Rethinking Europe

Transatlantic Relations After the Afghanistan Debacle

Reflections on the need to guard against the false prophets of making hay out of the current situation by effectively doing China’s bidding inside Europe, especially inside Germany.

Takeaways


  • It is wrong to argue that different European interests and American interests inevitably lead Europe to choose equidistance between the two great powers.
  • Politically, Germans may be looking to get out from under American dependence. Militarily, however, they are utterly dependent on the Americans
  • Germany at this juncture is a country with 266 tanks altogether – of which 107 are actually operational.
  • What needs to be guarded against are the false prophets of making hay out of the current situation by effectively doing China’s bidding inside Europe, especially inside Germany.
  • Stefan Baron’s assertion that the U.S. is striving to prevent China’s progress could come directly from the playbook of China’s wolf-warrior diplomacy.
  • Europe and the United States can find their interests aligned in the multidimensional politics of China’s global relationships.

The media frenzy over the chaotic end of the Afghan government is going full bore. No question, trust in American leadership is badly damaged.

The disastrous end of the Afghanistan military mission has raised questions about whether the United States will defend its long-time allies if they do not defend themselves.

In Europe, the debate over NATO contributions will light a fire under the strategic autonomy debate.

Europe addicted?

In this context, it is worth recalling the words of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s Secretary General from 2004 to 2009, said that “we Europeans have become addicted to U.S. leadership.”

And, he added, with the rise of China, “the transatlantic relationship as we have known will never be the same.”

Which way will Germany turn?

A key focus of the potential global fallout is on Germany, Europe’s largest economy. Politically, Germans may be looking to get out from under American dependence.

Militarily, however, they are utterly dependent on the Americans, as the Kabul rescue mission amply demonstrates.

Given that Germany at this juncture is a country with 266 tanks altogether – of which 107 are actually operational – some wonder whether the German military isn’t as much of a paper tiger as the Afghan army.

The innocuousness of Mr. Maas

Meanwhile, Germany’s Foreign Minister Maas isn’t fazed by any of that. To protect himself and probably also his party, the SPD, ahead of critical elections on September 26th, he still seeks to explain away Germany’s de facto complete rejection of international foreign and security responsibilities.

To that end, Mr. Maas is throwing the German intelligence service (BND) as well as his own Foreign Office (AA) under the bus. That is as disrespectful as it is cowardly.The American withdrawal was known for over a year, at least since the Trump Doha Agreement in 2020.

Mr. Maas’s influence, though, seems on the wane. His days in the Foreign Office are likely numbered in the dual-digit range.

Guarding against the false prophets

What needs to be guarded against are the false prophets of making hay out of the current situation by effectively doing China’s bidding inside Europe, especially inside Germany.

For example, the German publicist Stefan Baron argues in his book “Ami go home!” that the United States has refused to share its power and warns that Biden is pursuing a confrontation course with China.

Beijing is not the Soviets’ Moscow

Baron’s Cold War straw man argument is past its “sell-by” date. Biden’s policy is basically one of collaboration with nations that share his vision for the future of the world.

Biden knows very well that, in order to succeed with that mission, he must enlist such like-minded nations to his view of multipolar world. Creative multilateralism meets multi-dimensional politics.

Promoting a false sense of equality

Stefan Baron’s assertion that the U.S. is striving to prevent China’s progress could come directly from the playbook of China’s wolf-warrior diplomacy.

It certainly does not reflect any deeper understanding of the multidimensional chess game of cooperating, competing and adversarial relationship between countries.

Moreover, relying on quotes from the Trump administration about going to war with China shows the shallowness of Baron’s analysis.

Equidistance, seriously?

Baron is also fundamentally wrong to argue that different European interests and American interests inevitably lead Europe to choose equidistance between the two great powers.

His suggestion for a European “emancipation” from the United States would leave Europe hanging onto the edge of the Eurasian continent.

Assessing China correctly

It is important to note that Washington, just as much as EU leaders, wants China to be a responsible stakeholder.

China is a trading partner, economic competitor and systemic rival. Each of the three afore-mentioned dimensions requires a coalition of like-minded states to partner with – for example, with regard to securing fair trading practices and avoiding Chinese punishment for criticizing its human rights.

In the domain of economic competition, the obvious goal is to avoid dependencies which can be achieved by virtue of diversification and competing for technological innovation, whether in artificial intelligence or the 5G networks.

Finally, the resolute defense of democracy strengthens its internal resilience to withstand the competition from authoritarian rulers.

It also requires recognition of the fact that success on this frontline may well require an adversarial relationship, but not necessarily military confrontation.

Conclusion

Europe and the United States can find their interests aligned in the multidimensional politics of China’s global relationships.

In particular, Germany can show “More Ambition, please!” to increase its influence in the transatlantic relationship by taking initiatives in policies where Europe leads – trade with China, technologies, human rights.

In conclusion, Mr. Baron’s analysis is outdated and his proposal is not convincing.

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About J.D. Bindenagel

J.D. Bindenagel is a former U.S. Ambassador and is currently Senior Professor and founding Henry Kissinger Chair at the Center for Advanced Security, Strategy and Integration Studies, Bonn University.

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