TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON ON AN EQUAL FOOTING EVER POSSIBLE? LESSONS FROM BERLIN AND LONDON

upa-admin 10 Mayıs 2024 304 Okunma 0
TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON ON AN EQUAL FOOTING EVER POSSIBLE? LESSONS FROM BERLIN AND LONDON

Introduction

Analyzing diplomatic relations between two nations can be a cumbersome academic undertaking. On the one hand, we are of course able to comment about what is delivered into the public domain be it live coverage of foreign affairs parliamentary debates or attending a press conference with two countries’ leaders or representatives after a joint high-level gathering. On the other hand, we will measure tangible outputs by studying long-term successes or failures of bilateral contacts and relations, think French-Spanish relations after Spain became a (back then still the EC) European Communities member state; over time – that is from 1986 until today, 2024 – much will have been written by esteemed colleagues allowing for in-depth desk studies.[i] Another option is most definitely to rely on personal contacts, the so-called ‘background’ or ‘Chatham House rules’ interviews, and face-to-face meetings between researchers and politicians.[ii]

However, here we are confronted with a dilemma: certainly, a Foreign Minister or member of parliament will happily go in front of the microphone regardless of switched on or off, depending on the occasion but the tricky issue at stake here is what are we hearing and learning during that conversation? Is our opposite number perhaps playing to the gallery instead of disseminating facts? A risk-free approach would be to only rely on adopted parliamentary or for example adopted United Nations Security Council documents, respectively, where we see who voted for what. The real challenge and the most promising way to deal with the latter approach is however not just to comment on the ‘who and what’ but to try and figure out the ‘why’; in all likelihood, a combination of all possible inroads mentioned in this introduction would be employed – cumbersome indeed as indicated in the first line of this paragraph but ultimately extremely worthwhile. Putting four separate yet at the same time intertwined nation-states into the mix adds to the researcher’s fascination with the topic as we will look at a European Union member state (Germany), a former European Union member state (United Kingdom), a global superpower (United States of America) and a candidate country to the European Union albeit having become a regional and globally lauded very successful foreign policy actor despite of after decades in the waiting room not having been given the ‘green light’ by ill-fated anti-full-membership Brussels’ elites (Türkiye). Initially, we shall focus on West Germany in the 1970s, the United Kingdom in the 1980s, and Türkiye after 2002.

1. Moscow is Geographically Speaking Closer to Berlin than to Washington – Contradictions in the Post-World War II Emergence of German Transatlanticism

In the 1970s, the Federal Republic of West Germany was solidly in the hands of the Social Democrat Party – SPD, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. After Chancellor Willy Brandt, it was Helmut Schmidt who took over at the helm of the country. Granted there was a sizeable influence of and by the Free Democrats (FDP, Freie Demokratische Partei) ironically yet ultimately leading to the downfall of Schmidt’s tenure (some say leading to the betrayal of Schmidt); besides, and what is of high relevance for our study is that although the SPD won easily at the ballot box it never managed to achieve above 50 percent, actually well below. Hence, a coalition partner was the order of the day. During the 1970s, the FDP favored the SPD and with the Greens not yet in the political arena, a stable government was guaranteed. How to make your future coalition partner politically happy so to speak? Allocate them to the position of Foreign Minister, first Walter Scheel, then Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Genscher became synonymous with an aspiring, modern West Germany; the way he achieved this on his part was to engage in an almost global roadshow year in, year out.[iii]

One could argue that during that period in German history, we detect a clear-cut division of tasks – foreign policies should be left to the foreign office and minister, respectively, and all other or most other domestic policy-making areas to the Chancellor and his other ‘non-foreign policy’ cabinet members.

This in turn may lead – and lead – to much conflict and misunderstandings even more so if one of the coalition partners and in this case the SPD is deeply divided over how to manage international affairs and relations. Before we delve into that rich in material – domain let us briefly look back at why West Germany became so close to the United States in the first place. Discussing whether relations with Washington helped gain West Germany complete sovereign status or whether it was being a leading member of the EC did so instead (see above) complete this chapter.

