The Heritage Foundation

Issue Brief #4550 on Alliances

April 22, 2016

April 22, 2016 | Issue Brief on Alliances

Four Priorities for President Obama’s Last Visit to Germany

President Obama is visiting Germany on April 24 and April 25. He will help open the Hannover Messe, a famous industrial trade fair, alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday. On Monday, the leaders of France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States will meet to discuss the migrant crisis and terrorism. Germany is an important security partner of the United States and the largest economy in Europe. President Obama visited Germany as a presidential candidate in 2008, and has visited four times since. His April visit is likely to be the last Germany trip during his presidency. He should use the opportunity to advocate policies that enhance NATO, support the fight against Islamist terrorism, and lay the groundwork for a future trade deal that truly enhances economic freedom.

TTIP Must Be Grounded in Free Trade

The decision to attend an industrial trade fair was no accident; the visit will focus heavily on economic policy and the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While the TTIP is unlikely to be completed before the end of President Obama’s term, it is important that the President emphasize the need for any future deal to be based on principles of free trade,[1] rather than letting it become a vehicle for regulatory harmonization.

If the TTIP genuinely promotes free trade, it should be welcomed. However, initial proposals[2] indicate that the TTIP will pursue regulatory harmonization and seek to secure policy objectives via regulation, rather than by mutual recognition and increased economic freedom. A deal this bad would be worse than no deal at all. The President should not press for a TTIP that reduces competitiveness and economic freedom. Rather, he should focus on ensuring the fundamentals of an acceptable TTIP—one that would empower consumers, open markets, and be based on the mutual recognition of standards—are firmly in place.

Support for Ukraine Is Critical

The President should also use his trip to Germany to discuss the importance of continued assistance for Ukraine,[3] including sending defensive weapons, promoting economic and political reform, and extending sanctions against Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea and continued aggression in the Donbass.

Trade and investment ties between Germany and Russia run deep. Many of Germany’s leading corporations have established strong ties to Russia. Germany is highly dependent on Russian energy imports; in 2014, 38 percent of Germany’s natural gas imports came from Russia.[4] Many German business leaders and politicians have argued for a weak approach toward Putin’s regime. Chancellor Merkel will be very influential in deciding whether European Union sanctions against Russia are renewed this summer (the current expiration date is July 31, 2016). President Obama should argue for the importance of continuing to impose costs on Putin’s Russia for its destructive actions in Ukraine.

A Greater Role for Germany in NATO

In 2008, candidate Obama described NATO as “the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security.”[5] Today, after significant drawdowns of the U.S. presence in Europe, slashed defense spending, and failed U.S. policies toward Russia,[6] the need for a reinvigorated U.S. presence in Europe and a refocusing of NATO on collective defense is greater than ever. The President’s visit is an excellent time to reiterate the need for Germany to increase its defense spending and take on a more robust role in fulfilling its commitment to collective defense.

Germany spends less than 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense,[7] far below the NATO-required level of 2 percent of GDP. This has in part led to some embarrassing incidents for Germany, including soldiers using broomsticks on armored vehicles instead of machine guns during NATO exercises in February 2015.[8] The President should encourage Chancellor Merkel to prioritize defense spending, especially in light of recent Russian aggression. Furthermore, the German government should consistently make the political case to the German people as to why increased defense spending and a greater role in NATO are in their interest. As the largest economy in Europe and the second-most populous NATO member after the U.S., Germany should take on a larger role in bolstering collective defense. Possible examples could take the form of a permanent contribution of ground troops to the Baltic States or an increased contribution to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

Tackling Islamist Terror

Germany will continue to be a key partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism. President Obama should advocate policies that address the Islamist threat in Europe, including countering Islamist ideology.

