Rebuilding Transatlantic Relations – It’s Time to Repair Damaged Bridges

Relations between Europe and the United States have been subjected to many strains over the last two centuries, but throughout there has been a justified presumption that common history, values, and interests make for a lasting partnership. This trust in a fundamental and lasting transatlantic relationship has recently been severely shaken in the period up to, during, and following the Iraq War of March/April 2003.

One symptom of this shaken trust is the growing prevalence of negative popular stereotypes on both sides of the Atlantic. Among Americans, Europeans are caricatured as militarily weak, economically stagnant, wracked by disunity and hence unable to act decisively, full of Gaullist Anti-Americanism, and plagued by “the arrogance of the weak.” Among Europeans, the United States is commonly portrayed as a military hyper-power, paranoid and aggressive, unilateral and power-hungry in its approach to the rest of the world, focused on short-term gains, but insensitive to the world’s and its own long-term interests, and exercising “the arrogance of the powerful.”

The key contention of this paper is that amidst rising signs of transatlantic tensions and distrust there is a need for a better understanding of the facts and forces that shape these relations. In turn, such understanding can hopefully lead to a commitment and action to repair the bridges that have served both sides well over the last two centuries. Indeed, as the dust is hopefully beginning to settle after the Iraq War, this is an opportune and critical time to turn attention again towards the long-term challenges and opportunities in transatlantic relations.

This paper starts by surveying briefly the findings of recent opinion polls on transatlantic relations. It then assesses the significance of five key factors that impinge on these relations — basic values, external events, leadership, public opinion and public policy. The paper concludes by making some recommendations for the management of transatlantic relations.