Berlin and Washington Disagree on Russia Policy
Stephen F. Szabo | Washington Quarterly | November 2009
From arms reduction to Afghanistan to Iran, it is in Washington's best interest to ensure cooperation with Moscow on a wide range of issues. Policy-makers in Washington now have to choose between different options for dealing with Moscow: rely on either the EU or on Germany as a focal point for dealing with the Russians, or conduct relations bilaterally.
Washington, however, is unlikely to achieve its goals if it primarily relies on bilateral relations, since the question of Russia's ties to its neighbors forms a major issue in relations. Washington will also run into difficulties if the United States opts for the European Union as a focal point for working with Russia, in view of the lack of unity among the Europeans regarding their Russia policies. Therefore, Washington has no choice but to rely on Berlin. However, U.S. policy makers are uneasy concerning the increasingly close ties between Germany and Russia; especially in the realm of energy policy. Attitudes toward Moscow differ in Washington and Berlin because of contradictory interpretations of the end of the Cold War. The Americans regard the demise of the Soviet Union as a victory of their system, while the Germans regard it as the outcome of years of Détente and German Ostpolitik. Hence, Americans place greater emphasis on the security aspect of their relations with the Kremlin, whereas the Germans are more interested in engaging Russia via greater cooperation. In order for these differences in strategic cultures not to hinder the formation of a coherent policy toward Russia and not to detrimentally affect transatlantic relations, Washington and Berlin need to pay particular attention to certain aspects of their relations:
- Accept the fact that there are real differences of interests, irrespective of the continued friendship between the U.S. and Germany.
- Change the rhetoric - both Washington and Berlin need to be more positive in their dealings with Moscow to obtain its cooperation. References to Russia as a weak state incapable of overcoming the legacy of its past are not helpful.
- Revive the NATO-Russia-Council and form a Russia-contact group on the European level, consisting of Germany, France, and Poland and include the U.S.
- Avoid unnecessary confrontation - the U.S. should avoid entanglement in the affairs of smaller countries in order to avoid provoking a conflict with Russia.
- Refrain from confusing national interests with personal relationships - remember that the interests of the state take precedence over any personal sympathies or lack thereof in relations with foreign leaders.
- Demilitarize U.S.-Russia policy. Support NATO membership for the Ukraine and Georgia only if both states truly fulfill membership criteria, and the U.S. realistically can guarantee their safety.
- Be realistic about Russia. The country no longer represents as great a threat to the West as it did during the Cold War. Washington and Berlin need to overcome unjustified fears.
Much diplomatic finesse will be needed to overcome the deeply rooted differences in the American and German policies toward Russia. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the U.S. and Germany resolve their disagreements and arrive at a coherent strategy in their dealings with Moscow. A working group on the level of the U.S. National Security Council and the German Chancellor's Office could discuss cooperation issues as well as crisis scenarios in order to develop a common approach to Russia. Germany will remain a key player in Russian-American relations. Only by maintaining a close working relationship will the German-American alliance be able to weather the new geostrategic challenges.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "Can Berlin and Washington Agree On Russia?" published here by Washington Quarterly.