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Young Atlanticism

Two years ago, European Commission President Barroso called for a more dynamic transatlantic relationship based on results rather than process. Speaking at the German Marshall Funds' Brussels Forum he said "We must go beyond traditional Atlanticism and build a new Atlanticism." (Video)

It was one of those grandiose speeches that resulted into applause, but nothing else. N_o_t_h_i_n_g ! I assume that Barroso and his staff only worked on the speech, but not on any initiative to actually build a new Atlanticism.

I believe it is really up to a new generation to revive Atlanticism. Will they (we) succeed? Hard to say. While I am generally pessimistic (realistic), I do feel optimistic once in a while, like right now, when I read Transatlanticism: From a Political to a Social Identity It's a sober-minded, realistic analysis, which criticizes the sort of hollow expressions of transatlantic solidarity and values that I see in Barroso's speech, but it also ends with a positive outlook. The author, Kristin Durant, is President of the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association, and wrote this great op-ed for atlantic-community, my day job.

Here a few quotes, but please read the entire article:

We must practice and engage the general populations in Transatlanticism - not attempt to force, what many perceive as a politically constructed identity, upon them. I think we are all well aware of the history that is shared across the Atlantic and the values that have been born from this shared history: freedom, liberty, peace, security and the rule of law - as formulated in the North Atlantic Treaty. These are values which few people in the Western world will dispute and to a large extent, they have become so well integrated in our mentalities, that they are a matter of course. For many of the younger generations, these values are no longer associated with a common cause. Transatlanticism seems instead to connote a political arena, where somewhat hollow expressions such as "strategic partnership" and "transatlantic dialog" prevail. (...)

I study at a Danish university and meet, amongst my peers, the perspective that war is bad and peace is good - therefore, as a military alliance, NATO breeds conflict and ought not to exist. This perspective lacks nuance, in my opinion. And it is nuance that I believe civil society organizations can bring to the debate by engaging populations in dialog and concrete problem-solving initiatives.

We must embrace developments within public opinion and understanding, and use them to our advantage by focusing on the discussion of security policy in new and broader terms, and upon this foundation debate the role of international organizations such as NATO. A broader approach to security affairs may enable a wider range of discussion and thereby action.

Despite the "bad press" that Transatlanticism is getting, I see definite positive elements developing - with the example of the growing significance of the youth dimension in the debate, and the ever increasing mobility which is facilitating the exchange of ideas. Developments within technology and social media are contributing to the maintenance of contacts established internationally - and for younger generations the world has generally become a smaller and less scary place.

But again, Atlanticism must be practiced. I find that with an organization such as the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) and networks such as atlantic-community.org, the framework is there. Within that context the concept goes from politically constructed to making sense. Within that context I am meeting with people of different nationalities, I am discussing a broad variety of political, social and economic issues and I am learning about values and interests which greatly vary.

Our latest project at atlantic-community.org to engage the youth in all NATO Member and Partner countries is the Policy Workshop Competition "Your Ideas, Your NATO" I hope it will contribute significantly to a new sense of Atlanticism. A sense of community that appeals to younger generations. Thus I chose as the headline of this article the term "Young Atlanticism", but maybe there are better terms out there.

Of course, it is difficult to assess what YATA and atlantic-community.org have achieved so far and will achieve in the future. Measuring "Atlanticism" and our impact is difficult.

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