Wolfgang Ischinger, the veteran German diplomat and Berlin’s former Ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom, has warned that US President Donald J. Trump‘s blatant nationalism and repeated attacks against Washington’s traditional allies in the European Union could embolden anti-American forces across Continent and push key NATO countries like Germany closer towards an alliance with Russia and China.
“The longer Trump remains in office, the harder it will be to stand up to those in this country and elsewhere in Europe who have been arguing since the Vietnam War that we need to cut the cord with ‘America the bully’,” said Ischinger, before warning that the far-right and far-left populist forces that have come to power in key European countries, including Italy, Austria, and Hungary, have been actively calling for a major rapprochement with Moscow and Beijing.
“It would become much harder for the German government to stay the course and defend this relationship,” Ischinger said. “And the forces calling for a closer relationship with countries like Russia or China might be emboldened,” he added.
Ischinger was made the comments while speaking to the Reuters news agency days before the publication of his book “World in Danger”, in which he urges Germans not to give up on the United States simply because of the rise of Trump and his right-wing ‘America First’ supporters, while also pressing them to accept more global responsibility.
Known as a longtime staunch advocate for strong Euro-Atlantic ties, Ischinger fears that Trump’s attempt to tear Washington from the multilateralism that has characterised American soft and hard power in the world since the end of the Second World War, including Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation, NATO, and cut funding for the United Nations, could deal a fatal blow to the US’ standing on the international stage.
Ischinger, who now serves as the chair of the Munich Security Conference, said Trump’s decision to abruptly withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement has already seriously eroded Washington’s credibility with most EU governments and the majority of the European public.
According to a Pew Research Center survey published last year, only 35% of the German population has a favourable view of the United States under the Trump administration, down from 57% in December 2016, the last month of Barack Obama‘s administration. The German public’s view of Trump is even dimmer. with only 11% of Germans expressing confidence in Trump’s abilities as a president and world leader. By contrast, Trump’s predecessor, Obama, had an 86% approval rating with Germans before leaving office.
Politically, Ischinger warns, the balance in Germany would tilt if Washington stepped in to disrupt the completion of the Russian-led Nord Stream-2 pipeline, a vital energy link between Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea.
“If US sanctions are applied to prevent Nord Stream-2 (from coming online), the repercussions will be poisonous for the Trans-Atlantic relationship,” he said. “Even if you have doubts about the wisdom of Nord Stream-2, it is hard not to see this as a serious violation, as an instance of the US forcing its views on the Europeans.”
Ischinger strongly supports German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call for Berlin to play a more active role in the world and for the German government to act more independently and unilaterally in its foreign policy decisions, but he has repeatedly urged the German government to increase its defence spending by at least €10-to-€15 billion over the next four-year legislative period if the country is to credibly demonstrate its willingness to assume greater responsibility in both Europe and on the world stage.
“We’re not where we should be. And you can even argue that we’ve taken a step backwards in recent years,” Ischinger said. “It’s not enough to declare that we want to assume more responsibility. We need to show where the beef is, and that there is beef. There need to be budgetary consequences.”