AFTER ANGELA MERKEL (Guest Post from Rubin Rothler)


Under Angela Merkel's administration Berlin enjoyed warm relations with Jerusalem. Merkel was popular in Israel both amongst politicians and the general public. Merkel is generally appreciated as a "true, supportive friend" of Israel. German-Israeli relations have always hovered under the shadow of the Holocaust. But since the establishment of diplomatic relations in May 1965, relations between both countries have grown steadily closer. Under Olmert and Merkel, those relations were further cemented by establishing annual intergovernmental consultations in 2008, for which the Israeli and German cabinets travel either to Berlin or Jerusalem. To mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel in 2008, Merkel became the first German chancellor to speak before the Knesset. In her address, she said that every German government before her had shouldered the country's special historical responsibility for Israel's security. "For me as German chancellor, therefore, Israel's security will never be open to negotiation," she said. Merkel has successively reiterated Germany's unconditional support for Israel by declaring its security was "Staatsraeson".

Military relations between the countries involved the sale of Dolphin class submarines from Germany to Israel. Germany is amongst the largest arms exporting countries globally. Indeed Germany has played a key role in helping the Israeli Navy develop a submarine fleet designed to protect Israel's gas drilling rigs in the Mediterranean Sea. A submarine is the most expensive and effective asset Israel can purchase. It is significantly more expensive than fighter jets. Their capability to operate by stealth means they can be utilised to covertly gather signals intelligence on hostile actors, invisibly approach enemy coastlines and strike targets with precision missiles. They are a crucial facet of Israel's nuclear deterrent and second-strike capacity. In an interview, Chorev, a former Israel Navy Submarine Flotilla commander said "the State of Israel is losing its strategic depth. Today, the country is at risk from missiles from all directions. As [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah has said, they can strike targets from northern Israel to the Dimona nuclear core. They know all of Israel's strategic targets. Hence, identifying the sea as the source of added Israeli strategic depth is what is needed". In light of the growing threats to surface Navy vessels, especially near coastlines and in asymmetric warfare, submarines with their underwater stealth capability are turning into the modern-day elite force, he argued, and modern naval powers around the world are increasingly relying on them to conduct roles once reserved for surface naval ships, like cruisers and destroyers.

After Merkel, Berlin is not anticipated to significantly change course on Israel. But Merkel's successor will have to answer questions relating to Germany's position on arms sales generally. With little public concern, it isn't a major political talking point in Germany. But it will be interesting to see whether the new left-wing federal government really changes arms export policy. Al Jazeera reports that during the election campaign, foreign policy issues have been limited to pledges of maintaining Germany's alliances and commitments around the world. Concerning Israel policy "notable changes on its strong support for the state are hugely unlikely" said Christian Hacke, emeritus professor at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn. "A solid and close relationship with Israel as a continuum will remain part of Germany's Staatsraeson" he told Al Jazeera.

In terms of transatlantic ties with the U.S. Merkel initially pivoted Berlin squarely within Washington's camp. This policy largely stemmed from fears of Russia's looming over-reach to the east under Putin. However events dramatically altered course during her term in office. As the wall street journal reports: "Now, as she is preparing to leave office after her fourth term—having interacted with four U.S. presidents—she has overseen a dramatic increase of her country’s economic dependence on China, pushed through a far-reaching energy deal with Russia, joined France in challenging U.S. political influence in Europe and rejected American demands in areas such as economic policy and Berlin’s openness to Chinese technology". During Ms. Merkel’s administration, the US adopted an increasingly isolationist posture and shifted its focus towards Asia. Under President Trump the relationship deteriorated further. As the Brookings Institute reports: "He regarded the European Union as an economic adversary and questioned NATO’s value. He held Germany in particularly low regard, critisizingits trade surpluses—telling his first NATO summit that “the Germans are very, very bad”—and decrying its defense spending levels, even suggesting that Berlin owes “vast sums of money” to the Alliance and America". Concurrently Beijing transformed from a fast-growing developing market into a global economic and military superpower. Ms. Merkel gradually became disillusioned with the U.S., a development triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, which she blamed in part on America’s loose financial regulation. Since then, she developed a fascination with China that mixed concern about its totalitarian drift with admiration at its rapid growth and technological progress, according to aides, confidants and her own statements.

Despite their disagreements Germany and the US could find common ground to work together. A notable example of this was the joint response to the 2014 Russian intervention in the Ukraine. Germany has quite a different dynamic with Russia than with the United States. As the Spectator explains: "This is, in large measure, due to relative geographic proximity and energy interdependence. When Russia annexed Crimea and began creating turmoil in the Donbas region, however, Merkel threw her support behind American leadership. When Ukrainian insurgents shot down a Korean airliner with an anti-aircraft missile provided by Russia, Merkel doubled down her efforts by working to unite European Union member states around comprehensive economic sanctions. European sanctions on Russia were important because Russia depends far more on trade with Europe and access to European capital markets than on economic exchange with the United States. This did not stop her government from continuing to deepen their energy dependence on Russia. It also did not stop successive American administrations from objecting to the perceived hypocrisy involved in sanctioning Russia on the one hand and supporting Russian gas exports to Europe on the other. Merkel could live with the contradiction. The tensions over this issue would in many ways come to define relations between Germany and the United States during Merkel’s final years in office".

It's difficult to predict the future of German-US relations as many factors come into play. For instance, it seems that the U.S. demands a clear commitment to prioritize relations with the White House over those with China.“We have to push back against the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system,” President Joe Biden said in his speech during the Munich Security Conference in February. Germany has traditionally put its own economic interests above anything else when it comes to its relationship with Beijing. But that is bound to change.“There is a great deal of pressure to change attitudes towards China which is building up from inside Germany, parties like the Greens, parts of the (Merkel’s) CDU want a tougher line,” said Noah Barkin, a managing editor with Rhodium Group’s China practice based in Berlin.“Germany does not want to get caught in the middle of a broader geopolitical power struggle between the United States and China. It never has and never will,” said Rachel Rizzo of the Center for a New American Security. “The U.S., I think, is finally coming to terms with that reality, and the Biden administration has made it clear that they aren’t asking Germany (or Europe, for that matter) to choose sides,” she wrote in an email.

Biden worked hard to heal the wounds inflicted during the Trump Presidency.“If there is a dominant issue, it’s how long is this new friendliness going to last: What and who comes after Biden?” said Charles Kupchan, a specialist in transatlantic relations at Georgetown University. “The German political center is holding, so the bigger question than what the post-Merkel era will look like is what American politics in the post-Merkel era will look like.” Another expert on Europe, Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution, recalled a recent conversation with a senior German official. “He said, ‘we see Biden moving back to new normalcy in transatlantic relations, and we like it, but will the 74 million people who voted for Trump agree with that?’” Trump remains the dominant force in the Republican Party and, according to a new book by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig titled I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J .Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, Trump was considering withdrawing from NATO had he won a second term.


Rubin Rothler LL. B, LL. M

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