US election seen from Germany: We need a "US strategy"

US election seen from Germany: We need a "US strategy"

Torsten Riecke is an international correspondent for Handelsblatt, the German financial daily. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Carlos Santamaria: Do Germans think the US election will make a difference for them?

TR: When President Trump came into power, it was clear very quickly that the Transatlantic relationship is going to change. And that's what happened. So issues like defense, taking care of Germany's own security, and the latest news that is he is pulling out the troops, which affects communities in Germany. Germany has to spend more money on defense. We have a debate about this now, which I think it's a good thing, but people begin to realize that we are in a new phase of this relationship. It already started before with the Obama administration, because he touched on that issue, too. But it was much more forceful from the Trump administration.


CS: How do Germans view the increasingly antagonistic relationship between the US and China?

TR: There's some kind of looking back to the good old times, when everything was okay, but I think people are realizing now that those times are not going to come back, even if the White House has a new president in November. This is kind of a painful process here because of our history as a country of World War Two. So we are actually in a debate about that — Germany needs to play a bigger role on the world stage and that will have to be with more hard power than we have been used to. We actually outsourced our security to NATO and the United States.

CS: How do Germans view Angela Merkel's handling of these difficult last few years?

TR: If you look at President Trump and the chancellor, obviously the personalities — and you can actually see it when they meet — they are so different. It's so visible. If you look at the faces, the gestures, they're very different people. That was completely different with the Obama administration, especially with President Obama. They had a very good relationship, even a friendship. Obama left office and came to Germany, met Merkel. They had a public appearance. So this was really close on a personal level.

But Merkel is very pragmatic in this sense. She's very rational. She tried to make it look as good as it goes. And she knew and she still knows all the difficult parts when it comes to dealing with this president, Trump. But this is probably the biggest gap we have at the moment. We don't have any strong personal relationship between the leaders of the two countries. And that's very different from the past, even in the early years of the second Bush administration. There were big differences over the Iraq War, but they were still talking. In the real meetings, behind closed doors, they were actually shouting at each other, but at the moment it's kind of an indifference on both sides.

Germany's not that important for the US, and Germany feels that it has to look elsewhere when it comes to very important issues.

CS: Do you think a Biden presidency can rekindle the relationship?

TR: That's going to be tricky because I think on a personal level, Biden is well known here because he is a foreign policy politician. So he's very well connected in the political class here in Germany and in Europe. People know him. He comes over as very comfortable. He's a guy you can talk to. He's not that difficult to deal with. But when it comes to the policy issues, there will be some awakening here in Germany that even what the Biden administration will say on China — let's say mostly it won't be so different from what the Trump administration is actually asking for at the moment.

CS: Are you saying Germans look forward to Biden, but will be adjusting expectations that there are certain things that will just have to continue as is for some time?

TR: I think the wider public, the people on the street, they would love to see change in the White House when it comes to the November election. Just for personal reasons, to make it easier, to not be scared anymore about what's going on in the White House and what's happening with the pandemic.

On the political level, there is this process ongoing that they need to find a new way of talking, dealing with the US. The foreign ministry here in Berlin came out a half year ago with the need of a US strategy for Germany. Very unusual. This was an issue we didn't have to talk about because it was a friendship. It was a good relationship all the time.

Now we see the need of having a US strategy. That means we have to change something, obviously. Otherwise there wouldn't be a need for that. And at the same time, a different department talked about the need of a China strategy. And this puts Germany, and Europe, in the middle between those two superpowers, but still knowing that there is no equidistance between Washington and Beijing.

We are much more aligned with our partners in the US. But we have to change the partnership. This process is still in its early days. And I'm doubtful that the political class will be ready to have figured all things out, even if Biden becomes president.

This interview is part of the GZERO project Global voices on the US election, which you can find in full here.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

More Show less

Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

More Show less

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

More Show less

6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

More Show less

Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

More Show less

China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal