Relations between the United States and Germany have been strained ever since reports surfaced two years ago that the U.S. National Security Agency had tapped the German chancellor's mobile phone.
Last month, German media reported that the NSA had used Germany's intelligence service to spy on European institutions and persons, a further blow to the trans-Atlantic partnership.
Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. state secretary, discussed the relationship between the United States and Germany with reporters from Focus, a weekly magazine based in Munich.
Mr. Kissinger, who was born in Germany in 1923, talked about the U.S. spying scandal, the trans-Atlantic trade agreement, the euro and Germany’s role on the continent. He also criticized the rising power of West Coast technology monopolies, which have begun to shape U.S. foreign policy, he said.
Focus: Mr. Kissinger, you once said America has no friends, just interests. What is the status between Germany and the United States?
Henry Kissinger: For some, Germany is the enemy from two wars; for the vast majority, Germany is a key component of a successful period of trans-Atlantic cooperation, the key to European construction after the war. It was an important decision in 1947 for the secretary of state at the time, George Marshall, to offer a plan to the defeated enemy and to treat them as equal. That is the basis of our current trans-Atlantic relationship. Most of the great political moments of the post-war era are related to Germany – from the Marshall Plan, to the airlift, to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Today the relationship between the United States and Germany is burdened by the Iraq war, torture scandals, and wiretapping of Germans, all the way up to our chancellor.
The German attitude to the war in Iraq was a blow. That data collection effort was known in Berlin; there may have been other uses not shared with Berlin. Clearly there were unauthorized exceptions. To wiretap the chancellor was totally wrong and there is no excuse. But the test of friendship is the ability to rise above controversy. The real question is if there is still a deep belief in a common road for Germany and the United States? The answer will determine our common future.
In the United States we have had a change of generations. It was the East Coast generation that fought the war, that built the trans-Atlantic friendship, and for both of these reasons had strong personal ties to Europe. The new generation is geographically further removed – they come from the south and southeast. They don't cultivate the same close contacts with Europe. Also, they are from the Internet generation that is less affected by history. In Germany, too, there has been an evolution from the total commitment of the era of former chancellor Konrad Adenauer to the current more skeptical era. But the task for the West remains to develop a common road.
America is departing from its economic liberalism. The generation you speak of tries to build worldwide monopolies. Doesn't that interfere with these relationships?
I am not an admirer of the Silicon Valley institutions and some of their values. I understand Silicon Valley as a technological phenomenon. Only in the United States is one able to develop an idea in a garage and build it into a global company. The founders don't necessarily plan it this way: Google was not founded with the idea to become a monopoly. It is the technological reality: Germany chose to focus on building the best cars, and the United States concentrated on technology. That did not happen because of politics, but because of decisions made a generation ago.
This is not only about Google, but also Uber, Amazon and other U.S. start-ups pushing for global market leadership long before they earn their first cent.
I am not a business expert, but I think they did not start out to become monopolists – but they don't mind it.
And they are willing to break the law abroad – Google the competition law, Uber the passenger transportation act.
American companies are clearly not entitled to break the laws of foreign countries. I also think it is dangerous for several reasons for any company to have a monopoly over information. I have said so as part of the American debate. And moreover I am concerned with the impact on intellectual development when information is drawn entirely from screens. It may weaken people's intellectual ability to question commonly accepted knowledge. The Internet is having a greater effect on society than the Gutenberg Bible. But these are questions for sociology, not for economic design.
How would you solve this politically? Would you break up Google?
We should rather be building competing centers.
Who should do that? The state? Since 2007 there has been no attempt to build a new search engine because Google is too powerful.
Nevertheless, it is not a task for a government, but for private investors.
You once said that globalization is another word for U.S. dominance. Many around the world have enough of that, not only people organized in Attac, an international group which wants more financial regulation and taxes. Is that a growing danger for the United States?
The U.S. is powerful, but it doesn't possess world dominance. And the economic power center of the world is shifting. In the next ten to twenty years, the concern will be not the dominance of the United States, but the effort by Asian countries, led by China, to create an alternative global system. Previously, the United States had a strong bargaining position. Now it is more complicated.
