German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had a busy first 10 months in office. Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine on February 24 has “changed our world,” she told an audience at the New School in New York on August 2. She has since been busy trying, with some success, to align countries around the world against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-frontal assault on the international order. This requires, said Baerbock, quoting philosopher Hannah Arendt who was a New School faculty member, “thinking without a banister” (“Denken ohne Geländer” in German), adding, “We have to come up with fresh ideas.”
Regrettably, the speech did not get the attention it deserved, certainly not in Germany. And “new ideas” are still hard to come by. There is no question, though, about the fundamental argument Baerbock made. “The new reality marks a stark turning point. But I also believe that it marks something else: It marks a truly transatlantic moment,” Baerbock said. Freedom, democracy, and human rights were under attack by Putin’s war—“It’s not theory, it’s a reality.” Now was the time “to build a stronger, irreversible transatlantic partnership for the 21st century.”
After US President George Bush’s offer to Germany of 1989, on the eve of reunification, of a “partnership in leadership” went unanswered, now was the chance, Baerbock argued, “to engage in partnership in leadership. Not just we as Germans and Americans. But we as Europeans and Americans.”
Her “three pillars” (security, defense of “our rules-based international order,” “strengthening our democracies and their resilience”) are certainly a good start, but hardly sufficient. In this issue of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY, we are trying to build and expand on how to “seize this transatlantic moment,” a key task that is currently lacking urgency on both sides of the Atlantic.
Daniel Hamilton makes clear that the bond needs to strengthen to prevail in the coming “age of disruption.” 2023 is the year to lock in recent advances, Carisa Nietsche tells us. Boris Ruge calls on the Europeans, especially the Germans and the French, to rediscover their “transatlantic mojo,” and Claudia Schmucker puts her finger on one of the blind spots of Baerbock’s speech: trade.
What makes the task so urgent is not only Putin’s war, which, as Michael Kimmage writes, has reaffirmed Europe as the “center stage of international affairs.” There is also the danger of the United States itself turning into an autocracy. However, as Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor to US President Barack Obama (2009-17), tells us in an interview, while the danger is real, America’s institutions remain strong, and even a reelected Donald Trump would have trouble pulling the United States out of NATO now.
At bleak moments like the present, when a geopolitical challenge comparable to the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall needs to be mastered, a strong, future-oriented transatlantic relationship, extended to like-minded allies like Japan and Australia, is at the core of Germany’s and Europe’s foreign affairs. It certainly helps that US President Joe Biden has a phone number these days if, in the famous phrase of Henry Kissinger, he wants “to call Europe”—European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will pick up. But this is far beyond two statespersons. “Seizing the transatlantic moment” needs a much broader effort. There is no time to lose.
Henning Hoff is Executive Editor of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY.