It should be a marriage made in heaven. Barack Obama and Angela Merkel are quiet, pragmatic politicians less interested in grand gestures than in results. Merkel gives Washington someone to call when Europe is in crisis. Obama gives Europe the longed-for U.S. leader willing to invest in multilateralism and multinational institutions.
So why does a widening divide between Berlin and Washington threaten the entire Western alliance?
A fundamental shift in interests and outlook is leaving the United States and Germany with potentially irreconcilable differences.
U.S. grand strategy relies not just on diplomats, soldiers and sailors but also on trade negotiators. But economic initiatives serve geopolitical goals. Promotion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a promising multinational trade deal, is as much about establishing a counter to rising China as is the shift of more U.S. warships into Asian waters.
German officials, on the other hand, are focused ever more narrowly on economic stability and sustainability. Before the euro zone descended into crisis, Germany appeared to be becoming a “normal” Western power, interested in extending its political influence and willing to commit troops to defend its liberal values and security in Kosovo and Afghanistan. More recently, however, Germany has become less multilateral, at least on security questions, and less willing to transfer sovereignty to supranational institutions such as the European Union or to take part in international missions. The result is a strange mix of economic assertiveness and military abstinence. Germany has become a geo-economic power, using commerce to extend its influence and advance its interests.