Rezzo Schlauch: Rede/Essay zum Transatlantischen
Verhältnis - April 2003 - Teil 1
Rezzo Schlauch, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Arbeit
Member of the Green Party of Germany, Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen
Speech held at World Affairs Council of Northern California, San Francisco, April 24, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations, Chicago, April 28, 2003
Washington, April 30, 2003
On the Future of German-American Relations
I was told by Mr. Robert Kagan that I am here as an ambassador of Venus. Nobody would speak my language anymore. I would need to translate my songs of peace and harmony into the language of Mars, a harsh vocabulary of brute interests and sheer force, which naturally for me, the dreamy citizen of Venus is almost impossible. Well, distinguished citizens of the warrior planet, when I heard this, I asked myself whether this could possibly be true. I asked myself, whether Mr. Kagan remembers why it is, that our old continent one day started singing songs of peace and lyrics of law. Surely he must remember that we have lived on Mars not too long ago, with millions and millions killed, before that tune caught on. And I also asked myself whether Mr. Kagan has forgotten all the soldiers Venus has currently stationed in various unfriendly places in the galaxy. He seems to think they are merely carrying flutes and harps when they patrole through devastated streets looking for terrorists that might attack the Martians. And then I remembered what I know about your planet, the alleged warrior planet of Mars, and all its glorious achievements for peace and harmony in the past. I even seemed to remember that the Martians taught me all those songs.
Well, Mr. Kagan must have exaggerated the level of alienation between our two worlds, but we certainly had our differences in recent months. I will not repeat any of the arguments about the war in Iraq tonight. Everything has been said over and over again. Now, for a few weeks the weapons have spoken. As to the outcome of this war, for our part we can only wish that our pessimism will be proven wrong.
Tonight, I would like to contribute to the ongoing discussion about the future of the German-American friendship. I would like to describe the current problems in German-American relations as the result of two fundamental shifts in our states and societies. The first shift concerns the current liberal cultural mainstream in Germany, the second shift happened in American foreign policy. Let me start with the German side.
A New Transatlantic Attitude in Germany
During the past 10 months the German peace movements and the foreign policy of the German government have sometimes been confronted with the allegation of Anti-Americanism. Although I think this has been credibly refuted by spokespeople of both Germany´s government and Germany´s civil society, I would like to repeat the main historical argument, why from my perspective the opposite is true.
Undoubtedly, the American mission in West-Germany after the war was a huge success. It is regularly portrayed as that by commentators from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The victory over and the liberation from National Socialism, the Marshall Plan and the massive political and cultural project of re-education and de-nazification have enabled West-Germany to finally break away from its dark nationalist, militaristic and authoritarian traditions. With American assistance the democratic and humanistic tendencies in Germany´s cultural and political history could finally prevail. The result was a now deeply entrenched German American friendship, a profound mutual respect for each other's political and cultural achievements, an unprecedented level of mutual trade and a thorough Americanization of everyday life in West-Germany.
West-Germany lived well under American protection from the Soviet threat, a situation that had come to an early point of drama with the Berlin airlift. In the first decades after the war and up into the Nineteen-Eighties, German political elites regularly expressed their gratitude and their commitment to transatlantic partnership. That included an almost unambiguous loyalty to American foreign policy. Especially for the Conservatives, the Christian Democratic Union or CDU, this was a clear and unquestioned commitment. While the Social Democratic Party or SPD had neutralist tendencies in the years after the war, they too had expressed their commitment to Western integration in 1960.
With the American victory in the cold war, German reunification became possible and was supported by the American administration. Another chapter was added to transatlantic loyalty and German gratitude. Basically, this tradition of unbroken loyalty continued at least until the end of the era Helmut Kohl. Today, it is still represented by the leadership of the CDU, especially in the stance of Ms. Angela Merkel, the party chairwoman. As one of very few German politicians she has come out in full support of the American attack on Iraq.
