The Ampel Coalition's Foreign Policy Challenges

in German Politics and Society
Jack JanesAmerican Institute for Contemporary German Studies

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German-American relations have been impacted by the war in Ukraine for reasons that have to do with domestic and foreign policy challenges. Germany is struggling with its responsibilities to increased expectations in Washington and within the European Union. The responses in Berlin to the Russian invasion of Ukraine have resulted in tensions within Europe as Germany tries to shape its policies around what Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called the Zeitenwende (turning point) of German foreign policy. The u.s. has also signaled its expectations that Germany needs to be a partner in sharing the burden of confronting Russian threats in Ukraine and Europe. Another challenge for German-American relations is emerging around relations with China, which may generate friction across the Atlantic as the United States seeks to confront China on the global stage while Germany remains tightly connected to China as its largest trade partner. How and why Germany and the United States need each other is in transition.

After the election of Joe Biden to the presidency of the United States in November 2020, a new coalition in Germany assumed power in Berlin under the leadership of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Its official coalition agreement pronounced that “the transatlantic partnership and friendship with the United States are a central pillar of our international action.”1 On 5 January 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a meeting with his counterpart Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, stated: “We know that the close relationship between Germany and the United States will continue under Chancellor Scholz and his team. And we're counting on it, because this partnership is indispensable.”2 That set the tone for what was an enormous change from the atmosphere during the Trump administration.

Biden's first year in office, during the final year of Angela Merkel's chancellorship, offered chances to pursue that new chapter. The German relief at seeing Trump expelled from the White House had been palpable. It was assumed that there was now a chance to restore a feeling of normality in the German-American dialogue and that the Trump period had only been an interruption. Early decisions by the Biden administration—such as rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, resuming negotiations with Iran and the World Health Organization (who), and reaffirming the u.s. commitment to nato's Article 5—were warmly greeted in Germany. By the time Biden was traveling to Europe in June 2021 (his first foreign trip as president), German attitudes toward the u.s. had significantly turned positive, and the majority of Europeans also had far greater confidence in the new president.

As Chancellor Scholz and his government formally took office in early December 2021, the tensions on the borders of Russia and Ukraine were increasing. Despite declarations from Moscow that an invasion of Ukraine was not on the agenda, the build-up of Russian troops appeared increasingly menacing. The next two months would continue down the road that ultimately led to the 24 February invasion that Putin had denied he was planning. That day became a major Zeitenwende (turning point), not only for Ukraine and Russia, but for all of Europe, particularly Germany, and indeed the entire Western alliance.

Over the past seven-plus decades, German-American relations have weathered many political storms, some of which have tested those relations while others have strengthened them. There have been numerous occasions in which Germany and the United States differed on priorities and policies across a variety of fields and issues. However, today's swiftly changing global environment, involving shifting poles of power and conflict, raises serious questions as to how the two countries can and should be conducting and coordinating their policies in line with their respective views and expectations of each other. All this came into sharp focus when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Prelude: The Period before 24 February 2022

Less than a month after President Biden was sworn into the Oval Office, a virtual Munich Security Conference meeting took place on 17 February, during which Biden proudly proclaimed: “America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back … The partnership between Europe and the United States, in my view, is and must remain the cornerstone of all that we hope to accomplish in the 21st century, just as we did in the 20th century.”3 German Chancellor Merkel followed Biden with a message that sounded a bit more careful: “Germany is ready for a new chapter in the transatlantic partnership.” She also stated:

We have to work together to define the strategic challenges. I believe the agenda is clear; and it's also clear that we have to develop joint approaches. That doesn't mean that our interests will always converge—I have no illusions about that; we also have to speak frankly about our differences. However, our basic approach, our shared values, our convictions, our democracy and its capability to act have provided us with a good, common foundation.4

The question as to how and where those interests were to converge or diverge would be inherited by the next coalition government, which took office on 6 December 2021.

While the election of Joe Biden signaled an opportunity to renew German-American relations after the stress of the Trump administration, those relations remained marked by various points of friction that had been part of the ongoing dialogue between Berlin and Washington over the decades. One central problem circled around the links between Germany and Russia through two gas pipelines (Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2)—a point of contention for decades, with the United States being highly critical of Germany's increasing dependence on Russian gas supplies. Chancellor Merkel and indeed her predecessors had argued repeatedly that these were business relationships and would not be vulnerable to political exploitation. This assumption was based on the notion that closer economic ties would encourage more political cooperation—a key belief that had been the foundation of Germany's relations with the Soviet Union, followed by Russia, for decades. Critical warnings had also come from other European countries worried about Germany's close economic and energy engagements with Russia, particularly as Putin began to signal a more aggressive posture toward Europe. Following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in the eastern regions of Ukraine in support of breakaway areas, those concerns were escalating. Yet the new administration taking office in Berlin in December 2021 continued to defend the construction of a second pipeline with Russia (Nord Stream 2, on which work had begun in 2011), describing it as a business arrangement. The result was more criticism coming from congressional voices in Washington.

Another debate between Germany and the United States has been escalating over economic relations with China. During her final term in office, Chancellor Merkel had been pushing hard for an agreement between the eu and China—the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. The agreement ultimately failed to win eu approval and also caused discomfort in Washington, which was revising its thinking on relations with China. Merkel herself had led a dozen economic delegations to China during her tenure, and Germany's exports had grown exponentially as had Chinese investments in Germany. The German-American dialogue would continue to debate this issue with the new administration in Berlin as u.s. policy had been growing more confrontational with Beijing during the Trump administration and continued to do so after Biden's election.

Joe Biden had come into the presidency with a clear intention to restore transatlantic relations in the wake of the troubled Trump period, and this would become particularly evident in his handling of relations with Berlin. The singular importance of Germany was demonstrated by the visits of Secretary of State Blinken to Berlin in an effort to underline solidarity with regard to confronting Russian aggression in Ukraine. Yet it was also part of an effort to secure Germany's support in dealing with the other challenges facing the United States, particularly in relation to China.

But on 24 February 2022, Putin ordered an unprovoked attack on Ukraine, and many agenda items were to be impacted by this aggressive attempt to conquer a sovereign country in Europe—the first such act since the end of World War II. The implications for Europe, for members of nato, and indeed for global partners around the world were dramatic in both domestic politics as well as in foreign policy. The impact on Germany was described as a Zeitenwende by Chancellor Scholz in a major speech, delivered on 27 February 2022 to the Bundestag, in which he used that word to describe new initiatives he proposed to respond to Russia's attack on Ukraine: “Putin's war marks a turning point—and that goes for our foreign policy, too.”5

There was indeed going to be a series of tectonic shifts in both foreign and domestic politics with implications for all of Europe and for transatlantic relations. The stakes for both sides of the Atlantic were multifaceted. The challenges would be felt in military responses, economic relations and the energy sector (particularly with regard to sanctions imposed on Moscow), and threats to other areas of Europe. All these challenges required close cooperation. For those seeking to frame these developments, it appeared to some that a new Cold War in Europe was emerging.

After 24 February: Cold War Redux?

While Washington had been convinced well prior to February 2022 that Putin was going to attack Ukraine, Germany was less certain. Chancellor Scholz and other European leaders had traveled to Moscow to try to reason with Putin about the repercussions of Russian aggression, but those efforts proved to fall on deaf ears. President Biden had met with Putin in June 2021 in Geneva to present his warnings personally regarding potential Russian aggression in Ukraine. That, too, did not sway Putin from his plans.

In his initial response to the invasion, Biden declared on 24 February that “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”6 The call for strict sanctions on Russia and Putin's entourage in Moscow was followed by security assistance to Ukraine and the enhanced presence of u.s. military forces deployed in Europe. Biden enjoyed widespread congressional support for these steps plus national displays of support for Ukraine throughout the United States.

