The 2003 Iraq War as a Turning Point in German–American Relations: Political Leadership and Alliance Cohesion

The article explores and explains Germany’s pre-emptive ‘No’ to the war in Iraq and argues that the ‘No’ was not a structural break in the relationship with the US, although for many its dramatic consequences appeared as a ‘parting of ways’ of two close allies. With the European Union deeply divided and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization split into two camps, the result was a profound disunity of the West. After the war in Kosovo and the German military contribution to the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, there was no chance that the SPD/Green coalition would have been able to put together its own majority for an additional war effort in Iraq. Opposing a perceived US unilateralism was popular and an opportunity to stand up to the Bush administration. On a more fundamental level, Germany reclaimed the right to national sovereignty in spite of its commitment to multilateralism. This self-assertion was a new development for German foreign policy and it will also characterise Germany’s actions in the future. With the arrival of the Trump administration in Washington and its challenge to the liberal world order America created after World War II, the US and Germany could end up on an even more profound collision course.

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This article was originally published in German Politics in March 2018.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Dieter Dettke

Georgetown University

Dr. Dieter Dettke is a Non-Resident Fellow at AICGS and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University.

Dr. Dettke served as the U.S. Representative and Executive Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Washington from 1985 until 2006 managing a comprehensive program of transatlantic cooperation. In 2006, he joined the German Marshall Fund of the United States as a Transatlantic Fellow and from September 2006 to June 2007, he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His most recent book is “Germany Says ‘No’: The Iraq War and the Future of German Foreign and Security Policy,” published by theWoodrow Wilson Center Press and The Johns Hopkins University Press, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, 2009.

Dr. Dettke is a foreign and security policy specialist, author and editor of numerous publications on German, European, and U.S. foreign and security issues.

He studied Law and Political Science in Bonn and Berlin, Germany, and Strasbourg, France and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1967/68.