Germany, Relations with

views updated Jun 27 2018


GERMANY, RELATIONS WITH. The most important early contacts between Germany and the United States involved immigration. Members of various Protestant groups from Central Europe settled in colonial America for the first time in 1683 in Germantown, out-side Philadelphia. In the nineteenth century political un-rest, economic problems, population pressure, and famine joined religious persecution in prompting two phases of large-scale migration, first from the 1830s to the early 1850s and then from the late 1860s to the mid-1880s. Approximately 5 million Germans arrived in the United States through 1900. Nativist sentiment in the 1840s and 1850s encouraged community leaders to preserve their cultural identity through a German-language press and associations (Vereine), creating a strong ethnic subculture that lasted until World War I. On the whole, though, German immigrants had a good reputation due to their education and industry. In 1869 the New York Times described them as "undoubtedly the healthiest element of our foreign immigration."

Until the late nineteenth century the United States enjoyed amiable official relations with the various German states. Geographic distance helped assure that the governments had few competing interests. In addition the United States had a tradition of noninterference in European affairs, and neither of the central European great powers, Prussia nor Austria, had substantial overseas concerns. Americans intensely followed the process of German unification and greeted the foundation of the German Reich in 1871. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck tried to minimize the few political disputes between the two countries and respected American predominance in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, German classical music, painting, and literature, especially works by Friedrich Schiller, all found admirers in the United States by the 1860s. The German university system also attracted increasing numbers of American students in all disciplines—an estimated ten thousand through 1914—and was a model for the modern research university in the United States.

The "Great Transformation" and World War I

However, starting in the 1870s German-American relations gradually underwent a "great transformation," in the words of Manfred Jonas, from amity to hostility that culminated in World War I. Expanding industrial economies and newfound imperial ambitions drove this process. In 1879 a new German protective tariff, instituted in response to the 1873 depression, initiated a lengthy controversy about American agricultural products having access to the German market. Relations began to deteriorate seriously, however, only after William II ascended the throne in 1888. Germany's decision to build a large battleship fleet starting in 1897 gave rise to fears that it someday would try to challenge the Monroe Doctrine. Between 1898 and 1903 German activities in the Philippines and Venezuela nurtured such suspicions and alienated the American public. So too did the kaiser's occasional bellicose outbursts and inept attempts at personal diplomacy, which did little to further the German government's aspirations for American cooperation against its great naval and imperial rival Great Britain.

These developments help explain why most political and business elites in the United States favored Britain when World War I broke out in August 1914. The flow of civilian goods and loans to Europe in support of the Allied war effort through 1917 demonstrated the partisan nature of American neutrality. Woodrow Wilson's protests against the Reich's campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare led to its temporary suspension by March 1916, but with few exceptions Germany's wartime leaders did not take the United States seriously as a potential opponent. Not only did the German Foreign Office try to secure an anti-American alliance with Mexico by promising it Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, a risky policy that backfired with the publication of the "Zimmermann telegram," but the German government resumed its submarine campaign in January 1917, knowing it would almost certainly lead to American entry in the war, which occurred on 6 April.

Alongside the effort to crush Prussian militarism in Europe, a crusade against German culture began in the United States that in some regions lasted through the early 1920s. In its wake hundreds of German-language newspapers closed, many German-American churches started conducting their services in English, German cultural associations suffered declining memberships, and countless individuals, companies, and organizations anglicized their German-sounding names. German ethnic life in the United States never recovered. In late 1918 the Reich's military and political leadership hoped for a lenient peace based on Wilson's Fourteen Points and in October even instituted a parliamentary form of government to encourage one. The kaiser's abdication on 9 November 1918, two days before the armistice, helped pave the way for the establishment of a full-fledged republic. Germany's expectations concerning Wilson were unrealistic, and Germans were bitterly disappointed with the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty announced on 7 May 1919, especially its "war guilt clause," Article 231, which was inserted to establish Germany's obligation to pay reparations.

