This article seeks to analyze transatlantic relations in the wake of a Trump presidency. Will this be another example of US-German divergences in foreign policy agreements that were indicative of the Bush administration?
The recent U.S. election results demonstrated a rising trend in populism that is sweeping the Western world. The rise of nationalist parties in both Europe and the United States demonstrate the growing distaste for elitism that pervades liberal politics and values. With President Obama on his way out, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now the most powerful defender of liberal politics in the Western world. Just as we saw during the Bush administration, German-US relations will weaken considerably given the Trump presidency, however the alliance will not disintegrate. The German-US alliance was founded on the basis of promoting trade and security since the post-war period of the 1940’s. The alliance has endured a succession of crises from the foundations of the alliance and therefore, the alliance will most likely muddle through Trump’s presidency just as it did through George W. Bush’s presidency.
In Angela Merkel’s congratulatory speech to president-elect Donald Trump on November 9th, she stated that, “Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.” Her congratulatory speech is heavily dependent on the qualifier, “it is based on these values” that cooperation between the U.S. and Germany will cooperate closely with one another. While it is impossible to know what President-elect Donald Trump’s stance on many issues actually is, we will most likely see a divergence between U.S.-German relations in the next few years, reminiscent of US-German relations during the Bush administration. However, this alliance will not break. The German-U.S. alliance has endured many setbacks but the core ideals the alliance promotes are too essential to world stability to disband.
In the early 2000’s under George W. Bush, the U.S. was not afraid to conduct unilateral, military action, grounding their moral claims in American Christian ideals and the war on terrorism. Western Europe, particularly Germany, disagreed with these actions, viewing them as unwarranted global policing. U.S. manifest destiny during the Bush administration pitted Americanism versus European liberalism and the two were increasingly disparate. At the time of the Iraq war, Germans preferred institutional framework and international law to deal with such issues, whereas the US pursued a self-seeking and peripheral war in the name of combatting terrorism. The two countries lacked the same principles on what global order constituted. It was not until the Obama administration that the liberal values of both Germany and the U.S. began to converge. Even in the case of military force, US-German relations seemed to converge during the Obama administration. While in both Libya and Ukraine, German military intervention were not used, Germany supported both U.S. airstrikes in Libya and the joint sanctions against Ukraine during the Ukrainian crisis. In the case of the Ukrainian crisis, US-German cooperation and multilateralism against Russia proved very effective. Sanctions against Russia were heavily increased against Russia and military intervention was ruled out from the onset. The combined sanctions and influence of international opinion regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea demonstrated the U.S.-German convergence in opinion on how to deal with threatening countries such as Russia.
The US and German administrations conducted a well-coordinated response to Russian aggression in Ukraine because they had similar motivations. Both the US and Germany aimed to promote the “territorial integrity” of their European neighbors (Ukraine) and seek to prevent Russia from becoming a rising threat. The incoming president-elect, Donald Trump, will seemingly dismantle this convergence in motivations but it is difficult to speculate. While speculation is fruitless, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s seemingly cordial relationship is a potential security threat for the Western world. This more agreeable relationship may place Germany as the key decision maker regarding international law and human rights issues. While this will certainly cause a rift between the German and U.S. administrations, the alliance will not dissolve. Germany will now be the leader in championing liberal values across the world but these divergences in policy do not break alliances. Hard, not soft politics destroy relationships.
The status of the German-U.S. alliance is of great ambiguity currently. No one knows what president-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policies will be because there is no track record to base it off. Given Trump’s stance regarding social issues and his appointed staff members thus far, there will be a clear divergence in opinion regarding social issues. From what president-elect Trump has said thus far, he seeks to promote an isolationist policy. While this will certainly halt TTIP negotiations, he will not pursue global wars framed around the war on terror as Bush Jr. had. Where German-US relations may sour is their stance toward Russia. However, this isolationist policy will not only force Germany to play more of an assertive role in global policing, it will also put Germany in more direct contention with Putin’s Russia. Despite president-elect Donald Trump’s seemingly cordial relationship with Putin, both the Republican controlled House and Senate are quite hawkish and will check any foreign policy move that is out of line with traditionally conservative values toward U.S. global hegemony. The US-German relationship will most likely decline due to differences in liberal values between both administrations but the alliance will not deteriorate. The divergences in values will differ in comparison to the Bush administration, seeing as Bush was viewed as an unwarranted global policeman while president-elect Donald Trump will most likely avoid interventionist wars. Both U.S. and German economies are too strong to sever ties and thus the alliance will muddle through the next few years, marginally agreeing on security and economic policies while most likely diverging considerably on social issues.
 Josef Braml, “The Bush Administration’s Faith-Based Foreign Policy — a Matter of Transatlantic Estrangement,” Lexington Books, Plymouth, United Kingdom, 2006.
 Ulrich Speck, The West’s Response to the Ukraine Conflict, Transatlantic Academy, Washington, D.C. 2016.