The two percent question

On the geopolitical core of german-american relations

Jörg-Dietrich Nackmayr

The age-old debate between realists and multilateralists is currently continuing, with Germany as the leader in the multilateralist camp. In this article, the focus is on the arguments for a realistic worldview, through which - in the tradition of Justinian and all his predecessors and successors - the world is analyzed and viewed as it is at its core. This view will be declinated on the basis of a question that, at the beginning of the 21st century, is increasingly becoming a fundamental geopolitical dispute between the US and Germany: the 2% question.

Why is Germany deviating from the 2% of GDP promised within NATO? The answer to this question will lead us to the core of geopolitical tectonics between the USA and Europe in general or Germany in particular. It helps us to see how the “machine room of geopolitics” is being worked. What matters and what is only talked about, what is real and what is appearance. This 2% dilemma is revealing for another reason.

Although Germany sees itself as the leader of the multilateralists, in the 2% conflict it behaves like a power that follows realistic concepts of international politics and puts its own above the common. With the slogan “America first” and as the leader of the West, the US is least inclined to multilateral action. But in the 2% dispute, they insist on compliance with agreements reached in the multilateral framework. Geopolitics, too, can be paradoxical.

The author's initial thesis is that Germany is at the same time a premium ally of the USA and its ward. The advantages of this tiered nonage to do so lead first and foremost to lower financial expenditure for its own security. The disadvantage is limited sovereignty. Translated into the language of geopolitics, limited sovereignty also means diminished self-responsibility in the existential questions of security policy. Less responsibility reduces the financial burden.

The availability of greater resources leads to social benefits and a higher level of popularity in international relations, as the combination of checkbook diplomacy with balanced neutrality is better suited than being the auxiliary sheriff of a Western coalition led by the United States. As a premium ally of the US, they cannot do without Germany in order to achieve their political goals. This creates the freedom that allows for Germany's special treatment and stubborn sheering off.

At its core, Multilateralism leads to anarchic rivalry. Geopolitical stability cannot be achieved without the leadership of a single country or a bipolar world order as in the Cold War period. “You have either to be German or live in the clouds if you expect multilateralism to develop a peace order that is supposed to unfold in a power-free space, which it cannot in reality”, the author emphasizes. Multilateralism as a political principle would ultimately be a period of transition, a period of great trouble and unstableness that lasts until a new leader has prevailed, capable of generating missing stability. Those who preach multilateralism will sow insecurity and reap violence. In any case, this does not bring us any closer to the goal of a just and safe world.