Both Germany and the US are facing tremendous transnational challenges in the political, economic, social and environmental realm. As described in the paper “Transatlantic Relations in a New Era – The Next Generation’s Approach” these are linked e.g. to climate change causing pressure on resources, weather extremes and related impacts in the social sphere such as increased migration. Political and social challenges originate in an increasing multipolar world order, the proliferation of stakeholders coupled with struggles for legitimacy and the rise of populism in democratic societies. In addition, new technological developments and digitalization have repercussions on the economic, social and political domain.
Yet, all these issues can be traced back to one common key element with regard to their responses: sustainability. The Brundtland commission once defined the concept of sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This concept and related international frameworks to achieve sustainable developments should be the overall strategic hook when trying to convince decision-makers to implement the proposed modernization of the transatlantic partnership and win the respective public support.
To be able to face the above-mentioned challenges, we need to find solutions that are sustainable in the long-term. However, such solutions can only be developed in cooperation by strong partners who have the potential to innovate. Hence, the transatlantic alliance needs to be reinvented. The key message when presenting the ideas elaborated during the first Atlantic Expedition should focus on new opportunities to reform processes that were heavily criticized in the past. Hence, implementing the proposed modernization would open new and more sustainable avenues for cooperation and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Moreover, the issue of sustainable development would offer the possibility to address factual as well as emotional arguments.
For instance, with regard to one of the hugely debated topics of transatlantic relations in recent years, a comprehensive free trade agreement, this strategy might prove successful. Focusing on the standard arguments of prosperity through free trade will not convince those that have not benefitted from globalization in the past decades.
A more value-driven transatlantic trade deal can be realized through an incremental approach (i.e. framework agreement-protocol approach), while taking legitimate concerns and the discontent with past agreements serious. The required participation of a broader group of (subnational) stakeholders in transparent negotiation processes, which will allow to establish democratically agreed upon standards, should be prioritized when communicating this idea. This approach would allow the integration of sustainability principles (e.g. issues such as human rights and labor standards, environmental and health safeguards, as well as issues like tax evasion) and set the bar high as compared to other international trade agreements. Therefore, it should be stressed that as free trade on a global scale will further intensify, it is important that Europe and the US now set the right standards with regard to sustainability before it is too late. Thus, it should be further highlighted that this way trade would be more inclusive. Moreover, the proposed evidence-based review process would give stakeholders the chance to adjust the agreements with regard to certain aspects at a later stage.
Also security challenges faced by the transatlantic partners can be framed as sustainability issues. A political agenda focusing on sustainability issues will also help address security challenges in the long-term as the impacts from climate change and related migration flows can pose security risks to Western societies. In addition, a comprehensive and sustained approach to cyber threads can be better developed through a deep cooperation building capabilities and exchanging technologies that makes best use of common investments. Such a holistic approach to security based on sustainability assumptions will be more helpful to anticipate an react to future threads.
The same strategy can also be applied to other topics mentioned in the paper developed by the first Atlantic Expedition such as a decentralized approach to climate change involving regional and local stakeholders, businesses and non-profits which could help to solve major sustainability challenges in the environmental sphere. Likewise, a new education agenda and the sharing of standards with regard to the integration of refugees and development that allows using synergies and can help to solve major sustainability challenges in the social sphere at the root cause without much additional resources.
Sustainability should be the new transatlantic narrative.