US-German relations are in a state of uncertainty

Germany demands top US intelligence officer to leave. In the light of current spying scandals how do you perceive US-Germany relations, can we expect any lasting impact on Berlin-Washington relations? Read few comments.

Wilfried MausbachExecutive Director, Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA)

I believe that US-German relations are in a state of uncertainty and even bewilderment.

The underlying cause of this is to be found in the two pivotal transformations that took place around the turn from the 20th to the 21st century, namely (1) the change from the Cold War to the “War on Terror,” resulting in a situation in which war is no longer waged on states but on individuals; and (2) the information revolution with the rise of big data and the resultant threats to privacy.

These two secular processes coalesce in the field of intelligence, where – thanks to Edward Snowden – we can most plainly observe the marriage between Big Government (that is, in the US case, the National Security State) and Big Data.

Now, like all other nations, both the US and Germany are trying to react (and adapt) to these new realities. As it turns out, however, Germans and Americans have found that their priorities in coming to terms with these new realities fundamentally differ from each other (for now, at least). Thus, Germans have been bewildered by Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the NSA scandal, and the realization that their government is being spied upon by the Americans.

Still, I do not believe that the current spying scandal will fundamentally alter US-German relations. The two countries will remain close partners and allies. That said, the current public uproar in Germany may well force Ms. Merkel to demonstrate that she will not take this lying down. Thus, it is no longer impossible that we may see a few US officials expelled from Germany. More importantly, the affair will further undermine what little support is left among the general populace for a transatlantic trade agreement.

Last but not least, the German-American relationship might sooner or later very well assume a much more businesslike appearance. With the Germans realizing that there are no friends but only interests in international relations, they might reconsider the proportions of Realpolitik and idealism in their foreign policy. This will not dissolve the US-German alliance, but it would mark a momentous shift compared to a Cold War alliance that expressly emphasized the cultural and emotional foundations of the Atlantic Community.

Hans Kundnani, Research Director, European Council on Foreign Relations

The US is unlikely to retaliate or react dramatically. The expulsion is seen in the US as a symbolic action by Germany to which it won’t feel the need to respond. Still, it will affect the German-US relationship. In the US, there will be a general sense that Germany is a less cooperative country than in the past. It will increasingly see Germany as a partner but a difficult one – somewhat like France, Turkey, etc.

Meanwhile Germany has gradually become more confident about going its own way and publicly disagreeing with the US. During the Cold War, West Germany and the US needed each other much more than they do now. Now that the strategic environment has changed, the costs of a rift like this are lower.

Meanwhile a series of events over last 25 years have made Germans more confident about expressing criticism and even contempt for Americans and American ideas: Iraq war, financial crisis, NSA revelations. So Merkel can now respond to the anger of the German people about this without any immediate consequences.

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