoing effects - on a personal level as well as in terms of mutual relations.
Will Angela Merkel even mention the unpleasant subjects, such as the NSA affair, on this trip?
Yes, I think she will. But over the past few months, in the run-up to this visit, we've seen that the United States, and especially President Obama, have not allowed themselves to be particularly impressed by Germany's rebukes.
And there's a reason for that. From a technological standpoint, the Americans have attained an exceptional position in the military field, namely a monopoly in terms of cyber warfare, drones, and the ability to spy on others. To begin with, the US will not surrender these three components, and will try to maintain its unique position. The paradox of this, however, is that despite overwhelming technological capabilities, both the US' foreign policy and its security policy have been unsuccessful almost across the board.
So Germany shouldn't assume the US is going to back down now, either?
No. We have to take a level-headed look and acknowledge that our interests have moved apart. This difference in interests was always latently present. But it was never serious. Our shared values were what mattered. There was always a closeness and readiness to listen to the other and take on the other's positions. What mattered, then, was that there was a constructive rivalry in the transatlantic relationship.
And that's been lost?
It's been lost, because the problems also show that we have substantially different views. Previously, America was overwhelmingly powerful, and Germans had less say in global politics and in Europe. Today, the US is having to come to terms with a considerable loss of power. It has also become unwise in many respects. In his second term, Barack Obama is increasingly displaying aspects of an arrogance of power in a way we didn't see before.
Washington is taking a hard line against Moscow in the Ukraine crisis. Is that also in the German interest?
Germany should not allow itself to be used by either the US or by Russia. The Chancellor and the Foreign Minister are working together on this. They are both very cautious and have considerable reservations about the Americans' relatively hard position - which is to say, sanctions. Because when the Americans send up NATO reconnaissance planes somewhere, it's all just to demonstrate to the public, "We're doing something." But in reality, the West has lost both the will and the capability to show Putin: We are stronger militarily, and politically more decisive.
Isn't this all the more reason to maintain a common approach to this crisis?
Germany has central, important interests where Russia is concerned. These are stronger and, in the long term, more important for us than the question of how the Ukraine crisis will be resolved. This is unpopular, but in the long term it is more important than getting involved in a confrontation in the Ukraine and thereby possibly doing the Americans a favor. They're not actually remotely interested in this, either. I'm quite sure that the chancellor will say very clearly in Washington that we have to contain the crisis there. She will do everything in her power to ensure that the crisis doesn't escalate further.
What will be the outcome of Merkel's trip? Mission accomplished - trust re-established?
No, I don't think so. We won't see any breakthrough. We'll of course hear her rhetorically reinforce common values and transatlantic interests. Perhaps they'll try to emphasize some small point or another, but in the key questions it's clear that we are moving into a time in which - for whatever reasons - Europe, and Germany too, will scale down transatlantic ties. As an old transatlanticist, I see that with a tear in my eye.
Christian Hacke is an emeritus professor at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at Bonn University. His studies focused on, among other things, US foreign policy and transatlantic relations.