Five big questions as America votes: Europe

Opinion piece (Atlantic Council)
30 October 2020

In which areas should the United States and Germany work to reconcile their differences to address global challenges and where should they “agree to disagree”? 

“In the field of security and defense, Germany and the United States have an interest in reconciling their differences over a number of issues. On one side stand Germany’s attachment to Nord Stream II and Berlin’s tendency to look at the challenge of China’s rise through an economic lens rather than taking seriously its security implications. On the other side stand the US role in destabilizing the architecture of arms control through withdrawing from the Iran deal and not renewing the New START agreement and its neglect of climate change as a global security challenge.

“In order to be able to negotiate over these issues constructively, however, both sides will first have to address the issue of burden sharing. Here they might have to “agree to disagree” but should try hard to move on to a more constructive discussion. If President Trump wins another term, Berlin cannot afford to keep up the increasingly defiant stance it has adopted in response to his 2 percent bullying; nor can it afford to fall back asleep at the wheel out of relief over a Biden presidency. Since it is not at all clear that political circumstances in Germany will allow defense spending to increase to 2 percent of gross domestic product over the next few years, Berlin should instead lobby for a broader transatlantic understanding of what it means to take responsibility for security and defense. For example, it could offer to step up infrastructure contributions to increase military mobility for NATO troops in Europe, make investments in emerging defense technologies to help narrow the transatlantic interoperability gap, and boost support for EU and NATO efforts to turn European countries into more capable defense actors through e.g. joint training and capability cooperation. The arrival of new leaders on both sides of the Atlantic could offer a window of opportunity for such a reframing. This would make it easier to get out of the destructive spiral the US-Germany relationship is in today.”

Sophia Besch, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, and non-resident senior fellow in the Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council

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