Here we must study the ‘Atlantic Bridge’, Atlantik-Brücke. In their own words and duly acknowledged and here in this paragraph translated by the author of this contribution[iv], Atlantik-Brücke was founded in 1952. The Federal Republic of Germany was young and there was a lack of civil society forces to strengthen ties with the West in a sustainable and long-term manner. The aim of the founding fathers and mothers of the non-partisan organization was to rebuild the Americans’ trust in the Germans. In doing so, they wanted to lay the foundations for a good transatlantic relationship. At the same time as Atlantik-Brücke, the American Council on Germany (ACG) was founded in the U.S. as an American sister organization, which began to promote understanding and exchange with Germany. Since its foundation, Atlantik-Brücke has focused on promoting personal encounters between German and American leaders. It therefore offers high-ranking decision-makers from business, politics, and science from both sides of the Atlantic a platform for meetings and networking with their peers. Initially, Atlantik-Brücke made a special effort to inform the American public about Germany and thus arouse interest in the country and its people. Co-operation with the American armed forces in Germany has always been a major concern of Atlantik-Brücke. From 1957 to 1970, the organization published an English-language information sheet for American soldiers stationed in Germany. In addition, political education seminars were offered for American officers. With the end of the Cold War, the transatlantic relationship has changed fundamentally. Europe and America are confronted with different economic, ecological, and political challenges.

Curious? How would such a strong transatlantic liaison impact on socialist, and social democrat voices in post-war Germany? All perfect or any concerns about leaning too much toward the West alone?

In the next part of this chapter, we shall try to better understand why all was not that obvious as the leading coalition partner during the 1970s, the SPD was rather divided about those close relations; one could almost say that by the mid-1970s when Helmut Schmidt declared during a national election campaign that West Germany had become a model nation, “Modell Deutschland” which resonated extremely well with the new-found voter base of the SPD, the middle classes and not any longer just the working classes the party engaged in heavy infighting.[v]

The SPD wanted to portray itself as a people’s party, a “Volkspartei”. Meik Woyke wrote a fantastic insight paper on 24 October 2020 about the Transatlantic partnership instead of ‘America First’, “Helmut Schmidt and the United States of America”.[vi] Even as a young member of the Bundestag in the 1950s, Helmut Schmidt visited the United States several times, partly to sharpen his expertise and profile in defense and security policy. He was encouraged in this by Fritz Erler, the SPD parliamentary group’s defense expert, who introduced him to transatlantic security circles and networks. In 1957, Schmidt met Henry Kissinger for the first time, who was teaching at Harvard on the U.S. East Coast (…) Schmidt was extremely taken with his dialogue partner. The two became friends and remained political allies to the end. Kissinger’s terms in office as National Security Advisor (1969-1973) and as Secretary of State (1973-1977) under U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford partly coincided with Schmidt’s work as Federal Minister and the subsequent years as Chancellor. Their dialogue was particularly intensive during this period.

At the helm of the defense ministry since October 1969, Schmidt closely linked his first federal ministerial office with his security policy concept of a strategy of balance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which he had formulated more than a decade earlier. At that time, he did not yet assign a defense policy role to the European Community, but he did emphasize the growing responsibility of the European NATO states. Schmidt was extremely critical of NATO’s strategy of nuclear retaliation against the USSR, as it would have turned both parts of Germany into a nuclear battlefield in an emergency. Together with his friend, French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Schmidt, therefore, caricatured the U.S. President as an unreliable ‘peanut farmer’ who lacked the security policy experience required for his powerful office.

Against this background, it is also remarkable that Helmut Schmidt, as the representative of Germany, which had been defeated in the Second World War, succeeded in bringing about the NATO Dual-Track Decision of 12 December 1979.

Given the Cold War bloc confrontation, Schmidt was concerned about the lack of parity in medium-range nuclear weapons. If the Soviet Union was not prepared to negotiate the reduction of its SS-20 missiles, the U.S. would have to station sufficient Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, not least in the Federal Republic of Germany, following the NATO Dual-Track Decision. This stance earned Schmidt a lot of criticism from his party. Alongside the SPD, the growing peace movement voiced its opposition.[vii]

Which lessons can be learned as this is the subject matter of this paper? First, it is democratic practice and standard to have differing views about how near, or how distanced, a particular European nation should position itself concerning Washington. Second, it was in all likelihood more cumbersome for center-left leaning politicians to accept the post-war reality that there is technically speaking no way around the U.S.; what can be discussed is the degree of dependency or shall we rather say, inter-dependency. Third, as we approach our next country study, even center-left-leaning politicians think former Prime Minister Tony Blair might prefer a close transatlantic bonding instead of overly welcoming advances from Russia.