In Germany, Chancellor Scholz's dramatic speech in the Bundestag served as the declaration of a new era in security and defense policies with significant changes in German foreign policy, that is, dramatic increases in defense spending and proposals to supply weapons and other supplies to Ukraine. The speech was seen as a major milestone that rippled not only throughout Germany but also in Europe and Washington. Scholz was articulating the outlines of Germany's decision to take seriously leadership in securing security in the face of a war in Ukraine, which was portrayed as a threat to all of Europe. The way in which the months following the invasion have played out reveals both strengths and weaknesses in the ability of Germany, Europe, and the Western alliance led by the United States to shape and sustain a unified front toward Moscow.

The challenges facing both sides of the Atlantic are not solely defined by the war in Ukraine. The shifts in power on the global stage represented by the rise of China; the impact of climate change on the economics, politics, and social fabric of millions around the world; the emergence of global pandemics; the impact of economic inequities within countries as well as across the world—all of these factors are reshaping the equations of influence and impact on the assumptions and expectations that Americans and Germans have made over the past several decades. The polycentric nature of the combined threats and developments will require adjustments in the search for sustainable responses. Four of these challenges are the focus of this article.

Responsibility for Security: The Burden- and Power-Sharing Debate

In his speech to the German Bundestag on 27 February 2022, Chancellor Scholz made a set of unprecedented promises about new directions in Germany's foreign policy. One was to finally meet the nato requirement of all member nations to spend more than 2 percent of gdp on defense annually. Rebuilding the German Bundeswehr, which had atrophied in previous decades following German unification, was a major challenge and would take years to restore. To accomplish the revitalization of Germany's armed forces, Scholz proclaimed the intention to invest 100 billion Euros in the defense budget—a measure that was innovative enough to require an adjustment in the German constitution. The German public was surprised but also supportive of this initial response to Putin's war of choice.

However, the speed with which these promises could be implemented was seriously hampered by sluggish processes in government circles, and this contributed to tensions not only with Ukraine but with many of Germany's nato partners—particularly those most immediately vulnerable to Russian aggression as well as those who were committed to supporting Ukraine's fight for survival. Particularly loud voices came from the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany and from European leaders frustrated by the delay of weapons deliveries and by Berlin's apparent decision-making paralysis, which undercut confidence in Scholz's speech about Germany's Zeitenwende. The gap between what Germany announced and what it was actually doing became a major catalyst for criticism aimed at Berlin. Although weapons and supplies to Ukraine from Germany increased over the course of the spring and summer of 2022, in Berlin's effort to present itself as a reliable partner of Ukraine, it stumbled in its communication strategy early on, leaving doubts about its intentions and questions about its strategies toward Moscow.

Scholz had said that Russia will not win this war and that Ukraine cannot lose it. But seeking to balance these two goals was a challenge. How could both of them be achieved? Some critics suggested that Scholz wanted to sustain diplomatic contacts with Russia in order to support the effort to achieve an eventual ceasefire with Ukraine. After all, Scholz had maintained contact with Moscow and had continued to speak with Putin in the months after the invasion. Yet a scenario to reach a ceasefire at a minimum was not going to be possible unless and until Ukraine could achieve a strategic position to make such negotiations with Putin plausible, let alone acceptable to the Ukrainians. That positioning would depend largely on supplies of weapons coming in from the West—the lion's share from the United States followed by nato alliance members. While Germany was intending to increase its supplies to Ukraine during the year, it shied away from delivering certain weapons (e.g., the powerful Leopard tanks it produces), arguing that doing so had to be done with its allies supplying similar weapons. Berlin argued that decisions made by individual states—not by nato per se—had to be made jointly. As the u.s. was not supplying its modern tanks, Scholz said that Germany would follow that lead. The Biden administration had also declined to deliver its modern Abrams tanks, arguing that other weapons were more useful to the Ukrainian forces. President Biden had also stipulated that no American troops would be sent to Ukraine and that no weapons capable of reaching Russian territory would be available. This approach was running parallel to Biden's warning about the danger of escalation into a nuclear war, given Putin's threats to use tactical nuclear weapons. Chancellor Scholz also warned about the dangers of escalation, which was an issue of major concern for the German public. Amid these deliberations, however, neither Scholz nor Biden had defined what the end goal in Ukraine was to look like and under what conditions the war could be ended.

There is a larger set of questions involved in this dilemma. The long-term impact of these developments has implications for the burden-sharing dialogue with Washington. The discussions about the future defense of Europe—with the expectation that a greater share of defense and security will be shifted to the European side of the Atlantic—remain overshadowed by the continuing dependence on immediate u.s. security guarantees and capacities that Europe has not been able to duplicate. The invasion of Ukraine has once again clearly underlined that strategic asymmetry. Dealing with these imbalances has been an issue in debates across the Atlantic for decades, but the challenges currently facing the u.s. not only in Europe but also in the Pacific theater make that dialogue more pressing now. As it shifts its focus to China, Washington will certainly expect Germany to be a partner in leadership in Europe. The past few months have demonstrated that the eu certainly has capabilities in terms of economic power in applying sanctions against Russia. Its combined military forces and defense expenditures are significant. Yet the effort to synchronize these resources has been hampered by clashes and arguments among eu members concerning sequences and priorities and different national decision-making processes.

How Europe can manage its own military security needs—assuming that goal can be reached—remains a work in progress. For the foreseeable future, the u.s. will need to stay in Europe as the main bulwark of security. While it can merge with eu economic capacities in dealing with both Russia and China, synchronizing those resources along with the military requirements will also continue to define much of the transatlantic burden-sharing dialogue in the wake of the war in Ukraine and beyond. At issue is the responsibility for self-defense. The u.s. needs to adjust its resources to deal with the challenges emerging in the Asia-Pacific region over the next decades. Europe needs to grasp its responsibilities for its own defense and that of the regions bordering it. Both sides need to offer their respective support for meeting these challenges. It is an ongoing challenge for the transatlantic alliance. As stated in a paper recently published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Washington should encourage European countries to leverage the European Union, nato, and other, flexible formats to rationalize the fragmented defense and industrial landscape by investing together in modern capabilities, building a strong and resilient industrial base, and thinking creatively to pool and share forces. To make this happen, the United States must provide practical and political support, including through encouraging the European Union's ambitions and assuring eastern allies that those ambitions do not reduce U.S. commitment to their defense through nato—which, it should be noted, the European Union's own strategic compass still recognizes as the “foundation of collective defence for its [eu] members.7

The combined efforts of a more coordinated European response to the defense and security of Europe is in the interests of both sides of the Atlantic in a globally strategic approach to the challenges facing the alliance. Yet that goal will continue to confront the centrifugal forces of national and domestic political debates over how to achieve it.

The Energy Issue

Over many years stretching back for decades, one of the most controversial issues between the United States and Germany has involved its relations with Russia and energy resources. The role of gas pipelines has been a constant irritant in light of what was seen as increasing Germany's dependence on Russian gas supplies and its vulnerability to Russian influence. Such criticism was also widespread throughout Eastern Europe. Successive German governments had dismissed this concern, arguing that increasing ties with Russia worked both ways in developing interdependence and that Russia's income from the sale of both gas and oil was of great economic importance to Moscow—and had not become a source of political influence.

In the first weeks of his tenure, Chancellor Scholz, who has been oriented toward domestic economic issues throughout his entire career, was confronted with demands underlining Germany's power and responsibility with regard to relations with Russia. Scheduled to travel to Washington in early February 2022, 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 against Ukraine. By the time Scholz left Washington, he had committed to halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project if Putin attacked Ukraine. Less than two weeks later, Scholz was confronted with implementing that commitment.

