A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, director of the Foreign Policy Initiative at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and D. German distinguished visiting chair at Appalachian State University
It depends on the November 8 U.S. presidential election and on America’s ability to find a country to replace the UK as pivot in Europe.
The Baltic states would be dependable, but their influence in Europe is modest. Poland’s domestic politics are contradictory. Norway is part of NATO but not of the EU. Germany and France are question marks until elections have taken place in 2017. U.S. President Barack Obama therefore decided to take his chances on Italy, by honoring Prime Minister Matteo Renzi with a final state visit on October 17–19. The problem, however, is twofold: First, it is questionable whether Renzi will stay in power long enough for the new U.S. administration to enter office and restrategize transatlantic relations. Second, Italy is not as anti-Russian as the United States would like: just after his visit to Washington, Renzi blocked new EU sanctions on Russia.
Should Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton win the U.S. presidency, she is likely to pressure British Prime Minister Theresa May to rethink Brexit. Failing that, her administration will continue to search for a new pivot to better reassert the U.S. role as guardian of transatlanticism.
Things would be different should Republican nominee Donald Trump win the election. He believes Europeans should contribute more in (self-)defense, and it is possible that the Europeans—faced with an unreliable U.S. partner—will decide to strengthen ties within Europe rather than across the Atlantic.
Kris BledowskiDirector of Economic Studies at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Whether you consider the military umbrella under NATO, leadership in resolving regional crises, a strategic approach to China, or advocating for global norms in finance and investments, the United States is firmly in the driver’s seat. Yet the future doesn’t look bright.
On the one hand, the EU enjoys high approval ratings in surveys among the U.S. rank and file, which helps cement the political firepower behind American leadership in Europe. On the other hand, Europe’s brand took a beating with fractious handling of Greece’s debt crisis, compounded by hesitant monetary support and excessive forbearance toward domestic financial institutions. Political leaders in the United States also look nervously at European electorates’ nonchalance with core Western values, which are flouted openly by far-right and far-left parties.
The test of transatlantic strength will lie in Europe’s internal unity and solidarity. American taxpayers will gradually lose their willingness to treat Europe as a strategic asset should the EU fracture. Trip wires abound: post-Brexit economics, constitutional integrity in Hungary and Poland, and—foremost—a single and forceful voice in foreign affairs.
Pax Americana is a public good Europeans would be foolish to lose. But Americans, too, would become poorer without a strong Europe.
Heather ConleySenior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
No, the United States is no longer the sole guardian of transatlanticism.
A euphuism for the international legal and liberal order, transatlanticism is the set of normative values that the West believes—having painfully learned from its repeated experience with conflict—will further peace and security. Transatlanticism is enshrined in the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and the 1990 Paris Charter. At the end of the Cold War, the United States could say it was the sole guardian of the international order, as evidenced by its military response to Iraq’s violation of Kuwait’s territorial integrity. Twenty-five years later, transatlanticism is being openly challenged by Russia in Ukraine and Georgia as well as in Syria; by China in the South China Sea; and by the self-styled Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The United States could choose to use its considerable military power to enforce its preferred international rules, but it has chosen to work through and with regional partners to implement alternative strategies, with mixed results. Because the result of the U.S. presidential election on November 8 could either strengthen or weaken transatlanticism, it is essential that Europe view itself as a co-guardian of transatlanticism and be increasingly prepared to sacrifice—economically, politically, and militarily—to defend the international liberal order.
Alexandra de Hoop SchefferDirector of the Paris Office and senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
The next U.S. president will pursue a transactional approach to the transatlantic partnership. Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama asked European allies to lead from the front in regions where Washington does not have vital interests at stake. The next president will rely even more on Europeans, mostly to secure their neighborhoods.
However, European allies will not be able to meet U.S. expectations, and the rise of Trumps all over the continent is undermining the community of values on which the transatlantic partnership has historically been built. Adding to U.S. domestic social and political divisions, these trends will continue to undermine NATO’s credibility and be exploited by Russia.