2. Post-War Britain: Nothing More Than Little America?

The interesting thing is that at a time when the fortunes of the SPD in West Germany had been declining and eventually, Helmut Kohl took over the position of Chancellor early during the 80s – a conservative politician of the Christian Democrat Party, the CDU – in Britain it had been Margaret Thatcher who became Prime Minister in 1979 for the entire approaching next decade. Hence it allows for very good comparative material as West Germany by then was soon to be under CDU control and Britain under the wings of the Tories, too. What changed in bilateral relations between London and Washington during that era, and what did not?

Let us in our second case study go deeper into the general history of UK-U.S. relations before approaching the same issue, does full sovereignty guarantee equal footing with Washington or never?

The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is one of the most significant and enduring alliances in modern history. Over centuries, this partnership has defied political change, global conflict, and economic transformation, evolving into a multi-layered bond that shapes world affairs. The historical foundations of British-American relations date back to the colonial period when the thirteen American colonies were under British rule. Despite the initial tensions that led to the American Revolutionary War, the two nations later reconciled and established diplomatic relations with the Jay Treaty of 1794. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the relationship was further cemented by a common language, legal system, and cultural values. Besides, the alliance between the UK and the U.S. was central to both world wars, with joint military efforts playing a crucial role in victory. The period after the Second World War saw the emergence of the Cold War, in which the UK and the U.S. worked closely together within NATO to combat Soviet influence and promote democratic values worldwide. We might argue it is a ‘Special Relationship’ concerning the unique bond between the UK and the U.S., coined by Prime Minister Winston Churchill after the Second World War. This partnership encompasses not only political and military cooperation, but also joint intelligence services, economic integration, and cultural exchange. That special relationship has endured despite occasional disagreements and reflects a commitment to shared interests and values. At a diplomatic level, the UK and the U.S. often agree on key international issues such as counter-terrorism, climate change, and human rights. The exchange of high-level visits, diplomatic consultations, and joint initiatives demonstrates a commitment to tackling global challenges together. Economically, the UK and the U.S. maintain robust trade relations, with bilateral trade totaling billions of dollars annually. Both nations are major investors in each other economies, fueling innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Negotiations on a comprehensive trade agreement post-Brexit emphasize the importance of further strengthening economic ties. In the area of defense and security, the UK and the U.S. work closely together through military alliances, intelligence sharing, and joint operations. This partnership strengthens collective security and enables effective responses to new threats ranging from terrorism to cyber warfare. Cultural exchanges and people-to-people relations play an important role in UK-U.S. relations, fostering mutual understanding and friendship. Educational exchanges, tourism, and shared cultural heritage deepen the bond between the two nations that transcends political differences. The future of UK-U.S. relations holds both opportunities and challenges. As global dynamics evolve, both nations must adapt to new geopolitical realities while preserving the core values that underpin their alliance. Continued collaboration on emerging issues such as cybersecurity, global health, and technological innovation will be critical to shaping a safer and more prosperous world. To summarize, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is a cornerstone of international diplomacy based on a shared history, shared values, and shared interests. From historic alliances to today’s cooperation, the UK-U.S. relationship has stood the test of time and embodies an unwavering commitment to peace, prosperity, and freedom on the world stage. The world is in a constant state of flux and the enduring partnership between these two nations remains vital to tackling global challenges and realizing shared goals.

One could say that close bilateral relations with Washington had become ‘state policy’, something which was taken for granted and not discussed. Interestingly enough, even during the miner’s strikes, anti-American voices were seldom topping the rhetoric of protestors; the British government was the target and their perceived as anti-working class directed modernization and privatization policies. Of course, the opposition Labour Party at the time was in favor of a balanced foreign policy-making approach incorporating both Moscow and Washington but fringe groups, for example those publishing the magazine Socialist Worker, were nothing but tolerated footnotes in the day-to-day running of the nation.

Surprisingly it was not until the Tony Blair years that mainstream media and even pop culture took the debate ‘how close shall we be to America’ on board. One such notable pop culture occurrence was a pop video by famous artist George Michael illustrating his generation’s concerns about the ‘ever closer transatlantic alliance’.[viii] In this pop video, Michael pictured in a kind of animated cartoon that Blair would drag the United Kingdom on a rope across the North Atlantic to become a geographical annex of North America, The Guardian commented with the headline ‘George Michael lampoons ‘poodle’ Blair.

Still, much less an issue when compared with the German pro and con – groupings in politics and society. Britain just accepted the fact that a close transatlantic relationship is something normal, nothing to be argued about despite some limited numbers of critical voices mentioned in this brief analysis.

We shall now come to the next chapter of this study – what can Türkiye take on board from the experiences of both Germany and Britain? And reversely, what should those two nations perhaps take on board from Türkiye’s approach towards 360-degree foreign policy making?

3. Türkiye The Kid No More – How to Stay Transatlantic Whilst Looking North, South, East, and West?

The relationship between Türkiye and the United States is a complex interplay of shared interests, strategic partnerships, and divergent priorities. This paper examines besides the above two further countries the historical context, current dynamics, and prospects of the Turkish-American relationship and highlights the challenges and opportunities associated with this important bilateral partnership.

The historical foundations of Turkish-American relations can be traced back to the post-World War II period when Türkiye became a NATO ally in 1952. During the Cold War, Türkiye served as an important bulwark against Soviet expansionism, hosting U.S. military bases and supporting Western security interests in the region. Over the decades, relations have evolved from a primarily security-focused alliance to a broader political, economic, and cultural dimension. Türkiye and the United States are strategic partners in addressing regional and global challenges, including counterterrorism, regional stability, and energy security. Despite occasional disagreements on certain policy issues, both nations share a common interest in promoting stability and prosperity in the Middle East, countering extremist threats, and fostering economic cooperation. Military cooperation between Türkiye and the U.S. is a cornerstone of their relations. Joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and defense cooperation enhance regional security and interoperability. However, differences of opinion on certain regional issues, such as Syria and Kurdish groups, have occasionally strained military relations and led to diplomatic friction. Economically, Türkiye and the United States maintain significant trade and investment relations, with bilateral trade volumes reaching billions of dollars annually. Both countries benefit from reciprocal investment opportunities and trade partnerships, although trade imbalances and market access issues remain contentious.

Let us return once more to the concept of sovereignty, here with regards to the Republic of Türkiye in the two decades after 2002. Much is written about the question of whether any country in the 21st Century can be a fully sovereign state in the first place. Some analysts argue that from the list of our four studied nations only the United States could be considered as fully sovereign. Any EU member state must accept the fact that although technically sovereign, EU Law always supersedes national law. Britain in a post-Brexit world will realize that alliances between other supposedly sovereign states, not constrained by EU Law, hardly manage to replace being part of that very block benefiting from combined negotiating power so to speak. Türkiye as a candidate country technically speaking has to implement the entire body of EU Law, commonly referred to as the Acquis Communautaire, before even becoming a full member state. So how does Türkiye go about all these constraints?

Evaluating current relations between the U.S. and Türkiye and what could become a milestone in letting Washington understand how far Ankara has traveled in this context let us look at Türkiye’s recent proposals for the reform of a major instrument of global policies, the United Nations Security Council.

In his highly acclaimed book ‘A Fairer World Is Possible’ Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan puts forward a set of ideas to modernize the United Nations internal structures and in particular those of the United Nations Security Council. A much-cited comment made by the President around the time of the publication of his book in September 2021, “The world is bigger than five, perfectly underlines his concerns. He wrote ‘It is neither moral nor fair for just five nations to make decisions on issues that could influence the fate of the world. The world is bigger than five countries.[ix]

Türkiye openly asks to limit the timeframe of permanent Security Council members same as is currently employed for non-permanent members. There is an intertwined issue debated at present: if the first reform had been pushed through the veto system would need to be abolished as well. Why to use this example? On the one hand individual states’ bilateral relations might come across as being easy to detect and adequately measure whether there are any tangible benefits on both ends. On the other hand, carrying out the same exercise about a regional transnational or international body such as the European Union is already more complicated and affords even greater scrutiny.