The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Nonetheless during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) German–American relations improved markedly. The republic became the focus of Washington's stabilization policy for Europe. In 1924 the Dawes Plan ended the Ruhr crisis by providing a new schedule for reparations payments and initiated a five-year period in which American loans and investments contributed to a brief return to prosperity in Europe, especially in Germany. Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, who held that position from 1923 to 1929, believed a revitalized German economy would be the most powerful tool for revising the Versailles Treaty peacefully, and he therefore placed priority on good political relations with the United States to secure capital for German reconstruction. In the 1920s American mass culture (for example, Hollywood movies) also flooded into Germany for the first time, and intense debates ensued there over "Americanization" and "Fordism." By 1929 condemnation of the Young Plan, another American-brokered reparations repayment scheme, and of the American "modern," also associated with liberalism and mass democracy, had become a standard part of the German right's political program, including that of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP).

The Great Depression cut off American investment in Europe and thereby indirectly contributed to the NSDAP's rise to power on 30 January 1933. National Socialist attempts to establish autarky through bilateral trade treaties and aggressive export drives in Latin America and eastern Europe presented a direct threat to the open international economy deemed indispensable by the Roosevelt administration for the survival of the American way of life. Despite increasing evidence that Germany, along with Japan and Italy, was rearming for war, the American government remained inactive diplomatically before November 1938, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, already sobered by the Munich Conference, issued a sharp condemnation of Nazi anti-Semitic policies and recalled his ambassador following Kristallnacht. Strong isolationist sentiment at home, as expressed in the Neutrality Laws, left few weapons available other than trade policies and attempts to mobilize the Western Hemisphere against the threat of Nazi infiltration at the 1938 Lima Conference. Only the shock of France's defeat in 1940 allowed the American government to take more vigorous measures to contain German expansion, including the bases-fordestroyers deal with the United Kingdom in September 1940; the lend-lease program in March 1941; and an undeclared naval war against Uboats in the North Atlantic in the summer of 1941. Germany formally declared war on the United States on 11 December in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, initiating what also became an ideological conflict. National Socialism saw "Americanism" as its enemy, while the United Sates, in Roosevelt's words, found itself locked in a struggle with a "monstrous nation."

Relations after 1945

Although the Roosevelt administration adopted a "Germany first" strategy for military campaigning during World War II, it pursued a policy of postponement in terms of postwar planning in order to hold together the wartime alliance with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. By 1945 the Allies had agreed to keep Germany unified, minus territorial revisions in the east, but temporarily divided into occupation zones. Practical problems of governance and increasing differences with the Soviet Union quickly led to modifications in the initially draconian American policy for its zone, consisting of the states of Bavaria, Bremen, Hesse, and Württemberg-Baden.

Starting around 1947 the Cold War led to another "great transformation" in the German-American relationship. Marshall Plan aid in 1947, relief for Berlin during the Soviet blockade of 1948–1949, CARE packages, and the daily experience with American soldiers left a generally positive view of the United States in the western zones, which in 1949 were united politically as the Federal Republic of Germany. The outbreak of the Korean War led by 1955 to West German rearmament, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership, and the end of occupation controls except those affecting Germany as a whole. Konrad Adenauer, chancellor from 1949 to 1963,

established integration into the West as one of the cornerstones of the Federal Republic's foreign policy.

By the 1960s some strains in the West German–American relationship had arisen over issues like the Vietnam War and the onset of détente, which relegated the German question to a subordinate status internationally. In the early 1980s thousands of West Germans demonstrated against NATO's decision to station medium-range nuclear missiles there. In addition the relative decline of the American economy after 1945 compared with West German economic growth contributed to disputes over payments for the stationing of GIs in the Federal Republic through the 1970s and over trade issues with the European Community (later the European Union), which the Federal Republic had belonged to since 1958. However, these periodic differences do not detract from the fact that after 1949 the United States and West Germany had compatible political, economic, and security goals, while their citizens shared a good deal of mutual sympathy and aspects of a common culture in areas like popular music, fashion, and the love affair with the automobile. The German Democratic Republic, on the other hand, remained relatively unimportant for the United States, even after diplomatic recognition in 1974.

The George H. W. Bush administration actively promoted the cause of German unification in 1989 and 1990. After the Cold War ended the main issue facing German-American relations became whether the European Union could develop an independent identity in political and security issues that would eventually supercede the Atlantic framework based around NATO.


Gatzke, Hans W. Germany and the United States: A "Special Relationship?" Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1980. Dated but worth reading.

