Germany’s Opportunity

Jackson Janes

President Emeritus of AGI

Jackson Janes is the President Emeritus of the American-German Institute at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, where he has been affiliated since 1989.

Dr. Janes has been engaged in German-American affairs in numerous capacities over many years. He has studied and taught in German universities in Freiburg, Giessen and Tübingen. He was the Director of the German-American Institute in Tübingen (1977-1980) and then directed the European office of The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Bonn (1980-1985). Before joining AICGS, he served as Director of Program Development at the University Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh (1986-1988). He was also Chair of the German Speaking Areas in Europe Program at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, DC, from 1999-2000 and is Honorary President of the International Association for the Study of German Politics .

Dr. Janes is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Atlantic Council of the United States, and American Purpose. He serves on the advisory boards of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, and the Beirat der Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik (ZfAS). He serves on the Selection Committee for the Bundeskanzler Fellowships for the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Dr. Janes has lectured throughout Europe and the United States and has published extensively on issues dealing with Germany, German-American relations, and transatlantic affairs. In addition to regular commentary given to European and American news radio, he has appeared on CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, CBC, and is a frequent commentator on German television. Dr. Janes is listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in Education.

In 2005, Dr. Janes was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Germany’s highest civilian award.

Ph.D., International Relations, Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California
M.A., Divinity School, University of Chicago
B.A., Sociology, Colgate University

Transatlantic relations, German-American relations, domestic German politics, German-EU relations, transatlantic affairs.


Well before Chancellor Scholz was on his way to Washington to meet President Biden on February 7, he knew there would be a lot of uncomfortable questions confronting him. Germany was the subject of speculation and criticism about its reliability in responding to Putin’s threats on the Ukrainian border due to its dependence on Russian gas and oil and its support of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Germany’s refusal to provide weapons to Ukraine—while offering hospital supplies and army helmets—led to criticism and even ridicule. Voices in Congress and the media were labeling Germany an unreliable partner, the weakest link in the alliance chain, and simply not willing to engage in an effective response to the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Members of Congress were referring to Germany as “missing in action.”

The press conference following the meeting with President Biden was an opportunity for the chancellor as well as the president to address these accusations. President Biden took direct aim at the criticism and declared Germany has the “complete trust of the United States…There is no doubt about Germany’s partnership with the United States. None.” Scholz returned the compliment. “I say to our American friends we will be united. We will act together, and we will take all necessary steps, and all the necessary steps will be done by all of us together.”

That message got overshadowed by questions about the role of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. While President Biden proclaimed that if Russia invades Ukraine, the pipeline will not go forward and “we will bring an end to it.” The chancellor was not willing to directly mention the pipeline but repeated that “we are absolutely united and do the same steps.”

Why the chancellor demurred on mentioning Nord Stream 2 has much to do with his domestic political environment. His coalition is a new mixture of three political parties which did not even mention the pipeline in its coalition agreement, although the Green Party has long been very critical of the project. Scholz’s own party, the Social Democratic Party, is not unified about relations with Russia, influenced in part by a former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Schröder is a good friend of Vladimir Putin and will soon be part of the board of directors of Gazprom, a Russia-owned energy company behind the Nord Stream pipeline. Germany’s energy supplies through that pipeline make up a third of its reserves. Cutting off that supply would make for a serious gap in the energy supply and would need to be replaced by other sources. That makes many Germans nervous.

The United States needs a coherent and capable Europe to deal with Putin’s challenges, and Germany is a vital partner in that effort.

While Scholz is focused on preventing such an energy shortage, a Russian invasion of Ukraine would make it impossible to avoid shutting off the pipeline. Scholz avoided mentioning Nord Stream in the hope that such a crisis can be avoided. He used the term “strategic ambiguity” to indicate that Moscow needs to be aware of the risk it faces if an invasion of Ukraine leads to a loss of its revenue from a closed pipeline—not an insignificant factor. But the word ambiguity has also been used to describe the stance Berlin has been taking on the role of the pipeline.

