Towards a new transatlantic bargain

Towards a new transatlantic bargain

The 13th edition of the German Marshall Fund’s (GMF) Brussels Forum convened in Brussels last week. This year’s focus was on strategies to restore trust in the transatlantic alliance. 

Policymakers, diplomats, academics and media representatives from 53 countries, have been engaged in brainstorming activities for the past three days, seeking solutions to various challenges such as the future of the liberal international order, transatlantic defense, strategies toward Russia, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the global rise of anti-global, anti-establishment, nativist political movements.

“It is a moment where action is necessary… In a time of uncertainty and growing divisiveness, complacency can be fatal… We’d like to play a small part in catalyzing new approaches to the challenges of our times. We cannot afford to just talk about problems, we need a plan of action,” said GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried in her opening remarks.

It was an important opportunity to see how several issues have lost their significance over the years, and have been replaced by other topics. For instance, this year, the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levent (ISIL) took a back seat, whereas the refugee crisis still ranked high on the agenda. The discussions focused more on strategies to cope with the rise of populist movements, social inequality and cyberspace security.

It seems that the reality of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President last year has started to sink in for Europeans, who have also acknowledged the risks embedded in Europe’s own populist parties, which have been making a comeback in the next round of elections.

Since he took office, Trump has been sending mixed messages regarding transatlantic defense and free trade. His “America First” policy continues to send chills to European allies. Indeed, it was during the Brussels Forum when Trump formally declared his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a radical step that could further undermine the liberal international order.

“We have forgotten what it took humanity to create this international order,” said Robert Kagan, from the Brookings Institution. Perhaps the era of peace was an aberration in history, just as Kagan has claimed, thanks to the U.S.’s willingness to undertake the huge responsibility of carrying the burden of global security and defense.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. role of global policeman has been subject to questioning and the lack of enthusiasm on behalf of U.S. presidents to undertake such burdens seems to lie at the core of problems regarding the future of the “liberal international order.”

Unfortunately, the E.U. has been way too distracted since the UK’s Brexit decision, bereft of social cohesion to form a common strategy and lacking the means to carry on alone, in the event of a permanent rupture in the transatlantic alliance.

Nonetheless, Federica Mogherini, who is the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was positive about the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense (PESCO) and asserted that the project was indeed moving forward very fast, defying the skeptics. “We are in favor of free trade, but we need to protect our interests, as well,” said Mogherini on economic protectionism, implying that the EU was determined to retaliate against U.S. tariffs.

There are no easy solutions to these complex, multilayered and multi-dimensional problems. On the bright side, however, both Europeans and Americans are willing to restore trust and preserve the transatlantic alliance, perhaps through a new transatlantic bargain that will set out new rules and an equal share of responsibilities.

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