But in the meantime, US re-education had a more thorough, a much more profound success in the generation that grew up after the war. The Adenauer era was formally democratic and Western oriented on the government level. But domestically, the country was still ruled in a fairly "top-down" manner and in the new administrative and business elites many former Nazis could be found. The population was fully immersed in rebuilding the country, creating the economic miracle and repressing guilt and dark memories. It was the role of their children to create a civil society, to undertake a cultural revolution, to live an active sense of citizenship and thus to fill the true and full sense of democracy in Germany. These children of American re-education were shaped by political influences as much as by American popular culture that swept through the country in the 50ies and 60ies. American political achievements like civil rights, constitutionalism, checks and balances, fascinated and energized that new generation as much as American cultural impulses like individual emancipation and the sense of "everything is possible" or "the sky is the limit." The openness and the multiculturalism, the dynamic and the inventiveness of American society became a point of orientation.
To be sure, the political biography of this generation also involved longer episodes of criticism directed at the USA. American foreign policy in Vietnam or South America came under fire as it did in the US itself. For some leftists in the student movement, America was criticized for its version of capitalism, which was perceived as socially unconstrained or ecologically irresponsible. But at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of this generation realized that its set of values is deeply Western. This is a generation of Americanized Germans and they can legitimately be called the new transatlanticists or "Neue Transatlantiker".
My own party, the Green party, started out in protest against American missiles on German soil. One of the new social movements that would later become a resource for the Green party was the peace movement against the nuclear arms race. However, 20 years after Greens first entered the seats of German parliament, it is more certain than ever that the Green Party can be seen as an American-German party. Some of the basic political ideas and values of the party are a strong civil society, civil and minority rights, feminism, ecological reform and the liberal mistrust of the state in both legal and economical affairs. All these ideas have some of their roots in American thoughts and deeds. You will hardly find as many enthusiasts for America amongst traditional Social Democrats as you will in the Green party.
But this shall not be my main issue here. What I would like to call Germany´s New Transatlantiker is not in any way restricted to the Green party. It is an entire generation and it defines a new cultural and political mainstream in German society. It can be said that both culturally and politically these New Transatlantiker, who are now in large parts running Germany, are in many ways more Americanized than the Old Transatlantiker. Their commitment to an American, a Western way of life, far exceeds the gratitude and loyalty of the older German elites. It represents their cultural and political fibre. Especially in the left-liberal spectrum, America is constitutive for their identity. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, recently baptized "State Philosopher of the Federal Republic" by a commentator, called himself a "child of the re-education" and counts John Dewey among his chief influences. And Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Green party has already said in 1994 about his political mission: "Our political project is an outcome of Germany´s Westernization. After Germany was unable to democratize itself, it needed the assistance of Western powers in democratically rebuilding itself. 1968 and the consequences have achieved an independent inner democratization of Germany."
This democratization of Germany was shaped by American values: Multi-Culturalism,
Individualism, Civil Rights, Liberty, Peace. Germany is now peaceful, non
militarisic, non-nationalistic and europeanized. This new left-liberal establishment
in Germany is therefore certainly not anti-American. Adopting the words
of historian Heinrich August Winkler, one can say: On Germany´s "Long
Way to the West," we finally arrived.
But now, that we´re here, it seems that the teacher´s gone. Elvis has left the building. We look around in our Western home and we hear a mocking voice from outside: "That´s Old Europe..". Could it be that Old Europe is the "New West" and only God or Mars know where the "Old West" has gone? It seems to us, that the Old West had some great ideas for the people of this world to offer, ideas about how they could live together in peace and prosperity. Was it not the Americans who had helped immensely to bring ideas of one of our own, Immanuel Kant, to reality? Could it be that we are defending American institutions against America?
It may be too early to tell. What the last months have shown us, however, is that the thorough Americanization of Germany does not translate into an unbroken loyalty for American foreign policy any longer. But the New Transatlantiker does not speak up for the sake of new German importance, of Euro-German expansionist dreams or of a sense of competition to the US. It is not that the New Transatlantiker has fundamental problems with a lead nation USA. But the deep conviction that in principle American power is good for the world comes with an expectation and a trust that America uses its power in a responsible way. If the New Transatlantiker sees this principle violated, the New Transatlantiker will now openly dissent against American foreign policy.
