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Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 26, 2019.  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Order from Chaos

Stronger together: A strategy to revitalize trans-Atlantic power

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, leaders in Europe and Canada are breathing easier: Starting in just six short weeks, they will have a committed Atlanticist as their American partner. But the result of the American election alone will not repair the trans-Atlantic breach, as a 16-member team (myself included, along with Brookings colleagues Victoria Nuland, Amanda Sloat, and Torrey Taussig) of American and European former government officials and experts write in a new report. We argue: “The U.S. and Europe cannot simply rebuild the ties of a previous era if we are to succeed in meeting today’s challenges.” Instead, “the world needs a more powerful and purposeful transatlantic alliance to drive a new global agenda.”

The group — convened by the Harvard Kennedy School and the German Council on Foreign Relations — developed eight individual action plans, which lay out an ambitious agenda for tackling challenges to the trans-Atlantic community. They focus on economics and trade, security and defense, China, Russia, climate change and energy, democracy, technology, and the Middle East and North Africa. Each action plan includes an in-depth assessment of key challenges and proposes recommendations to U.S., Canadian, and European policymakers.

We contend that “[t]he United States, Europe and Canada must work together toward one ambition in 2021—to renew, revitalize and retool for the decade ahead the most powerful democratic community in modern history.” The U.S., Canadian, and European members of the alliance together can deploy tremendous diplomatic, economic, technological, and military assets. But they face new and grave challenges: the rise of China, an aggressive Russia, resurgent authoritarianism, and the existential threat of climate change.

This task requires a rebuilding and reimagining of the trans-Atlantic relationship between a more globally committed America and a more self-reliant and capable Europe. Only then can they harness their joint power to oppose the illiberal agendas of China and Russia in Europe, Africa, the Indo-Pacific, and around the world.

To this end, the trans-Atlantic allies should rededicate themselves to three strategic goals in the year ahead:

1) Rebuild the bonds of trust at the heart of our alliance and revitalize our democracies;

2) Commit to a joint strategy to meet global challenges and defend liberalism; and

3) Transform our political, military and economic capacity to be the most effective force for freedom and rules-based order in a challenging world.

We also note that the damage done to the trans-Atlantic relationship needs to be repaired. As a start, there must be “an immediate ceasefire across our own lines, ending, on all sides, aggressive rhetoric, punitive economic sanctions and exclusionary regulatory measures.” As the pandemic has weakened economies and tested social cohesion, “[w]e must strengthen the legitimacy of our democracies in an age of systemic competition by ensuring our governments are more responsive to our citizens and address the problems of income inequality, exclusion, and racism.” We call for being “as rigorous with ourselves in defending democracy as we are with Moscow or Beijing.”

Among our recommendations are:

  • Rolling back the authoritarian tendencies within our region including in Hungary, Poland, and Turkey, by conditioning NATO security investment funds and EU financial support;
  • Removing unnecessary tariffs and punitive regulatory measures directed at each other;
  • Hardening security against a predatory China by strengthening and harmonizing investment screening mechanisms, instituting targeted export controls to protect critical infrastructure and technologies (including barring Huawei from our 5G networks), and increasing intelligence sharing;
  • Most members of our group believe the Nord Stream II project and U.S. sanctions on it should be suspended by mutual agreement early in 2021. We all believe the U.S. and EU must work out their differences on this controversial project amicably and without public threats. We must also revitalize consultations to strengthen energy redundancy and resilience in Europe’s energy supply;
  • Crafting common approaches to tax, regulatory, competition, content, and privacy challenges; then using those standards to shape global norms and standards, and blocking authoritarian and malign practices; and
  • Leading with diplomacy in seeking to end Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and ballistic missile program. The U.S should rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement (involving China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) with Iran if it agrees to return to all the restrictions on its nuclear program in the 2015 agreement. Any new agreement must be stronger, deeper, more verifiable, and of longer duration. Most members of the groups think they should also address Iran’s ballistic and cruise missile programs.

We also call for new institutions, new investment, and new tools in the decade ahead, including: a NATO-EU Task Force, a Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on China, a Trans-Atlantic Technology Forum, a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Economic Dialogue, and a revitalized U.S.-EU Energy Council. To protect democracy standards and institutions at home and abroad, our report suggests a major trans-Atlantic initiative to support democracies at risk, advance liberalism and democracy worldwide, as well as an EU-U.S.-U.K.-Canada initiative to promote transparent finance and infrastructure funding for developing countries, as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

If there is one lesson from the past four years, and this uniquely contested transition, it is that the opportunity for renewing trans-Atlantic cooperation may be brief — and the cost of missing it would be enormous. High time, then, to get to work.

Outside of their Brookings work, some of contributors to the report referenced here are advising the Biden team.

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