Jonas, Manfred. The United States and Germany: A Diplomatic History. Ithaca, N. Y. : Cornell University Press, 1984. Excellent on official relations before 1945.

Junker, Detlef, ed., with the assistance of Philipp Gassert, Wilfried Mausbach, and David B. Morris. The USA and Germany in the Era of the Cold War, 1945–1990: A Handbook. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming. Will become the standard reference work on the post– 1945 era.

Luebke, Frederick C. Germans in the New World: Essays in the History of Immigration. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. By the leading historian of the German community in the United States.

Schröder, Hans-Jürgen, ed. Confrontation and Cooperation: Germany and the United States in the Era of World War I, 1900–1924. Germany and the United States of America—The Krefeld Historical Symposia series, vol. 2. Providence, R. I. : Berg, 1993.

Trommler, Frank, and Joseph McVeigh, eds. America and the Germans: An Assessment of a Three-Hundred-Year History. 2 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985. A good collection of essays by leading scholars.

Trommler, Frank, and Elliott Shore, eds. The German-American Encounter: Conflict and Cooperation between Two Cultures, 1800–2000. New York: Berghahn Books, 2001.


See alsoBerlin Airlift ; Isolationism ; Neutrality ; Versailles, Treaty of .

Germany, Relations with

views updated May 18 2018


The reign of Peter the Great (16821725) marked Russia's official entry into European diplomatic affairs. Around 1740 this was followed by the entry of another power, Prussia, transformed under Frederick the Great. Significant Russian-Prussian relations began during the reign of Catherine the Great (17621796), a former German princess. Catherine's husband, Peter III, a great admirer of Frederick II, the king of Prussia, had withdrawn from the Seven Years' War, a decision that left Russia with no gains from a costly conflict that it had been waging successfully. After the coup removing Peter from the throne, Catherine repudiated his treaty with Prussia in order to demonstrate Russia's power and independence. By 1772, however, relations with Prussia had been reestablished, in part in connection with the negotiations leading to the partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon posed a direct threat to Prussia and Russia, and they both participated in the coalitions formed in opposition to the French emperor. The defeat of Napoleon led to the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The three most conservative of the attending powers (Russia, Austria, and Prussia) were determined to preserve a balance of power through the Concert of Europe and to preserve the old order by exercising the right to intervene militarily in order to preserve legitimate governments.

The next significant period in German-Russian relations occurred just prior to and during the unification of Germany under the leadership of King Wilhelm I of Prussia, and his iron chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck was able to unite Germany in part by securing Russian nonintervention. Although Russia has been criticized for enabling the rise of Germany, there were practical considerations for its support of Bismarck, such as the possibility of increasing its influence in certain areas as a consequence of the Austro-Prussian War. Furthermore, the possible consequences of German unification under Prussia were not fully understood. During the immediate aftermath of the unification, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany formed the Three Emperors' League (18721873), a defensive military alliance that attempted to revive and maintain the old order upheld at the Congress of Vienna. Difficulties and disagreements arising from the situation in the Crimea and in the Balkans brought about the league's collapse. It was revived and then allowed to lapse permanently in 1887 because of the impossibility of reconciling the differences between Austria-Hungary and Russia. Bismarck maintained relations with Austria and negotiated the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, which guaranteed the neutrality of the signatories in case of war, except if Germany attacked France or Russia attacked Austria-Hungary. Wilhelm II's dismissal of Bismarck and refusal to renew the Reinsurance Treaty in 1890 led to the formation of new alliances. Russia, no longer tied to Germany or Austria-Hungary, and afraid of being diplomatically isolated and without allies, negotiated a treaty with France. Wilhelm II alienated the British, who maintained friendly relations with the French, and Germany found itself allied with only Italy and Austria-Hungary.

During the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia that triggered World War I, Germany was compelled to support Austria-Hungary and Russia was similarly committed to support the Serbians. The resulting war led to a major conflict between Russia and Germany on the Eastern Front. Russia's poor performance in the war combined with the policies of Tsar Nicholas II led to defeat and revolution. The Bolshevik regime that replaced the Provisional Government ended Russia's participation in the war by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917 which was bitterly resented by many Russian. The Versailles Treaty, signed by a defeated Germany, in 1919, overturned the earlier Russian-German agreement.

