Before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle
East by Arthur F. Burns, Ambassador of The United States to the Federal
Republic of Germany
Although economic problems have played a part in the friction between our two countries, it is largely the result of political and psychological forces.
There is increasing anxiety among the German public, particularly among young people, about the world in which they live. The sources of this anxiety are legion. Many Germans feel that their country has become a pawn in the struggle for supremacy between two superpowers -- the Soviet Union and the United States. Fears of a nuclear war fought on German soil are widespread. Environmental concerns, especially with regard to reliance on nuclear fuel, are pronounced. There is now some fear of a harsher economic environment and a sagging social safety net. There is also a feeling of alienation among young people, as well as among intellectuals at all ages, stemming from concerns about the role of technology and large impersonal organizations in their society. Many young people, furthermore, have come to believe that it is morally wrong to live in affluence when millions in the third world are starving. Speaking more generally, many Germans nowadays feel that a coherent purpose in life has been eluding them.
Since the United States is frequently identified with things that trouble many Germans -- notably, superpower rivalry, rampant technology, and militarism -- concern has arisen in the Federal Republic about America's international role, more particularly about our ability to manage East-West relations wisely. The Soviet Union has found it useful to exploit European fears of armaments. It has done this with skill and energy, especially in West Germany. Soviet propaganda pictures the United States as a restless, bellicose power lacking a true desire for peace and willing to risk the nuclear destruction of Europe. At the same time the Soviet Union presents itself as working tirelessly in behalf of international peace and order. The massive peace offensive mounted by the Soviets seems to drive a wedge between us and our European allies -- an exercise in which they have been to some degree successful. I must say, however, that media concentration on "anti- Americanism" in West Germany strikes me as overdrawn and wide of the mark. The basic national interests of the United States and the Federal Republic have for many years been very similar and they are so recognized by a majority of the German people. In Germany we have a staunch ally. Nevertheless, German anxieties and the differences in perceptions that exist between us and the Federal Republic require careful attention on both sides of the Atlantic if we are to promote successfully our common interests.
Before addressing these issues, I wish to emphasize the need to get our economic houses in order. The element of friction - between the United States and the Federal Republic is being worsened by economic difficulties in our two countries. Financial stringency largely accounts for Germany's disinclination to increase defense outlays at this time. Nevertheless, it even now appears that there will be some progress in German willingness to provide additional finance for NATO infrastructure. Partly because of our own economic problems, we want Germany to bear a larger burden in supporting American Forces in the Federal Republic and in providing aid to common allies like Turkey. But Germany right now is preoccupied with difficulties of its own -- high interest rates, rising unemployment, and budget constraints -- which, though less intense than our economic troubles, are quite disturbing to German people. The Bonn Government believes with some justification that Germany has made a steady, substantial contribution to NATO defenses during the past decade when the U.S. was downgrading its defense priorities. Bonn feels it must now tighten its belt. We should encourage that effort and try to understand that a healthier German economy will enable the Federal Republic to bear in the future the larger defense burden which we regard as its rightful share. Politically, we must try harder to understand the interests that motivate the Federal Republic. In our admiration for Germany's postwar recovery, its economic strength and its increasing role in Europe, we sometimes fail to perceive the limitations that the Germans feel keenly -- their status as a divided nation with millions of families having relatives, or close friends in East. Germany; their role as a European country with limited world responsibilities; their dependence on the good sense of the U.S. as a nuclear - protecting power, but one whose dependability has been called into question by Vietnam, Watergate, and occasional contradictory statements of policy emanating from Washington. Moreover, the Germans are troubled by their geographic proximity to the Soviet Union and the hazards attaching to the lonely outpost of Berlin.
Because of factors such as these the Federal Republic takes a different view toward detente than we do. To us detente was another approach to the old question of dealing with the Soviets - an approach that in the end has benefited us little. The Germans, on the other hand, feel that detente has resulted in reduced tensions in Europe and in a stabilized political situation in and around Berlin. In addition, the Germans, have gained through detente close contacts with their compatriots in the East, also improved trade relations and a better lot for the 17 million Germans who reside in the German Democratic Republic.
To be sure, as we all know, detente did not lead the Soviets to abandon their foreign adventurism or their military buildup. Soviet aggression in Afghanistan and the military takeover in Poland have inevitably called into question the basis of detente and the future of Ostpolitik. Fortunately, the Reagan Administration has taken major steps to correct our response to Soviet actions. In general, the government of the Federal Republic approves our decision in this respect. It believes in firmness toward the Soviets. But it also believes that firmness must be coupled with continued dialogue to reduce tensions and to prevent jeopardizing the gains of Ostpolitik. It further believes, perhaps naively, that through a process of friendly communication we in the West can over time encourage respect by the Soviets for human rights as well as some restraint in their international behavior. There are important differences in the geopolitical roles of the United States and the Federal Republic that influence the world outlook of each. Germany is essentially a regional power. The United States, on the other hand, has global interests and responsibilities. We need to make hard decisions on numerous questions in which the direct interests of the Federal Republic are quite limited. Many Germans and Americans seem not to appreciate that difference. At times this failure leads to German resentment of our attitude toward their country and to a feeling that we ignore German interests. On the other hand, not a few Americans expect generous economic contribution for our sponsored projects in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and other places, from a country that is not yet pursuaded that it has a global responsibility.
