The German-American relationship has changed dramatically in the thirty years since 1983, when AICGS was founded, and AICGS has closely tracked those changes.

Thirty years ago, security issues dominated the German-American agenda. For its security, the Federal Republic depended on support from America, which had over 200,000 troops stationed in Berlin, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg, and Bavaria. Yet progress was at the same time underway toward a relaxation of tensions between eastern and western Europe and between West Germany and the GDR—products of the détente policies of the 1970s launched by President Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger and by Willy Brandt and his successor as chancellor, Helmut Kohl. Central in that process was Germany’s reconciliation with Poland.

The world in 2013 looks very different: The Cold War is long over, the Wall has come down, U.S. troops in Germany are down to fewer than 50,000, and Germany is surrounded by only allied and friendly states. American foreign policy is preoccupied with Asia and the Middle East, no longer with Europe and Germany. Economics and trade today head the German-American agenda.

This waning of official security-based interest in Germany on the part of Washington, however, makes private organizations such as the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies all the more essential in maintaining and undergirding the relationship between our two countries. The German-American relationship will continue to evolve and remain vital for the next thirty years and beyond, and AICGS will continue to provide its knowledge, insights, and networks for future generations of transatlanticists.

Text adapted from remarks made by Robert Gerald Livingston, AICGS’ Founding Director, at AICGS’ 30th anniversary gala dinner in June 2013 in Berlin.

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Timeline explained

1983: AICGS is Founded:

The idea for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) originated with Dr. Robert Gerald Livingston, a former American diplomat who had served in Germany and, later, became the head of The German Marshall Fund of the United States.  In late 1981, Dr. Livingston turned to Dr. Steven Muller, president of Johns Hopkins University at the time, with a proposal for establishing an institute at Johns Hopkins that would help American policymakers, corporate executives, and the media better understand both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, and their pivotal role in the transatlantic alliance.

Johns Hopkins was a natural home for AICGS, as the University was renowned for its research and had long-standing relationships with German academic institutions.  Additionally, one of the Baltimore-based university’s divisions was the noted School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, which provided the new Institute with critically important access to key policy makers, the diplomatic community, international media outlets, and other think-tanks focused on transatlantic affairs.

Dr. Muller enthusiastically embraced Dr. Livingston’s concept and facilitated the new Institute’s establishment as an affiliate of Johns Hopkins, also helping to secure early funding for AICGS.  The vision that Livingston and Muller had for a unique American research enterprise that dealt with both German States attracted other leading figures, including Donald Rumsfeld, then CEO of G.D. Searle & Company, who agreed to chair the new organization’s Board of Trustees.  Dr. Muller, who had been born in Germany, was named Vice-Chair.

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1984 – 1989: Last Gasp of the Cold War

The founders of AICGS shared the belief that if the Institute was going to present a complete picture of “contemporary Germany,” it must include the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in its research agenda.  AICGS quickly became known as a leading American resource on East Germany, and it hosted many visiting research fellows from the GDR in the mid-1980s.  Much of the Institute’s work between 1984 and 1989 explored different aspects of the political and economic relationship between East Germany and the West.  Other programs focused on social and cultural issues such as the interaction of religion and politics in the two Germanys, and attitudes of West German youth toward the GDR, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

The gradual crumbling of totalitarian control in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries in the late 1980s resulted in an unprecedented influx of East German immigrants into West Germany.  By 1989, almost half a million East Germans had fled.  GDR leader Erich Honecker was removed from power on October 18, 1989, and less than a month later, the Berlin Wall was opened, symbolizing the end of the era of state control.

The Cold War was ending.  Events would soon force the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany to redefine their forty-year partnership.  In the years ahead AICGS would attain new prominence as a trusted interpreter of the role of that partnership in the new European power structure and the new Germany.

