U.S., Europe: Get ready for estrangement
November 27th, 2012
05:23 PM ET

U.S., Europe: Get ready for estrangement

By Hans Kundnani, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Hans Kundnani is editorial director at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

The overwhelming feeling in Europe following Barack Obama’s re-election was a sense of relief. Although European approval of his administration’s foreign policy has dipped since he took office in 2009 – particularly over his increased use of drones and his perceived failure to put greater pressure on Israel – Europeans overwhelmingly preferred him to Mitt Romney. Indeed, according to one poll carried out in 12 European Union member states before the election, 75 percent said they would vote for Obama and only 8 percent for Romney if they could choose.

Still, Obama’s second-term foreign policy has the potential to divide Europe – and to divide Europe and America. Two developments in particular will shape Obama’s second-term foreign policy – deficit woes and a pivot towards the Asia-Pacific. Both will create tough choices for Europeans as they struggle to deal with the euro crisis.

First, the downsizing of the U.S. military and the “pivot” to Asia mean that Europeans are increasingly going to have to take responsibility for sorting out problems in their own neighborhood. As former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently argued, “Europe must grow up and develop the capacity to defend its own interests, because the day is fast approaching when others will be less able and willing to do this for us than they once were.” Europeans will also need to decide what role, if any, they want to play in supporting the United States and its allies in Asia in balancing against Chinese power in the region.

More from CNN: Europe congratulates Obama

Germany – Europe’s central power – is both crucial and problematic in such calculations. With France weakened and Britain marginalized, the tighter and more coercive EU that is emerging from the crisis is one based to a growing degree on German preferences. Obama is extremely popular in Germany, but Berlin’s deeply-held views on the use of military force – and its increasingly close relationship with China – have the potential to create a Europe-America split.

Speaking last year, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that NATO is turning into a “two-tiered alliance,” one divided between “those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitment” and “those who enjoy the benefits of NATO […] but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.” In particular, Gates criticized those members of the alliance that spend under the agreed 2 percent of GDP on defense. He did not name Germany – which spends just 1.3 percent of GDP on defense – but undoubtedly had it in mind. Germany’s austerity-led approach to the euro crisis, meanwhile, is exacerbating defense budget cuts in other EU member states.

Germany’s reluctance to spend to improve its military capabilities, or even support military interventions such as that in Libya last year, undermines European hard power in its own neighborhood. Indeed, some Germans seem to imagine that Europe can and ought to somehow emulate Switzerland, even though Europe’s neighborhood includes states with great-power ambitions such as Russia, as well as an unstable Middle East and North Africa. Other Germans seem simply to think that they can leave security to others in Europe, such as Britain and France.

But Germany could also complicate things with China. The U.S. “pivot” is part of a shift toward a tougher approach vis-à-vis an assertive China, and is based on a mixture of containment and engagement. But even as the United States is tightening its relationships with Asian democracies that feel increasingly threatened by Chinese power, a “special relationship” is developing between China and Germany, based on the exponential growth of German exports to China, a shared analysis of the global economy since the financial crisis, and the Chinese perception that Germany is now the dominant player in Europe. All this has meant Germany appears increasingly reluctant to confront China.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the relationship between Germany and the United States now is nowhere near as bad was it was when George W. Bush was in the White House and Gerhard Schröder occupied the chancellery in Berlin – the U.S. and Germany still co-operate on a range of international issues, including Afghanistan and Iran. But for now, U.S. foreign policy is pushing Germany and America further apart. And, given Germany’s increasingly central role in the EU, Europe as a whole could find itself increasingly estranged from the U.S.

Europe may overwhelming have preferred Obama in this month’s election, but the first signs of estrangement may become apparent under his watch.

Post by:
Topics: Asia • Barack Obama • China • Europe • Germany • United States

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. JAL

    History is a rip currrent in this part of the world.

    November 27, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  2. ming

    Didn't US give some bailout money through IMF, helping out Germany, too, though?

    November 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  3. Kane

    The estrangement has been going on for years and as a German i have to blame the United States for it 😛 The foreign policy of the US made it impossible to support in recent years, be it the Iraq War, the drone strikes or the behavior of the US in multiple other areas (ICC, Kyoto, missile defense, just to name a few). In international politics we share basically no common interests, except for maybe non-proliferation.

    November 28, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Mr. Kundnani, only Germans would be obsessed with Switzerland and would want to turn Europe into a "greater Switzerland – rich but neutral and strategically irrelevant". Indeed, Germans come in thousands yearly to work and live in Switzerland, because they have no problem to make themselves at home there.
    It would be illusionary to have the fragmented Europe turn into a "greater Switzerland". The unity that prevails in Switzerland is a result of centuries long of stubborn resistence against interlopers and tons of consensus among different cantons.

