By Dr. Christian Hacke, Professor of Political Science at the University of Bonn.
Trump is revolutionizing US foreign policy like no other president has since World War II. His protectionism and isolationism are affecting all American allies, but especially Germany.
If Germany was, for over 60 years, America’s preferred European ally, it today is Trump's preferred European enemy.
The dramatic shift in American-German relations is unprecedented in modern history and has shocked Germany. Many in Germany do not accept Trump’s criticisms and have responded with correspondingly angry Trump-bashing.
But, people forget that isolationism and protectionism are behaviors native to American culture. The liberal internationalism of the United States during the Cold War was an exception to the rule.
And after 17 years of unsuccessful anti-terrorist wars, the American people are exhausted. As such, more of them support Trump’s reversion to isolationism than many Germans are willing to admit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has countered by pointing to Trump’s failures, but moralizing is no substitute for wise politics. In the end, Germany needs the US more than the other way around.
And Trump is right when he complains that Germany has become an ungrateful free-rider — one which denies solidarity in military affairs when things get hot.
The ritualized idealization of European integration and the fatal demonization of national interests have led the European Union (EU) to an impasse — indeed, plunged it into crisis.
A new balance between community ideals and national considerations is needed. National defense, based on nuclear deterrence, must be given priority in the face of new transatlantic uncertainties and potential confrontations.
Germany's Catastrophic Military
Trump’s criticism of Germany isn’t just about our inadequate contribution to NATO but also about the catastrophic condition of our military. Our army does not appear defensible, and attempts at reforming the military have been half-hearted.
When international crises occur, Germany experiences a short-term alarmism which soon turns into disinterest. Political Berlin keeps its eyes shut and hopes for the best.
Meanwhile, Germany’s political elites are preoccupied with idealistic concerns such as nuclear non-proliferation, the phase-out of nuclear power, and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
This escapist approach to national security could prove fatal. Berlin is trying to muddle through while hoping for better times after Trump leaves office, but Germany’s Trump-bashing will only further undermine the U.S. commitment to “extended deterrence” — its promise to protect Europe, if needed, with nuclear weapons.
In the past, Germany has been able to do away with weapons of mass destruction because its security was guaranteed by others. This seems very doubtful today.
There is new talk in Berlin of France or England providing a nuclear deterrent for Germany, but neither will do so because it is not in their interest or ours.
Extended deterrence is simply not reliable for the weaker partner. French President Charles de Gaulle’s maxim — "Nuclear violence is bad to share" — holds true.
Meanwhile, the Russian military is carrying out tests of new weapons including high-power laser weapons and a nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range.
These threats need to be discussed without resorting to hysteria or alarmism. What I’m raising is the need for a new, long-term national security strategy in an increasingly confusing world.
Germany Must Rely On Itself
Germany is, for the first time since 1949, without nuclear protection provided by the United States, and thus defenseless in an extreme crisis. As such, Germany has no alternative but to rely on itself. A nuclear-armed Germany would be for deterrence only.
A nuclear Germany would stabilize NATO and the security of the Western World, but if we cannot persuade our allies then Germany should go it alone.
Optimally speaking, every potential attacker must be deterred. The crises of the past few years have taught us that the impossible can become reality very quickly. It may be that just six to eight submarines would insure the security of the German people.
Nuclear weapons would also serve a political function: to protect Germany against blackmail. The crisis diplomacy of a country is only successful if it is supported militarily powerful. Had NATO had a credible deterrent, then it may have been able to prevent Russia from escalating its aggression.
The loss of extended nuclear deterrence provided by the U.S., the lack of a combined European nuclear deterrent, the dwindling importance of Western European institutions including NATO and the European Union, and Germany’s deficient defense culture all demand a realistic new view.
Germany needs a more sophisticated view of its national security, one that takes into account its role in the NATO alliance, but does not hide behind it.
Germany must actively and constructively engage new nuclear threats, not trivialize them as relics of the Cold War.
German defense spending must increase. The half-hearted approaches to do so in the past won’t be enough.
Germany must modernize and improve the quality of its armed forces, and reconsider its admission of foreign citizens into it.
Germany must reconsider its exit from civilian nuclear power, where it has long played an exemplary role in the world.
President Trump is not the cause of the break-up of the West, but he exposes the weakness of its institutions — and the need for Germany to start to change.