Steinmeier, Clinton and EU/U.S. Foreign Policy
Intent on ensuring that Germany’s interests are to the fore as the Obama administration finds its sea legs in the turgid flow of international relations during a time of great global disorder, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been very early and quite persistent in seeking the ear of Hillary Clinton.
No sooner had Mrs. Clinton been confirmed as the new American secretary of state on January 21 than Herr Steinmeier quickly dispatched a letter of congratulations. This he followed up with a telephone call the next day, with events in the Middle East very much on his mind.
Barely a week and a half later, Steinmeier had hightailed it to New York to have a tête-à-tête with his U.S. counterpart on Tuesday. The fact that he was pipped at the post by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whom Secretary Clinton saw two hours previous to meeting with Steinmeier, produced not even a blip on the horizon of the German vice chancellor’s agenda.
Miliband’s visit with Mrs. Clinton was given scant coverage by the U.S. media. The Telegraph notes that “It has been said that the new president does not share the affinity for Britain of his predecessors, while in speeches since his election he has lumped Britain in with other European allies” (February 4).
The Telegraph maintains that Miliband “[s]ecuring the first meeting with Mrs. Clinton was something of a coup for Foreign Office officials, after speculation that the special relationship with the United States might weaken under Mr. Obama.” However, realists understand that Britain is in the process of losing its national sovereignty and being reduced to becoming a mere appendage of the European Union, with much-reduced clout in its international relations under Prime Minister Brown’s government. This, President Obama clearly understands.
The reality is that, despite Mrs. Clinton acknowledging the historic nature of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain, that relationship in President Obama’s mind is secondary to that which he sees Germany and the EU fulfilling. This is most especially the case when it comes to helping to get the U.S. off the hook in the Middle East and Afghanistan as well as the EU becoming more directly involved in both nato- and UN-sponsored forays into foreign climes.
In these respects, Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy inclinations mesh neatly with those of Germany.
The next few months will offer a very strong test to the newly appointed Obama foreign-policy team. Notwithstanding the ongoing situation in the Middle East, whichever way you slice the cake the arena for foreign policy in the first half of the year is clearly a European one.
With Davos, Switzerland, already having kicked the year off in January with the World Economic Forum’s annual talkfest, the word’s elite will no sooner have unpacked their bags and off they’ll go to Rome, London, Munich, Berlin, Strasbourg/Kehl—all of which will host conferences of the very highest level, between February and June. These high-powered conferences will all demand involvement by an Obama administration still wet behind the ears when it comes to understanding European affairs.
Vice Chancellor Steinmeier has an extra reason to seek to be influential in the development of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy. No fan of the previous president, nor for that matter having shown himself a friend at all to the U.S., Steinmeier differs markedly from Chancellor Merkel in both aspects. With the German election less than seven months away and the chancellor bogged down seeking an answer to Germany’s rapidly deepening recession, Frank-Walter Steinmeier is cranking up Germany’s foreign-policy profile with dual intent.
There’s no doubt that as recession bites deeper into the German economy, the government will receive the blame from a fickle public, and Chancellor Merkel’s ratings will continue to plummet as the months go by. Steinmeier, being the major alternative contender for the chancellorship, is taking full advantage of Merkel’s unfortunate position.
Whether it’s the Middle East, Afghanistan, China, Russia or the U.S., wherever the major foreign-policy issue of the day emerges within this world in flux, Steinmeier is there, seeking to wring most benefit out of each situation for Germany’s position in its international relations, while at the same time reaping much footage for play and replay on the nightly news. This all serves to enhance his election profile.
That his job embraces the former is a given. That, in an important election year for Germany, Steinmeier can tag his election drive on to his shuttle diplomacy is a fillip of which he is intent of making the most.
Yet there is one overarching issue that Frank-Walter Steinmeier is pursuing of which we shall hear much over the coming months. Germany’s foreign minister is pushing hard to take advantage of the new U.S. administration to gain across-the-board support for the development of a new transatlantic agenda.
