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(Atlantic Treaty Association) « Protecting Stability: The transatlantic partnership »


Article published on the Atlantic Treaty Association Website

Seventy years ago, the Global Marshall Plan initiative was launched by the United States to help Europeans rebuild the continent, and the creation of NATO in 1949 added a security-political dimension to this partnership. Both events helped end American isolationism and created the transatlantic partnership, a cornerstone of the Western world based on common values, overlapping interests and shared goals.

Over those seven decades, the partnership has faced multiple ups and downs. However, the existence and the core substance of the partnership have never been in question. Not even the differences over the Iraq War in 2003, or the subsequent rhetorical differentiation of Europe into old and new by former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have led to such a fundamental debate about the value of the transatlantic partnership as experienced in recent months.



A strong anti-transatlantic rhetoric has emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. Across Europe, a growing number of nationalist and extremist political movements are calling into question Western unity, and even the validity of a Western identity. The same holds true for the new American administration in office, which seems not to rely on any of its European partners any longer. The failure of agreeing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) marked the negative peak in this development.

Unfortunately, all these developments are happening at a time when both Europe and America are being confronted with a common set of challenges, including a broad range of economic concerns, as well as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, armed conflict and other forms of instability in many parts of the world. All those challenges would, therefore, call for a renewed and intensified transatlantic partnership. To best assess the value of the transatlantic partnership as a cornerstone of the NATO Alliance, it is necessary to take a closer look on some key issues, including trade and security, to draw the lessons for the future relationship between the US and the European Union (EU).



In economic terms, the EU and the US have established the largest bilateral trade relationship and enjoy the most integrated economic relationship in the world. Either the EU or the US is the largest trade and investment partner for almost all other countries in the global economy. The two economies also provide each other with their most important sources of foreign direct investment.

Aside from economic cooperation and the Marshall Plan initiative, the creation of NATO symbolised the value of the transatlantic partnership in political and security terms, and thus, the creation of the West. As it was stated by former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana in a speech on renewing the transatlantic partnership at Georgetown University, Washington DC in 1996: “The reason is not only because NATO represents the definitive American rejection of isolationism but, first and foremost, because it is a recognition that America’s most fundamental foreign policy interest is its partnership with Europe. It is in Europe that the US had discovered those allies who most profoundly share its global outlook and responsibilities and those who are most willing to share its global burdens. When Europe and America have gone their separate ways, both have suffered. When they have worked together, they have protected their security more effectively than ever before in history, and they have also projected their values across the globe and drawn others into their orbit. And, above all: they have succeeded.”

During the Cold War, it was generally accepted that ‘the West’  consisted of the transatlantic democracies and several nations around the world that accepted, at least in principle, the North Atlantic Treaty’s support for democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. With the enlargements of NATO, the number of countries obeying to those principles steadily increased. However, members of the Alliance took different paths towards applying these principles in their countries, and they never were in full agreement on all foreign policy or defence issues. Those developments have led to a growing heterogeneity within NATO and a divide especially regarding contributing effectively to the Alliance.

In more recent years, the rifts over the war in Iraq and the decreasing defence budgets in Europe led to growing disenchantment on the American side, whereas Europeans strongly opposed American unilateral actions. The diverging perceptions could only be covered, but not entirely solved, at NATO summits. Even the geopolitical developments in the world did not lead to a closer cooperation, but underscored existing dividing lines.

The Europeans should demonstrate their commitment by increasing their defence commitments and fostering cooperation across the Atlantic. They should actively support American engagement in the war against ISIS and other security challenges, and should express appreciation for US contributions to their security.

Overall, it will be crucially important to rebuild the trust that has existed over the past seven decades and has been severely damaged in recent months. This cannot be done by rhetoric and vague commitments; it will require a frank debate about the basic principles, concepts and objectives of the partnership. This is the key requirement for keeping a strong transatlantic partnership as an indispensable cornerstone for NATO.


Arnold H Kammel is a former Vice President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, Secretary General of the Euro-Atlantic Association of Austria and Secretary General of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES).

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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