By Philipp Missfelder, the German government's Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation. Published on 7 February 2014 in 'Atlantic Times'.
Germany and the United States of America are bound by a deep historical friendship. Both countries share common experiences, values and interests. Without the United States as guarantor of freedom throughout the decades of the Cold War, without American support, German reunification could not have been achieved peacefully. Germany and the US are not just free, open and democratic societies but pursue common goals of freedom, democracy and individual human rights, free trade, prosperity and sustainable development.
But transatlantic ties have also at times been marked by controversy. The most prominent example is the German “no” to the Iraq War. Then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder refused a German contribution to the financial costs of the war on the grounds that “checkbook diplomacy” could not replace political decision-making.
More far-reaching is the current controversy surrounding NSA surveillance in Germany and elsewhere. It is not just the revelation that foreign intelligence agencies appear to have spied on millions of citizens and officials from local councilors all the way up to the chancellor. Germans are much more disappointed by the fact that the United States, of all countries, has been snooping on us.
It’s one thing to be disappointed by a business partner. But being let down by a friend is a different matter entirely. For Germany, the United States has always been a country to which we maintained ties that meant more than just partnership. America has always been the country that guarantees a free and liberal world order and that stakes a claim to operate on the moral high ground.
Restoring damaged trust
Real friendship must be able to cope with controversy. That’s why it is important for Germany to move forward and explore how the mutual basis of trust with the US can be renewed.
Washington has signaled that it sets some store by the transatlantic friendship. This was underlined by both President Obama in his State of the Union address in late January and by Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to the Munich Security Conference in early February.
So the year 2014 should be used to rejuvenate the debate over German-American friendship. There are options to restore and ultimately deepen the basis of trust: One important example is Germany’s interest in a no-spy agreement, and talks aimed at concluding such an accord should continue. To be successful here, both sides must jointly explore the balance between freedom and security.
Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are another important area. They should continue without interruption and be concluded on schedule. Free trade offers the United States but also Germany immense advantages. Both trading partners would profit from the abolition of tariffs and red tape, and the agreement would create the world’s biggest market. Above all, however, it would benefit our nations’ people by bringing them falling prices and faster availability of products.
In foreign policy, too, Germany and the US pursue common goals. As was apparent at the Munich Security Conference, there is no shortage of challenges with flashpoints everywhere from the South China Sea to the Middle East and Africa.
At the end of 2014, both countries will end their participation in the ISAF deployment to Afghanistan. At the same time, if the Afghan government invites us to do so, Germany and the US will continue to be there for the people of Afghanistan and to support the Afghan security forces.
The civil war in Syria also requires a political and diplomatic solution. It is the civilian population, above all, that is suffering under the continuing conflict. That is why the US and Germany, along with Russia have strongly promoted the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Restoring damaged trust
During his visit to the Bavarian capital for the Munich Security Conference, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the transatlantic relationship had developed over the years into the most productive partnership in the history of international affairs, the world’s strongest alliance.
America needs a strong Europe, and Europe needs a committed and engaged America, Kerry said. President Obama’s plans to visit Europe three times this year will deepen that commitment.
It is in Germany’s interests to work, step for step, toward the renewal of its friendship with the United States. We gladly accept the American offer to strengthen transatlantic ties and jointly strive toward a free world order. There are plenty of grounds for optimism that Germany and theUnited States will succeed in restoring damaged trust.