There’s no doubt that he will press hard for this at both the Munich Security Conference this weekend and the upcoming nato summit in April. In this initiative, Steinmeier has the support of Russia’s Prime Minister Putin. The Obama foreign policy will have to confront the dual strength of an already implicit Russo-German alliance in the making. This will give the experienced, hard-nosed German-Russian connection a powerful position from which to argue its case for a new Atlantic alliance that fits with the intended Russo-German pact.
The Obama administration is on the back foot even before the battle is joined in Munich this weekend.
On the very eve of the Munich Security Conference, the EU gave fair warning to the new U.S. administration that it is intent on having a stronger influence on American foreign policy, while at the same time signaling a further heightening of German military influence and presence in the Continent’s defense and security arrangements.
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy used a joint column posted on the website of French newspaper Le Monde to say that links needed to be tightened due to the international challenges,” TheParliament.com reported (February 4). In a shot across President Obama’s bows, the EU duo declared, “Unilateral decision-making would contradict the new spirit of our relations.” That should send a signal to the new American administration that the EU demands a more powerful say in any future defense and security cooperation that the U.S. seeks with Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.
The tone of the Merkel/Sarkozy column hinted at more significant changes being made in any future Atlantic alliance, an arrangement that would no doubt still see the EU taking full advantage of American largesse to prop up European security at American expense, while at the same time implying that a U.S./European relationship must “adapt … to the new challenges.” The column continued, “This implies analyzing the situations together, taking common decisions and implementing them together” (euobserver.com, February 4). This is simply another way of saying the EU is demanding a much bigger role in the decision-making process within any ongoing Atlantic alliance.
In particular, this thinking goes hand in hand with the focus of Germany’s military elite, which especially sees more direct involvement in nato’s chain of command, most particularly in Afghanistan. Though Germany’s media generally indicate that the nation disfavors further involvement in Afghanistan, they do not read the intent of the inner machinations of the German military hierarchy nor the country’s foreign-policy elite.
One Franco/German action that should send signals to the Obama camp that the nature of defense and security is changing, is the historic move to have German troops stationed in France for the first time since Germany occupied that country during World War ii.
Ten years ago this would have been unheard of. Yet so effectively has the Brussels/Berlin technocracy worked—since the illegal war stimulated by the joint German-Vatican efforts to deliberately destabilize the Balkan Peninsula in the 1990s—to massage Germany back into a global security profile, that Germany is now being pressured to contribute more to global defense and security!
Mrs. Clinton asked both Britain and Germany to share more of the burden in Afghanistan during her meetings with the foreign ministers of both these countries this week. However, she is very much aware that of these two nations, only Germany has the wherewithal to meet this challenge, and that, behind the scenes, Germany actually seeks it, though appearing publicly to be reluctant to take it on.
Faced with drastic reductions in its defense budget and an economy teetering on the brink of failure, Britain cannot even mount sufficient force to secure its own coastal perimeter. In addition to this, the nation has closed down or sold off most of its manufacturing capability to foreign interests.
Germany, on the other hand, is the leading economy within a combine of 27 nation-states. Germany has more than once proven its capacity to speedily convert its industrial machinery from churning out domestic goods to delivering military hardware.
During a time of economic crisis, cranking up Germany’s military industry, with its wide investments across the entire European continent, would deliver a real shot in the arm to a recessionary European Union. At the same time, it would strongly bolster a revised transatlantic defense and security agreement, while meeting the Obama criteria of enabling a drastic drawdown of U.S. involvement in ongoing theaters of conflict in exchange for a higher EU global defense profile.
Watch Munich this weekend for the tide to turn in the Atlantic alliance. As you watch, remember the words of Herbert W. Armstrong who declared over half a century ago, when it seemed an unthinkable possibility, “The Germans are a vigorous, hard-working people, with just one common goal—to restore Germany to world power—to put Germany back where once again she can set out to conquer the world!” (co-worker letter, Sept. 18, 1954).
Our booklet Germany and the Holy Roman Empire would be an excellent choice for reading in preparation for observing the outcome of this weekend’s extremely important Munich Security Conference.