Skip to main content

Obama visit: Why U.S. now needs Germany more than ever

By Sudha David-Wilp, special for CNN
June 19, 2013 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Barack Obama makes a state visit to Germany this week
  • He should persuade Germany to take the lead in world affairs, writes Sudha David-Wilp
  • German leadership is required for the euro crisis, transatlantic trade and multilateral security

Sudha David-Wilp is a senior program officer at the German Marshall Fund of the United States' Berlin office. She previously oversaw the Congressional Study Group on Germany, a program for lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in the Bundestag, in Washington DC. Follow her on Twitter.

Berlin (CNN) -- U.S. President John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech delivered 50 years ago was well received by more than 100,000 Germans hopeful for America's steadfast support as Berlin came to symbolize one of the Cold War's main battlegrounds. As presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, Barack Obama had nearly twice that number of optimistic onlookers at Berlin's Victory Column who eagerly anticipated a new American outlook on questions ranging from climate change to nuclear disarmament.

Sudha David-Wilp
Sudha David-Wilp

The state visit to Germany this week, with a public appearance in front of the Brandenburg Gate, will most probably offer transatlantic reassurances and deliverables from the United States as echoed by both Democratic and Republican presidents in the past; but instead, the current American president should take this as an opportunity to bring Germany out of its shell and persuade it to act as a legitimate power in world affairs.

Although looked on as a traditional ally of the U.S. along with the UK and France, Germany has often taken a backseat within the trio since it struggles to find a comfort zone in the realm of hard security. Reminders of World War II's devastation -- and Germany's role in that -- have shaped the EU's largest country to showcase its economic prowess rather than its military capabilities.

Foreign workers solve skills shortage
Germany employment plan to the rescue?
2012: Election battleground Germany

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United Kingdom spends nearly double on military expenditure as a percentage of GDP in comparison to Germany, and France is not far behind Britain. Yet today the cards are reshuffled, the economic crisis has left the UK and France weak and inward looking while Germany for the most part weathered the storm. Germany's new standing in Europe and the world has garnered it respect and scorn, something that comes with the territory for a great power.

President Obama recognizes Germany as a leading global player, and has mentioned the country in his last two State of the Union speeches. The U.S. has cultivated its relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel: she was honored with a state dinner at the White House in 2011 and two years before that she was the first German chancellor in more than 50 years to address the U.S. Congress.

Five decades ago, Germany was a trusted partner and a protectorate of the U.S.; today it is Washington that needs Germany's support in taking transatlantic relations to the next level. With the UK dangling threats to opt out of the EU and France struggling to jump start its economy; the U.S. should encourage Germany to reignite the European project in order to show the world that Europe can be an essential partner when it comes to confronting challenges around the world.

OPINION: Rehn: No need for UK 'threat' to leave EU

Three areas calling for German leadership are the euro crisis, transatlantic trade and multilateral security. Within Europe, Germany doesn't have to solely spread the mantra of austerity, it could also share its lessons learned in economic reform and commitment to vocational education -- not too long ago it was labeled the Sick Man of Europe while today unemployment is below 7%. On behalf of Europe, Germany should spearhead the current Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and Europe that is on the negotiating table.

TTIP will enhance the prosperity gains on both sides of the Atlantic and set the ground rules for trade as a check to China. Finally the U.S. needs NATO-member Germany to play a stronger military role at hot spots around the world. The misdeeds of Germany's past should never be forgotten, and German decision-makers are sensitive to historical responsibility, all the more reason to support their allies when ushering change in despotic countries -- Libya was one such case.

Parallels between two young presidents representing a vision of America a half a century apart will certainly be drawn during Obama's state visit to Germany. There might even be a line for the history books after the speech at the Brandenburg Gate, but Obama knows there is no pressure.

Germany's expectations for America have dampened since his last visit and Berlin today shows scant scars of 1963. It is the U.S. that hopes Germany will step up and take the leadership mantle in Europe and elsewhere.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sudha David-Wilp.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT