BERLIN – The rest of the world can no longer take it for granted that the US still aspires to be a global leader and needs to readjust its priorities accordingly, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned.
“We grew up in the certain knowledge that the United States wanted to be a world power,” the German chancellor said in an interview with a group of six European newspapers, according to The Guardian.
“Should the US now wish to withdraw from that role of its own free will, we would have to reflect on that very deeply,” she added.
Merkel, the first German leader to have grown up on the eastern side of the iron curtain, has in the past frequently spoken of her admiration for the US’s global influence. When she spoke in front of Congress in 2009, Merkel rhapsodized about the “incredible gift of freedom” bestowed on eastern Germans with the US-supported toppling of the Berlin Wall.
But even during Barack Obama’s presidency, Merkel saw her government repeatedly chided for its low military spending – criticism that intensified under President Donald Trump, who recently confirmed plans to withdraw 9,500 American troops from bases in Germany.
In an interview with The Guardian, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, France’s Le Monde, Spain’s La Vanguardia, Italy’s La Stampa and Poland’s Polityka, Merkel noted the US military presence in central Europe was in the US’s own interest.
“American troops in Germany help to protect not only Germany and the European part of NATO but also the interests of the United States of America,” the chancellor stated.
Talking of Germany’s military spending, Merkel said, “We in Germany know that we have to spend more on defense; we have achieved considerable increases in recent years, and we will continue on that path to enhance our military capabilities.”
But “reflecting very deeply” for Merkel does not appear to amount to an endorsement of what the French President, Emmanuel Macron, has called European “strategic autonomy”, the ability to defend the continent without reliance on the US.
“Look at the world; look at China or India,” Merkel stated, adding, “There are compelling reasons to remain committed to a transatlantic defense community and our shared nuclear umbrella. But of course, Europe needs to carry more of the burden than during the Cold War.”
Asked if Germany underestimated the alleged “threat” posed by Russia, Merkel acknowledged a pattern of “belligerent behavior”, citing “misinformation campaigns” and the murder of the Chechen terrorist in exile Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin, which German prosecutors accuse Moscow of having allegedly ordered.
“The murder in Berlin’s Tiergarten park is a serious incident, obviously, the blame for which is currently being ascertained in court”, the chancellor said, adding, “At any rate, we recognize hybrid warfare, methods of destabilization, as a Russian behavior pattern.”
“On the other hand, there are good reasons to keep engaging in constructive dialogue with Russia. In countries like Syria and Libya, countries in Europe’s immediate neighborhood, Russia’s strategic influence is great. I will, therefore, continue to strive for cooperation,” she continued.