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Excerpt: The German Marshall Fund of the United States

This year the German Marshall Fund marks its 50th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. On June 5, 1972 former German Chancellor Willy Brandt announced the founding of the German Marshall Fund of the United States at Harvard University. Founded by Guido Goldman through a gift from Germany as a tribute to the Marshall Plan, GMF is a non-partisan policy organization committed to the idea that the United States and Europe are stronger together. GMF champions the principles of democracy, human rights, and international cooperation, which have served as the bedrock of peace and prosperity since the end of World War II, but are under increasing strain.

The GMF is considered one of Guido Goldman’s greatest achievements. To mark this historic moment and to honor Guido Goldman’s legacy Berghahn is featuring an excerpt from GUIDO GOLDMAN: Transatlantic Bridge Builder by Martin Klingst.

Excerpt of Chapter 7: “The German Marshall Fund of the United States” of GUIDO GOLDMAN: Transatlantic Bridge Builder by Martin Klingst

Without question, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) was Guido Goldman’s greatest achievement. Originally founded to investigate and compare social problems on both sides of the Atlantic, its early function was primarily to subsidize European projects undertaken by other institutions, in addition to having a few projects of its own. However, over the last two decades, the GMF has grown into a transatlantic think tank, with a staff of one hundred and fifty-five (in 2001, it had just nineteen). In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, the foundation now has offices in seven European capitals, an endowment of one hundred and fifty-seven million dollars (as of December 31, 2019) and an annual budget of $36.4 million (June 2020 to May 2021).
Every year, five percent of the foundation’s endowment is spent on current expenses, accounting for around one-fifth of its annual budget. The other eighty percent of the budget comes from external sources. Most comes in the form of grants from governments and from other nonprofit foundations; those funds are used to finance specific GMF projects which, for example, work to promote democracy in eastern and southeastern Europe. Major GMF programs in this area include the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and the Fund for Belarus Democracy.
Despite the name, the German Marshall Fund is not German. It is an entirely American foundation, with interests across Europe, going beyond specific concerns with Germany. The projects it supports cover a wide range of European issues: it is not a specifically German-focused organization. Nonetheless, every year the GMF provides financial support to three primarily German American institutions: the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) in Washington, DC; the American Council on Germany (ACG) in New York, where Goldman served for many years on the board; and the Congressional Study Group on Germany (CSGG), which brings together members of the US Congress with members of the German Bundestag. In addition, during the 1980s GMF helped to get the Institute for International Economics off the ground, now the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
The three main pillars of GMF are a think tank, a civil society engagement in Eastern Europe, and leadership programs, the crown jewel of which is the Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF), a scholarship program for future leaders in politics, business, and civil society.
Founded in 1982 to make young European leaders more familiar with the United States, every year the MMF prepares around seventy people for leadership roles on both sides of the Atlantic. This training is wide-ranging in its scope. Participants receive up to a year of instruction and mentorship in their respective home countries, followed by an intensive travel program to deepen their knowledge about Europe and the US. GMF also organizes meetings between the participants, helping to expand the Fund’s extensive leadership network.
Thanks in particular to MMF fellowship alumni, the organization’s expanding leadership network now connects some four thousand people in business, politics, media, academia, and civil society. Some MMF alumni have advanced to the highest levels of political and corporate life. They include, to give just a single example, the American politician Stacey Abrams, an African American Democrat who came very close to being elected governor in the state of Georgia in 2018, and, prior to the 2020 presidential election, was repeatedly spoken of as a possible candidate for US vice president. Abrams now plays a key role within the Democratic party. The extraordinary victory of Joe Biden in Georgia in November 2020, turning the state Democratic in a presidential election for the first time since 1992, is also credited in large part to Abrams, who worked tirelessly to mobilize Black voters to register and to vote.
Of course, given the large number of fellowships awarded, there are less laudable alumni, for example the current Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, once a liberal but now transformed into an arrogant, authoritarian right-wing populist. Overall, however, the fellowship program has been a tremendous success, greatly benefiting the work of the German Marshall Fund.
The value and significance of this kind of network can be seen in an example cited by Kevin Cottrell, who was a good friend of Guido Goldman and who has for many years been responsible for promoting young transatlantic talent at GMF. He explains how, since 2002, both American and European soldiers who served in Afghanistan have encountered similar problems on returning to civilian life, including unemployment, social exclusion, and inadequate psychological care. A long-standing Marshall Memorial Fellowship project, run by alumni with seed-funding from GMF, researches their needs.
The purpose of the project is a comparative investigation into the differing conditions soldiers encounter upon their return to the United States and Europe, with a focus on establishing what help soldiers need and the best ways to operate and equip a successful veterans agency. What has to be prevented at all costs is anger and frustration among those returning from war, which can lead veterans to sign on as mercenaries, fueling dangerous conflicts around the world, as happened with veterans of the Serbian army. The risk is considerable and is particularly pressing today, for example with veterans of the conflict in Ukraine.
One MMF alumnus, himself a war veteran, approached GMF seeking support for a project focused on care for veterans. At first, he had a particularly difficult challenge in dealing with the post-2014 situation in Ukraine, where a separatist conflict in the country’s eastern regions, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, has been fueled by Russian financial and military support. As a result of the ongoing conflict, Ukraine is now home to around four hundred thousand soldiers who have served in a war zone. But the veterans, once they return to their homes, have been left woefully short of care, abandoned to deal with hardships and trauma alone. Ukraine had no veterans agency and there was no special care for those injured in war. Even President Volodymyr Zelensky, often presented as the great new hope for Ukraine, initially did nothing to establish an assistance program for his soldiers.
However, by providing this small grant to MMF alumni, GMF was able to support setting up a group of experts in the Ukraine to address the issue; and a former fellow advised the panel. Previously a staff member at the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, he was extremely concerned about the Ukrainian government’s failure to understand or take action on this problem. He alerted his former colleagues in Washington to the problem, who in turn prompted the US ambassador in Kiev to raise the issue of veterans’ care with Zelensky. The Ukrainian president finally accepted the seriousness of the problem, and a new government agency and a program for war returnees were established.

Beyond the size and importance of the organization, there are other reasons why the German Marshall Fund is conspicuous among Goldman’s achievements. It is an excellent illustration of Goldman’s personal characteristics and his virtues as a human being: prodigious negotiating skills, a never-ending wealth of ideas, chutzpah, persistence sometimes bordering on stubbornness, a talent for establishing extremely durable relationships, and a gift for winning over influential and wealthy people.

Read the full chapter

Guido Goldman: Transatlantic Bridge Builder

Transatlantic Bridge Builder

Martin Klingst
Foreword by Michelle Müntefering
Translated by Brían Hanrahan

A careful reconstruction of the life of Guido Goldman, founder of the German Marshall Fund and Harvard University’s Center for European Studies.

“In his distinguished career, Guido Goldman has made important contributions to both the American and German societies in art, education, and their political evolution.  He has created essential institutions to enhance the interaction of America and Germany.  And he has been an inspiring and reliable friend through a long life.”Henry Kissinger

Read Preface


Martin Klingst was for many years the editorial head of the political department at the liberal German weekly Die Zeit, before working as the paper’s Washington correspondent from 2007 to 2014. He is now the Head of the Office of Strategic Communication and Chief Speechwriter for Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin.

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