Executive Summary: What Berlin Must Do to Repair the U.S.-German Alliance

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Executive Summary: What Berlin Must Do to Repair the U.S.-German Alliance

October 30, 2002 4 min read Download Report

Authors: Helle Dale and Nile Gardiner

The reelection of Gerhard Schröder as Chancellor of Germany in September symbolized the end of an era in close post-war relations between Washington and Berlin. The Chancellor held on to power after his Social Democratic Party (SPD) ran a fiercely anti-American election campaign based on German opposition to U.S. policy with regard to Iraq and other issues. The result has been immense harm to the U.S.-German alliance, which had been carefully nurtured over the past half century. In the words of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the SPD's election strategy has had the effect of "poisoning" relations between Germany and the United States.

One of the new German administration's first priorities must be to repair the damage done to the U.S.-German alliance, once held up as a model of transatlantic friendship. President George Bush should make it clear that the onus is now on the leaders of Germany to demonstrate that they are serious about healing the rift they caused. Berlin will need to offer more than empty platitudes to demonstrate that it is serious about rebuilding relations with the United States. What is needed is a concerted effort on the part of Germany's government to show that it wishes to be taken seriously as a leading partner in the fight against global terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism. Berlin must show that the Chancellor's talk of "unlimited solidarity" with the United States is more than just window dressing.

Specifically, the Bush Administration should:

  • Continue to call on Germany to join the international coalition to confront Saddam Hussein. Though the Allies do not expect German military participation in operations against Iraq, it is still not too late for Berlin to provide diplomatic backing for an international coalition to force Baghdad to abide by the numerous U.N. resolutions passed since 1991 and to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Germany could also have an important role to play in the rebuilding of a post-war Iraq.
  • Request that Berlin grant the Allies complete access to German airspace and allow the United States and Britain full use of their bases there for operations against Iraq. Leading left-wing members of Germany's ruling SPD-Green coalition have called on the government to prevent the United States from using its own airbases in Germany to launch strikes against Iraq. The Bush Administration should make it clear that such a policy in the event of war would seriously compromise future U.S.-German military cooperation and could strengthen the calls by prominent U.S. legislators to scale back America's commitments to European defense.
  • Ask Germany to cooperate fully with the United States in the war against terrorism. Germany needs to do more with regard to the extradition of terrorist suspects to the United States and the release of crucial evidence that could be used to help convict terrorists. Berlin's refusal to hand over evidence against September 11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui to U.S. investigators is seriously hampering the progress of U.S. efforts to destroy the al-Qaeda network.
  • Call on Germany to increase defense spending. German defense spending has fallen to extremely low levels in recent years. At just 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Germany's expenditure is the lowest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), alongside that of Luxembourg. Germany's bloated conscript army is also in dire need of further reform if it is to become an effective ally in the war on terrorism. Under current conditions, the Bundeswehr would be incapable of making an effective large-scale contribution to military operations against Iraq, even if it wanted to.
  • Urge Berlin to increase security at U.S. bases in Germany. Berlin must strengthen security for American servicemen and their families at U.S. bases in Germany in the face of increasing threats from al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations operating in Europe.

If the German government chooses to actively hinder U.S. policy towards Iraq on the international stage, Washington may conclude that Germany is not taking its treaty obligations seriously, which could impact U.S.-German cooperation on military technology, training of German forces in the United States, and the sharing of intelligence. The United States may also examine its position on Germany's candidacy for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Germany's political leadership faces a stark choice in the weeks ahead. Berlin can either remain in splendid isolation within Europe and on the international stage by opposing action against Baghdad, or it can join in what may be one of the biggest international coalitions ever assembled to remove a rogue dictatorship from power. If Berlin refuses to stand by its allies in confronting the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, it will be seen as increasingly irrelevant in the global fight against international terrorism.

--Dr. Nile Gardiner is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and Helle Dale is Deputy Director, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Helle C. Dale
Helle Dale

Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy

Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow