Europe and the U.S.: Cooperation or competition? (1)

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It is unrealistic – some will say – to ask this question today, when the transatlantic bond is consecrated by NATO and the OSCE is a transatlantic institution involved in conflict management in the Euro-Atlantic space, as it happens, for instance, in Ukraine. Hence, as we know – they will say –, cooperation between the two coasts of the Atlantic is old and it continues, of course, with ups and downs seen in any such relationship, which creates the basis of what we call the West.

Yet not only is it realistic – the facts on the ground show this – but it is really time to ask this question so as not to allow trends that are just now taking shape or coming into the light – after being present but occulted for long – to gain prevalence. In a previous article I presented the main points of a manifesto recently signed by several German experts in international relations, which lobbied for the consolidation of the transatlantic bond in the current circumstances, defining a so-called “waiting strategy” until the expiration of Trump’s term(s) in office, when the developments occurring prior to the incumbent American President taking office could resume.

Hence, a strategy spanning 4 or 8 years, which would preserve the West’s gains in this field, continuing to define it as the driving force of the international system of states both through its liberal orientations but also through its economic-financial, technological and soft power capabilities.

The aforementioned manifesto naturally drew the attention of the public opinion, first in Germany. In an article published in ‘Die Zeit,” on October 25, Jorg Lau (the newspaper’s foreign affairs expert) and Bernd Ulrich (writer and journalist, the newspaper’s political segment expert). Die Zeit has a circulation of around half a million issues and is situated on political positions defined as centre-left liberal.

According to the article, titled Foreign Policy: Something New in the West, the authors consider that the central thesis of the mentioned manifesto, according to which “Germany should not separate itself from the U.S.,” is “a wrong approach.” In the authors’ argumentation, today the European Atlanticists, particularly the German ones, see an entirely different picture of transatlantic relations than before. While for Germany the liberal order established after the Second World War was beneficial, because it created the favourable conditions for overcoming its consequences and for attaining the current status – the strongest European state –, today this is under virulent attack from Washington.

The attacks have become so virulent that German leader Angela Merkel’s defence of it has prompted the international press to consider her its guarantor. This imposes the existence of a new German issue, today different than in the past: “Germany is so large that it cannot flourish without this order, and yet it’s too small to guarantee it alone.” The main idea of the German experts’ text – which proposed the strategy of waiting for D. Trump to be replaced – is challenged based on this reason, the emphasis being made that the current American President is not the one who started to challenge the liberal international order and that this challenge will not end with him.

The authors point out that: “The Atlantic community is now down to its last hope: that the Trump phenomenon is a temporary aberration. There’s not much to support this because Barack Obama had already begun to withdraw from the conflicts involving Europe’s neighbors. He saddled Merkel with the Ukraine crisis. In the Middle East, he did as little as possible (which allowed the Russians to penetrate.) He also left the EU alone with the refugee crisis, which was a result, not least, of the chaotic U.S. policy in the Middle East.” Today the U.S. is “overwhelmed” by the burden of global leadership and can no longer handle its costs, so it “will no longer be the stabilizer and protector of Europe.” Unfortunately, the authors show, the Atlanticists are not capable of understanding this and are engaging in argumentative acrobatics, firstly by considering that Germany/Europe should not part ways with the U.S., even if Washington promotes this separation. And, secondly, they assess that Germany is not in the position of taking over the leadership of the West, because they strategically rely on America. “It’s right that Germany can only lead if leadership is defined in a completely different, more cooperative, partnership-based way. Apart from that, just because Germany is too weak for conventional leadership, doesn’t mean that the U.S. will be more sensible, stronger or altruistic.”

At the same time, there is room for the future importation and growth of the American style of capitalism, which could be damaging to Europe and Germany because the U.S. is becoming increasingly undemocratic. Hence, the rebirth of traditional Atlanticism under the leadership of the U.S. cannot be expected.

What is possible however is the creation of “a renewed Atlantic alliance without American leadership and with a fundamentally different understanding of Western foreign policy. It could be called neo-Atlanticism or the post-American West, or whatever. What counts is the content.” The emergence of a post-American West is obvious, and the fundamental directions of its foreign policy are: “support France without condescending to it; manage Brexit without punitive fantasies; limit Trump’s damage to the West; rigorously defend against Russia’s aggression; keep Turkey in the European game; reduce the appeal of Europe to Africa’s aspiring population and simultaneously allow for controlled immigration; bring in China, wherever it is indispensable (free trade, climate policy, North Korean crisis), and confront where it acts unfairly (intellectual property, dispute in the South China Sea, human rights).”

Hence, the West, Europe, Germany, have to “reinvent” international policy because there exists no such reality in which the U.S. has become weaker, while the fact that the rest of the world has become stronger obviously does. This reality must be considered. And, in the end, the ‘Die Zeit’ counter-manifesto does not hesitate to warn that “One more thing: All this only applies if the U.S. does not start a war against Iran or North Korea. For in this case, the new transatlantic distance would grow into a geopolitical conflict of the first order. With Trump’s first shot, the West would be dead.”

The reply from across the ocean was not late in coming and it was also signed by prestigious experts.