The Transatlantic Agenda: US-European Relations in a Globalized System

Harvard International Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

The Transatlantic Agenda: US-European Relations in a Globalized System


Could you characterize the transatlantic relationship between the United States and the European Union?

To start with, no other relationship in the world rests on such a solid foundation: the United States and the European Union are each other's number one partner. For the past 60 years the transatlantic relationship has been the world's transformative partnership. America's relationship with Europe--more than with any other part of the world--enables both of us to achieve goals that neither of us could achieve alone. This is what makes the transatlantic relationship unique. When we agree, we are the core on any effective global coalition; when we disagree, no global coalition is likely to be effective.

Transatlantic trade and investment outnumber all similar relationships by a wide margin: US$4 trillion per year in commercial sales. Over this decade, US companies invested three times more in Germany than in China. And the Euro became one of the world's strongest currencies--as Americans sadly discover when traveling to Europe these days.

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How have US-European relations evolved since the days of the Cold War?

Politically, Europe has progressed. The Lisbon reform treaty greatly improves EU decision-making. It will make Europe an even more capable partner for America. Our partnership and our friendship remain string. But today we are facing a whole range of new issues. We are seeing the rapid emergence of new powers and new problems--whilst the Western nations are not always in top shape to cope: economic slowdown, questioning US global leadership, political uncertainties. Also in Europe, new opportunities have appeared, but so have new threats. September 11th was the most obvious proof of this.

The clarity of the bipolar world--reliable yet cynical as it was--belongs to the past. Cold War concepts such as "bloc building" or "containment" are gone, too. Instead, a new global complexity dominates the picture. Our partnership must adjust and transform to address these new global opportunities and challenges. Our military alliance remains essential. But in today's world, security can neither be ensured by hard power alone nor by any nation alone.

Only together do we have a chance to tackle the most pressing challenges of mankind: scarce resources, people left behind by globalization, changing relations in Asia, dealing with political Islam, and fighting terrorism. No single nation can solve these problems on its own--not even the most powerful, not even the United States.

"Smart power"--as Joe Nye so appropriately called it--is the synonym for what we needed today: new concepts, a revitalized alliance and particularly renewed American leadership in the world. "Smart power" is George Marshall's vision in a nutshell. "Smart power" is the key to serving America's interests, to serving Europe's interests and--I would argue--to serving the world's interests. To use "smart power," America, with its global reach, needs allies; and Europe, for its global contributions, needs America.

Where do climate change and sustainability fit into the transatlantic agenda?

Building a sustainable world is a chief element in securing our common future. Climate change and energy security are the keywords here--topics which directly determine whether we can live safely in tomorrow's world. Here, the US and Europe can and must be pioneers. We are among the most innovative economies; we have top technologies, top researchers, top universities; we have the two most inte grated markets worldwide. Together, we must turn the tide and jointly tackle the twin challenges of climate change and energy security. We have already started: In 2007 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and I set up an EU-US technology trigger energy innovation.

Later last year, the International Carbon Action Partnership was launched to harmonize and finally link regional emissions trading systems. …

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