A New US Strategy
So what happened to the Good Old West? The second shift I would like to speak about is the change in US strategy that was initiated when President Bush took office and fully realized after Sepember 11. I would like to employ the terminology of a book by historian Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Last year he published a book on the history of US foreign policy with
the title: "Special Providence". The title refers to a quote by
Otto von Bismarck: "God has a Special Providence for Idiots, Drunkards,
Children and the United States of America." What Bismarck apparently
meant and what Mr. Mead elaborates on is the somewhat erratic and inconsistent
quality of American foreign policy. Mead describes it as a combination of
four basic approaches, named after protagonists in American political history:
- Hamiltonians are firm belivers in the pacifying effects of free trade. Therefore they are fairly aggressive promoters of American trade interests in the world and the opening of foreign markets for American products.
- Wilsonians are the internationalists and idealists of US diplomacy. With a sense of mission they wish to spread democracy all over the world. They exercise American influence for this goal and they believe in the value of cooperation and international institutions. Ultimately, Wilsonians think, that such cooperation is also best for American interests.
- Jeffersonians are the introverted American moralists, the isolationist proponents of an ideal and prosperous American democracy. The presentation of this ideal to the world is all they wish to do for its promotion.
- And last but not least, there are the Jacksonians. For them America´s strength is built on military might. They use it selectively and without too much expansionism or moral internationalism. Jacksonians can be isolationist but if they are provoked they go to war with force.
For Mead, the enormous long-term success of American foreign-policy is the result of a combination and balance of these different poles. Therefore, in the terminology of international relations, American foreign policy has always incorporated both "realist" and "idealist" elements, both "unilateral" and "multilateral" aspects.
If we briefly look at post war history, it started out with a Wilsonian "age of generosity", as Fareed Zakaria recently called it in an article in Newsweek Magazine. Quote: "When America had the world at its feet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman chose not to create an American imperium, but to build a world of alliances and multilateral institutions. They formed the United Nations, the Bretton Woods system of economic cooperation and dozens of other international institutions. America helped get the rest of the world back on its feet by pumping out vast amounts of aid and private investments. The centerpiece of this effort, the Marshall plan, amounted to $ 120 billion in today´s dollars. .. Of course all of these exertions served our interests. They produced a pro-American world that was rich and secure." End of Quote
During the cold war, we also saw periods of more confrontational approaches towards foreign countries. After all there was a cold war and a competition between two political-economic systems. Sometimes, the US were not timid in the choice of their means and many anti-American resentments in the world date back to these times. Vietnam comes to mind as well as open and covert operations in Latin America. They resulted in critical protest movements in the USA and they have ultimately led to changes in US foreign policy.
After the cold war victory in 1989, an undecided decade followed. It started
with President Bush Senior's cooperative and internationalist approach to
shape a new world order through the United Nations in the gulf war. But
the decade had isolationist tendencies as well. Understandably, the American
electorate was hard to mobilize for international activities in the absence
of a clear and present threat. The Clinton administration had Wilsonian
leanings and promoted the idea of humanitarian interventions. But in Somalia
things went terribly wrong and in Ruanda America did not intervene. President
Clinton even apologized for this later. The contradictions in the world´s
expectations became clear: If the US intervene, they are accused of imperialism,
if they stay out, they are accused of ignorance. It´s not easy to
please the world, being the last remaining superpower. The US tried again
in Yugoslavia and the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo succeeded. They
were obviously humanitarian and had to be conducted against large domestic
resistance in the US. Anti-Americans around the world had a hard time finding
the clear-cut Hamiltonian interests that they always like to find in American
So did George W. Bush. He explicity rejected humanitarian interventions, nation-building and international over-involvment and his administration immediately withdrew from the world. The tendency was Jacksonian and the new rhetoric was followed by the unilateral cancellation of a variety of international treaties: Anti-Ballistic-Missile treaty, Kyoto Protocol, Geneva Convention on Biological Weapons, International Criminal Court.
