Ukraine probably would have lost already if it weren’t for support from the U.S. Western military assistance for Kyiv didn’t gain momentum until Washington took over coordination. And Brussels is currently demonstrating what happens as soon as Washington lowers the pressure: Europe becomes entangled in minute details. At the end of March, EU leaders announced that they would deliver 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine within 12 months and that they would jointly procure ammunition in the future. Since then, however, they have been arguing about the small print. “The inability of the EU to implement its own decision on the joint procurement of ammunition for Ukraine is frustrating,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter last week. “For Ukraine, the cost of inaction is measured in human lives.”
If Trump were to beat Biden next year, Ukraine would almost surely grow even more frustrated. Trump tends toward isolationism. If it were up to him, the U.S. would increasingly stay out of other countries’ conflicts and invest even more in the domestic economy. His foreign policy reflexes are guided by economic interest rather than values.
A resolution recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a group of Trump supporters ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion offered a preview of Trump’s possible Ukraine policy. Its title: “Ukraine Fatigue.” In it, 11 Republicans call for an end to military and financial aid for Ukraine. The motion shows clearly that a completely different U.S. Ukraine policy is conceivable.
In Berlin, a second term for Trump would likely result in the most changes for Annalena Baerbock. The German foreign minister, a member of the Green Party, maintains an amiable relationship with her U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken. Both have played some role in keeping the West in close alignment on sanctions against Russia. If Trump were to win the election, Baerbock would lose more than just a trusted partner. It would also weaken the kind of values-oriented foreign policy approach she has sought, not to mention her vision of a feminist foreign policy . Both are likely to be totally foreign concepts to Trump.
At the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, officials want to at least be prepared for that scenario. As such, the priority in German policy toward America is to establish contacts with U.S. Republicans. It won’t be an easy project: Ties to the Republican camp have either been dormant for a long time, or they simply do not exist.
Staff at Germany’s embassy and consulates in the U.S. have been tasked by headquarters to identify all potentially relevant individuals. From this point on, anyone traveling to the U.S. with the Foreign Ministry or other government ministries is expected to meet with U.S. conservatives, even in destinations far away from Washington. In particular, Andreas Michaelis, who will take up his post as the new German ambassador in Washington this autumn, is reportedly establishing targeted contacts in the Trump camp in order to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. It is a lesson learned from Trump’s first election as president. In 2016, the German government was counting on victory by Hillary Clinton and had not bothered to establish contacts within Trump’s team until it was far too late. The idea is to prevent that from happening again.
Moreover, Baerbock’s diplomats have identified issues with which the Germans might be able to find some common ground with Republicans. One example on this list is the promotion of electric cars. Since the emergence of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, this issue is no longer relegated exclusively to the realm of the leftist fringe.
Another issue is China. Under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry, Germany is currently developing a China strategy that, on balance, advocates adopting a greater distance from the People’s Republic. There are few other issues over which the U.S. Republicans and Democrats are as united as on their tough stance toward China. Berlin’s China strategy is being designed in a way to show the Americans that Germany can also be an ally in the Indo-Pacific realm. It is unclear, however, whether German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will ultimately support the Foreign Ministry’s robust China stance.
Neither Scholz nor those close to him want to see the status quo in trans-Atlantic relations change too quickly. They argue that it has been years since diplomatic contacts with Washington have been as close as they are right now and they point out that a hotline to all key players in the Biden administration currently exists.
Besides, Trump and Scholz seem like two men from different planets. Trump’s brand of politics is frenetic, while Scholz consistently seems as though he has just been taken out of cold storage. While Trump follows his instincts or wants to make a quick headline, Scholz trusts only his wits or Wolfgang Schmidt, his devoted chief of staff in the Chancellery. How are those two world’s supposed to fit together?
A President Trump could actually create some advantages for Scholz personally. Some on the chancellor’s team recall Angela Merkel in this context: Internationally, she was only able to rise to the position of defender of the free world because there was someone in Washington who was seen as its destroyer. Scholz, according to the interpretation of those close to him, could also play himself off as Trump’s foe if need be.