In past decades, Germany imported over half of its gas from Russia. Following the outbreak of Putin's war, Germany has substantially reduced that stream. But it is scrambling to find alternative solutions—one of which will include the United States’ offer of liquid natural gas (lng) supplies. The fact that Scholz's coalition has also had to consider putting a moratorium on closing its nuclear facilities—an agonizing decision for the Green party—underscores the urgency of the challenge. Already facing an economic slump due to the covid-19 pandemic, interruptions in global supply chain management, and inflation rates approaching 10 percent, the German Bundestag was pressured to pass in October 2022 an energy price relief fund amounting to 200 billion Euros to bridge the crisis. A large part of Germany's business model has been driven by cheap energy and large trade surpluses, but the future will be less predictable. Reducing and replacing Russian energy supplies is going to be a multi-year challenge.

Whether this challenge will generate a European-wide response in solidarity will depend on how willing countries are to share their resources. Yet arguments that this crisis can generate more cooperation not only within Europe but also within the transatlantic community—including both the u.s. and Canada—are also prevalent. The u.s. will be delivering lng supplies to Germany starting in early 2023 after loading ports have been built. Germany has been seeking substitute resources from other countries as well to fill their reserves. The overall impact of the energy squeeze in Europe may be to accelerate the development of alternative and new energy resources.

The struggle that Germany and its European partners will face in the immediate future will involve sustaining stability within their domestic frameworks as the price of energy dramatically increases during this transition period away from Russian supplies of gas and oil. The fact that political tensions will rise is already visible with debates emerging as to whether there can be negotiations with Russia to reopen the pipelines even while the war in Ukraine continues to escalate—although recent terrorist attacks on the pipelines have raised serious doubts about quick reconstruction. Pressure on the coalition in Berlin to respond to domestic fears about energy shortages will be duplicated elsewhere in Europe. For the foreseeable future, serious political stress tests will be generated throughout Europe. The energy issue has also been causing headaches for the Biden administration as the price of gas has increased throughout the u.s. One should not underestimate the impact of this issue, which affects the domestic political environment on both sides of the Atlantic, challenging the Biden administration and the administration of Olaf Scholz during their respective terms in office.

Europe's energy costs have increased with rapidly surging prices. Many industries, including aluminum manufacturers, fertilizer producers, and metal producers, are being hit hard, and recessions are looming. The long-term risk the European continent faces is loss of economic competitiveness because of slow economic growth. Cheap gas depended on an assumption of Russian reliability. That is no longer an option. The industry will gradually adjust, but that transition will take time—and could lead to painful economic dislocations. A main challenge for Germany, as the leading country with a focus in its coalition on climate and energy issues, is to exercise leadership in forging a European response.

There is also an opportunity to weave a transatlantic campaign into the European response. As a leading supplier of lng, the United States has been evolving into a major energy partner with Europe in the direction of clean technologies. European and u.s. companies can drive major investments in clean technologies in the future, with the transatlantic investment flowing in both directions. Such an economic alliance can be as important as the military dimension of transatlantic relations.

The China Syndrome

China has been clearly ranked as the top priority for Biden's administration from the beginning, and this became more evident when its National Security Strategy was released in October 2022:

This strategy recognizes that the prc [People's Republic of China] presents America's most consequential geopolitical challenge. Although the Indo-Pacific is where its outcomes will be most acutely shaped, there are significant global dimensions to this challenge. Russia poses an immediate and ongoing threat to the regional security order in Europe and it is a source of disruption and instability globally but it lacks the across the spectrum capabilities of the prc.8

The u.s. is expecting the German government to define a tougher stance toward Beijing across a range of issues due to, and despite, its extensive economic ties over the past two decades. The question is whether Germany's use of these connections can be synchronized with the Washington's goals.

