What’s the Matter With Germany?
Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy and the most powerful nation in Europe, seems to be pulling away from its close alliance with the U.S., a partnership that was critical in winning the Cold War against the once formidable Soviet Union. This is good news for China and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Under its long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, Germany is going all-out to ensure the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will enormously increase Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, even though Putin has never hesitated to use the fuel as a political weapon.
A far sounder, more sensible alternative for Berlin would be to import more U.S. natural gas, which we have in abundance. Germany should also beef up its mangy military as a means of countering Moscow’s ambitions to pry Europe from Washington. Unlike Sweden, which is dramatically increasing the strength of its military because of Russia’s aggressive moves, Germany has been more hesitant. Intense pressure from the Trump administration got Berlin to boost military outlays. But German reluctance remains significant, and efforts may flag if President Biden doesn’t continue Trump-like goading.
Another recent move that bodes ill is Germany’s pushing through a China-EU investment deal that Beijing sees as a way to loosen U.S.-European ties.
Germany, so far, has refused to work closely with Washington to keep strategic technologies from getting into the hands of Beijing, a contrast to its approach regarding the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Germany takes this tack even as China engages in major human-rights abuses and contin
ues its highly aggressive foreign policy, such as moving to dominate the South China Sea, a critical international waterway. Instead, Chancellor Merkel seems intent on keeping Germany at some distance between Washington and Beijing.
During the Cold War, despite occasional differences, the NATO alliance—with Germany and the U.S. at its core—held fast. A critical example was how closely the two countries worked together to counter Moscow’s attempts at blackmailing Germany into loosening its transatlantic ties by threatening it with intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the late 1970s. Despite fierce pressure from Moscow—including whipping up domestic opposition—Germany, under the redoubtable Chancellor Helmut Kohl, agreed to our stationing missiles on its soil. The Russian move failed, a crucial factor in the West’s winning the Cold War.
The Biden administration has a big job in getting Germany to realize that close cooperation between our two countries in all areas remains absolutely crucial to preserving democracy and the free world’s security in the face of growing pressures from China and Russia.