On September 11, the world showed the last superpower in a horrible and gruesome way, what it can not afford to be any longer: isolationist. If the initial agenda of the Bush Administration was an America more "humble" and less internationally involved, September 11 turned the Bush brand of unilateralism around. At first, Washington seemed to react cool-headed and in cooperation with the world. Global sympathy for America and willingness to contribute to a global anti terror campaign was enormous and unprecedented. New global alliances were found, cooperation with Russia, China and Pakistan surprised the world and a series of states supported the intervention in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, Germany is doing a large share of the work to this very day. In the context of our current differences, it is essential for us to remember the months after September 11. The German people felt deep sympathy for the USA and Chancellor Schröder even offered "unlimited solidarity" in the war on terror. For the Red Green government of Germany, shaped by the left-liberal establishment I have spoken about before, it was not an easy task. We had to persuade all members of our slim parliamentary majority of the necessity of German military participation in the war on terror, the "enduring freedom" mission. As you all know, Chancellor Schröder even asked for a vote of confidence. In the German political system that means nothing less than putting your political life on the line. The Green party needed a soul-searching and dramatic party convention to overcome its dogmatic pacifism and adapt to the realities of the 21st century. I myself was head of the parliamentary faction/caucus of the Greens in these days and we worked hard for weeks until we made the right decision. I think nobody regrets this decision. Germany and the Netherlands are now the lead nations in ISAF and a large majority in our country is convinced, that this is the right thing to do.
But after this promising and succesful beginning of the war on terror, step by step the American rhetoric and action turned unilateralist in a radical and unprecedented way. One year after September 11, the United States of America stunned the world and effectively ended the international order of the post war period in announcing its new "National Security Strategy."
Since you all know this document, I only want to mention briefly its chief
elements: The situation of mutually assured destruction has come to an end.
Today's security problem is represented by the asymmetrical threats of the
combination of rogue states, failed states and non-state actors. Preemptive
strikes are declared legitimate. If possible, they should be legitimized
multilaterally, if not, America will act unilaterally. That does not exclude
the use of nuclear weapons. The unipolar world order is to be preserved
at all costs, no rivals will be accepted, military spending has to assure
Undoubtedly, this is a provocation of the outside world. It is accompanied by a benevolent commitment by America to change the world for the better. Poverty and failed states are identified as security risks. Thus, half the document deals with the spreading of democracy and freedom, development aid, free trade, the AIDS crisis and the global environment. America´s mission is a prosperous globalisation for all. For the future, the doctrine promises to stop America´s cooperation with morally compromised allies such as tyrants, autocrats and warlords.
This strategy is not really compatible with Wilsonian international order
or with the doctrines of the realist school of foreign policy with its insistence
on stability and a balance of power. America´s unconstrained power
is declared good for the world. This maybe called an idealist unilateral
Now, the world knows very well, that the American republic is a complex and beautiful organism and that even in the American administration the attitude expressed in this document is not uncontroversial. In the future, everything depends on whether this doctrine is really and consistently translated into action. The American public, American intellectuals and even the administration itself seem to be split on this matter. As you all know it was shaped under the influence of neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Robert Kagan and others. And it goes against the grain of the realist foreign policy establishment. Several proponents of this school have publicly criticized it. Also in the American public debate, some call for a much more selective engagement of the US in the world. They would like to concentrate on failed states and operate through multilateral institutions. Harvard Professor and former assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye has written a book with the self-explanatory title "The paradox of American Power. Why the last remaining superpower can´t go it alone." In general, it seems that American internationalists must hope for the return of the Roosevelt / Truman insight, that internationalism is in America´s own best interest.
It seems to us, that the process of America's self-definition with regard to its new role in the world has not come to an end with the new National Security doctrine or the war in Iraq. However, for Germany, this doctrine and the corresponding actions of the US administration obviously must be the reference point in finding our new role in the transatlantic relation.
The Current German American Tensions as the Result
I started out in rejecting the Mars-Venus image but it is hard to deny that Robert Kagan´s metaphors sometimes touch the right chord. In another one, he says that Europe and America are like an old married couple that wakes up one day and says to each other: "You´re not the person I married!"
The result of these two fundamental cultural and political shifts I have described is the current fundamental disagreement over Iraq. Not surprisingly, the neoconservatives dominating the current administration and the New Transatlantiker of the Red-Green leadership of Germany turn out to be a bad match. The school of foreign policy dominating American rhetoric and action in these days and the new German cultural-political consensus, Americanized by another school of foreign policy turn out to be far apart. The cultural and political gap between a new left-liberal establishment in Germany and the neoconservative elite in the US is wide.
