While the Marshall Plan remains a touchstone for German-American relations, the value of the transatlantic relationship is no longer as obvious or unassailable as it once was. A new narrative for the transatlantic relationship is needed to address transnational challenges such as the growing importance of emerging economies, an increasingly multipolar world order, and the struggle of legitimacy and representation within democratic societies.
We are the first 30 Atlantic Expedition fellows, who collaborated in eight working groups and travelled together to Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin to meet political, military, and economic decision-makers, experts and NGO leaders in February and March 2017. We propose an incremental approach to trade in light of growing discontent with past agreements. Though comprehensive trade agreements are becoming less popular in both the United States and Europe, opportunities to reform the process while making achievable gains to promote trade are possible. Comprehensive approaches to climate change also remain susceptible to criticism and a lack of coordination. Yet, the increased involvement of regional and local governments, as well as business and non-profits, allow for opportunities to make meaningful gains despite international disagreement on the path forward.
Many of the challenges to the transatlantic relationships could also be resolved through bridging the cultural and political gaps that exist both among nations and within the body politic of individual nations. Leveraging technology to forge closer relationships among the population at large promotes a deeper understanding of our shared goals and values. Moreover, many startups, private entities, and local actors are using new technology to build better cities and foster economic opportunity. Learning from the best practices found on both sides of the Atlantic will enable change despite the obstacle currently present in the modern era. Such an approach results in greater cooperation in response to the refugee crisis. While national governments struggle to shape policy to respond to the crisis, local actors can develop strategies to effectively balance security concerns with the humanitarian response.
International security rightfully remains an issue of paramount concern among transatlantic partners. Nationalist tendencies to emphasize accountability of national leaders to the people they serve do not need to conflict with the broader goal of international stability. NATO, despite its shortcomings, remains a valuable tool for responding to international threats in the post-cold war era, and simple reforms could strengthen its capabilities.
Establishing a new narrative and reinvigorating the transatlantic partnership requires new avenues and modes of cooperation which are outlined in the policy recommendations included in this memo. Specific areas of cooperation include the digital economy and technology; trade; energy and climate; defense and military; and education policy. For cooperation to endure, current and future trends must be taken into account and addressed in this new narrative. The areas of cooperation and specific recommendations outlined in this memo are informed by the following trends, which have been incorporated into our framework for future cooperation.
Proliferation of stakeholders and diffusion of power: Compared to the period of the founding of the modern German-American relationship after 1945, more stakeholders now sit at the table. The postwar period was characterized largely by the actions of nation states, some multinational corporations, and multilateral organizations initiated by the US and supported by Germany. Today a wide range of stakeholders, including technology firms, non-governmental organizations (NGO), transnational movements, and even individuals, with the help of modern communications technology, can play a significant role in transatlantic relations. The proliferation of stakeholders holds true in both the public and private sectors, and can be seen in the myriad influences on domestic policy and the range of international actors.
Grassroots action: Related to the proliferation of stakeholders, the increasing agency of local and sub-national political, economic, and social actors enables new avenues for policy cooperation and innovation. Cities, towns, counties, and states are working together through sub-national organizations, while grassroots initiatives have shown the power and potential of distributed action and activity.
Digitalization: From technology and economic development to communication and socialization, digitalization has implications for how economies are structured, how citizens interact amongst themselves and with their governments, and how modern society is organized. Moreover, while technology firms and start-ups are a potent economic force in both societies, digitalization is also changing how traditional industries like energy and manufacturing operate.
Populism: While technology has the potential to knit the globe closer together, the downsides of globalization and free trade have created a backlash in many western democratic societies. This has resulted in anti-free trade sentiments and a potential challenge to the free market principles and trade the transatlantic relationship was founded upon. Meanwhile rising populism on both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum are a symptom of dissatisfaction with the representativeness of political institutions and changing economic realities in the twenty-first century.
Each of the policy recommendations this paper makes for modernizing, and thereby strengthening, the transatlantic relationship in the 21st century has been shaped and influenced by the trends mentioned above. While the policy areas outlined below are important and distinctive in their own right, they are also connected. These trends transform traditional distinctions between policy areas and sectors and necessitate interdisciplinary approaches and cross-cutting solutions.