There is no description of the essence of the "political West" that emerged after 1945 punchier than that offered by NATO's first secretary general, Lord Hastings Ismay. The alliance's task, he memorably observed, was to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." Decades later, the Russians no longer pose an existential threat to the political West, while other affairs preoccupy the Americans, raising questions about the future of the Germans, what the West represents today, and what Russia should expect from it.
Criticizing Berlin for "free riding" on the U.S. security umbrella and falling behind with its contributions to NATO, U.S. President Donald Trump recently announced his intention to reduce the United States' 34,500-strong military contingent in Germany by nearly a third. He added that while the Americans have been spending exorbitant sums to protect the Germans from the Russians, Berlin has been busy paying Moscow generously for gas. If Trump follows through on his threat, the number of troops there will be reduced to 25,000.
The announcement was met with sharp opposition from German politicians as well as much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The disagreement has come at a time of deep polarization in the United States, but behind the polemics is a question that a change of leadership alone will not put to rest. What is the raison d'être of the transatlantic community, the linchpin of which was always the unshakeable relationship between the United States and (West) Germany?