Germany Cannot Replace the U.S., But Europe Can Live with Trump

Stefan Fröhlich

University of Erlangen-Nürnberg

Stefan Fröhlich is a Professor for International Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg.

There is ample evidence that there has been a major shift toward a greater international role for Germany and that the public is gradually accepting such a bigger role. Germany has emerged as the pivotal economic and political power in today’s crisis-ridden Europe, so far unable, however, to lead militarily. It has assumed the role of the central geoeconomic power in the governance of Europe and in its macroeconomic management. Together with France, it became the chief facilitator in the Ukrainian crisis and in dealing with Russia, and took on a more re-assertive stance as crisis manager at the EU’s periphery, namely in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq; by providing six Tornados for reconnaissance purposes, a frigate to join the French carrier group in the eastern Mediterranean, and more troops to support French forces in Mali, Berlin broadly interpreted UNSC resolutions and adopted an expansive definition of self defense and the jus ad bellum thereby coming closer to its larger military allies, like the U.S., the UK, and France.[1] And it finally played the role of the benign hegemon that unsuccessfully tried to lead by attraction and solidarity but certainly accepted greater risk sharing (refugee crisis).

All this happened at a time when two of the three main Western security providers have rather become reluctant actors on the international stage themselves. The UK, after the Brexit, has probably dropped out of global crisis management for quite a while, leaving France as the only country in Europe that can credibly project force abroad. And the U.S., under President Obama, has significantly retrenched from global commitments (and defending allies), realizing that the new post-post-Cold War world order has also constrained U.S. choices for global leadership, which may appear hypocritical if it demands more of others than of itself.[2]

With the election of Trump, however, the debate about Germany’s new leadership role has gained additional momentum, leaving us with three fundamental questions. How likely is it that, if the new administration in Washington is abdicating the U.S.’ role as the leader of the free world, Germany will replace this kind of leadership? Will European member states be more willing to follow German leadership and Berlin either become even more active in the defense and security field or follow Paris to take the lead? And how likely is it that that Russia and China will test American and European power in their neighborhoods?  Continue reading.

This article was originally published by the Center for Transatlantic Relations.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.