Re-conceptualizing 21st century transatlantic relations:
Since the end of the Cold War we have witnessed drastic changes in international relations that have considerably altered the essence of the transatlantic relationship. Both the United States of America and Europe are facing new threats, shifting power balances and growing domestic constraints on the implementation of foreign policies. While NATO still reflects mutual security interests and the U.S. and the EU are the two most closely linked economic regions in the world, it still seems that the end of the bipolar world, replaced by a complex reality of global interconnectedness, has weakened the commitment to a strong partnership on both sides of the Atlantic. Disagreement over America’s “unilateral moment” of the early 2000s, in particular the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, and the American pivot to Asia, announced by President Obama, certainly irritated the European allies. On the other hand, Europe’s ailing economy and its reluctance to do more in order to guarantee its own safety seemed to even encourage the U.S. to turn its sight elsewhere.
With the election of President Trump things have become even more complicated and particularly the German-American relationship has been put under a lot of strain. With regards to economic collaboration, the prospects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that has been negotiated alternately in Washington and Brussels since July 2013 are looking more remote than ever, Germany is heavily criticized for its record trade surpluses while the Trump administration recently decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement, shocking large parts of the world and especially Germany, trying to become a leader in renewables and the fight against climate change with its ambitious “Energiewende”. Moreover, President Trump’s already infamous NATO speech given at the inauguration of the organization’s new headquarters in Brussels, intel from the British leaked to American newspapers, and disagreement regarding the continuation of the sanctions against Russian gas exports raise questions about how solid the cooperation in crucial matters of common defense and security policy still is. To put it in a nutshell, even though much is exaggerated by the media, the transatlantic relationship certainly has seen better days.
This is why, in my opinion, we, Germans and Americans, need to recall that, apart from the security and economic dimension, shared fundamental values such as liberty, pluralism and democracy have served as the basis for transatlantic cooperation in the past. Even more important, however, is to strive for a thorough understanding of what these terms really mean and how they are filled with life in both the American and the European societies. It is of vital importance that as Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany once said, in International relations – between citizens, enterprises, or governments – we must try to understand our friends or partners, competitors and adversaries alike.
Consequently, in order to build an even more comprehensive partnership than in the past we have to double our efforts to remind ourselves and our friends, of what defines us as “the Transatlantic Civilization”. Unlike during the Cold War, when the constant necessity to defend and promote our values reinforced the feeling of a “special Western mission”, it seems that nowadays we, as American and European citizens, have to renew our commitment to liberal democracy, the rule of law and individual human rights because it is this powerful constellation of an intertwined history, as well as common norms and identities that can keep us together. More than ever we need to revitalize and strengthen the multitude of societal and cultural contacts between Europe and the US and raise awareness for both our similarities and differences. Even though the internal challenges may differ significantly, I am convinced that the solutions have to be based on the above mentioned shared values. Only if we achieve to inform our citizens about the challenges and concerns on either side of the Atlantic we can build mutual understanding and trust.
Furthermore, it is evident that neither the United States nor Europe will be able to adequately address the numerous and diverse challenges the world is going to face within the next decades alone. Major global challenges, including a wide range of foreign and security policy issues, most prominently Syria and Ukraine, the challenges of the digital society, climate change, energy security, and the fight against international terrorism inevitably require close cooperation between the transatlantic allies. Together the EU and the U.S. represent only a little more than 10% of the world’s population which is why collaboration across sectors and policies is crucial. Furthermore, the fact that the EU and the U.S provide more than 75% of the global development assistance reveals that there is also a shared responsibility to promote peace, stability and democracy around the world.
In summary, both promoting the importance of the U.S.-EU relationship and the values it is based on among the American and European public and a sense for pragmatic decision-making according to mutual interests will be necessary for a strong future transatlantic partnership.