The Confidence Crisis
By Christoph von Marschall
Translated By Kylee Carlson
2 February 2013
Edited by Natalie Clager
Germany - Tagesspiegel - Original Article (German)
At the security conference in Munich, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden emphasized that Europe is America's closest partner. In reality, however, many hopes have been disappointed on both sides. There is a crisis of confidence.
The American vice president stated the obvious: Europe is the most important ally, the closest friend and the biggest business partner the U.S. has. The real question should then be: Why did Joe Biden even need to remind anyone of that?
The relationship is in crisis. For the past year and a half, Obama's phrase has often been quoted: "The United States is a Pacific power." There was hardly anything new about that when he spoke in Australia in 2011. The U.S. has been involved in Asia for decades. They allowed the Japanese attack on their own Pearl Harbor in WWII — and had no incidents in Europe. Nevertheless, many in Europe demanded a strong commitment to the Atlantic. Biden has now more than fulfilled that demand. America is also an Atlantic power. Moreover, Europe is the U.S.'s indispensable partner, the first to whom they turn for support.
Americans — half joking, half guilty — compare the Europeans’ need for reassurance to a long marriage: Suddenly there is suspicion of a younger mistress. Then the husband starts acting nice to assure the wife how beautiful she is and that he still loves her.
The vivid comparison is inappropriate. America and Europe are not suffering a confidence crisis in the classical sense — they don't feel betrayed. Yet this is a confidence crisis. The U.S. and the EU have similar interests and need each other, but they are no longer convinced that their partner on the other side of the Atlantic will reliably deliver what’s necessary to serve those interests. In this way, they are justifying their own dispiritedness.
There are many examples of disappointed hopes, and examples of a few failures as well. The perception, however, is often more negative than the reality. America complains about dragging proceedings with the Euro crisis. But should U.S. finance experts have predicted the imminent collapse of the Euro four years ago? The U.S. has done even less to address its own debt crisis. But America is not broke, not by a long shot.
To Americans, Libya is an example of how Europeans quickly run out of ammo when they try to get involved in something, which results in the U.S. having to help out. In Mali they admire France's resoluteness, but shake their heads at the Germans' hesitancy. Conversely, Europeans found Americans' reaction to the upheaval in Saudi Arabia to be indecisive. Criticizing one's partner always helps gloss over one's own inadequacies.
For years these two allies have neglected each other, and barely seem to recognize what they have in each other. For example, including trade, services and direct investments, they are by far the largest economic alliance in the world, and even small growth rates in their exchange benefit them more than high rates in Asia. The most current example of the confidence crisis is the comprehensive partnership and free trade agreement, which Biden and others so emphatically praise. In reality, the White House restrains itself because it doubts whether 27 EU states can agree on a negotiating mandate and implement it quickly. And Europe fears that Obama prioritizes Asia and other projects over itself. But success will only come with trust.
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