It would be wise for the Germans to consider more carefully the complexities that the United States often faces in providing leadership for the alliance and in taking actions in other areas of the world. From an American viewpoint the German government has not been helpful on some issues where American interests are directly and heavily involved, as in the case of El Salvador. The American government feels that Germany needs to do more, together with other allies, to show displeasure over the repression engineered by the Soviets in Poland. We have also been troubled about the Federal Republic's caution in involving itself in some problems outside NATO's boundaries, particularly in the Persian Gulf area. We feel that the Federal Republic, being heavily dependent on imports of Middle Eastern crude oil, should play a larger role in support of American policies in that area. Our government is also inclined to believe that the German leadership should assume a larger burden of political responsibility in explaining agreed alliance policies to its own public.
The United States and the Federal Republic can only achieve a better mutual understanding at the policy level through extensive and effective consultations. The approach to the arms control negotiations at Geneva exemplifies the value of good consultations with our NATO allies. From our frequent conversations with the Germans during the preparatory period we gained important insights that helped us plan for our discussions with the Soviets. I think it is important for the German public, and not only those involved in the peace movement, to recognize that their government has had and is having a real voice in the formulation of alliance policy on armaments control. Just as we have been doing in the armaments negotiations, so our two governments must strive for improved dialogue on other policy issues. To be a shade more specific, we should alert each other to emerging problems at an early stage and thus reduce the kind of misunderstanding that develops when one side thinks it is consulting and the other feels it is only being informed after the decisions have been taken. We certainly need to avoid situations where our efforts at genuine consultation are mistaken by the Germans as still another test of their loyalty.
Obviously, the administration must take a leading role in shaping our relations with the Federal Republic, but there is also much that the Congress could do. This is especially true in the area of improving understanding of basic policy perceptions and interests of our two countries. One way to do this is in the context of the newly-created German-American group in the Bundestag. I urge your support of their effort. Get to know your German counterparts. Telephone them if necessary to get their views on issues under consideration here and convey to them your views about subjects of interest to the United States that are being discussed in Germany. I am assured by German parliamentarians that they are most eager to work closely with members of our Congress.
One issue currently under discussion with the German government is the administration's effort to restrain the flow of public credit to the Soviet Union. We are concerned that by extending credits on a liberal scale, European and some other governments have been strengthening the economic potential of the Soviet Union, and that they have thereby been helping indirectly to buildup in some degree its military machine. The private market now recognizes the financial difficulties faced by the Soviet bloc and is, as a result, sharply curtailing its lending. The present American initiative is designed to parallel this reduction in private credits by seeking restraints on officially subsidized credits and export credit guarantees. The reduction of credits and credit guarantees will either cause a contraction in Soviet imports from the West or will require payment in hard currency for what the Soviets choose to purchase.
Our effort to restrict credit to the Soviet Union is perceived by some in Germany and elsewhere as "waging economic warfare." That is by no means the administration's intention. We merely seek, as far as the Soviets are concerned, to have international financial markets work without undue interference by governmental financial agencies. Of course, our objective is to reduce the provision of advantageous financing to the Soviets so as not to undermine our efforts to strengthen the common defense. I urge you to understand this administration effort and to help explain it to your German colleagues. We must also try to stem the growing deficiency in understanding between our two countries that is reflected in a drifting away of young people from what had previously been a shared belief in our common moral and cultural heritage.
Parents, teachers, journalists, and parliamentarians on both sides of the Atlantic have neglected their responsibilities in preparing the new generation of Americans and Europeans to take over the reins of power. The leaders in this rising "successor" generation in our two countries are often uninformed or, worse still, ill-informed about their respective peers. I sense, for example, in young Germans a lack of interest in the study of history -- hence their lack of understanding of how the world got where it is. And I find in young Americans a lack of interest in the study of foreign languages and cultures. One of the more important objectives of the public policies of our two countries must therefore be an extension and deepening of the intellectual contact between the young people of our respective societies, so as to rekindle appreciation of each other's values and historic experiences and thus achieve a better understanding - of our spiritual, economic, and political interdependence.
We already have a substantial and successful academic exchange program -- the Fulbright Program -- which brings German teachers and university students to the United States and sends American counterparts to the Federal Republic. I am convinced that this program is a vital element in our long-term bilateral relationship. I suggest that we now devote additional attention to an exchange program involving young people at a formative age -- that is, well before their prejudices have become ingrained. I am always loath to suggest additions to the federal budget and am again reluctant to do so here. But I am certain that a show of congressional intent and support, perhaps a redirection of some of the funds already available for our overseas information and cultural programs and a concerted appeal to the private sector for support of this program will be a worthwhile investment for our country. Experience has shown that long-term exchanges of young people, such as those conducted by the American Field Service and Youth for Understanding, pay lifetime dividends in understanding and appreciation of the culture and moral values of the country and the people visited. I therefore urge you to give suitable support to German-American youth exchanges.
I am convinced this will prove to be a good investment, not only because the Federal Republic is a key country in Europe but also because it is a loyal, dependable ally whose basic interests and values are essentially supportive of our own. This fact was borne home once again in a poll released recently in which West Germans expressed high confidence in and appreciation for the United States. I believe that with greater sensitivity on our part and better understanding in Germany, our two countries can continue to work effectively together in furtherance of the moral, economic, and cultural values that constitute the essence of Western civilization.
Source: Wireless Bulletin from Washington, April 13, 1982. U.S. Embassy Bonn
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