In order to create a brace for the liberal world order, stopgap for democracy, and a dam to stop the swell of left and right wing extremism and populism, transatlantic partnerships must focus on creating ties between the civil societies of the United States and Germany. While it is important to modernize the relationship and get endorsement from decision-makers, I think the most important component of doing so is thinking creatively what modernization means and who are decision-makers. For many in both nations, the national government is the face of the nation. Today, in the United States, we have an executive branch that is not willing to provide traditional support to U.S. allies and partners in Europe. In order to ensure long-standing relationships are not lost and stability not foregone due to insecure and self-serving leaders, we must focus our attention on developing relationships between people.
I lived in Germany for two years as a U.S. Army officer. I worked closely with the German military as well as other militaries throughout Europe. We were working towards the same aim with the same principles. We developed and maintained a close relationship that was based on more than just our professional ties – friendships were developed at all levels of the commands. The future stability of transatlantic partnership is dependent on developing these types of friendships in different sectors and levels of society. While this is certainly more different and likely more challenging to foster in environment where groups are not working together, there are ways to develop ties among similar sectors in a way that ensures that even if the senior levels of our governments are unable to maintain strong ties, our populations can. This could be done through regularly scheduled webinars, a civil-society leadership summit to bring together future leaders in different sectors, or policy development contests that encourage creative thinking from young entrepreneurs passionate about different subjects.
In addition to the development of cross-sector personal ties, the transatlantic partnership must also be based on promoting a shared sense of values and ideals. Ties between civil-society groups developed around, for example, the importance of democracy, civil liberties, and renewable energy, will engender a greater depth of understanding and shared sense of mission. A more modern relationship will embrace the global challenges we face today, embrace the nuance of the civic discussions around those complex problems, and look for grassroots mechanisms and engagement opportunities to ensure our societal touch points are not vulnerable to the whims of individuals leaders. A modern relationship will recognize and adjust in the face of concerted efforts to sway popular opinion with propaganda and undermine general concepts of truth. By giving more individuals greater opportunity to interact across the ocean in different ways and around subjects they are passionate about, we will change the standard understanding of who is able to influence the transatlantic partnership.
Decision-makers and leaders are important and they will be needed for financial and public support, but by decentralizing relationship-building efforts the transatlantic partnership will take on a malleable and nature that is strong because it is diverse, distributed and dependent on the shared values and purpose of many as opposed to a variable few.