The Future of Transatlantic Relations A View from the US

By invitation only

Wed 8.6.2011 at 9:00-10:30
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Kruunuvuorenkatu 4, Helsinki

The Transatlantic tie between the United States and Europe continues to be of great importance in global governance and security. However, the relationship is now undergoing major changes. In today’s world, the two sides of the Atlantic face common challenges. The seminar will discuss the future of  Transatlantic relations from a US point of view. How will the ongoing economic, social and political changes influence Transatlantic relations in the decade to come? How significant will the Transatlantic connection be during the following decade?

Opening Remarks: Dr. Teija Tiilikainen, Director, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Speaker: Dr. Daniel S. Hamilton, Executive Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University

Comments: Dr. Mika Aaltola, Programme Director, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Summary of the event

Dr. Hamilton’s speech concerned Transatlantic Relations from the United States’ point of view. The Transatlantic dimension is still significant. For the EU the US is still the most important international contact and the EU is the most important organization that the US does not belong to. The EU and the US are particularly closely bound economically. They also form the core of a central coalition in the world and have a major influence on world politics. The challenge of the transatlantic relationship is whether “the west can engage the rest.”

The joint interest of the EU and the US has been to maintain stability in Europe. One of the key elements in this has been to stabilise the relations between the EU and Russia. However, this central focus has been neglected in the past years. The continuing instability in Eastern Europe forms a risk for both the EU and the US. Also the developments in the Southern neighbourhood of the EU have demanded a reaction not only from the EU but also from the US.

A more recent joint project has been the advancing of common interests and values on a global scale. However, both actors are currently challenged domestically, the EU due to the economic conditions in some member states, and the US due to the polarisation of politics. From an American point of view, the EU does not currently constitute a coherent actor in world politics, and does not represent a credible partner for the US. Nevertheless, it is no longer possible to act as a unilateral superpower. A pooling of resources will be needed in order to face current challenges. In addition to economic questions, security issues have been on the top of the collaboration agenda. The cooperation in the field of security issues has been unequal, since the EU does not have similar military capacities. However, some progress has been made in civilian security cooperation. The current task is to engage other nations, turn civilian security into an international endeavour. Another major agenda is the protection of networks, which is a new type of international security challenge. Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the attacked ally. It is binding, but only protects from military risks. Network disruption is a civil challenge, and Dr Hamilton called for a solidarity pledge in case of this sort of a disaster.

In conclusion, from an US point of view Europe no longer is the problem but it is often not seen as part of the solution either. Europe is a logical partner for the US, as tensions in the world have shifted elsewhere. However, for some Americans it is still unclear what the EU in fact is, and it is a less visible player in world politics than it used to be, even as separate powers. The US remains both a Pacific and Atlantic power, but even though there is currently a large interest in the Pacific this does not mean that Europe would be “downgraded”.

Dr Mika Aaltola commented briefly Dr Hamilton’s presentation. He underlined the importance of the “transatlantic engine”, that has been maintaining most of the global governance. Even with the much talked rise of the BRIC-nations, the EU-US tandem will maintain a central position in world politics. However, in contrast to being pre-eminent in previous days, the relationship is now predominant. According to Dr Aaltola, Dr Hamilton has suggested, that there is now a 10-year window that will define Europe’s importance in the future, thus Europe has a decade to find its spot in the new global economy. Dr Aaltola agreed with Dr Hamilton that some of the rising powers want to gain power, but not the responsibilities that come with the power. Europe and the US need to adhere to core rules and norms or they will lose their credibility in the eyes of the rising powers. These rules include absolute sovereignty, non-interference and the respect of human rights.

In the question and answer session, the issue of anti-Americanism was raised. The perception in Washington is that Europe has been very supportive of president Obama. The criticism in Europe has turned more inward, Euroscepticism has replaced anti-Americanism. However, anti-Americanism comes and goes. Both the right and the left in Europe have had a culture of anti-Americanism. Dr Hamilton suggested that Europe traditionally uses America as a mirror on which to reflect its own debates on topics that might not always be related to America.

Dr Hamilton discussed some other key challenges for the near future, for example possible pandemics and other public health problems and the lack of sufficient energy resources for the growing population numbers. For Europe the challenge of adequate energy supplies might offer the possibility to gain a new competitive advantage from the development of cleantech enterprises. The Achilles heel of Europe is its aging and shrinking population. Immigration could help to solve this issue, but at the moment Europe is attracting more unskilled workers than skilled ones. . The lack of proper training for workers as well as the absence of a proper pan-European labour market is a problem for Europe.

Another topic that was raised by the audience was the question of a common Arctic strategy as part of the transatlantic agenda. Dr Hamilton stated that the Arctic is an area of strategic importance, but the US has so far not had a policy for the Arctic. The US would welcome more cooperation. The challenge is that so far there has been a hard core consisting of the states along the arctic coast who have been dealing with Arctic issues and other countries have not had a say in the matter. This needs to change, because the area will most likely form an important trade route in the future as well as raise new security issues.

Discussion also continued around the topic of crisis management. Dr Hamilton noted that the central question is how the US and Europe deal with crisis in their own territories. For example the US has not been good at accepting assistance from other countries for domestic crises, as an example he named hurricane Katrina. This in his opinion should change. He concluded by saying that currently the development of US crisis management capacities is stalled by budgetary issues and a lack of money. The EU has in this regard much greater capacities. This is a field where working together would be mutually beneficial for the EU and the US. However the question is not about money but about political will, which currently is still lacking.