Given its enormous economic and political clout, Germany’s risk-averse and redistributive foreign policy makes it an easy target for critical Americans frustrated that the economic powerhouse of Europe has one of the most underfunded armed forces in the Western world. As the current crisis in Eastern Europe demonstrates once again, German elites have a decidedly less hawkish view of Russia and have been visibly uncomfortable with the advanced proposals punish Moscow for an invasion of Ukraine.
However, since the limits of hegemonic overcoming and the waning importance of the European theater to American foreign policy becomes glaring, the United States has every interest in pushing Germany to play a much larger role in shaping and supporting the European security order . instead of us military primacythe purpose of an alternative charge transfer The strategy should be to encourage and promote a balanced Franco-German coalition capable of controlling the European neighborhood and deterring a conflict with Russia without the help of the United States.
Load shifting is a US interest
Given the current threat environment, there are four prudent reasons why U.S. policymakers should seek to shift most regional security responsibilities and costs to their European partners. First, as Three consecutive administrations specified, coping with the rise of China is America’s top strategic priority. Maintain a massive forward military presence consisting largely of land forces consumes scarce budgetary resources that could be invested in the naval and air assets needed for operations in island-laden East Asia.
Second, allowing European treaty allies to continually underinvest in their armed forces makes more likely that US forces will have to make up the difference in the event of a crisis. While Germany is unlikely to soon face an existential threat to its national survival, the low likelihood of a high-intensity crisis emerging does not justify not taking the necessary steps to prepare for it. . Continuing to pay for the German defense bill only encourages this irresponsible behavior and leaves the United States responsible for responding to these eventualities.
Third, to alienate Russia by NATO enlargement and the creeping presence US military assets, such as air missile defense systems and rotating troop detachments, only push Moscow and Beijing closer to each other. Neglecting to improve relations with Russia also makes it more difficult to cooperate on issues of common interest, such as arms control and emerging technologiesand setting red lines for responsible geopolitical competition to avoid unnecessary confrontations.
Finally, and in a related vein, a narrower understanding of US security interests in Europe would give regional powers more space to pursue diplomatic engagement with Russia. This would help defuse threat perceptions between the West and Russia and help both sides reach a modus vivendi that respects each other’s vital national interests. As the diplomatic standoff with Moscow over Ukraine shows, French and German leaders are much more willing to meet Russia halfway regarding his concerns about NATO’s activities in the post-soviet space than is Washington. Given their political, geographic and economic arrangements, both countries obviously have a much greater interest in pursuing detente to promote regional stability and avoid conflict. Moreover, contrary to the usual rhetoric about inflation and the threat of influential voices in Washington, perceptions of French and German threats are more sensitive to the limits from Russia geopolitical interests.
Ironically, American policymakers are more concerned with the sovereignty of a country where there is no American interests at stake than the regional powers that would be most affected. Ukraine may not like the diplomatic prescriptions crafted by France and Germany, but the current standoff between Washington and Moscow makes the prospect of a peaceful resolution increasingly unlikely. Instead, in an environment where the major European powers have a biggest say in what is happening in their neighborhood, crises like the one over Ukraine would be less likely to erupt and more likely to be resolved peacefully if they did.
Europe will always be safe without the United States
Fears that a remilitarized Germany might realize its historical ambitions for regional hegemony are sometimes used as a pretext. justification to maintain the status quo. According to this view, American leadership in NATO is a worthwhile investment in, in the famous words of Lord Hastings Ismay, keeping “the Germans down”. After the Cold War, American politicians went further and concerned themselves with erasing the “dividing linesto prevent any regional conflict, especially in the former Warsaw Pact states, from erupting. Like the influential 1995 NATO Enlargement Study concluded, ‘there can be no question of’spheres of influence in contemporary Europe” (emphasis added). A series of comments by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg over the past two months in reference to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis have also derided the balance of power agreement. from before 1945 as illegitimate, unstableand obsolete.
In the age of nuclear deterrence, these concerns are misguided. the British and French strategic nuclear arsenals are capable and credible enough to deter great power aggressors. Absent a U.S. forward engagement, or even a nuclear umbrella, they would still be effective in deterring potential adversaries from threatening their territorial integrity or that of their treaty-allied neighbors. In theory, whether or not it has acquired nuclear weapons, a vengeful Germany that abandons its post-war pacifism and sets out to upend the European security order would always be deterred from pursuing regional hegemony by the French nuclear deterrent.
France and Germany should lead
In accordance with their histories, geographies and material foundations of geopolitical power, the two most important players in the European security environment are France and Germany. That of the old traditional ambitions for greater strategic autonomyWhere independent and self-sufficient military capabilities, need no encouragement. France, as RAND Policy Report explained, “wants to be able to play the role of a ‘framework’ nation in a coalition operation” while ensuring “that it is never completely dependent on someone else’s forces to respond to a contingency given”. Moreover, as Presidents François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron have asserted repeatedly over the past decade, “the genuinely European dimension” of France’s nuclear air and sea capabilities means that the continent has a strategic deterrent reliable native.
However, from Berlin sound doctrine of who passed on the costs of its national defense for the United States means that a strategically autonomous Franco-German balancing coalition has small chance ever achieved at European Union level. It has been a disappointment for Macron who, since his election in 2017, has consistently called for more autonomous pan-European defense capabilities. Again, German political leaders have no reason to promote an arrangement that would upset their reports with Washington, nor would they want to voluntarily increase defense spending for purposes that duplicate pre-existing NATO functions. Therefore, this means that NATO is the only security forum through which Germany could face serious pressure to change its behavior.
Pushing Germany to do more
The United States should encourage Germany to become a stronger military power and another “framework nation” in the European security order. This will require doing long overdue changes that explicitly signal that the days of passing on the costs of national defense to American taxpayers are over. As Defense Priorities colleague, Richard Hanania Explain last year, “US leaders must view US presence abroad as a cost, not a benefit” to influence treaty partners and change their behavior.
A good start would be to withdraw the more than 30,000 American troops permanently stationed in Germany and close or hand over the bases in Berlin. In addition to consuming resources that could be better invested in naval and air assets, the presence of these ground forces does not necessarily bring Berlin closer to Washington. Indeed, many American foreign policy elites are frustrated that the German government has not kissed the same confrontational stance toward Russia and instead pushed back against the Biden administration’s demand for tough sanctions on Moscow if Ukraine is invaded.
This does not mean that the United States should leave NATO, although it could eventually be an option to consider if the Europeans become more strategically autonomous. However, this means that a more equal division of labor and within the alliance is necessary if it is to have any politico-military utility when it comes to defending its members against external threats. Indeed, once the American forces left, anxious NATO members in Eastern Europe will rely on neighbors more interested in promoting and investing in the region’s collective security, including engaging Russia through reciprocal diplomacy.
Encouraging the development of a balancing Franco-German coalition will, in the long term, weaken Washington’s ability to influence Paris and Berlin as their foreign policies become more independent and assertive. Still, given that the European theater is strategically subordinate to East Asia, it’s a trade-off worth making. The benefits associated with encouraging the development of a militarily stronger Germany through burden sharing far outweigh the status quo alternative.