On both sides of the Atlantic, politicians push for signing the transatlantic trade agreement TTIP. Will that strengthen the relationship?
I am strongly in favor of TTIP and hope that the treaty will be signed this year. Even though the split between the parties complicates American politics, I hope the major parties will come together on this proposal. The overriding challenge for Western countries is to develop a great unifying idea - one that they can carry out together and define a direction for a prosperous and peaceful world. Those are the same attributes that the Marshall Plan had.
From the U.S. perspective, there is a race regarding free trade. What is more important for the United States: TTIP or the free trade treaty with the Asian region?
Both institutions are of equal importance.
Generally speaking: is economic interaction the way to stabilize political relationships?
Economic development does not automatically bring political stability in the short term. By upsetting the status quo, it may weaken stability. But in the long term, it often helps to create stability, especially when there are underlying political institutions that are lacking economic development.
Was it correct to no longer invite Russia to the G7?
I have been opposed to the systematic exclusion of Russia from a grouping where it will be eventually needed.
At the IMF, the economic emergence of other states has led to turbulence. China is surely no longer adequately represented, and did not hesitate to establish the rival Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Are we facing a fight over the institutions of the world community?
Both China and the West should do their utmost to prevent the emergence of a contest over the institutions that maintain world order.
Another example of an economic instrument that was tied to high political hopes was the euro...
...that is right. With the consolidation of the European Union, economic unity should have led to political unity. But that has not happened.
Has the euro at least increased stability in Europe?
Some economic decisions may not be ideal, but they will create their own political reality. On balance, the euro is one of them. Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand constructed it to ease the worry of Europeans over German dominance. Their assumption was that everyone would stick to the treaty regarding the deficits. That proved impossible. Because of that, the euro has caused some unifying effects, but not to the extent to which they had hoped.
Mitterrand wanted to diminish German dominance through the euro. Now, in the crisis, Germany is the leading power, without which there can be no solution.
That is an irony. Two wars were fought to prevent the current situation where so many urge Germany to be dominant. Today, it is an irony but also a necessity – and for Germany, an historic opportunity.
Does Germany now have to lead the way for Europe as the United States has done for many years for the western world?
Germany would be wiser to take the leading role together with France or together with France and Great Britain. I would prefer a larger coalition over a German solo enterprise.
Right now there is neither a coalition, nor a Germany that accepts its leadership role actively.
The current problem of European politics is this: Everyone enjoys a good standard of living, but no government is able to demand sacrifice of their people. Even without a crisis it is necessary to forgo something in the present to achieve something great in the future. That is the basic challenge of our age.
Video: Mr. Kissinger talks about China's role in the 21st century.
What should Europe do?
Some argue for a small group of states to make a start and politically integrate, unify their economies, and formulate a common political goal. The rest of Europe would stay in the European Union with the option to participate later. There would be a confederation and a union side by side. I find the idea attractive, but am not yet fully convinced. But the structure so far has not lead to enough unity to address the difficult tasks that lie ahead.
How good is your personal relationship with Europe?
When I came back to Germany in 1944 as an American soldier, I saw a Germany that the present generation cannot imagine. I had the good fortune that I could contribute in restoring its ties to America. For many decades I identified foreign policy with Atlantic ties. My horizon has widened since. I have special relationship with Germany and I admire it. I was, after all, born there. Even though I have not lived there for 75 years, I still watch out for the results of the soccer club of my birthplace SPV Greuther Fürth. Why would I bother to do that, if it wasn’t dear to me?
Did you follow the trial of the 93-year-old former concentration camp bookkeeper Oskar Gröning? What do you think about it? Is justice coming too late?
(Kissinger is silent for a long period of time.) The appalling history of the concentration camps has been fully documented. I respect Germany for demonstrating that evil, so people can understand their past, but I do not consider myself part of that debate. As for me, I have witnessed the revival of Germany for two generations and have had the opportunity to help build American relations with a democratic Germany. The moral credibility of contemporary Germany is part of my life.
This article first appeared in German weekly magazine Focus. To contact the authors: [email protected]