The relationship between the United States and Germany, once a pillar of the Atlantic community, has grown strained. Differences erupted during last fall's German elections, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder chose to attack U.S. policy on Iraq to appeal to leftist voters. After the campaign was successful, Schröder counted on ties to Washington getting back to normal. But instead matters may be about to get worse.
On January 1, 2003, Germany began a new two-year term on the Security Council, along with other new members Angola, Chile, Pakistan, and Spain. In February the German ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Gunter Pleuger, will take his turn as president of the Security Council for one month and thus play a key role in structuring the proceedings at the precise moment that the Iraq debate may come to a head. The report of the UN arms inspectors is scheduled to come out in late January, putting Germany at the center of the UN debate on Iraq.
Schröder's political debt is about to come due. During the campaign he insisted that President Bush was pursuing an "adventure" in Iraq and that Germany would not participate in an invasion, even with United Nations support. Such a dismissal of a potential UN mandate appears odd for a country about to hold the presidency of the Security Council.
If Germany keeps Schröder's campaign promise and votes against an invasion, relations with Washington will grow worse. If, however, Germany votes for an invasion, Schröder will be in the uncomfortable situation of supporting the same invasion at the United Nations that he denounces at home. His credibility as chancellor would be greatly diminished.
This quandary reflects deep predispositions in German public opinion. When Americans look at the Second World War and conclude that appeasing a dictator is bad policy, Germans draw a different lesson: All wars are as wrong as the one they unleashed. Schröder's attack on Bush's Iraq policy appeals to this sentiment.
Moreover, an anti-American subculture continues to thrive in Germany, in part a legacy of East German communism. Suspicion of the United States, although surely a minority position in Germany, is large enough to influence policy and drive elections.
To repair German-American relations, German leaders must address this anti-Americanism head-on. Germany's separate path of foreign policy not only has hurt relations with Washington, but has begun to isolate Germany in Europe. Even though Germany is a leading proponent of European integration, its Iraq policy has slowed down prospects for a united European foreign policy. Germany is at odds with England and France, both of which are much more hawkish.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, where memories of American leadership in the cold war are stronger than in Germany, the large and pro-American crowds that welcomed Bush in November in Vilnius and Bucharest contrast markedly with the anti-American demonstrators in Berlin in May. What Germany does in the Security Council can begin to repair the damaged relations with the United States or can make a difficult situation even worse.