- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

For many Germans it is truly distressing to have to sit by and helplessly watch our own government trample an alliance into the ground that has served Germany so well for more than 50 years.

Twelve years after the end of the Cold War, we seem to be at a new departure. Fifty years ago, when the post-war world took shape, we started into the then new world order of the Cold War at the side of the United States. Defeated Germany soon grew into the role of the U.S. strategic partner on the European Continent. The United States profited, Europe profited and most of all: Germany. This time around, as we enter another new and threatening world order, the contours of which we can barely guess, Berlin chooses to alienate our strongest ally and friend, and in the process undermine the very institutions Germany has relied on for so long: the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the Berlin government celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1963 Paris Treaty of French-German friendship and at the same time managed to undo its very foundations. For it were not the pretty blue eyes of the Germans that made Charles de Gaulle offer them that treaty, but concern for French national interests. At the time, Paris had reason to be worried. France had won the war, held a seat in the U.N. Security Council and considered itself a big power. However, Germany enjoyed privileged relations with the United States, which added to its influence in Europe. With growing alarm, Paris visualized a Europe spinning around what the French already called the "Washington-Bonn axis." For no other reason but to counter Washington's influence in Bonn and West Germany's growing influence in Europe, De Gaulle signed this treaty with Germany on a basis of parity. Both sides profited enormously, Paris in political and Bonn in moral terms. Only 18 years after total defeat, Germany found herself being courted by Washington and Paris.

For 50 years the U.S.-German alliance has been at the foundation of French-German reconciliation and the process of European integration jump-started by it. But today, the Berlin government seriously believes it can discard the alliance with the United States and still leave Franco-German relations and the edifice of European integration intact. For 50 years Germany enjoyed enhanced standing in Europe as Washington's junior partner. Now, Berlin will have to adapt to a new role that of France's junior partner.

What a trade. No one is going to profit from it neither Germany, nor France, nor Europe.

Already cracks and fissures reappear on the landscape of Europe. Small wonder. For half a century, a mere U.S. presence made obsolete old European rivalries. All the members of the alliance needed Washington and NATO for their protection, tiny Luxemburg just as much as larger Germany. The alliance with Washington had an equalizing effect on all of them.

As members of NATO, they were indeed equal. Weaken that alliance, and a struggle for direction and dominance in Europe will ensue. Already the EU seems to be split over the issue of U.S.-European relations: Recently, eight European governments proclaimed their solidarity with the United States and openly rebelled against a European foreign policy line determined by Paris and Berlin. Eleven candidates for accession to EU and NATO promptly followed suit. The lesson is obvious: For them, as well as for many member countries of long-standing, NATO's main function is that of a vehicle for their real ambition the alliance with Washington. They are not going to allow Paris and Berlin to wreck it. Berlin's and Paris' attempt to forge a diplomatic triangle with Moscow and the ensuing photo-opportunities with Russian President Vladimir Putin surely must have brought up terrible memories in many Eastern European capitals. Is that supposed to be the alternative to the alliance with Washington? What a deal.

It is a pretty safe assumption that the red-green government in Berlin will remain set on auto-pilot and on collision course with Washington. Seeds of distrust have been sown within NATO. The EU is torn between two diplomatic camps. Trans-Atlantic relations will never be the same again. However, there may be a silver lining. One may be forgiven for wondering whether the Western alliance really was well equipped for the beginning of a new century and a new and dangerous world order. For half a century, it has been NATO's raison d'etre to avoid and deter action. It succeeded brilliantly at it. The United Nations' function was to stabilize the bipolar world order and serve as a forum and a framework within which to settle disputes.

Now the bipolar world is gone. We find ourselves waking up in a world in which action is not only possible, but may also become necessary in a number of crisis zones. But all we have is institutions and organizations that were designed with the objective in mind to make action unnecessary. NATO will have to reform. There seems to be little use for an alliance that is incapable of acting in this unfolding new world disorder.

The United Nations, too, will have to rethink its role: It is hard to see how the United Nations can stay relevant if some of its leading members continue to believe its main purpose was to tie down the United States and prevent Washington from acting. The world may need Washington to act, and the United States may need constructive advice and support from trusted friends. At the end of the present crisis and of this agonizing realignment of alliances, the world will look very different.

Hopefully, Germany will by then have regained its place as a trusted friend of the United States. Europe can be such a lonely and treacherous place.


Heinrich Maetzke is a Munich-based historian and foreign affairs editor of a Bavarian weekly.

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