On March 10th, 1952, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Federal Republic of Germany received a very unusual note from the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union offered with withdraw troops that were in eastern Germany at the time, essentially ending their rule over the occupied zone. If this were to happen, Germany would be reunited under a constitution that allowed its people to choose the social system they wanted.
Germany would even be allowed to rebuild its military, and all Germans that weren’t convicted of war crimes would have their political rights back in full. The allied troops in Western Germany would be withdrawn, and the newly reunited Germany would not be allowed to join the new NATO alliance.
Many historians have debated as to whether or not the note from the Soviet Union was genuine, or just a cynical ploy. German Chancellor Konrad and Adenauer rebuffed the note from Stalin. West Germany went on to enter NATO officially in 1955, build the European Union and develop as an Atlantacist liberal democracy.
The Soviet Union continued looking for ways to separate Germany from the West, and especially from the United States. Their closest effort to do so occurred in the early 1980s when millions of Germans marched in the streets against NATO nuclear missile deployments.
The efforts of Stalin didn’t work though, and the alliance stayed firmly together. The Soviet’s attempt at complete dominance fell through altogether, as did the Soviet Union itself. Germany became reunited on Western terms. The United States was largely credited with Germany’s swift and smooth reunification. Germany is still grateful for the assistance they received from the United States, and they have expressed their gratitude a number of times over the years.
But when the U.S. attempted to mobilize the European powers to manage the breakup of Yugoslavia, Germany wasn’t ready to take on such risk. The George W. Bush-Gerhard Shroeder split over the Iraq War in 2003 definitively ended German submission and respect for American leadership.
Over the years since then, Germany has relied less and less on the United States for assistance, choosing to become more independent. Many Germans were very happy about Obama’s presidential win back in 2008, but it wasn’t enough to maintain German relations with the United States. In fact, relations between the two countries sank to an all time low during Obama’s presidency. Merkel ignored Obama’s pleas to stimulate the German economy after the financial crises of 2008 as well as the Euro crises of 2010.
The Snowden revelations, which included claims that the United States had tapped Merkel’s personal cellphone, only served to expand the divide between the two nations. In June of 2014, Germany took the unprecedented action of expelling the senior U.S. intelligence officer in Berlin, announcing the action over Twitter. Germany’s expressed trust in the United States went from a high of 76 percent after Obama’s election to 35 percent by 2014. A majority of Germans said they viewed Edward Snowden has a hero.
The next president who would be elected in 2016 would have an uphill battle on their hands when it came to rebuilding the U.S.’s relationship with Germany. So far, President Trump has done quite a bit of damage to this relationship. When it comes to German post-war politics, the policy is pretty much liberalism within the country and Atlantacism outside. While a small number of people are uncomfortable with the first, a larger minority cast doubt on the second.
There is no question that Germans remember the past when it comes to the Nazis, but they also remember that American bombers burned many cities in Germany to ashes. Germans have found themselves a platform to speak about their country’s history, expressing their emotional distance from nations who were once close allies.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States shook a lot of the assumptions that Germans held about Americans. The large divide between the U.S. and Germany coincided with the United Kingdom breaking itself away from the European Union, which has weakened London’s clout versus Berlin considerably. It will be necessary for Britain to renegotiate access to the EU market, and Germany will have the power to accept or decline.
Numerous polls show that Germany’s confidence in the United States as a whole, which declined under the Obama administration, has lowered even more since Trump got elected. Merkel has officially given notice that she will lead German efforts to make itself even more independent from the U.S. In a speech where she went up in front of 2,000 people on Sunday, she declared that Europe cannot rely on the United States and United Kingdom. She also said, “The times in which we would completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”
One of the things that is interesting is that she said “we Europeans” as opposed to Germans. She also did not rule out that Europe might need to rely on the United States and U.K.in the future. The message she was sending that the door is not closed so to speak, and that anything is possible.
Over the past few months, Trump has vehemently refused to endorse NATO’s Article 5, which guarantees mutual defense. It is of no surprise to most people that Trump’s first trip abroad went so poorly, but it could have far reaching implications for the future. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster insists that President Trump did affirm Article 5, though there is evidence to the contrary to say the least. The Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, declared on record that he couldn’t be more pleased with how the president’s trip went. There is no question that Donald Trump is doing quite a bit of damage to foreign policy interests of the U.S., and this trip is an affirmation of that.