Germany’s Rise as a Global Power


The political and economic crisis between US President Donald Trump and Europe, especially with Germany, has recently escalated. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was particularly scathing about American global leadership and Germany’s need for the US after Trump’s outburst on how Germany owed America for decades of protection and her unfair trade deficit. This article will argue that Germany has for some time sought the conducive political environment to free herself from the shackles of the post WWII US political and military imposition. The shaking of the European project after Britain’s decision on Brexit and the short-sighted fiscally driven policies of the Trump administration have provided the conducive political situation for Germany to resurrect and widen its already considerable power in Europe without suspicion and blame.


During his 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump had floated the conviction that NATO countries owed the United States because of the significant contribution of America to the budget of the alliance, and that these countries must pay back the United States for their defence. After taking office, Trump tried to apply these convictions and to turn them into official US policy positions. He asked the Europeans, especially the Germans, to contribute more to the NATO budget whilst holding doubts about the alliance. He also complained about the deficit of his country’s trade balance with Germany. In his first meeting with the German chancellor in Washington, it was reported that “US President Donald Trump met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House; the tension and differences were clear especially on the files of free trade and immigration …” (France 24, 17/3/2017). Prior to the meeting, Trump had stated that Germany “owes NATO” large sums and that Berlin had to pay the United States more to defend it. The day after his meeting with Chancellor Merkel, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Nevertheless, Germany owes … vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defence it provides to Germany!”(Sky News 18/3/2017). Germany has refused to deal with America acting like a mafia in demanding royalties. The German Federal Minister of Defense rejected the accusation by Trump, Ursula von der Leyenn, who is close to Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement, “There is no account that recorded debts to NATO, adding that, “expenditures within NATO should not be the only standard for measuring Germany’s military efforts” (France 24, 19/3/2017).

At the NATO summit on the 25th of May 2017, Trump sharpened his tone against the European countries over their financial contribution to the alliance. According to media reports, “US President Donald Trump, addressed NATO leaders; his speech confounded the audience with astonishment and surprise; in shocking statements about the US support for the NATO, Trump appeared in a video scolding and lecturing NATO leaders, and their reactions expressed their surprise, especially the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the new French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump said in the video, to the leaders of the NATO countries, ‘Members of the alliance must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,’ and he scolded them, ‘Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defence. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States’, arguing that, allies ‘owe massive amounts of money from past years’ (CNN 27/2017). He further rebuked the leaders of NATO by asserting: “over the past eight years, America has spent more on support for the NATO alliance than that spent by all NATO countries combined’ (ibid). It was clear that the leaders of the NATO countries were surprised and tensed by Trump’s unprecedented and unexpected statements and speech. Trump ridiculed NATO leaders, saying, “I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost,” bringing attention to the glass structure, “I refuse to do that…” (ibid).

It is these statements and policy positions which have been the cause of an escalation of crisis with Europe. However, the reasons for the situation being more acute with Germany is as follows:

1. Germany is the largest financial centre in Europe and the fourth largest economy in the world after America, China and Japan. So Trump’s eyes were on Germany in an attempt to make a lot of money from it primarily through claims that Russia was a threat to Germany, and therefore should contribute more to NATO. This pretext has been used by America against all the European countries, especially in the East, to increase their military links with her. Berlin spends 1.2% of its national income on the military ($42 billion). It spends less than France whose military spending is 1.79% of its national product ($44 billion). NATO states have agreed that each member will spend 2% of its national product, which only Britain abides by as well as a few other peripheral countries in Europe. The main countries in the continent have not provided the commitment to it. The United States spends 3.61% of its national income on the military aspects (664 billion dollars), which is more than two thirds of NATO’s military spending.

2. The trade balance between America and Germany is tipped in the latter direction to the tune of approximately 60 billion Euros. The German-American trade volume in 2016 reached 165 billion, of which 107 billion Euros is the volume of American imports from Germany. As a result, at the summit, Trump lost his temper and escalated his remarks against Germany. According to Der Spiegel,  “President Donald Trump, during his meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels, complained about Germany’s trade policy,”. According to informed sources, Trump stated that, “The Germans are bad, very bad, look at the millions of cars they sell in the United States, terrible … We will stop that …” (Russia Today, 26/5/2017). Trump also tweeted, “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.” (ibid)

3. When the NATO summit ended and with the G7 Summit’s failure in Italy on climate accords, Germany rushed to defend Europe and was leading the European position. According to Aljazeera. net, 29/5/2017, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticized the Trump describing his policy as “Short-sighted” and that America under the leadership of Trump no longer had a leading position in the Western international community. According to the minister, “The movements of US President Donald Trump “weakened” the West… Anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk”, and that “the short-sighted policies of Washington are damaging the interests of the European Union.” The German Minister’s remarks came one day after other shocking statements by Merkel when she states that she was finally convinced that Europe can no longer rely on others, in reference to Washington, which in recent days has exerted great pressure to extract gains from its allies.” Bild Newspaper quoted Merkel as saying, “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out …I’ve experienced that in the last few days…We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands” (Russia Today 28/5/2017).