The statement made by President Biden about the pipeline put Scholz in an awkward position. If Nord Stream is to be closed, it ought to be decided primarily by Germany in cooperation with its allies rather than through the imposition of American sanctions. Biden also engaged in his own version of strategic ambiguity by not answering a question regarding how the United States would “bring Nord Stream to an end.”

With less than two months in office, this is a pivotal moment for Germany and for Scholz and his government. The current challenge involving Ukraine requires the recognition of a shared threat and the need to share both burdens and resources to confront it. Both Chancellor Scholz and President Biden share the challenge of sustaining domestic support for their decisions, but the perceptions of the threat are differently approached. There is broad agreement in Congress that helping Ukraine defend itself is necessary in a global context. The consequences reach well beyond Europe. The recent meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing resulted in a joint communique proclaiming they seek a “new era,” one that replaces the American era. Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine may be part of a larger challenge with China threatening Taiwan in the near future.

For Germany, implementing sanctions on Nord Stream can come with more direct burdens for Germans than for Americans, given German dependency on the gas supply. It would also require Germans to understand why the challenge which Ukraine represents is not only about Ukraine’s survival as a sovereign state but also about the stability of Europe. Germany is confronting threats to the same international order from which it successfully emerged over the past seven decades, including the opportunity to achieve unification in 1990.

Germany today needs to affirm its commitment to sharing both the burdens and the determination to uphold the principles of democracy and freedom for Ukraine, for Europe, and for all democratic nations. The chancellor will have to assure Germans that the stakes are high enough to bear the burdens that come with that commitment.

The legacy of history should not prevent Germany from confronting Russia or from helping Ukraine defend itself. In fact, it should emphasize its obligations even more.

This challenge may be a long test for Germany and its partners. Yet the chancellor’s predecessor Angela Merkel already confronted that test, and she was instrumental in leading European sanction responses to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. That same duty falls to Olaf Scholz now. Germany’s role and weight in Europe require nothing less.

Chancellor Scholz’s message in Washington was clear: Germany will not waver in a moment of crisis or seek a middle ground with Putin. Like the United States, Germany can seek to sustain a dialogue with Russia, but if necessary, it must be ready for consequences if that dialogue fails.

The legacy of history should not prevent Germany from confronting Russia or from helping Ukraine defend itself. In fact, it should emphasize its obligations even more. The limitation Germany has placed on itself—prohibiting the shipment of offensive weapons into a conflict zone—may be revised in this case as was it was when weapons were supplied to Kurdish fighters confronting ISIS attacks. Germany has resisted that step not only due to the legacy of World War II but also in light of its efforts to keep a dialogue open with Moscow to prevent a war. But that avenue may be facing its limits.

The United States needs a coherent and capable Europe to deal with Putin’s challenges, and Germany is a vital partner in that effort. Chancellor Scholz can contribute most to Germany’s role in facing these challenges by forging a clear narrative of national purpose within his own government, his own Social Democratic Party, and the German society at large. This cannot be built solely on what Chancellor Scholz referred to as “strategic ambiguity.” While tactics can be kept flexible, even secret, in dealing with major challenges, a strategy must be well-signaled and understood, within the national framework but also in the arena of alliances. There is little room for ambiguity.

On the fortieth anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1989, former President George Herbert Walker Bush delivered a message well before German unification was achieved. He congratulated Germans saying, “You have inspired the world by forcefully promoting the principles of human rights, democracy, and freedom. The United States and the Federal Republic have always been firm friends and allies but today we share an added role: partners in leadership.” Bush added, “Of course, leadership has a constant companion: responsibility. And our responsibility is to look ahead and grasp the promise of the future.”

Germany and all its partners in leadership now confront that responsibility, including and especially the United States. Regardless of how the current crisis evolves, there is an opportunity for Germany to reset its own strategic dialogue on its role in Europe.

Winston Churchill once said of the United States that it will always do the right thing, after trying all other options. Chancellor Scholz now has the opportunity to do the right thing for Germany.

This article originally appeared in German on February 9, 2022, in The European.

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