An administration led by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would be the last transatlanticist government in U.S. political history. The real challenge for U.S. transatlanticism lies in the next elections, in 2020 and beyond, because they will bring to power a generation of leaders (like Obama) whose political experience will not have been shaped by the Cold War and who will understand Europe less and less.
European leaders will have to demonstrate that beyond transactional burden sharing, the transatlantic partnership matters when it translates into real co-leadership, based on credible capabilities and unity in action.
Pauli JärvenpääSenior research fellow at the International Center for Defense and Security in Tallinn
The summer of 2016 has been a veritable silly season. It all started with Britain’s vote to leave the EU, soon followed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s calls for an EU army. Then the season continued with the U.S. presidential campaign, in which the gloves have been off.
The Russians have exploited the situation to the hilt, disrupting and discrediting Western democracy in Europe and, indeed, in the United States. Unbelievably, they have also been threatening countries like Finland and Sweden with nuclear strikes should they join NATO, and Norway if it accepts a handful of U.S. marines on its soil.
Now, it’s high time for the Europeans to pull their socks up.
First, Europe must thwart all attempts to undermine Euro-Atlantic institutions. NATO is showing the way: the alliance’s plan to base four battalion-sized units in Poland and the Baltics is a good start.
Second, all European countries—allies or partners—should take seriously the NATO recommendation of hiking defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, while supporting the United States in NATO or wherever common heavy lifting is needed.
Finally, after the U.S. presidential inauguration in January 2017, regardless of who the president is, the transatlantic partners should call a highest-level conference to reaffirm and revitalize the relationship that has kept the peace in Europe.
John KornblumSenior counselor at Noerr LLP
Often, when asked if this or that Atlantic crisis is the worst I have ever seen, I answer: “No, World War II was really bad.” As I was born in 1943, I can claim to have been there, even though my memory is a bit hazy.
But the point is still valid. The Atlantic world has existed for nearly five hundred years. Some historians even specialize in Atlantic history. They have reconstructed an integrated transatlantic society, which existed long before NATO or the EU was even a dream. It is a rich tapestry that mirrors the evolution of Western life over half a millennium.
The twentieth century has been especially fraught with drama. But nothing could stop the steady fertilization between the shores of the world’s largest inland lake, as American writer Walter Lippmann once called it. A new chapter is now beginning. The two most dynamic nations in 1910, Germany and the United States, remain today. But power shifted in 1914 from Europe to America. It will not return. Globalization will overwhelm many traditional hopes and dreams. But the flow back across the lake will continue unabated for at least another five hundred years, and probably more.
Bruno MaçãesNonresident associate at Carnegie Europe
The United States is being pushed away from the role of transatlantic guardian, and the pressure will intensify. U.S. decisionmakers will increasingly be made to choose between being the guardians of transatlanticism and retaining global primacy. The latter will demand assuming a geostrategic position much more equidistant between Europe and Asia. In fact, if you calculate where the global economy’s center of gravity is, you’ll find it’s now on the border between Europe and Asia, whereas in 1980 it was still in the middle of the Atlantic.
From an economic point of view, transatlanticism is no longer a logical proposition. The idea of a transatlantic community is not eternal, or even particularly old. It is perhaps a century old—American writer Walter Lippmann wrote his essay “The Defense of the Atlantic World” in 1917. Like all political ideas, the notion of transatlanticism has a particular history, which continues to be written.
Pauline MassartDeputy director for security and geopolitics at Friends of Europe and vice president for outreach and operations at Women in International Security (WIIS) Brussels
Robert Gates, then U.S. defense secretary, warned Europeans in 2011 of the imminent departure of the last generation of U.S. decisionmakers for whom the Cold War had been a formative experience. He was using the point to urge Europeans to spend more on defense, but the implications are valid for the transatlantic relationship at large.