The refusal of the Allied powers to recognize the communist government and the diplomatic isolation of the Soviet Union were factors in German-Soviet relations during the interwar years. Even after the rise of Adolf Hitler and the violent suppression of the Communist Party in Germany, Josef Stalin continued to maintain relations with Germany. Although Hitler and Stalin gave considerable aid and support to different factions during the Spanish Civil War, no breach of their relationship occurred and negotiations for a nonaggression treaty were initiated. Stalin's primary reason for signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 is still uncertain. The Nazi-Soviet Pact included a nonaggression clause and a secret protocol calling for the division of Poland between the two countries. Whether Stalin believed a genuine alliance could be formed with Germany against the Allied powers or was merely attempting to gain time to further industrialize and prepare for war, it is clear that he did not expect the massive German invasion of the Soviet Union that was launched on June 22, 1941.

The defeat of Hitler and Germany by the Allied powers led to the occupation of Eastern Germany and East Berlin by the Soviet Union. Although divided and occupied, Germany played a role in the Cold War; the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was allied with the Soviet Union, while the German Federal Republic (West Germany) was allied with the United States and the Western powers. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union paved the way for the reunification of Germany in 1990. The republics of the former Soviet Union have established economic and diplomatic relations with unified Germany, which has become the Russian Federation's most important trading and financial partner in the postcommunist era.

See also: german democratic republic; german settlers; nazi-soviet pact of 1939; soviet-german trade agreement of 1939; three emperors' league; world war i; world war ii


Jelavich, Barbara A. (1964). A Century of Russian Foreign Policy, 18141914. New York.

Smyser, W. R. (1999). From Yalta to Berlin: The Cold War Struggle over Germany. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Sodaro, Michael J. (1990). Moscow, Germany, and the West from Khrushchev to Gorbachev. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Stent, Angela. (1999). Russia and Germany Reborn: Unification, the Soviet Collapse, and the New Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Melissa R. Jordine

Germany, relations with

views updated May 17 2018

Germany, relations with. The German empire as established in 1871 was at first seen by Britain as a satiated power. Such views changed rapidly from 1905, when an attempt to break the Entente with France excited fears that Germany was bidding for hegemony in Europe. By 1909 the bulk of the British navy was concentrated in home waters to meet the challenge from the new German fleet. Not surprisingly Britain speedily entered the war against Germany (4 August 1914), and soon became committed to the total defeat of German militarism. This did not preclude discussion of Germany's future role in the balance of power, and although victory was purchased at a bitter price, emphasis on revenge was soon qualified by doubts concerning the wisdom of what was widely considered to be the excessively punitive peace of Versailles.

Many saw Germany as a necessary economic partner in the 1920s, but efforts at conciliation had made little progress when Hitler came to power in 1933. Although the possibility of revisionist policies under the Nazis was recognized, and small increases in Britain's armed forces followed, the National Government regarded war as a last resort. Controversy over efforts to conciliate Hitler reached serious proportions only from the Sudeten crisis in the autumn of 1938. Neville Chamberlain himself until late in the day was persuaded that he could negotiate a satisfactory settlement with Hitler. Only when Germany persisted with the attack on Poland did Britain declare war on 3 September 1939.

Hitler, it seems, had some hopes of peace with Britain after the fall of France in June 1940, but soon turned to other objectives when no speedy victory proved possible. Britain, while not an immediate major threat to Germany, was well placed to help with the later provision of western aid to the USSR, just as it was the indispensable base for American operations against Germany. Victory left the British burdened with an expensive occupation zone in Germany, and unsure of what sort of Germany they wanted in the future. Fear of the USSR, however, soon persuaded them that there would be no stability in Europe if western Germany were to slip into the Soviet orbit. The British supported the USA in the Berlin Airlift (1948–9), and assisted in the creation of the German Federal Republic. Despite initial reservations, they also played a major part in devising a satisfactory structure within which West Germany could be rearmed, and included in NATO in 1955. From the formation of the European Economic Community Britain was often troubled by Franco-German co-operation, and Mrs Thatcher was not alone in her reservations when the two Germanies were reunited at the end of the Cold War in 1990.

C. J. Bartlett