Transatlantic Relations at the dawn of a new Era

The debates around the Atlantic Community in 2018 showed us that something is changing in transatlantic relations.  This becomes obvious when reflecting on the thoughts of our contributors on how the developments in transatlantic relations have impacted their own countries and areas of expertise. From Washington to Berlin, from London to Tokyo, our contributors have given us their analyses, thoughts, fears, and hopes for the state of transatlantic relations this past year and prepare us for what lies ahead in 2019.

Thoughts from Our Contributors  

Transatlantic Relations in the Era of Trump

One theme that seemed most apparent in the contributions we published this year was the state of transatlantic affairs in the era of US President Donald Trump. Our contributors had a wide range of responses to Trump’s leadership last year, which included a fiery NATO Summit in July, a call for increased contributions to NATO from European partners and several tense bilateral meetings between the American President and his counterparts.

The view of many contributors last year was that President Trump’s influence on transatlantic relations was detrimental. For example, Alexia D’Arco from the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy wrote of the newly found strain on the Atlantic community. Robin Allers and Paal Sigurd Hilde from the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies worried about the potential estrangement between Washington and Oslo under Trump’s presidency. Joshua W. Walker of the Eurasia Group wrote that he too believed that Trump’s influence was damaging the Atlantic community and posed the question of “how severe and long-lasting will this damage be?”.

Trump’s bilateral relationship with Russian President and the pairs meeting in Helsinki this summer was a topic our contributors felt highlighted important developments in Ruso-Transatlantic relations. One such contributor was Julius von Freytag-Loringhoven of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. He discussed his belief that regardless of what niceties shared between the pair that exist, little diplomatic progress has been made in terms of establishing long-term détente between both sides.

This theme of long-term worries for the development of transatlantic affairs was not uncommon. Manuel Muñiz, Dean of the Global and Public Affairs School at IE University in Madrid, argued that Trump’s populistic policy style is not different from populist phaenomena in Europe, drawing on the similarities that brought about the Brexit result in the UK. He argued that these challenges from within domestic sphere of liberal democracies are evidentially more dangerous to transatlantic unity than any threats from external actors.

However, not all our contributors saw the influence of Trump in such negative terms. Márton Ugrósdy of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest felt that President Trump’s anti-liberal social and economic policies resonates well with some countries in Central and Eastern Europe and that some policies, such as those related to defence, are also seen favourably by many leaders and policy makers in Europe. Piret Kuusik from the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute argued that President Trump’s push for increased security commitments from NATO partners is welcomed by many smaller countries that benefit most from being part of larger security organisations. Additionally, Yvonni-Stefania Efstathiou from the International Institute for Strategic Studies made clear that for many smaller nations within the transatlantic community, the problems the community faced in 2018 are heavily outweighed by the benefits of transatlantic unity.

Jamie Fly from the German Marshall Fund reminded our readers that although there is tension between Trump and European leaders, the liberal order we currently enjoy remains both stable and prominent in the international system. Mr. Fly went on to claim that rumours of the collapse of the current liberal order are “greatly exaggerated” and encouraged the continued cooperation between both sides of the Atlantic despite these current disagreements. Amanda Sloat of the Brookings Institute likewise encouraged the members of the transatlantic community to remain pragmatic in the face of strains on the transatlantic community.

Manuel Lafont Rapnouil of the European Council for Foreign Relations wrote in his piece that despite disagreements between European leaders and Washington, the need for unity between the two sides remains critical. He made specific reference to the relationship between President Trump and President Macron, noting that their ability to find common ground would be put to the test.

The Future of NATO and European Security 

In autumn 2018 NATO hosted its largest joint military exercise since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the EU moved closer towards building a more coherent and better coordinated Security and Defence Policy. Moreover, our contributors have acknowledged the challenges that will arise for European security post-Brexit and predicted things to come for the community in 2019.

The discussions surrounding European security in 2018 focused heavily on the shifting powers of European policy makers, namely the future of UK influence on European security, the question of Germany’s leadership role on European security and the future of organisations such as NATO and the EU. Sophia Besch from the Centre for European Reform noted the striking absence of discussion around the UK’s role in EU27’s security policies following the country’s formal withdrawal in March. Her concerns also highlighted the important need to new security approaches across Europe in the coming year.

Barbara Kunz from the Institute of International Relations in Paris noted a huge strategic rift between French and German policy objectives, highlighting the difficulties that might face policy makers in 2019 when addressing comprehensive security challenges for the continent.  Joseph Verbovszky from the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich argued that a structural pacifism or “Culture of Restraint” amongst German foreign policy makers would cause difficulty for Germany as it continues to settle into its expanding European leadership position.

Claudia Major from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs made her concerns over the future of European security very clear. She, like many other contributors, is troubled by the potential decrease in credibility for organisations which unite European security projects and reiterated the need to shore up the legitimacy of organisations such as NATO should transatlantic security remain strong.

The Relevancy of the Transatlantic Community

Another important theme that our contributors focused on was the impact the Atlantic community and its inner tensions have globally. These papers focused on a wide range of topics, including the global trade, continued rise of China against American hegemony, and the increasing technology transfer away from Western allies and their partners and towards rapidly developing economies in Asia.

The need for the West and its partners to update and adapt international trade policies was a point many of our contributors felt strongly about. Martin Braml from the ifo Center for International Economics in Munich made a firm case for the urgent need for renegotiation of global trade terms per WTO agreements made during the Uruguay Rounds.

The rise of China is a challenge that our contributors agree must remain a top priority for policy makers in the Atlantic community. Michito Tsuruoka from the Keio University in Japan stressed that despite the differences between the respective domestic policies of Western and Western-aligned countries towards Chinese and Russian containment, it is important that certain level of cooperative strategy be worked towards.

Others noted the importance of transatlantic allies working to align themselves with rapidly expanding markets in order to secure their global interests. Abhijit Iyer-Mitra from the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi discussed how the Atlantic community has done little to examine its relationship with India and reiterated the urgent need for action in addressing India’s structural issues in order to strengthen potential alliances.

The need for a more active role from the Atlantic community in order to curb the rise of China was explored more specifically by Todd Williamson of Berlin Global Advisors. The current technology shift, away from traditional centres in the West and Western allied economies such as Japan and South Korea, has increased China’s stake in the global tech market. The need for a more robust presence of the Atlantic community in Asia, the Middle East, and in Africa, as well as a strengthened commitment to technological supremacy is what Jan Techau from the German Marshall Fund believes will keep the Atlantic community relevant in the future, and keep Chinese expansion contained.

Looking Forward Into 2019

What new challenges will 2019 bring us? The war in Syria will trudge on despite the announcement of an American withdrawal and will test the limits of joint overseas security operations between transatlantic partners. Moreover, Brexit and the upcoming elections in the European Parliament, Ukraine, Poland and Canada could mean important changes in the transatlantic political landscape. 2019 will see the 70th birthday of NATO, as well as the potential end of Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – a milestone of European security. And President Trump will likely continue to brandish his unique style of diplomacy in the coming year. If 2018 was any indication of the current uncertainty of transatlantic politics, 2019 will likely be a year of equally unprecedented developments.

The community faces numerous internal divisions and external pressures, however one thing all of our contributors have agreed on is that the transatlantic relationship still matters and remains at the forefront of foreign policy decisions. Despite living in unprecedented times, the transatlantic community remains a steadfast partnership at its core and will continue to do so long as our shared values, strategic objectives, and commitments to democracy continue to unite us. 2019 might be a year that offers a chance to build from the many crises of 2018.

*Photo from White House

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