While Americans present themselves as promoters of transatlantic values, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did on October 4, what Europeans hear is “TTIP, TTIP, TTIP.” The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the object of much distrust in Europe among both governments and citizens, while younger generations no longer feel much emotional attachment to the transatlantic relationship.
NATO has yet to decide what it stands for in a post–Cold War world. The real danger from Russia today lies not in the Baltics but in Syria, where NATO neither has nor desires a mandate.
There will be no guarding anything if U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump comes to power. Should Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton win the November 8 election, she has the opportunity to reconsider the transatlantic relationship. It is time for Americans and Europeans to think in terms of citizens and values rather than solely consumers and trade.
Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations
If Republican nominee Donald Trump wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election, then no; America will be the leader in dismantling post–Cold War institutions and traditions and establishing a totally utilitarian relationship with Russia under President Vladimir Putin and with China. Human rights, values, and military alliances will be discarded, and Washington will negotiate like London under Prime Minister Theresa May after the UK’s Brexit vote—geared to a narrow, parochial agenda of jingoism and petty grievances.
If Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wins the election, then yes; but Clinton is a boomer, rooted in transatlantic values, who has yet to pivot to Asia like outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama. She wants to check Putin’s offensive in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the Middle East. She needs NATO, Europe, and a strong, liberal international public opinion on her side, because at home the Republicans will undermine her from day one.
Is Europe ready to tango? If France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen becomes president in 2017, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi loses a referendum on constitutional reform in December 2016, and former Soviet satellites keep moving toward Putinism 2.0, then German Chancellor Angela Merkel will remain alone in Europe. Like Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, she will be the last melancholic female warrior of a doomed glorious alliance.
Ulrich SpeckSenior research fellow at the Brussels Office of the Elcano Royal Institute
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has struggled to find its position in a world that is no longer defined by the tensions between two ideologically opposed superpowers. Barack Obama’s presidency has confirmed what had been obscured for a while by America’s reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks: that the United States is moving from hegemony to great power, from an empire to the most powerful nation-state.
In this process, transatlantic relations are turning from dependency to partnership. The United States was the strategic leader at three defining moments in Europe in the twentieth century: after World War I, after World War II, and after the Cold War. Today, Washington does not play that role anymore. Europe has to find its own responses to geopolitical challenges that range from disintegration of the EU to Russia’s expansionist reaction to perceived U.S. weakness to turmoil in the Arab world.
Whether transatlanticism survives is going to depend on Europe’s capability and will to deal with these issues. A more detached United States will be interested in working with Europeans only if they emerge as strong and capable players.
Tommy SteinerSenior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel
As the United States elects a new president on November 8, U.S. leadership of the transatlantic community is shrouded in uncertainty, with polls suggesting a tie between the two main candidates. The cardinal issue, however, seems to be what kind of transatlanticism America is expected to safeguard.
This is not only about the United States. Nearly all Western democracies face the rising popularity of divisive and demagogic figures who wreak havoc on the viability, cohesion, and resilience of the West and unleash deglobalization proclivities. Apparently, Americans and Europeans don’t want to expend treasure and blood to uphold their way of life. Insulating one’s country from external upheaval seems a viable option. Bound to fail, populists will never admit that isolationism is unfeasible but rather will demand harsher measures. Thus, standing up to tyrants who massacre their own and other people, defending and working with allies, and upholding a liberal world order do not seem to be priorities any longer.
Washington’s balking from the use of force when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime crossed the redline of deploying chemical weapons in 2013 is a telling example. The majorities in both the U.S. Congress and the British House of Commons against a punitive missile strike with little risk to Western personnel were an ominous signal. By exposing a diminishing normative standing and a reluctance to step up to the strategic plate as leaders failed to win political and public support, this sad episode raises another shocking question: Does it really matter who wins on November 8?
Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy
The United States needs to pivot back to Europe. Washington’s involvement is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the emergence of a new Atlanticism. The United States cannot lead Europe as it did during the Cold War or the unipolar decade of the 1990s. But it can provide reassurance. It is starting to do this with its moves in NATO to reassure the Baltics and Poland, but it will have to do more in the area of European defense—so long as European nations also take their defense obligations seriously.
