Diagnoses of the state of transatlantic relations diverge: whereas some observers still refer to a precipitous crisis, others assure us of the transience of a family disagreement. All might agree, however, that the exchanges of the recent years had one important victim: trust. Einstein once observed that trust is essential to relations between individuals as well as nations: "Every kind of peaceful cooperation is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondarily on institutions such as courts of justice and police." While cooperation, indeed integration, between Germany and America (thank you, Otto Schily) continues seamlessly in areas such as economics and the fight against terrorism, and while the outpouring of German generosity following the devastating hurricane in the American South shows the impressive potential of personal and institutional solidarity, we must take seriously the cost of recent political confrontations.
What has been lost, or perhaps misplaced, is our sense of common destiny. It is predicated upon the responsibility our nations share and the opportunity Richard Haass so insightfully lays out in his lead essay. The passage from feudalism to modern styles of government was forged by the trust of an individual in his government and his state. So too have relations between peoples and nations evolved dramatically over the past 200 years. Military strength, intimidation and coercion have been replaced by dialogue, consultation and the rule of law. None of this works without a significant level of trust between persons and nations.
When our leaders began confronting each other three years ago, one could detect immediately a gap in a sense of trust and common destiny. Europeans wished to preserve the balanced, consensual world of the Cold War era. Americans tended to believe that new threats weakened our ability to deal on the basis of dialogue and that stronger measures were needed. Fortunately, this damaging debate has returned to a more pragmatic level. But the underlying causes of this outbreak of poisonous debate have not yet been understood fully. The worth of the scholars, artists, and political experts at the American Academy on the Wannsee is that they explore these deeper recesses of American and European behavior. They are less moved by daily events than they are by the spirit of our Western civilization. Each in his or her own way brings us closer to this intellectual and spiritual heritage. The breadth of their scholarship reminds us of the originality of American letters and their diversity of opinions on the vibrancy of American debate. The underlying traditions of their work remind us of the common foundation of Western intellectual thought. We at the American Academy our proud to be able to contribute to the dialogue which is essential to understanding the challenges of this new era.
The author is Executive Director of the American Academy in Berlin.