1. A Different Ever Closer Union
By George Friedman
The G-20 summit, slated to take place in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, generated many headlines but little substance. The press portrayed this meeting as a showdown between U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as if Barack Obama and Merkel did not have their differences, as if the only sticking point between two countries could be the esteem in which their leaders held each other.
Germany and the United States have become hostile toward each other not because of the personalities of their leaders but because they have fundamental differences, including their positions on NATO. The U.S. wants NATO to be a military alliance with all members having a significant military capability. Germany wants NATO to be primarily a political organization with a secondary military role.
Before attending the G-20 meeting in Germany, Trump will visit Poland for what has been called the Three Seas summit, so named because it will include countries bordering the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas. The U.S. and Poland have shared interests, particularly when it comes to Russia. But while their approach to Moscow brought these two countries closer together, it also pushed them further away from Germany.
The fundamental differences between the U.S. and Germany are based on divergent geopolitical views. The United States remains the only global military power. At the moment, it is engaged in military operations in the Middle East, in a tense confrontation in North Korea, in military gestures in the South China Sea and in a military deployment in Eastern Europe. These operations can change since the U.S., driven by global events, is a reactive power. But there is also a grand strategy to U.S. operations overseas. The major threat to the U.S. is the consolidation of Europe and Asia under a single entity, an entity whose total power would overmatch U.S. power. The U.S. interest in all these regions, therefore, has to be seen in a global context.
U.S. military vehicles make their way on an army training camp near Brueck, northeastern Germany, on January 11, 2017. About 40 soldiers spent the night at the camp before continuing their way to Poland as part of the Operation Atlantic Resolve in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. RALF HIRSCHBERGER/AFP/Getty Images
- Germany is a local power. It has built its regional influence on economic rather than military power. It depends on the European Union, which gives Germany a free trade zone for its exports, control over the pricing of the euro through its influence in the European Central Bank, and a dominant position in Brussels.
- Given the architecture of German power, Berlin has little desire to become entangled in American global actions. It also sees conflict in general as a threat to its economic position.
- Germany and the U.S. therefore see Russia through these different lenses. For the U.S., it is one of a series of global confrontations, and military power is a central feature of any U.S. response. For Germany, the Russian confrontation is a regional conflict, and any possibility that it could escalate to a military confrontation poses a strategic threat to German interests.