On this point there is consensus between U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The United States should rediscover its European vocation and its support for European integration, and it should make clear that democratic backsliders will pay a high price. Europe is fragmented and insecure and needs to feel solidarity from its biggest partner.
If things go right, by fall 2017 there could be a combined leadership in place consisting of Angela Merkel in Germany, Alain Juppé in France, Matteo Renzi in Italy, and Clinton in the United States—and with it, a reversal of the current populist, antidemocratic tide. Let’s hope American voters start this process when they go to the polls on November 8.
Jan TechauDirector of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum for the Study of Diplomacy and Governance at the American Academy in Berlin
The core of transatlanticism is the security relationship between the United States and Europe. As long as Washington dominates this relationship, it will remain the guardian of transatlanticism. Given Europe’s continued reliance on U.S. services to stay free and stable, it is unlikely the United States will relinquish this title anytime soon.
The more important question is whether America has any idea about what to do with this role. Does it see Europe’s continued stability as a key ingredient to maintaining some sort of liberal world order? Does Washington understand that Pax Americana can be lost in the travails of a structurally unstable continent surrounded by further instability and aggression? Does the United States have a proper reading of how crucial its continued presence in Europe is both to protect the Old World from external threats and to maintain European internal stability?
So far, the answer to these questions seems to be yes, and Washington continues to make the geopolitical investment that has given Europe an unusually long period of peace and quiet. But the domestic situation in the United States is volatile, and the consensus on how much of a guardian America should be for a place from which it expects little could be weaker than many believe. For Europe, a continent that seemingly cannot and does not want to be without a guardian (and certainly could not find a better one than the one at hand), this is a grim prospect.
Pierre VimontSenior associate at Carnegie Europe
There is little doubt that the United States today remains the driving force of the transatlantic partnership. Uncertainty may have infiltrated European minds when the so-called pivot to Asia was perceived as the new motto in Washington. But Russia’s new aggression in Ukraine and Syria, an increasing terrorist threat, and, more significantly, an awareness among transatlantic allies that their past economic dominance is quickly eroding seem to have dispelled these doubts.
A new lease of life for the EU-U.S. relationship looks like the natural way ahead. But it is going to be a different relationship. The impact on British and European security of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, Russia’s interference in Eastern Europe, growing shortcomings of the West’s economic and social model, and the emerging reality of a multipolar world all call for a transformation of current transatlantic ties.
This evolution requires strong leadership. The EU by itself cannot offer such a lead, as it is too weak and divided for the time being. The United States will have to accept this responsibility. Yet to progress on such a course, America must reach a common understanding with its European allies of the two sides’ mutual interests and of the desired political vision for Europe’s future security and stability. This will be the main challenge in the years ahead for the transatlantic partners.
Xenia WickettHead of the U.S. and the Americas Program and dean of the Queen Elizabeth II Academy at Chatham House
The strength of the transatlantic relationship comes, in part, from it being a partnership of equals in which the two parties bring different assets to the table. Of course, there have been moments when one side or the other—Europe or the United States—has been preeminent. But in an ideal world, combined resources are greater than the sum of the parts; it is the power of merging these capabilities that makes the West so strong.
However, over the past two decades, this balance has been lost. Europe has been intensely focused on the European project. While Europe has contributed resources, soft power, and partnership, it has often depended on the United States to lead. As the post–Cold War peace dividend led to falling defense spending in Europe, U.S. spending stayed relatively high. Even within Europe, the United States led, for example in the early 1990s during the breakup of Yugoslavia and now on the war in Syria.
Whether Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election on November 8, the United States is moving toward a position that would rebalance the transatlantic relationship. America aspires to return to a time of equality, with all sides bearing similar burdens. While painful and difficult for European nations, this can only be good for the transatlantic relationship.