Panel 2: The Future of the Transatlantic Relationship
This second panel, chaired by Robin Oakley, The Chief European Correspondent for CNN International raised a number of key questions about the functional basis and future direction of the transatlantic relationship. The panel examined how the transatlantic relationship has operated over time, the functional issues around which such a relationship can be structured in the future, and the prospects for that relationship under Obama, Clinton, or McCain.
Discussion during this second panel focused on perhaps three key points around which there was general consensus among the panelists. First, there are real prospects for change in and improvement of the transatlantic relationship after the US election. Second, the main purpose of the transatlantic relationship will no longer be in Europe, but rather in places such as Asia and the Middle East, where Europe and the United States will have to be united to achieve their policy objectives. Finally, just as the US election brings change on the US side of the relationship in terms of agenda setting and tone, the new US president will still have expectations of Europe in Afghanistan and elsewhere, that must not go unmet.
Robin Oakley opened the session by posing questions about how the US will view Europe after the November election and how the new US administration will respond to key European foreign policy challenges, such as the European-Russian relationship
Christopher Coker, the Chair of the Department of International Relations of the London School of Economics, suggested a need for a change in the terms of engagement in the transatlantic relationship. He noted that there were two particularly troubling moments in the transatlantic relationship in the past decades: first, the hubris of the American unipolar movement of the 1990s and second, the faulty European belief that the EU would lead to a kind of global democratic pluralism. Coker further noted that the revolution in military affairs meant that the United Sates could just “do Iraq” and so the US just did so, without realizing that its position of global dominance was being eroded. He observed that none of the US presidential candidates appear to have yet awoken to the fact that the world is very different than it was in 2000, for example they have not fully dealt with the rise of a newly assertive Russia or the growing power of China. He argued that the transatlantic alliance would have to come to grips with these new realities to be effective going forward. Coker closed, suggesting two specific paths forward. First, he argued that the US president must say to the American people that the United States is an “ordinary country” but that it can do extraordinary things. Second, Coker suggested that we need to bring NATO home to do real European security.
John Ikenberry, the Albert G Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, asked if we are seeing an end to the West. He argued that the old transatlantic alliance is in crisis and needs to be reformed. Ikenberry went further however, suggesting the root of the crisis was not just the transatlantic relationship, but rather a broader crisis of liberal internationalism. The deeper nature of this crisis may in fact mean that the US and Europe have far more in common and need to set a broader agenda of cooperation in terms of reworking the fundamental bargains of the global system and brining new stakeholders into the system with the goal of preserving the architecture of the last sixty years. During that period, the US and Europe built a robust political order built on bargains around open markets, democratic solidarity, collective security, and US hegemonic leadership. Ikenberry asked why, given that this system has been the most successful in world history, it today finds itself in crisis. He answered his own question, suggesting that the problem is not simply George Bush.
Rather, he opined that the problems range from institutional weakness to new threats, from lack of leadership to sovereignty weakness. Ikenberry concluded, asking where, given this crisis, the US and Europe should go from here. His two-part response noted first the need new alliances with different and stronger purposes and, second, that the need to open Western institutions to Asia so as to lead to a universalization, rather than a decline, of the West.
The third speaker, Lord Powell of Bayswater, Chairman of the Atlantic Partnership, argued that the transatlantic relationship is most significant not for its impact in Europe or the US, but rather for its influence in Asia and the Middle East. This fact, in turn, gives the alliance ever greater relevance. Lord Powell cautioned the Europeans in the audience that, after the elections, they must not give the US grounds for overlooking Europe but instead must send a signal that Europe is serious both in terms if financing and putting boots on the ground. Lord Powell further observed that the transatlantic relationship will never be the same as it was in the past and that, while Europe remains America’s strategic base, there will still be significant constraints on the relationship, notably the lack of resources and political will. Europe will have to help find both. Finally, Lord Powell defended the current NATO action in Afghanistan, suggesting that it was headed in the right direction and that something reasonable can be achieved there.
Phillip Gordon, Senior Fellow for U.S. Policy at the Brookings Institution, made three points about the transatlantic relationship. First, he suggested that, when viewed from Washington, the transatlantic relationship is about issues that go far beyond Europe. The US will be thinking about how its key European partners can help us with the broad set of global challenges far beyond the borders of Europe. This was certainly the case when Prime Minister Brown came to Washington a week ago. Gordon noted that this broader role for the transatlantic alliance does not mean that Europe is no longer important, but that if might actually be indicative of a promotion of Europe’s position. Second, Gordon observed that the next US president will have an opportunity to move beyond the challenges of the last seven years and will be well positioned to address key issues such as Iraq and detainees. Third and finally, Gordon cautioned that the future of the relationship might not be easy. He warned that expectations might simply be too high and that there was not in fact a Golden Age of transatlantic relations to which a return would be possible. Likewise, Gordon cautioned that expectations of change may be too high in Europe, that the new US administration will still have to ask for European cooperation and, if that cooperation is not forthcoming on issues such as Afghanistan, the transatlantic relationship may not improve despite the change in leadership.
Finally, Karen Donfried, the Executive Vice President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, noted that there is hope for a brighter future after the past seven years and most Europeans will breath a sigh of relief when Bush leaves office. However, Donfried noted that the strong anti-Bush sentiment is not a broader anti-Americanism. She argued that there is therefore meaningful opportunity for change in and improvement of the transatlantic relationship after the elections. Donfriend cited data from both the Pew and German Marhsall Fund global attitudes survey to support her claim that a change in government in the US could result in a significant improvement in the tenor of the transatlantic relationship. Donfirend also observed that the very process of the election in the US itself has improved the relationship by opening up discussion on key issues and showing the transparency of the US political system. She suggested that the common threat perception during the Cold War united the US and Europe far more than current threats do such that even if the personalities of the relationship change after Bush leaves the White House, the structure of the relationship may not. Finally, Donfried asked the Europeans in the room if they actually wanted to cooperate with the United States more deeply going forward, particularly given that issues such as Iraq will remain on the agenda, and noted that they should expect to be called on to cooperate on issues such as Afghanistan by a new US administration.
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