Less Ideological Thoughts, More Functional Cooperation
Since the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact the relations between the United States and Germany are subject to a considerable fluctuation. Not only the general perception varies in periods of legislative and presidential elections, but also the responsible actors on the political scene deepen or weaken the cooperation. But why is the mood on both sides the Atlantic so volatile? Why are personal relations so crucial for the general perception? And how can we overcome this periodicity for a modernized and strong cooperation? To understand the mechanism behind this phenomenon it is reasonable to reflect and analyze the foundations.
The answers to these questions are based in our comprehension of international relations. The realistic theory in the international relations attaches value to states, nations, and their statesmen. As human beings are tied together not only by rational interests, but also by social relations like friendship or trust; proponents of the realistic theory are dealing often with the term of friendship between nations. Of course there are some good reasons for this idea, i.e. as states are created and driven by human beings with feelings and social ties, they (the states) act like human beings. This represents an actor-driven approach. But also the social constructivism delivers an example; shared values and rules bind together and therefore create a basis for durable and sustainable cooperation or even friendship. However, the concept of friendship between states is not fully convincing. The syllogism from the behavior of statesmen to a “behavior” of states or their relations among each other fails with the application of human categories on abstract models like a nation. Off the record it would be easy to say that nations don’t meet up for a drink together after a game of soccer, football or baseball. With an empirical view on the transatlantic relations, it is evidently that the deepening or weakening of cooperation was mainly led by personal preferences and the relations between political actors. Hence, the volatility in the relations is actors-borne. Needless to say that after the good relations between Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl (Clinton had held the honorific speech when Kohl received the Henry-Kissinger-Prize in 2011), the sound between George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder was lacking harmony after Schröder’s denial to a military participation in Iraq. The good relations between Barack Obama and Angela Merkel in contrast stayed almost unaffected after the publication that American intelligence services had illegal access to Merkel’s mobile. How the relations between Donald Trump and the German chancellor after the German legislative election in 09/2017 will continue, is of course not exactly predictable, but currently the signs are not very harmonic, no matter if we take a look at Angela Merkel or her contender Martin Schulz from the socialist party. To overcome these kinds of periodicity in the cooperation and to modernize the transatlantic narrative, we need to focus on interests, principles, ideas and our common values. This might sound “cold” or “pessimistic” on one hand, but on the other the focus on these fundamentals gives the chance to concentrate on development and stability. As relations between humans are always subject to expectations, it is crucial for the international cooperation like the transatlantic one, to manage, to re-arrange these personal expectations.
Following these arguments, both countries should emphasize firstly on all levels of their cooperation the shared values like democracy, individual freedom, peace and security, the worth of human rights and freedom of the media. Instead of criticizing each other verbally in the public, it is needed to stress these common values. But only recalling and reaffirming is of course not enough, it needs in regard to foreign affairs and the daily life of American and German/ European citizens some new incentives. Parts of an outline might be:
Often the comprehension of cultures and political positions is lacking better knowledge. Actually the reality in their daily life of the most citizens of both countries have no contact points. With further exchange programs in schools, between colleges, universities, voluntary services and also in public services people not only get in touch with other nationals, but also with their ideas, values, needs and sorrows. This is a key for comprehension and consensus-focused dialogs. Next to better language capabilities which are highly important in a globalized world, public legitimation of each other’s policies can be reached by intensified exchange programs for a wide range of all social groups.
Abolition of VISA and ESTA requirements for travelers and workers
Restrictions are always an obstructive tool. As both nations widely share common values, ideas and ideals, the need for VISA for a stay longer than 90 days or the general requirement for the so called, fee requiring ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is not supporting the cooperation between the partners, but is a barrier for exchanges, temporary workers and tourists. Neither the US nor Germany/ the EU are in need for such barriers, security and control of boarders cannot be reached with those formalities.
No further extension of the NATO
As the US and also Europe are not interested in an escalation with Russia or other nations, it is needed to send a sign of de-escalation into the world. In fact it is even more a sign of self-confidence and strength than a sign of weakness. A further growing NATO is not necessarily stronger (as bigger the system grows, as prone it is internally for dysfunctions and dissent), but would be taken as evidence for an aggressive foreign-policy of the western democracies. Therefore it would be counterproductive to extend the alliance in any direction.
To modernize the transatlantic narrative it is reasonable to rethink the perception of this cooperation. The concentration on the foundations and the mutual values by separating personal expectations from justified interests is a long lasting process for which the media both sides of the Atlantic might be a good partner. An abolition of travel restrictions, enabling of intensified exchange programs and the statement that there is no interest in an expansion of the NATO could be the kick-off for the modernization.