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The Future of Transatlantic Relations

The election of new "pro-American" leaders in Europe will not lead to closer and better transatlantic cooperation. Shared values are not enough. Different interests (often based on geographic location) limit the future strength of transatlantic relations.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Editor of The National Interest, in an interview with the Atlantic Community (full disclosure: my day job):

Shared values are an insufficient basis for partnership without compelling shared interests. European states do not have a strong and enduring relationship with like-minded democracies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan or Australia, in the same way that they do with the United States, because Australia and Germany do not have overriding common economic or security interests. Moreover, even when Americans and Europeans agree on the issues, it does not mean that everyone reaches the same conclusions as to what policy is most effective. Other factors beyond shared values, including geographic proximity, can change a country's assessment. Germanys decision to continue to engage Russia and deepen economic ties, or Frances outreach to Libya including new weapons sales fly in the face of American preferences for using isolation and pressure as the main tools to try and effect change. But then again, the United States does not share a neighborhood with these states.

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues in the Financial Times (subscribers only) that "transatlantic cooperation will be less predictable and more selective:"

Alliances require predictability: of threat, outlook and obligations. But it is precisely this characteristic that is likely to be in short supply in a world defined by shifting threats, differing perceptions and societies with widely divergent readiness to maintain and use military force. The 21st-century world is far more dynamic and fluid than the relatively stable and predictable period of the cold war.
This is in no way meant to defend or advocate unilateralism. But it is a recognition that many in Europe disagree with some US objectives, with how the US goes about realising them, or both. As a result, the US often will be unable to count on the support of its traditional allies.
Also weakening Europe's centrality to US foreign policy is that its capacity for global intervention is diminishing, especially in the military field.

Robert Kagan, however, is more optimistic about transatlantic cooperation, or more specifically: cooperation between democracies. He sees a tendency towards solidarity among the world's autocracies as well as among the world's democracies. Summary of his arguments is available at "The World Divided Between Autocracy and Democracy" on Atlantic Community.

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Mad Minerva on :

Thanks, Joerg! The real influence of particular interests (and how different nations' interests are often quite divergent and contradictory) is a factor of transAtlantic ties that is often underestimated or even ignored. I'm not trying to underplay the effect of some American behavior, but I do second the notion that sometimes American and (insert ally here)'s interests will not coincide, and expecting them to do so every time is rather foolish. Of course, this sort of thing depends heavily on the ally in question and on the particular issue at hand. There is also the fact that sometimes national leaders try to define themselves against America -- the issue isn't really the US sometimes as much as the attempt to define oneself against it. Cheap politicking in some cases, but that's not necessarily going to help transAtlantic ties in the short term. There is also, I must say, the persistent idea among some European leaders or ex-leaders that American influence must somehow be counterbalanced by another force -- even if (I'm sorry to say) that other force isn't necessarily good. Gerhard Schroeder, giving a talk recently at Columbia University, seemed to argue for a stronger EU-Russia link in order to offset America. I think this is just foolish (and that Putin's Russia is growing more dangerous and less democratic by the day), and Schroeder is well out of power anyway so he doesn't make much impact on actual policy, but the IDEA is out there. (See previous French yapping about America the "hyperpower.") In the end, though, I also have to say that the hand-wringing about the supposed collapse of transAtlantic ties can be overstated as well. Yes, the US and EU/NATO nations fuss and quarrel, but there is, I think, a deep-down long-term understanding. And there's not going to be another US-versus-Europe shooting war any time soon -- a kind of stability that rarely gets due credit. The US and Europe are like temperamental siblings -- they can fight and annoy and all that, but they're still family.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Large, stable, industrial, free market democracies with universal suffrage have existed for less than 100 years. On the scale of 4500+ years of recorded human history, that makes them very new. The assumption that such democracies would never go to war against each other has been true so far, but has it really been tested? Will it always hold true in the future? A pure realist is forced to conclude it might not always hold true. Nations act in their national interest. Just because national interest is defined democratically, instead of by some ruling elite, doesn't mean two peoples' real or perceived national interests couldn't come into irresolvable conflict. A sobering thought. Happily, I don't think the world's democracies will be put to this particular test anytime soon.

Zyme on :

I can only agree to that. Nothing is more sobering though than hearing the point over and over again that we have arrived at the final system and it will cure all ill once only all nations have adopted it. It just sounds so familiar to all the other systems that failed. An objective observer should always be critical to such utopian expectations. When nothing has proven to be eternal yet, one should not believe the current state will likely make it.

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