Germany and America: crisis of confidence

by Ronald D. Asmus

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There are simple explanations for the recent sudden downturn in German-American relations: Washington views the Persian Gulf crisis as a defining moment in European-American relations and in the creation of a new world order. For the Bush Administration, it is also the first diplomatic test of a unified Germany and a new German-American relationship. It is a test that Germany is thus far regarded as having failed for three reasons: (1) From the outset, many Americans sensed that Germans did not understand what the Persian Gulf crisis meant for the United States as it struggled to make the right decisions over war and peace; (2) there was a growing sense that the Germans were not being good Europeans, as German politicians, who seemed unprepared for the outbreak of hostilities, stumbled to articulate a rationale for their policy; and (3) there was an unsettling appearance of a selective German definition of collective defense and common security, as leading German politicians suggested that an Iraqi attack against Turkey need not automatically invoke NATO's collective defense obligations. The result has been a crisis of confidence in the performance of the German political elite that goes beyond the problems in German-American relations during the early 1980s and the debate over intermediate-range nuclear forces.

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