4. America noticed a German semi-rebellion, and that Germany is trying to lead Europe to stand against her, especially since Germany is at the forefront of many European positions, and seeks to impose itself as a global power even without possessing nuclear weapons. Germany was waiting for the conducive international opportunity which would allow her to dominate, and today she has observed that the climate in Europe and internationally will assist it helping her to regain its greatness swiftly. Hence, Germany is more audacious in leading the European countries against the polices of both American and Russia. The reality of this very new political atmosphere and the rapid preparation for German power is as follows:

a. With the beginning of the process of British exiting the European Union, Germany was freed from the restrictions imposed by the Britain and France on its international movement via the European Union, whereby it was captive to the European understanding which often served primarily Britain and France internationally.

b. With a weakening in US policy, clearly demonstrated by the adoption of Trump’s policy of “America First”, the liberation of Germany from American restrictions became easier. This is because Germany was subordinate to America by the common consensus of the Western powers. But today, America is publicly seeking its own self-interest without regard to the interests of its allies. Consequently, Germany has found the necessary justification to formulate its own policy without regard to the US. Trump’s policy is creating a strong atmosphere for the re-emergence of Germany. Though Germany, along with the rest of Europe, saw how the former Obama administration removed them from the Syrian crisis and instead brought in Russia, the administration did not disregard the general impact of their leadership for the Western world. In contrast, Trump’s administration openly and less tactfully disavows its Europeans allies, and is focused only on one aspect of its greatness; that is, the American economy and the financial burdens borne by America for its leadership of the world. This position is short-sighted, and will have negative repercussions for America. 

C- The fundamental changes in France with respect to the recent elections, revealed a fundamental change in French political life. The influence of the right-wing and socialist parties that ruled France after the Second World War has considerably weakened. The recent 2017 elections toppled the icons of those parties totally, and replaced them with a young president that does not belong to any long-standing party in politics. This has allowed the necessary space for Germany to compete with France for the political leadership of Europe.

Above are some of the key reason’s as to why German reactions to Trump’s policy were the most prominent in Europe and were free from electoral politics. Merkel’s opponents in the upcoming election stood by her against the American policies. Martin Schultz, head of the Social Democratic Party and Merkel’s rival, proposed a five-point plan for a strong Europe in the face of Trump. Schulz, said during a reception organized by the parliamentary bloc of his Socialist Party to economic figures in Berlin that, “a strong Europe is crucial for our peace and prosperity and our security” (Rai Al-Youm, 31/5/2017). Schulz called on all the democracies in Europe to “show President Donald Trump his limits.”and that “the duty of the hour is to stand in the face of this man with all that we represent, and also in the face of his dangerous policy of armaments that he wants to force upon us” (Arabic 21, 29/5/2017). Trump’s response has been to increase pressure on Germany.

There are expected outcomes because of these changes in international politics, some are likely to be the following;

  1. Widening of the American-European divide will result in a gap that will not be easy to fill unless America realises the impact and mend the situation before the end of the Trump’s presidency. What confirms this reality is the withdrawal of the Trump administration from the Paris climate agreement on 2nd of June 2017, which caused a storm of European criticisms describing the American step as wrong and dangerous, and demanding instead that the world rely on the European leadership in respect to the climate change agenda. In a rare joint statement issued in Rome, French President Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni expressed regret for the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and for the failure to adopt the European initiative to defy climate change, stressing at the same time the renegotiation of the agreement. In Paris, Macron considered that the US President had made a ‘historic mistake’ to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Earlier y, the European Commissioner for Climate issues, Miguel Arias Canete, said that, “the world can continue to rely on Europe to lead the fight against global warming,” expressing his great regret for “the unilateral decision of the Trump administration” (Al Jazeera Net 2/6/2017).  This fracture in relations includes the major European countries, except for Britain, which cunningly adheres to America in the hope of having a more important place in the world.

The European scene will see the emergence of increased German leadership at the political and economic levels, confirmed by the German officials’ responses to US policies and the announcement of Germany’s desire to bring the dispute with the United States into the public realm. If this is further increased, it will weaken Europe greatly and, at the end, can lead to a rapid re-armament of Germany. These two issues should be observed closely because what will transpire is the emergence of a new phase in international politics and the international architecture.

Copyright © LCIR 2017

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