Since the Federal Republic of Germany’s admission into NATO in 1955, German–American relations have been a cornerstone of transatlantic and European security and stability. Both Washington and pre-unification Bonn championed liberal democracy, free trade and fundamental civil and human rights. Allied commitment to these values after unification confirmed their importance for
transatlantic security at the end of the Cold War. The US and the Federal Republic were the driving forces behind the reform of institutions such as NATO and the EU, and their enlargement to include former Soviet bloc states.
But now, between Donald Trump and Brexit, we are faced with the possibility of serious changes in European security. The US–German relationship seems more uncertain than ever. Donald Trump and Angela Merkel are trying, painfully, to address the trade and security imbalances of the 21st century. But at the end of the 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Merkel made a strong statement. The days when one could fully rely on others are over. Europeans, she suggested, must take their destiny into their own hands.
Meanwhile, Britain continues to estrange itself from the European project. At the same time, Russia is challenging the post-Cold War European settlement to reclaim some influence on former satellites and Soviet republics.
The Anglo–American ‘Special Relationship’
More than 70 years ago, Winston Churchill tried to whip up American support for the British position over Europe and the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, London encouraged US efforts to keep Soviet ambitions on Europe and Germany at bay. Nonetheless, the two countries’ views were not always identical. Washington genuinely supported the liberation of the ‘captive nations’ of Eastern Europe and the German people’s ambition to self-determination and unity following the establishment of the Soviet bloc. Britain, meanwhile, took a more careful approach.
A fundamental British concern was the balance of power in Europe. On occasions, this mattered more than the East European and German ambition to self-determination and freedom. In the early 1950s, Churchill tried to strike a deal with the Soviets over Germany to promote détente with Moscow. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher remained skeptical, as US President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III swiftly consented to Germany’s unification. The British then offered a hand of reconciliation to the Russians. In early 1990, Whitehall attempted to put German unification on hold by deepening bilateral cooperation with France and seeking the support of other European nations.