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Issue Brief January 22, 2021

The United States, Germany, and world order: New priorities for a changing alliance

By Roderick Kefferpütz, Jeremy Stern

Most recent analyses of US-German relations do not consider the possibility that the two countries simply disagree on many matters of international security. But treating each divergence in security policy as an isolated incident may have allowed policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to ignore the unpleasant fact that the United States and Germany could have increasingly disparate perceptions of threats and strategic cultures.

This was perhaps sustainable under conditions of US unipolarity and a stable global order, when no US-German disagreement was significant enough to upset the larger system. That is no longer the case. Relative to its unipolar moment, US power is now under significant strain, and German power has grown. In this context, the fraught nature of US-German relations has broader implications. Disagreements now have a greater impact on the global balance of power than they once did.

Against this backdrop, Jeremy Stern and Roderick Kefferpütz argue that Washington might therefore have to accept that 2021 will not be the year for a new alignment on geopolitics with Germany. Germany has entered a Superwahljahr—a year full of elections, including six regional votes and the federal election in September. Likewise, the Biden administration will be hard pressed to focus on its own domestic agenda, advancing the vaccination rollout, revitalizing the US economy, and unifying the country. In this sobering context, a realistic agenda for Washington and Berlin might focus first on bilateral and certain “soft” issues. Fixing world order may have to wait until a new German administration in 2022.

Related Experts: Jeremy Stern

Image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden shake hands after a statement to the media before talks in Berlin February 1, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS)