The End of The Atlantic Era?

The transatlantic relationship is one of the main pillars in politics, the economy and international security. The problem is that in European capitals and in Washington, no one seems to be too interested in adapting this relationship to the new international scene. We speak little of NATO. That’s all.

A year and a half after Barack Obama took office, high European expectations in regard to his administration gave way to disillusionment. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Obama administration has more and more people thinking that Donald Rumsfeld was absolutely right — Western Europe is really the “Old Europe,” and it isn’t worth it to expect much from it.

Why do you think there is a lack of attention and imagination regarding the Atlantic Alliance? I think two things help to explain what has been happening. The first is connected to the political pressure generated by the internal consequences of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the doubts in regard to the evolution of capitalism.

If we look at the United States, we see that Barack Obama has a complicated problem — popularity and credibility. In the countries of the European Union, it is almost impossible to find a popular prime minister or president. David Cameron is the exception, but his government has just come into power. The unpopularity of European leaders is greatly due to the uncertainty that surrounds the future of the euro zone, the current budgetary austerity, to the very high unemployment rate and the difficulty in continuing to finance our generous social models.

Americans and Europeans are now turning more inward. The time to reconsider the transatlantic role at the political and economic level is much less now than in the past. It is best not to talk about what touches the imagination and the major strategy.

The second thing to take into account is the general belief that we are at the end of the Atlantic era and that the 21st century will be Asia’s century. It is obvious that globalization is profoundly changing the world. And it is also clear that in the next 20 years many countries in Asia will have much more influence on the economy and international politics. As a matter of fact, the same can be said regarding the Middle East and Latin America. But all the current talk surrounding the decline of Europe and the U.S. and the rise of Asia ignores important things.

For example, it ignores that globalization is not a zero-sum game between Asia and the Euro-Atlantic world. It ignores that Asia has complicated safety issues to resolve. It also ignores the rivalry and the great political and economical differences of countries, such as Japan, India, Indonesia, South Korea and China. The internal disparities in these countries tend to be very large. Finally, five years from now, the Chinese society will begin to age very quickly. This aging process will almost certainly have important political and economic internal consequences and will place the Beijing policymakers under a lot of pressure.

The difficulties and the challenges of European countries and the U.S. are real, but the present obituary of the Atlantic era strikes me as too premature. Our political and economic liberalism is a major asset for the future. The integration of the economies of the Old Continent and the U.S. is much more profound than is commonly thought. The transatlantic economy is worth over four trillion dollars and employs more than 14 million people. For example, in 2008, American companies invested three times more in Holland than in China. European investments in the U.S. are huge.

The Atlantic era is not over. In the coming decades, its continuation still demands much more political attention and reconsideration of the major strategy for European countries and the U.S. I wonder if someone in Brussels and in Lisbon is interested in the subject?

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