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Historian Sees Iraq Debate Fundamentally Transforming US-German Relations - 2003-03-12


Policy experts on both sides of the Atlantic are examining the implications of the conflicting views on how to deal with Iraq being expressed by Britain and the United States on the one hand and Germany and France on the other.

U.S. German relations have been cool since last September when Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder based his successful parliamentary election campaign on opposition to war in Iraq. In recent weeks bilateral relations have been further strained by the refusal of Germany to back the U.S. position on Iraq at the United Nations.

Instead, Germany has aligned itself with France and Russia in opposition to military action while seeking more time for weapons inspections.

Cathleen Fisher of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington says U.S.-German relations are in the process of being fundamentally transformed the biggest such change in 50 years.

"I think this Iraq debate in some ways has also become a proxy debate," she said. "It is being used to discuss, in a not particularly constructive way, a whole set of fundamental questions that we haven't resolved in the transatlantic relationship. Questions of whether we continue to see threats in the same way. That is a difference from the Cold War. There isn't a unified threat perception as there was then. I think there are differences particularly between the Bush administration and Gerhard Schroeder about what kind of tools we're going to use to manage these new threats, whether they be terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And I think there is also an underlying debate about the comfort or discomfort of Europeans with U.S. power and leadership."

Ms. Fisher, an historian, addressed security issues Monday at a conference sponsored by the German Historical Institute.

The differences that have emerged between the United States and Germany have also surfaced within Europe as several of the former east bloc countries that will join the European Union next year have aligned themselves with Washington. Ms. Fisher says that split also could have significant implications.

"The European Union is at a critical turning point. It is about to welcome 10 new members into the European Union," she said. "It is also talking about reform of its institutions, the creation of a European constitution. The divisions that have surfaced over the Iraq issue have not been helpful for that European project."

As for NATO, Ms. Fisher says it is too early to say if the defense alliance has been damaged by the transatlantic riff over Iraq.

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