When the current governing coalition in Berlin was formed, it defined Germany's relationship with China in three dimensions: partnership, competition, and confrontation. Germany's policies during the recent past have been viewed by the Biden team as primarily focused on preserving its economic interests and the rising importance of the Chinese market for the German economy. Chancellor Merkel visited China a dozen times during her term in office, and during those 16 years, Germany's exports to China and imports from China increased exponentially, as did Chinese investment in Germany. Regular governmental consultations took place between the two countries, and Germany became part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, symbolized by the role of the city of Duisburg as a logistical rail and inland harbor hub for Chinese trade.

Despite this increasing expansion of economic networks, relations between the two countries have turned tense more recently. China's persecution of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, the oppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, and Beijing's aggressive performance in the South China Sea, as well as confrontational diplomatic tactics in Europe, have added to frictions. There are arguments over restrictive trade and business practices faced by hundreds of German firms engaged in China. The concerns and indeed complaints about the demands on German firms actually working in China became explicit in a 2019 report of the Federation of German Industry, which called for a strengthened response to the growing challenges of the state-dominated Chinese economy.9 When the eu imposed sanctions on China two years later for human rights violations against the Uighurs, China retaliated with sanctions on members of the eu, officials, and academics. Its treatment of eu members such as Lithuania, which challenged Beijing over its relations with Taipei, resulted in a further backlash from Brussels, raising the temperature between the eu and Beijing.

But the importance of China as both an export and import partner remains pivotal for the German economy. German-Chinese trade hit $240 billion in 2021, and German industry, led by vw and basf, continues to invest millions in building modernized plants in China. China also maintains leverage over rare earth materials as a geostrategic competition tool in dealing with Europe. In reference to Germany's experience with dependency on Russian gas and oil, Germany's foreign minister recently warned about increasing dependence on China: “We are developing a China Strategy as a separate, self-contained element of our National Security Strategy. For the Federal Government and for me it is important that we use our dialogue to anchor what we have learnt from our dependency on Russia in the China Strategy.”10

In November 2022, Chancellor Scholz was confronted with criticism abut Germany's relations with China both within Germany and in the United States. His trip to China in early November, which was accompanied by a dozen top corporate executives, underlined the deep commercial ties Germany and China share. It also reflected the increasing reliance Germany's economy has on China: more than a million jobs in Germany are connected to trade with China. There was also a storm over Scholz's decision to allow a Chinese firm—Costco—to buy a stake in a terminal in Hamburg's enormous port, a decision that was contested by a half-dozen of his Cabinet ministers.11

As tensions between the United States and China have been increasing over several years, Berlin has also been facing choices between its allies and its important trading partner. The u.s. has been expanding the scope of trade restrictions with China, and that will surely be continued in the future as it is a shared perspective in both the Democratic and Republican circles in Congress. The Biden administration is clearly expecting that Germany will help confront the emerging struggle it sees with Beijing over strategic spheres of influence, technological competition, and challenges to democracy. How the transatlantic dialogue about China unfolds will be determined by efforts to define common goals. It will be equally urgent for Berlin and Washington to pursue common ground.

The Challenge of Domestic Politics

The success of foreign policy is always dependent on domestic support and a consensus about its purposes. Both the Biden administration and Germany's coalition in Berlin are facing that challenge. The Biden administration emerged from a controversial and polarized environment during the Trump administration that continues to plague American political and societal discourse. Foreign policy will inevitably be caught up in that debate.

While Chancellor Scholz and his coalition have a four-year perspective to operate with their majority in the Bundestag, President Biden has recently faced congressional elections that have led to a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, resulting in more opposition to his policies for the remainder of his four-year term. In contrast to the Trump administration's attitude toward international alliances, Biden is under great pressure to demonstrate how a leadership in partnership with Germany and Europe serves the interests of the United States. Should that not be recognizable, it will add to the challenges Biden faces in 2024 when seeking re-election. Whether that opens the door to a return of Donald Trump as a candidate of the Republican Party or to another candidate in sync with Trump's policies is an open question. But the answer will have serious implications for transatlantic relations.

Meanwhile Chancellor Scholz, who campaigned on a primarily domestic agenda, will be facing the challenge of sustaining consensus within his coalition when forging foreign policy priorities. It should be recalled that Scholz was a surprise winner of the 2021 election. During the year, the spd had been losing momentum in past polls, trailing the Green party as well as the cdu. Scholz even lost his bid to become spd party chairman a year earlier. But the odds shifted as the cdu/csu became embroiled in a feud over its preferred candidate to run against Scholz, and the candidate who did secure the nomination, Armin Laschet, failed to motivate voters. The result of the elections produced an even greater surprise in the appearance of a new three-way party (traffic light) coalition, never before forged in German politics at the federal level.

Throughout the period following the Russian attacks on Ukraine, Germany and the United States have emphasized the urgency for solidarity in response to Putin's war. Chancellor Scholz has stressed solidarity with Ukraine and the need to forge a united front. His partners in both the Green party and the Free Democrats are supportive of these policies, with indeed a harsher tone toward Moscow emerging from the Greens’ leadership. President Biden has labeled the conflict with Russia as a battle between authoritarianism and democracy and a challenge for the West. As Chancellor Scholz stated clearly in his speech on 27 February: “If we want the last thirty years to be more than a historical exception, then we must do everything we can to maintain the cohesion of the European Union, the strength of nato, to forge even closer relations with our friends, our partners and all those who share our convictions worldwide.”12

The success of that effort is going to depend in no small measure on how Chancellor Scholz can forge sustainable public support for the responses to the many challenges he faces in Germany, as it will for President Biden in the United States. Criticism of German engagement in Ukraine is voiced by members of the AfD and the Left Party, who argue for more engagement with Moscow. Rising energy prices are also grist for criticism. The looming possibility of an economic recession will cause more concern in the German public over the coming months. Much of this will be familiar to the u.s. side of the pond as Americans worry about rising inflation and economic pain at the gas pump. Similarly, the debate in the United States over its global role and responsibilities will continue to unfold among these domestic issues.

Relations between these two countries will be shaped by both the interdependence of interests and the values they share. But they will also be shaped by what Germans and Americans define as their needs and priorities in a changing global arena. The domestic debates will be inextricably related to the forging of common goals in foreign policy, as they have been in the past, and they may change the parameters of how the two countries see each other. It will be of enormous importance that any changes and choices are discussed, debated, and ultimately digested.

President Biden and Chancellor Scholz will face these shared challenges in the years they overlap in office. They will need to steer through their respective domestic demands as skillfully as when dealing with foreign policy issues. In many ways, the United States and Germany are experiencing similar transformations, but it will not change the basic fact that this partnership, in whatever form, will be central to the leadership that these countries will—and must—share in the future. That was the case when Germany and the United States stood together during the first Cold War. It will be equally the case in this new era of global challenges.



See the coalition's agreement: “Mehr fortschritt Wagen: Bündnis für Freiheit, Gerechtigkeit und Nachhaltigkeit, Koalitionsvertrag 2021–2025 zwischen der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands (SPD), BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN und den Freien Demokraten (FDP),”


See Max Bergmann, Colin Wall, Sean Monahan, and Pierre Morcos, “Transforming European Defense,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (18 August 2022),


The Federation's report on dealing with China's state-controlled economy can be viewed at


See the article by Joshua Posaner, Leonie Kijewski, and Wilhelmine Preussen, “Olaf Scholz Backs China, Ignores Government Warnings in Hamburg Port Deal, Report Says,” politico (20 October 2022),


Scholz's speech, see note 5.

Contributor Notes

Jack Janes is a Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, dc, and President Emeritus of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (aicgs) at Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Atlantic Council of the United States. He serves on the advisory boards of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee and the Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik (ZfAS).

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