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1990 – 2001: Paradigm Shift

The fall of the Berlin Wall opened up the possibility for German reunification. However, the process of reunification engendered considerable trauma as two very different societies struggled to merge conflicting political systems, and no one could predict how East Germany would adapt to the market-driven economy of the West.

A bigger question at the start of the decade was the role that a newly unified Germany would play within the European Community, which itself was on the verge of substantial change.  Germany’s massive economic strength and its importance as a strategic interlocutor between western and Eastern Europe placed it in a position potentially to become the lead player in the new EU.  Germany’s ability to fill this role would depend to a large extent on the success of its own internal unification process.

Throughout the decade, the “new Germany” would redefine its relationships with key European neighbors; with the United States; and with Turkey and the Middle East.  AICGS anticipated the impact that this realignment would have on German-American relations, and incorporated these developments in its research program.

Meanwhile, the United States had its own challenges as it dealt with a serious domestic economic recession and entered into the Persian Gulf War.  While Western Europe was clearly on a path toward political and economic integration, developments in other regions of the world demanded a new level of solidarity between the U.S. and its allies across the Atlantic.  This was underscored when NATO intervened in regional conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo.  How, or if, the United States and Germany could work together effectively in the face of their mutual challenges was a fundamental question in the minds of foreign policy experts in both countries at the beginning of this new era.

AICGS re-directed its research and educational activities in the early 1990s in anticipation of these changes. The Institute’s priority during this period was to explain the “new Germany” and its place in the newly formed European Union to American business leaders and senior policy officials.

The Institute’s programmatic focus now embraced a broader agenda that increasingly considered the German-American partnership in the context of transatlantic and global affairs.  It was also during this period that the Institute’s core research structure fully developed into the current tri-part model of Business & Economics; Foreign & Domestic Policy; and Society, Culture & Politics.

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2002 – 2008: An Enduring Partnership

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, signaled a major turning point in European-American affairs as the newly formed administration under President George W. Bush reached out to its allies for support in its War on Terror.  The Gerhard Schröder government was quick to declare its solidarity with the U.S., but the spirit of bilateral cooperation that existed immediately after 9/11 was short-lived, as neither Schröder nor most other European leaders supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  The war generated a significant level of friction in the German-American relationship for the first time since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949.

Although the war undermined the United States’ standing among many of its European allies, including Germany, the fundamentals of the German-American partnership remained strong.  German and American leaders recognized that the commonality of social and political values and the economic interdependence of the two nations are the essential elements of the bilateral relationship, and that these factors can transcend other policy disagreements.  AICGS’ programmatic agenda during this period addressed the wide range of issues of mutual importance to German and American interests.

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2009 – 2013: The Euro Zone in Crisis

The global economy emerged at the top of the transatlantic agenda following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent financial crisis.  In 2009, prompted by the Dubai sovereign debt crisis, European leaders began to worry as they watched their debts grow. Germany’s response, much as it was during the adoption of the single currency and the creation of the European Monetary Union, would be critical.

The EU was spurred to action, ordering France, Spain, the Republic of Ireland, and Greece to reduce their budget deficits. After Greece admitted that its debts were the highest in modern history, observers started to speculate that Greece and others would have to leave the EU; the resulting austerity plans sparked strikes and rioting in the streets.  The crisis grew, with Portugal, Italy, and Spain all under scrutiny amid rising unemployment and increasing demands.  European leaders looked to Germany—and Angela Merkel—for guidance.

Across the Atlantic, the election of Barack Obama sparked domestic reforms—and political resistance. The Federal Reserve was tasked with increasing investment and decreasing unemployment in a charged political atmosphere.

As leaders confront new twenty-first century challenges, we are reminded that our economic interests are changing.  Emerging markets are gaining strength vis-à-vis the euro area as a market for German exports promoting transatlantic trade and investment is gaining importance.

Not only has AICGS closely followed the events related to and spurred by the financial crisis, but the Institute continues to analyze other issues of importance to the German-American relationship, including:

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