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Merkel in the Bundestag last week. Photo: DPA

The rest of the world can no longer take it for granted that the US still aspires to be a global leader and needs to readjust its priorities accordingly, Angela Merkel has warned.

“We grew up in the certain knowledge that the United States wanted to be a world power,” the German chancellor said in an interview with a group of six European newspapers, including the Guardian.

“Should the US now wish to withdraw from that role of its own free will, we would have to reflect on that very deeply.”

Merkel, the first German leader to have grown up on the eastern side of the iron curtain, has in the past frequently spoken of her admiration for the US’s global influence. When she spoke in front of Congress in 2009, Merkel rhapsodised about the “incredible gift of freedom” bestowed on eastern Germans with the US-supported toppling of the Berlin Wall.

 

But even during Barack Obama’s presidency Merkel saw her government repeatedly chided for its low military spending – criticism that intensified under Donald Trump, who recently confirmed plans to withdraw 9,500 American troops from bases in Germany.

In an interview with the Guardian, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, France’s Le Monde, Spain’s La Vanguardia, Italy’s La Stampa and Poland’s Polityka, Merkel said the US military presence in central Europe was in the US’s own interest.

“American troops in Germany help to protect not only Germany and the European part of NATO but also the interests of the United States of America,” the chancellor said.

Talking of Germany’s military spending, Merkel said: “We in Germany know that we have to spend more on defence; we have achieved considerable increases in recent years, and we will continue on that path to enhance our military capabilities.”

But “reflecting very deeply” for Merkel does not appear to amount to an endorsement of what the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has called European “strategic autonomy”, the ability to defend the continent without reliance on the US.

“Look at the world; look at China or India,” Merkel said. “There are compelling reasons to remain committed to a transatlantic defence community and our shared nuclear umbrella. But of course Europe needs to carry more of the burden than during the cold war.”

Asked if Germany underestimated the threat posed by Russia, Merkel acknowledged a pattern of belligerent behaviour, citing “misinformation campaigns” and the murder of the Chechen exile Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin, which German prosecutors accuse Moscow of having ordered.

“The murder in Berlin’s Tiergarten park is a serious incident, obviously, the blame for which is currently being ascertained in court”, the chancellor said. “At any rate, we recognise hybrid warfare, methods of destabilisation, as a Russian behaviour pattern.”

“On the other hand, there are good reasons to keep engaging in constructive dialogue with Russia. In countries like Syria and Libya, countries in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, Russia’s strategic influence is great. I will therefore continue to strive for cooperation.”

 

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