Merkel’s Campaign Rhetoric and U.S.-German Relations
“The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over — I experienced that in the last few days,” Merkel told CSU supporters spread out on benches drinking beer and eating pretzels in Munich. “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.”
“Of course we need to have friendly relations with the U.S. and with the U.K. and with other neighbors, including Russia,” she said. Even so, “we have to fight for our own future ourselves.”
Coming on the heels of the NATO and G-7 summits, this is being widely (over)interpreted as proof of a major breach between Germany and both the U.S. and Britain. By itself, Merkel’s statement is not all the alarming. It should be considered normal for wealthy, advanced democratic European states to direct their own course. That this rather banal statement of the obvious is being greeted with shock and dismay in Washington probably tells us more about the hang-ups of our foreign policy establishment than it does about the state of the alliance. We should also bear in mind that Merkel was speaking at a campaign event, and so her rhetoric may have been intended primarily for a domestic and European audience. Trump is wildly unpopular in Germany, and the German public’s trust in the U.S. is quite low, so it is safe to assume that Merkel is catering to that sentiment in order to secure re-election.
Then again, we should want peaceful, democratic European states to want to take their destiny in their own hands over seventy years after the end of WWII. In many respects, they have already done so. The Germany that NATO was originally meant to keep “down” is not the commercial democratic republic that exists today. We should be pleased that the German government desires friendship with the U.S. and Britain and good relations with all of its neighbors. In general, the U.S. shouldn’t fear a more self-reliant Europe, and greater self-reliance on the part of European governments doesn’t have to mean the end of good U.S.-European relations.
I don’t doubt that U.S.-German relations are strained right now following Trump’s performance over the last few days and will continue to be strained in the years to come, but we shouldn’t attach too much significance to the chancellor’s campaign rhetoric until we see it translated into action.