    November 28, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Mr. Kundnani, it's highly doubtful that Europe would become estranged from the US, or vice versa. As the two have such a strong relationship, the US can pivot to Asia without suffering from sleepless nights. Angela Merkel would be clever enough to steer Germany away from any situation in which it would found itself torn between two sleeping partners: China and the US.

      November 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  5. USN Ret.

    When the U.S. had 100,000 troops X $1500 = $150,000,000 payroll per month plus 50,000+ civilian X $2500 "a guess" = $125,000,000 per month, plus somewhere around $250,000,000 in support spending, electric, fuel, food, etc. bills. Now that money is not there so Europe now have the problem of making it with out this monthly influx of cash. They can no longer support their social welfare systems, blotted governments why NO U.S. $$$$$$$'s.
    All these numbers are general, based on average monthly income of the Army and Air force personnel stationed in Europe and civilians local and U.S. I know for fact the support cost is way below the actual cost but given here as a guide.

    November 28, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Liv

      That is totaly nonsense. i lived in an area in germany where a lot of bases had been closed. bitburg and several smaler bases around. Ramstein is a lot smaller than before, and there is NO, i tell you NO downsize in standards of living. in bitburg on the area of the base are now some tourist attractions, a flight club, some clubs etc. You know the world can go on without america. Sure it was a shock for the smaller towns nearby, but local government came in and made some strategic decisions and tax cuts for every company that was willing to take over the jobs of the american base.
      and please notice: even if it seems that europe is in a mess, we are not talking about a third world area here, we are talking about europe, which has a very high standard of living, even in greece.

      November 28, 2012 at 10:20 am |
      • Liv

        Oh i forgot hahn, which is now a civil airport

        November 28, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  6. USN Ret.

    You missed the point SPENDING HAD TO BE CUT. TAXES HAD TO BE CUT. The problem is not all used their heads and did as you describe and are now in trouble. Here in the U.S. both sides are unwilling to do just that.

    November 28, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Liv

      Sure, we both agree on conrolling the deficit. But that is exactly what germans want. You cannot spend money you do not have until forever. So you have to cut until you are on a ground where you can stay without the help from others. And when you are at that point, you can help these countries growing again with invesrments and money.
      Again to the Military Base: Taxcut. Sure there was a taxcut, but for a price. The government said: you create good jobs there and for that you have to pay fewer taxes, Second: We(government) also will help you find investors.
      Thats a little bit different to: cut taxes and hope that these people (companys, rich) will invest it into this area, and the people and not in the new luxury car wich hopefully is build in germany 😉 That is the american way. But this is only based on hope. That is the fundamental difference between germany and america/britain. We do believe that a government can help you a lot, as seen in this example. but, i have to admit that and which can be seen on greece or other states. I also can be the heart of the problem. But that is one part of the bargain: You have to watch over the government.

      November 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  7. USN Ret.

    P.S. Been to over 20 countries and like Germany, Spain and Singapore the best.

    November 28, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  8. USN Ret.

    Liv: You make your case very will and it is a pleasure exchange ideas with you.
    Government is and will always be only as good as those who are vigilante and willing to standup and demand their government is fair and equitable. I for on will never believe increasing tax on anyone is the solution. Why it’s not the governments money. But when government wants more during a national emergency that’s one thing but to demand more due to its own mismanagement then I have to say no. Yes taxes are needed for a government to function. For schools, roads, defense and supporting those who are in need and the list is very long. But to tax and tax with no self control on governments part that’s why we went to war in 1776. Also when one side or the other needs your support then ugly class/race/religion warfare are the tools of their trade.
    Paraphrase: For bad men to triumph only takes good men to do nothing.

    November 29, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  9. Brent

    "But for now, U.S. foreign policy is pushing Germany and America further apart."
    What a simplistic statement. Europe's lack of realistic defense spending is pushing us apart also. That has nothing to do with US foreign policy. I know times are tough for both continents, but why should the US continue to spend so much to defend Europe when they won't spend a realistic amount to defend themselves?
    History also pushes us apart. Europeans bought off the Barbary Pirates, America chose to fight them. Modern Euros seem to believe that commerce alone, maybe combined with wishful thinking, will make the world a better place. Americans understand that only strong nations can influence the world. Euros fear the military because they, properly, recognize the destruction that war brought Europe. Americans, however, (and the Brits) remember that it was the military that ended the threat of yet another European tyrant. America needs to work hard on the trans-Atlantic relationship, obviously. However, Europe probably needs to work on it even more. Maybe they could start by getting rid of their illusions that all Americans are fat, ignorant, war-mongers and that the world will become a utopia by tolerating, and trading with, dictators.

    July 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
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