America's Most Important Ally

CHARLES McC. MATHIAS

April 30, 1993|By CHARLES McC. MATHIAS

For 41 years the American Council on Germany and its counterpart in the Federal Republic, the Atlantik-Bruecke, have been meeting biennially to assess the state of one of the world's most important bilateral relationships. Last time, the conference was in Berlin. This week the two organizations are assembling in Baltimore for the first time as former Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias completes a six-year stint as chairman of the council.

As usual, the conference is attracting government officials, business leaders, academics and journalists from both countries.

Senator Mathias' predecessors as chairman of the American Council on Germany were two key architects of the postwar world, John J. McCloy and Gen. Lucius Clay, both of whom were dedicated to the reconciliation of wartime enemies. He will be succeeded by Gen. John Galvin, who retired recently as the military commander of NATO.

At the request of The Sun, Senator Mathias prepared this assessment of the current American-German relationship.

Germany's place in American esteem has touched the pinnacle of popularity and the pit of conflict and war in the course of the last century. German culture, including education, science, music, literature, art and architecture, was admired and emulated by 19th-century Americans and made Germany their favorite foreign nation.

World War I changed all that. The highly personalized propaganda pictured the Kaiser as a monster who was the reflected image of all Germans to be hated, despised and defeated. World War II reinforced this attitude and the revelation of the Holocaust intensified it. At the end of the 20th century, these notions have not totally dispersed even after a number of years of close cooperation in support of common policies for stability and peace.

At the threshold of a new century, there is an opportunity to review the significance of German-American relations and to define what we would like them to be. The importance of cooperation of Germany and the United States can be measured by the performance of NATO, the shield and sword of the democratic Western world.

Germany's location on the frontier made its contribution of a base for operations critical for success, but also exposed Germans to grave dangers. The presence of American troops in Germany exploited the asset of location and to a degree shared the risk. Without diminishing recognition of other NATO nations' participation, it is clear that the German-American relationship was an essential ingredient of victory. A former British ambassador to the United States has called it the most important international relationship in the world today.

The NATO experience is, however, a measure of past performance and we need to consider the present and the future. One of the lessons derived from the double tragedy of global war in the 20th century is that the vital interest of the United States can be profoundly affected by the condition of Europe. As a result, the United States has fostered the concept of European economic and political integration and the adherence of Germany to the community.

The special value of German involvement is not only the benefit of a productive population of 80 million, but also the absorption of political energies in community affairs rather than in national adventures.

There has been progress toward the objective of European unity, but it is still too early to claim success; a great deal needs to be done. The abrupt end of the Cold War has paradoxically slowed the process and so the necessity for continued German-American cooperation is as great as ever.

One of the unknown factors that will influence the future is the fate of the peoples of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Whether or not the West can or will help Russia to attain democracy and prosperity, it is clearly desirable to do everything possible to stabilize the situation in Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak republics. It is inconceivable that much could be achieved without the participation and leadership of Germany. In this area, the United States is dependent on Germany.

Trade is an important element in any international relationship and that is certainly true with the United States and Germany. The volume of two-way trade amounted to $47 billion in 1991 with a credit balance of almost $1 billion in favor of the United States, which means many thousands of export jobs.

The global economy generates a material, interdependent financial system where the cost and availability of credit are important to every nation. The size and productivity of the German economy make it an influential factor in the generation and management of capital. The United States must recognize the position of Germany in such matters and maintain close communication with German financial institutions. As the world's largest debtor, the United States needs Germany's understanding in addressing the problems inherent in a chronic annual deficit and a $4 trillion national debt.

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