Yet the fact alone that Türkiye now has the global standing to even ask for a complete overhaul of the internal workings of the world’s largest transnational body, the United Nations, shows how successful the past two decades were indeed. In the framework of our past examples presented in this brief study, we concluded that the Republic of Türkiye embarked on a remarkable reformist and modernization path including in the domain of foreign policies and international relations and in particular so during the past two decades.[x]

Conclusion

We started our analysis by explaining why it makes sense to take a close look at two other countries that are engaged in bilateral relations with the United States of America before addressing the subject of Ankara-Washington relations. We learned that whilst West Germany became a close and dear ally and friend of the U.S. in particular within the SPD political party a rift became visible with regards to whether following in Washington’s footsteps is always the right thing to do. We familiarized ourselves with the ‘transatlantic’ versus the ‘Moscow’ factions present in the SPD at the time and as we witnessed only earlier this year still are, think the call for Gerhard Schröder, former German SPD Chancellor, to hand back his party membership due to anticipated or factual close contact with Vladimir Putin in the wake of the Ukraine conflict. Hence, West Germany and today’s Germany are still struggling to figure out how to stay on a transatlantic course whilst being able to engage in globally relevant foreign policymaking. This then led us to analyze the United Kingdom in the decade thereafter and whether the image of Britain being nothing more than ‘Little America’ actually holds forth. We spoke about diverging tendencies similar to (West) Germany including popular culture in the years after Margaret Thatcher claimed that Britain was far too dependent on Washington with regards to foreign policy making. Last but not least, our topic turned to modern Türkiye and especially the past two decades under AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) leadership. As neither (West) Germany nor the United Kingdom so far managed to push its foreign policy-making agenda no matter what Washington says is the best thing to do – although it seems more of a broad consensus in conservative circles that this is not a serious problem at all – we studied Ankara’s 360-degree approach to foreign policy-making.

In conclusion, whilst Ankara can learn from Berlin and London about how to deal with critical voices related to an ever-closer relationship between their nations and America, trying to find a middle-ground model so to speak, both countries mentioned might be well advised to learn from Türkiye’s success stories as well. The current conflict in Ukraine, the Palestine-Israel debate, and fighting terror in all its heinous forms are only three examples of successfully working according to that 360-degree model. At the end of the day – bilateral relations are the cornerstone of all further multilateral diplomatic relations.

Klaus JÜRGENS

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Charles Powell, “Spanish membership of the European Union revisited”, Real Instituto Elcano, 17.06.2002. Accessed May 7th, 2024. https://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/en/work-document/spanish-membership-of-the-european-union-revisited/.

[iii] Lebendiges Museum Online. Accessed May 7th, 2024. https://www.hdg.de/lemo/biografie/hans-dietrich-genscher.html.

[iv] Atlantik Brücke, Accessed May 7th, 2024. https://www.atlantik-bruecke.org/ueber-die-atlantik-bruecke/.

[v] Albert Funk, “Modell Deutschland”, Tagesspiegel, 01.08.2013. Accessed May 7th, 2024. https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/geschichte/zwei-sieger-namens-helmut-6947587.html.

[vi] Helmut Schmidt Stiftung. Accessed May 7th, 2024. https://www.helmut-schmidt.de/aktuelles/detail/transatlantische-partnerschaft-statt-america-first.

[vii] “NATO’S 1979 DUAL-TRACK DECISION: NATIONAL INTERESTS AND THE INFLUENCE OF FORMER POLITICAL LEADERS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY”, A Monograph by LtCol Holger Draber German Army School of Advanced Military Studies United States Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, Kansas AY 2013-2014, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA611751.pdf.

[viii] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2002/jul/01/politicalnews.redbox.

[ix] A Fairer World Is Possible – A Proposed Model for a United Nations Reform, by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, first published September 2021 by Turkuvaz Haberleşme ve Yayıncılık A.Ş.

[x] Turkish Foreign Policy at the Turn of the ‘Century of Türkiye’: Challenges, Vision, Objectives, and Transformation, Commentaries Hakan Fidan | Insight Turkey, https://www.insightturkey.com/commentary/turkish-foreign-at-the-turn-of-the-century-of-turkiye-challenges-vision-objectives-and-transformation.

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