By Stefan Fröhlich
Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Academy
Germany has emerged as the EU’s central economic and political power in today’s crisis-ridden Europe. The U.K., after the Brexit vote, has probably dropped out of global crisis management for quite a while and the United States, under President Barack Obama, already significantly retrenched from global commitments. Thus the election of Donald Trump marks a pivotal moment for German foreign and security policy as it puts Washington’s European allies under even more pressure to radically rethink their security.
Though Germany does not have the ability or aspiration to act as the world’s liberal hegemon, Berlin is not complacent. Germany has played a leading role in the Western response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its role in supporting security on the EU’s southern flank is growing. The country is set to increase its defense budget, and will advance EU defense cooperation, together with France. Berlin has also led Europe in the euro crisis — accepting compromises on a new degree of integration — and in the refugee crisis, a case which shows the limits of German “hegemony” in Europe.
The current situation involves both opportunities and risks, but it does not mean the end of transatlantic cooperation. The Trump administration will realize that the future world order needs interconnected strategies and integrative systems. Without transatlantic cooperation, Washington will not get far in dealing with these challenges. Instead of reacting with the usual mix of resignation and indecision, Germany and its European partners should therefore use Trump’s threats as an opportunity to overcome their own political malaise. The best way to do so will be to provide strong evidence of German (and European) engagement — particularly via higher defense contributions, a more assertive stance vis-a-vis China’s trade and investment policies, and efforts to overcome bilateral trade imbalances.