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Mending U.S.-German Relations

What does Germany’s Ambassador to the United States have to say about current U.S.-German relations?

November 15, 2002

What does Germany's Ambassador to the United States have to say about current U.S.-German relations?

U.S.-German relations have suffered severely over the issue of Iraq. With heavy-handed accusations being traded across the Atlantic, the world wonders what could be done to improve the situation. In this Globalist Interview, Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's former Deputy Foreign Minister — and currently its ambassador to the United States — provides his opinion.

Does the German refusal to support a war on Iraq betray a lack of support for the United States?

We are a very good ally of the United States in the war against international terrorism. Germany is the European country with the most soldiers deployed abroad, side by side with Americans.

With approximately 10,000 soldiers, we have more troops deployed abroad than France or Britain. When you consider that as recently as 1995 we had none, you understand how far we have come in a very short period of time.

What makes this contribution historically remarkable?

Earlier this year in Afghanistan, we had the first German military casualties since the end of World War II.

These German soldiers died fighting on the right side of a war — and this is the first time we can say that with certainty about the wars Germans have been fighting for the last hundred years or so.

What explains Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's reluctance to join a military campaign against Iraq?

No one in Germany can be elected in a parliamentary election on a pro-war stance. Germans remember what war did to them — and what they did to their neighbors.

For Germans, war means disaster and catastrophe. In contrast, Americans believe that war can be a good thing. America has gone to war not to conquer, but to bring peace — that is a very different tradition.

Is Europe not concerned about the Iraqi threat?

We share the view that the proliferation risk is real. And it is actually even more of a problem to Europeans than to Americans, because we are geographically a lot closer to Iraq.

And we support the UN Security Council resolution demanding Iraq's compliance with the inspection regime, leading to real and verified Iraqi disarmament.

Why then is Germany opposed?

If we engage Iraq militarily now, the fight against international terrorism might become difficult — maybe even impossible. The coalition would risk losing support in the Muslim world.

In other worlds, it may well be that the United States can militarily defeat Iraq. But by winning a war against Iraq, we might lose the one on terrorism.

What else is crucial before military action is taken against Iraq?

Have we made a joint and intensive effort to build a comprehensive and credible Western strategy for the greater Middle East?

Have we, for example, developed a coherent Western strategy on Iran? That is one element of a comprehensive approach that is missing.

What else?

I would feel less uncomfortable with the idea of addressing the Iraq issue militarily if we had a well-functioning negotiating track between Israel and the Palestinians.

That would provide at least some incentive for both Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint in the case of an Iraqi attack.

Why is the comprehensive strategy you envision so important?

Unfortunately, millions of Muslims are bound to interpret a military conflict with Iraq as yet another humiliation for the Arab world.

That is why we would like to see a more comprehensive Western approach to the entire region.

How would you tackle the political problems behind being a super-power?

If I were a U.S. policymaker, I would want the world to see the United States as a "benevolent hegemon" — a power that strives for global stability, prosperity for all — and the rule of law as a vital element of world order.

Against this background, what has made America great so far?

Here is the secret of the success of America in shaping the post-World War II world: After World War II, the United States won the hearts and minds of the German and the Japanese people not through military victory alone, but through generous economic assistance, through the ideals of democracy and human rights and the promise of prosperity.

Does that suggest the course for future action?

That is a lesson to remember as we confront the challenges of terrorism and fundamentalism. This is why nation-building is so important.

What surprises you the most about the present U.S. debate on Iraq?

In the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, the question of “What’s the exit strategy?” became a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy — if not a veritable American mantra.

Sometimes, we Europeans felt that our American partners were more concerned about discussing — and securing — such an “exit” than about creating the conditions for a dependable and lasting peace in the region.

With that in mind, I am surprised at the rather complete absence of a viable “exit strategy” debate following an attack on Iraq. It seems to me that, in this case, questions about "the day after" are even more important than in the case of the Balkan conflict.