Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Dr. Jackson James (Executive Director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University; USA)

03.01.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer


Q1. How did you come to be interested in the US-German relationship and Trans-Atlantic relations in general?

As a college junior I was a Study Abroad student in Freiburg im Breisgau, and that was the beginning of this long-standing interest I had, not only in Germany, but in Europe in general. So it was a junior year abroad program.

Q2 Since World War II, there has been a vast amount of cultural exchange on a number of fronts, both through programs like the Fulbright Scholarships and the Marshall Plan, and through the large number of American troops stationed in Germany. How important do you think this cultural diplomacy has been in shaping the current US-German relationship? Or are there other historical factors at play that might have been more important?

The US had a special relationship with Germany due to the fact that Americans were going to remain there after World War II for another 50 years in the context of defending West Germany. This led to millions of Americans – 16 million, if I’m correct– going through Germany after WWII right up to the end of the Cold War. This created an enormous reservoir of people that had a tangible experience in Germany, and they took that back with them when they went home to Arkansas, or Washington State, and other places in the world. I think that created a really large pool of individuals in the US, not just in Washington D.C., but around the country that had a special feeling for Germany. When the Cold War ended, those physical presences of all the different military installations and the soldiers themselves (we went from 400,000 people to roughly 60,000 people today) melted away. Today, we have to keep replenishing that through exchange programs and cultural exchanges of all sorts that allow us to track each other’s discussions, not just our own.

Q3. What are the biggest challenges currently facing the German-American relationship and the Trans-Atlantic relationship in general?

I think a big challenge is reaching a point at which we can worry together about problems that are beyond the transatlantic relationship. We obviously have to work together on certain things like keeping our economies on a certain course- we have a large number of common denominators regarding other issues too; but in general, we have to come up with a way to talk about things outside the transatlantic community. How do you deal with the situation in Sudan? How do you deal with the situation around the world of the huge force of migration? How do we deal with climate change? These are no longer transatlantic concerns, but global issues, and we have to find ways to talk about global concerns and what role we will play together in dealing with them.

Q4. What would be your advice to the Obama administration when it comes to dealing with the German government and the EU in general?  How do you think the president has been doing in this regard during his time in office?

Well, in his first year in office, he visited Europe several times and he was there quite a bit to talk about common concerns. The questions that needed to be asked included those in relation to Iran and the Middle East- “Are those concerns going to be part and parcel of institutional questions?” or “How do we cooperate on what issues, whether it be terrorism worldwide, or climate change?” We need to be talking to Europeans beyond our own bilateral relationship across the Atlantic. I think Obama shaped that argument fairly well, and now we have to find ways to implement it, whether through institutions like the UN or institutions like the G20. We are always going to be connected to these networks because Europe is such a strong component part in the global scheme of things. As long as we are on one page or two pages of each other, we can get things done.

Q5. What do you think of the current German government, particularly in regard to its foreign policy efforts, and what would you suggest they do differently?

At this point, what the Europeans are trying to do is hold a kind of a balance within their own countries, but also within the EU, so that the EU itself can speak with one voice. The way that this can be done varies because each country carries a different weight within the EU. Germany will be extremely instrumental in acting as a catalyst for the EU to continue to reach greater consensus about how it can respond to issues, be they in Europe or outside. I think Germany’s foreign policy connections with Russia are very important- they play a unique role there in my view. Also, as a country that depends heavily on exports, it also has a huge responsibility in helping all of us keep the world economy on an even keel.  Those are two responsibilities that Germany understands very well. Another question is how do we get together in dealing with individual problems like the recession of the last two years? I think that Germany’s come out of the recession fairly well, and the German government has tried, justifiably, to identify the weak points that are in the European system and the global system, which they will continue to do as it in their own best interest. Since the end of the Cold War, Germany has learned to play an increasingly global role, and it has only been 20 years, which is a blink of the eye in historical terms.

Thank you very much.