The Essential Relationship

The trans-Atlantic bond was for generations defined by the strength of the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom. But the world changes, and so too must constellations among nations if they are to confront the vast problems of the modern era. In the early 21st century, it is the relationship between the US and Germany that forms the bedrock of the trans-Atlantic partnership.

That link, however, is hamstrung by a legacy of misunderstandings that now undermines Western efforts on a range of issues. The period bookended by disagreement over the Iraq War and outrage in the aftermath of the NSA scandal has left Washington and Berlin struggling to exert the full force of trans-Atlantic leadership that current global crises demand. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets US President Barack Obama at the White House on February 9, the two leaders will inevitably discuss the multiple challenges facing the West. Finding a joint approach to those challenges will be the measure of their meeting’s success.

Merkel may be traveling to Washington as part of the traditional duties of the host of an upcoming G7 summit, but her White House talks will undoubtedly include three topics of acute concern to the bilateral relationship. These issues―Islamic extremism, the escalating conflict in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, and the pressing need for an economic spark in Europe in part via a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)―require the US and Germany to create an “essential relationship” based on a shared past and a shared vision of the future. German-American links are solid, but they need strengthening for this essential relationship to emerge. For this to happen, the US would benefit by viewing these issues through a German prism and recognizing that Berlin has distinct interests and constituencies that must be considered.

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