Germany must detach foreign policy from US, whether Trump or Clinton wins – think tank
In October, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a Berlin-based government-oriented think tank, published a paper titled ‘Even without Trump much will change’. It calls for a more aggressive German foreign policy, which should pursue its own economic and geopolitical goals independently from those of the United States and, if need be, even go against Washington’s interests.
“The Presidential elections in the US can have serious consequences for the global order,” said Johannes Thimm, the author of the paper and head of the US research group for the think tank.
“Germany therefore should re-examine both its relations with the United States and its own contribution to the world order.”
The paper calls a potential Donald Trump presidency “the great unknown.”
“With Trump as president... there is a high degree of uncertainty about US foreign policy.
“Since Trump has so far only made vague announcements on foreign policy issues, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the possible consequences of his election. In general, Trump assumes that the US leadership has done more harm than good. The Americans had been exploited by others, allies and rivals… Therefore, the US should act in the future according to a narrowly defined cost-benefit calculation,” the paper states, adding that “Trump’s repeated announcements that, as president, he would review the security alliances of the US, triggered considerable unrest among the European and Asian allies.”
Another point that goes against Trump, according to the SWP paper, is his lack of experience in politics in general, coupled with the impulsiveness he’s shown throughout his election campaign and previous public appearances.
“What is known about him allows very different conclusions. His lack of experience in politics could well have the effect that as a president he would listen to counselors and, above all, act pragmatically. The cause for concern, in turn, is his great likeness for risk-taking and his impulsiveness. In any case, German policy should not rely on the possibility that Trump’s uncalculated [decisions] and extreme views will be ‘suppressed’ whether by a consultative staff, the Cabinet, the military or the Congress.”
The paper states that in this regard the potential policy of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would be more convenient for Germany, as it would be more predictable.
“Hillary Clinton is likely to inherit [President Barack] Obama's foreign policy, in whose first term of office she served as [secretary of state]. Like Obama, she stands for the more multilateral version of liberal hegemony, where cooperation with historic partners is likely to be pursued.”
However, the paper notes that even in the event a Clinton victory, Germany should make “appropriate strategic considerations” as there is no way to tell to what extent she would follow in Obama’s footsteps. For instance, there may be controversies regarding the free trade agreements such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment agreement (TTIP).
“Even without drastic change, this area holds the potential for conflict. The demand for higher capital reserves for financial institutions is met with resistance in Europe. Critics fear that this will undermine the competitiveness of European banks.
“[Clinton’s opinion on the matter] has not yet been explicitly stated. However, there is some evidence that Clinton is not fundamentally satisfied with the past US policy on free trade agreements,” the paper pointed out.
It concluded that whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump next occupy the Oval Office, Germany should already be drawing up a foreign policy that will be unaffected by the election outcome and will not depend on it.
“Trump’s victory would have far-reaching consequences for Washington's foreign policy, but changes are to be expected with any election outcome… [But] even in the event of Hillary Clinton’s victory, German policy would do well not to remain in the comfortable routine of waiting. Rather, we should think about how the transatlantic relationship and the future world order should be shaped, irrespective of the outcome of the elections,” the paper said.
This means that Germany should “question the attitude, based on the US' exceptionalism, that American interests per se are global interests,” as well as be ready to argue with Washington if its decisions are counterproductive from the German perspective.
“Good transatlantic relations for their own sake and disregarding other considerations can rob [our country] of the possibility of strategically beneficial action. Without a willingness to argue with the US government, many of the options for [German] influence could be eliminated from the start,” the paper stresses.
German authorities have abstained from announcing official support for a particular presidential candidate. Yet Merkur newspaper recently alleged that Chancellor Angela Merkel would prefer to see Clinton win the election. Another news outlet recalled a statement by Clinton in which she praised the German chancellor as an “extraordinary, strong leader,” while Trump on several occasions has alleged Merkel “is ruining Germany.”