But even if there was a "regime change" in both of our countries,
some of the same questions would remain. There are many so called "liberal
hawks" in the US and many representatives of the Democratic Party favor
the war. And at the same time, German Christian Democrats are split on this
issue. Angela Merkel has big difficulties in keeping all the war dissenters
of the CDU quiet. The overwhelming rejection of the current war by the German
population is not only rooted in the liberal camp. While Americans like
to present the attack on Iraq as an episode in the larger war on terror,
Germans think of Iraq as a separate issue, disconnected to the war on terror.
Germans still consider themselves fighting in the war on terror, for instance
through intelligence and police efforts, through military troops in Afghanstan
or through diplomacy in the middle east.
More generally, from a German left-liberal perspective, the new National Security Strategy must appear deeply flawed. Since the new doctrine comes with a strong sense of moral purpose, I would like to give it a moral assessment first.
Obviously, we have little disagreements over a world vision of freedom, human rights, democracy, prosperous globalization and world health concerns. Of course the actions have to live up to the rhetoric and as you well know, American international action has to fight many suspicions. The chief worldwide suspicion in these days is obviously the interest in oil and the US will have to act with great care in these matters. Such simplistic explanations are obviously wrong and Mr. Mead's book has appropriately described the mixed motivations of American foreign policy. If the outcome of American actions is freedom, human rights, democracy and prosperity, the presence of economic interests in the region does not morally disqualify the action as such.
But even if we may agree on the end, in our moral universe this certainly
does not justify all the means possible. Violence must remain the very last
resort. War is still an incredibly costly and disastrous human activity.
Talk about desirable globalization cannot suffice to convince us of the
immediate necessity to kill thousands of people. The new doctrine does delineate
a more extended notion of security but the military element clearly dominates
all others. In no place it mentions the logic of escalation, that armed
conflict often incites. Besides, the new strategy violates a deep-seated
sense of international justice by claiming lonely authority for the US government
in matters of the fate of entire peoples and regions of the world. Multilateralism
is not only a legal construction, it is also a mechanism aimed at moral
But aside from a moral assessment, the strategic assessment is still more crucial in international relations. The risks of such a strategy and such an attitude in diplomacy are immense. I seriously doubt, whether it can succeed.
Gestures and threats of domination as a means of diplomacy can be counterproductive.
They may itself produce what the new doctrine fears. The dramatic decline of American prestige around the world in only one year, surprising new alliances in the security council, Turkish rejections and European initiatives are possibly only the beginning. I do not even want to think about all the new recruits to Al Quaida created in recent weeks, all the moderate Arabs and Muslims turned into radicals. Or about the many covert attempts by rogue states, non-rogue-states or non-state actors to attain weapons of mass destruction as quickly as possible in order to become safe from the superpower. On April 6, the New York Times quotes R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and candidate for a position in the post war government of Iraq, saying that the Iraq campaign was the opening of a "fourth world war," after World War I, World War II and the cold war, and that America's enemies included the religious rulers in Iran, states like Syria and Islamic extremist terrorist groups. I refuse to believe that America is sincerely yearning for a fourth world war, but if I was an anti-American actor in that region, I would know what to look for quickly.
Besides, preventive strikes set precedents for other regions of the world. If others follow the lead nation's example, a civilizational achievement of enormous importance may be reversed. And a return to international anarchy cannot be in the interest of American security. Finally, the dependence on other states in the war on terror with regard to police and intelligence methods, assistance in regional conflicts, intercultural dialogue and development efforts is not only underestimated but actively subverted.
While most Germans appreciate American predominance in principle, they are now confronted with a foreign policy that in their view undermines both the moral legitimacy and the strategic preconditions for this predominance. The general consensus that America´s power is usually good for the world is at least temporarily lost. More and more, Germans and other Europeans seem to come to the conclusion that Europe needs to act as a stronger counterweight in the balance of power. Is this a realistic or even desirable reaction?