Berlin’s open-door policy for unending streams of migrants has exacerbated an already overwhelming crisis. The myriad problems associated with the crisis include terrorists slipping into Europe disguised as refugees, as was the case for several of the terrorists responsible for November’s attacks in Paris. In February, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency Hans-Georg Maassen stated: “[W]e have repeatedly seen that terrorists...have slipped in, camouflaged or disguised as refugees. This is a fact that the security agencies are facing.”[9]

President Obama should also push for Germany to directly confront Islamist terrorism, devoting greater funding for intelligence and law enforcement agencies, strengthening intelligence sharing with the U.S., and enhancing support for the physical fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

Policies: Where German and U.S. Interests Align

In his final trip to Germany, President Obama should encourage Chancellor Merkel to pursue policies that advance economic freedom and security. President Obama should stress the need to:

  1. Ensure that the TTIP advances economic freedom. An acceptable TTIP is grounded in the principles of economic freedom; it is not a Trojan horse for regulatory harmonization and the creation of new onerous, supranational institutions. The President must ensure that the fundamentals of a genuine free trade deal are in place.
  2. Renew sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are unacceptable. The President should encourage Germany to lead the way this summer toward renewing sanctions against Russia.
  3. Make a stronger commitment to NATO. President Obama should strongly encourage Chancellor Merkel to make a political and economic commitment to increase German defense spending. Germany should also begin to take on a more robust role in collective defense. Possible actions include making a permanent ground force commitment to the Baltic States or a larger contribution to Baltic Air Policing.
  4. Tackle the Islamist threat head on. Germany and all of Europe continue to be in the crosshairs of Islamist terrorists. Germany must adopt policies to tackle the problem head on, including greater funding for intelligence and law enforcement and increasing military support for the fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

Conclusion

In seven years in office, the Obama Administration has done little to advance the transatlantic alliance, reducing America’s military footprint in Europe and failing to strengthen ties with key European capitals. The President should use his remaining time in office to promote policies that will improve security and place the transatlantic relationship on firmer footing for the next U.S. Administration. The President’s trip to Germany provides an excellent opportunity.

—Daniel Kochis is a Research Associate in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Daniel Kochis Policy Analyst in European Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Alliances

Show references in this report

[1] Ted Bromund and Daniel Kochis, “Top Five Priorities for U.S. Policy Toward Europe in 2016,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4506, January 8, 2016, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2016/01/top-five-priorities-for-us-policy-toward-europe-in-2016.

[2] European Union, “TTIP- EU Proposal for Chapter: Regulatory Cooperation,” March 21, 2016, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2016/march/tradoc_154377.pdf (accessed April 21, 2016).

[3] Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis, “A Pivotal Time for Ukraine: The U.S. Should Redouble Its Support,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4543, April 7, 2016, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2016/04/a-pivotal-time-for-ukraine-the-us-should-redouble-its-support.

[4] German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, “Natural Gas Supply in Germany,” http://www.bmwi.de/EN/Topics/Energy/Conventional-energy-sources/gas.html (accessed April 21, 2016).

[5] Barack Obama, remarks delivered in Berlin, Germany, July 24, 2008, http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/24/obama.words/ (accessed April 21, 2016).

[6] James Jay Carafano et al., “U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Toward Russia,” Heritage Foundation Special Report No. 173, December 9, 2015, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/12/us-comprehensive-strategy-toward-russia.

[7] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Defense Expenditures of NATO Countries (2008–2015),” http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_01/20160129_160128-pr-2016-11-eng.pdf#page=2 (accessed April 21, 2016).

[8] Luke Hurst, “Germany ‘Can’t Explain’ Use of Broomsticks Instead of Guns in NATO Exercise,” Newsweek, February 19, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/germany-cant-explain-use-broomstick-instead-guns-nato-exercise-307902 (accessed April 21, 2016).

[9] Srdjan Zivulovic, “German Spy Agency Says ISIS Sending Fighters Disguised as Refugees,” Reuters, February 5, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-security-idUSKCN0VE0XL (accessed April 21, 2016).