Transatlantic Relations under Strain
Nora Müller Executive Director International Affairs, Körber-Stiftung, Berlin
Ronja Scheler, Programme Director International Affairs, Körber-Stiftung, Berlin
The Atlantic is widening, at least in the eyes of the German population. Our survey shows that Germans doubt that their country and the US are “Wunderbar Together”. A slight uptick in numbers compared to 2018 cannot conceal that German public opinion on the transatlantic partnership remains lukewarm: About two thirds of respondents consider German-American relations to be in bad shape – quite unlike Americans, who overwhelmingly rate the relationship as good or very good. Notably, 35 % of Germans would prefer less cooperation between Washington and Berlin.
Germans even appear to question the transatlantic security partnership – a long-term pillar of German and US foreign policy. On the one hand, 40 % of Germans favour an increase of defence expenditures, seemingly accommodating American demands for Germany to fulfil its NATO pledges. On the other hand, increases to Germany’s defence budget may also render Berlin more independent from US foreign and security policy, which appears to be the overriding preference of the German public: 52 % support Berlin becoming more independent from the US, even if this required Germany to more than double its defence budget of currently € 43 billion – a remarkable result for pacifist German society. Even more striking, only 22 % of Germans support the country’s reliance on America’s nuclear umbrella. Two out of five Germans would rather see their country seeking nuclear protection from France and the UK. Furthermore, 45 % of Germans are not convinced that US military bases in Germany are important to its national security. Americans, once again, attach greater value to transatlantic security cooperation, with 85 % of US respondents considering these bases as integral to US national security.
If the above is bad news to you, it might get worse: Only a narrow majority of Germans (55 %, and only 47 % of under-35-year-olds!) endorse their country’s integration into the “West”. These results raise important questions for the transatlantic partnership as much as the overall strategic direction of German foreign policy. Finding answers will require not only some deep thinking in foreign policy circles, but also greater engagement and dialogue with citizens about the future of transatlantic relations.
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