Friday, December 21, 2007
The Future of the Trans-Atlantic Relationship
Does a strong transatlantic partnership make sense from a realist perspective? What are the limits of such a partnership?
Certainly, a strong partnership makes perfect sense from a realist perspective, given that there are very strong shared interests on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Europe and the United States benefit from an international system that is based on promoting integration and trade, extending a zone of peace and prosperity, and keeping lines of communication open all around the world. Moreover, when the United States and Europe act in tandem, it is much easier to form true global coalitions. Finally, there are enormous savings that result from “burden sharing” among the members of the alliance.
I do believe it is important, however, to recognize the limits. And the first is that 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. Germany’s decision to continue to engage Russia and deepen economic ties, or France’s 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. ...
Coping with the implications of the rise of China could prove to be problematic for the transatlantic relationship. Beijing has announced its desire to create a strategic partnership with the EU. Could not, in the future, Europeans decide that they could live with a world with defined European and Chinese spheres in a way that the United States, interested in keeping Asia an “open door” with no dominant hegemon, would find it necessary to oppose? A transatlantic community that came together in the face of a shared Soviet threat might not do so in the face of different assessments about China.