Strengthening the Dialog, Not Increasing the Divide

How can we maintain the special relationship between the USA and Europe in the future? The Robert Bosch Stiftung’s answer: by stepping up our cooperation. Together with a U.S. think tank, The Brookings Institution, the Foundation has launched the "Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative." At the kickoff event in Germany, international experts discussed the current challenges in transatlantic relations.

David Weyand | October 2017
Photos: Manuel Frauendorf

Donald Trump is not the only disruptive element in the current transatlantic climate; ever since President Obama’s term in office, the USA has been curtailing its diplomatic and political involvement in Europe. And despite the traditionally close transatlantic alliance, its purpose is increasingly questioned by many Europeans as well. The "Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative" (BBTI) has been set up by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and Brookings to counter this trend.

"We strongly believe that cooperation is the way to go to improve German-American relations," Prof. Dr. Joachim Rogall, Chairman of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, stated in his opening address welcoming the 180 or so guests. The BBTI aims at expanding transatlantic networks and activities, based on the independent analyses and recommendations on issues of transatlantic relevance published by Brookings scientists under the umbrella of the initiative.  On top of that, Fellows of The Brookings Institution complete work stays at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. Dr. Bruce Jones, Vice President and Director of the Foreign Policy Program at The Brookings Institution, emphasized that the two partners were expanding their collaboration in a time of major uncertainties.

The Three Major Global Challenges

Following the existence of a relatively stable world order for the past few decades, Dr. Jones identified three major global challenges of our time: developments in the Middle East, the new order between military and economic powers, as well as the political and economic transitions in Western industrialized nations. On U.S.-EU relations, Dr. Jones commented, "Both have a huge stake in each other’s future." The positive effect of this cooperation is exemplified by Dr. Amanda Sloat, the latest and second-ever American Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at Brookings, who Dr. Jones introduced at the event. For the American, strengthening the transatlantic dialogue is now more important than ever:

"Paradigm Shift or Business as Usual?"

Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller, since 2014 the first Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at Brookings, hosted the evening panel on "The German election and the future of the trans-Atlantic Relationship. Paradigm shift or business as usual?" One of the questions Dr. Stelzenmüller raised in this context was, "Will Germany need to develop a USA strategy?" Jürgen Hardt, member of the German Bundestag and Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation at the Federal Foreign Office, doubted that it would be necessary to go to such lengths. While he welcomed a debate about the future relationship between Germany and the USA, he made it clear that a strategy was only needed for countries with which fundamental difficulties existed. "Instead of hiding behind a strategy, we will have to start tackling the unsolved issues, such as in trade, right away," Mr. Hardt argued.

Jan Techau, Director of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin, disagreed, calling for long-term U.S. strategies in Germany and Europe. "We need to understand what the transatlantic relationship is all about, and not that many people do," he stated. Kent Logsdon, Chargé d‘Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and thus currently the highest-ranking representative of the United States of America in Germany, stressed the importance of communication as a basic requirement for mutual understanding: "We need more ways of communicating, whether government to government, whether military to military on the security side, business to business, whether we’re talking about the thousands of tourists or the thousands of former exchange students who have gone back and forth - those are the kind of connections that we need, that we continue to need."

"It’s Very Easy to Get Distracted by the Personality and the Rhetoric of Donald Trump"

But what is the USA’s political interest in Europe these days? Mr. Techau identified several points: Firstly, Europe’s stability is of fundamental importance to the USA for economic reasons; secondly, Europe continues to be the USA’s best ally in the Western world, with plenty of shared values; and thirdly, the USA is critically assessed for the security guarantees the country has made to Europe in its role as a global military power. Whether these commitments will hold, and how exactly, is very interesting to Moscow and Beijing, but also to South Korea and Japan, countries that act within the conflict-prone landscape of East Asia.

As far as the Trump administration was concerned, Kurt Volker, Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, warned the audience not to jump to simple conclusions: "It’s very easy to get distracted by the personality and the rhetoric of Donald Trump and miss what’s actually happening on policy and where there is actually a lot of common ground and opportunity to work with." Issues he considered key were the joint handling of the North Korea conflict, the containment of Russia’s military power, as well as the fight against ISIS and other international terrorist networks.

Multilateralism benefits all

German foreign affairs expert Hardt responded that, given the North Korea crisis, it had to be considered problematic that President Trump openly questioned the nuclear deal with Iran. "We expect the U.S. administration to adhere to this agreement, which is an excellent example of successful multilateralism." President Trump and his supporters had to be convinced that the agreement also benefitted the stronger partner. Mr. Hardt also called for a joint approach by the USA and Europe when it came to a Russia strategy, and Mr. Volker agreed: "Russia is on top of the list for the USA and Europe. We want to have a stable and secure relationship, where we can actually build on things that we think are in our mutual interest. We’re not at a point where we can do that right now."

The Key Challenges According to the Panelists

How to Adress the Losers of Globalization?

The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session, in which both the guests at the event and the live stream audience could ask questions. A group of alumni of the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program had organized a watch party in Washington, DC.

Two of the questions posed online: What is Germany’s role in the transatlantic relations that are increasingly dominated by external players and influences, such as a more self-assured China? "If the USA moved away politically from Europe, Germany would also have to focus more strongly on allies in Asia, though this would definitely be only the second-best option," answered Mr. Hardt. The second question: How can transatlantic relations be designed so as to make the losers of globalization in Europe and the USA feel their concerns are addressed? While American diplomat Logsdon praised President Trump for identifying the fears of this group and taking their concerns seriously, German lawmaker Hardt cited the USA’s history of neglect and structural economic inequality that had left too many people behind. While he contrasted the American system with the fairer German social market economy, he nevertheless warned that people’s fear of social decline could not be ignored in Germany either.

Lunch Roundtable

As part of the BBTI kickoff event in Germany, 30 international experts had come together a few hours before the main event for a work lunch at the offices of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Like the evening event, the roundtable discussion focused on the future of transatlantic relations. While the experts openly shared their opinions and criticism of the Trump administration and Europe’s military dependence on the USA, they also turned their attention to other international players such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Turkey, as well as the possibilities of cooperating within a shared transatlantic policy framework. Their conclusion: There are many ways to communicate with each other, but only one goal - to make sure that the world will not come apart at the seams any more than it already has. To this end, Germany will have to assume a stronger leadership role as well, without leaving behind the smaller nations.

First BBTI Publication