As Germany basks in its World Cup victory, it’s easy to forget that one of the most telling geopolitical moments of the tournament came during the Germany-U.S. game. As American fans chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” the Germans countered with, “N-S-A! N-S-A! N-S-A!”
In the weeks since, relations have crumbled. After it learned that a German intelligence officer allegedly spied for the United States, Germany expelled the CIA station chief in Berlin — a rare move by a close American ally.
This isn’t a sudden reversal in relations. The fallout from surveillance scandals has been sharp and steady over the past year. In 2013, Germans grew wary about the extent of U.S. espionage after Edward Snowden leaked documents showing that the United States had been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone since 2002. A German parliamentary committee asked Snowden to provide testimony for an inquiry on foreign intelligence activities. The request, which Snowden rejected, was sure to rankle the United States, but Germany pushed forward anyway: One country’s traitor was another’s key witness.
It’s no surprise that of all foreign countries, President Barack Obama’s approval rating has fallen the most in Brazil and Germany, two countries with leaders monitored by the National Security Agency.
But all the “friendly spying” scandals are just one piece of the puzzle. There are even deeper fissures causing a lot of the bad blood — and suggesting more of it to come.
A poorly defined, more risk-averse U.S. role in the world has Germany and other allies confused and frustrated about Washington’s commitments and preferences. They are questioning U.S. security guarantees, as well as Washington’s willingness to spend military, economic and diplomatic capital on foreign policy — called into question by deep gridlock in Washington, vacillation in Syria and a questionable commitment to the “Asia pivot.”
The Obama administration’s weaker second-term foreign-policy team and its reactive, ineffectual decision-making have made matters worse. While many U.S. alliances have suffered from this foreign policy decline, America’s relationship with Germany has taken the biggest hit.
Germany is also unnerved by the potential for economic conflict between the United States and a German-led Europe. The global reach of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency gives the United States an extraterritorial privilege. America’s sanctions regime, which extends far beyond its borders, further empowers the United States. Sanctions can apply when there are no American citizens involved. They can target non-American branches of foreign institutions that simply have a U.S. presence, such as French bank BNP Paribas, which recently pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid an $8.9 billion fine. With more than $15 billion in fines now levied against more than 20 international banks — mostly European — Germany is alarmed by the United States’ tendency to use its economic clout as an extension of its foreign policy, one that the Germans see as increasingly fickle, opaque and misaligned from their own…. see more