The Transatlantic Relationship – Challenges and Opportunities


Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

Source: U.S. Army Europe Images

When is a so-called crisis an actual crisis? This question raised by Rt Hon Lord Robertson of Port Ellen summarises Chatham House’s event on the future of Transatlantic Relationship very well. In this one-hour talk current and historical challenges in Anglo-American relations were highlighted, while a very positive outlook on the future bond of the United Kingdom and the United States arose during the discussion.

Lord Robertson, who served as tenth Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) between 1999 and 2004 and as the United Kingdom Defence Secretary from 1997 to 1999, opened the talk highlighting the leading roles of Britain and the United States in NATO. Referring to the emerging critique on NATO from United States-President Donald Trump, Robertson claims that NATO is still a very important alliance, nowadays representing a coalition of free nations that have common democratic values. Trump’s constant complaint about the lacking willingness of European countries to invest in NATO should be understood as a chance for European countries to re-define their role in world politics. Their mediating role in the reconciliation between Greece and North Macedonia could be seen as a step towards a united and prominent position of the European Union on the international stage.

Edie Lush, a British-American Journalist emphasizes that bilateral relationships of nation states are always embedded in a web of other forms of interactions. For her non-governmental organizations as well as the private sector have gained increasing importance in the political sphere, therefore these institutions should be regarded as an opportunity to build trust in political decision-making processes. As citizen’s trust in governments is significantly low and employees among all socio-economic classes trust their employers more, businesses could intensify cross-Atlantic relations to restore belief in the importance of transatlantic relations among civil society and the general public.

Inderjeet Parmar, Professor in International Politics at the City University of London, focused on current threats for future Anglo-American relations. Although he believes that transatlantic relations are so powerful and deep that they will continue, the rise of populist movements strongly changes national politics on both sides of the Atlantic. For Parmar the emerging political influence of business owners is an expression of an ungoverned capitalist globalization that weakens political institutions. As only a small elite would profit from freedom of cooperation, the majority of people is likely to actually suffer from these globalist regimes. The increasing social inequality leads to strong support for populist politicians as mainstream parties do not provide solutions for these new social problems. For him the solution lies in a politics of decentralisation and establishing more diverse regimes with less power held exclusively by economic elites.

The other speakers at the event largely agreed with the analysis by Professor Parmar that there are severe risks for the future stability of Anglo-American relationships. Lord Robertson points out that the G20 meetings were established during the economic crisis in 2009, claiming that in times of crisis politicians have the chance to initiate political changes. Through forward-looking policies, there is an opportunity to avert crises in the future, which is why policymakers need to be aware of potential innovative windows of opportunity in the current moment.

Despite the interesting perspectives and opinions of the speakers I was curious why the issue of Brexit seemed to play such a minor role in the talk. As a European citizen the future role of the United Kingdom outside of the European Union remains incredibly unclear and I believe that the implementation of Brexit will heavily affect the transatlantic relationships among the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States.

For British allies it is difficult to tell where the Brexit process with all its delays and turns will end after all. There is no majority for Theresa May’s negotiated deal, nor for a second referendum (while noting in that scenario also the ambiguity of what the question would be), nor for crashing out of the European Union without a deal on March 29, 2019. The political parties and decision-makers are as divided as the whole country. Countries worldwide are already making arrangements for a feared no-deal scenario, warning against the already emerging economic downturn.

I agree that for the field of security there would probably be no fundamental changes. Britain will continue to be a member of NATO and keep its leading role in the alliance as a nuclear power state. The United States and United Kingdom share the same agenda on international proliferation and fighting terrorism. However, the cooperation on intelligence might become more difficult, as a lot of mechanisms such as shared databases of DNA and monitoring movements of suspects are organised by the European Union. Furthermore, the United States follows a more specific national foreign policy agenda, which can differ from the foreign policy of its allies, for example regarding the Iran policy.

The United Kingdom will still need years to separate themselves from the European Union with unforeseeable and complex issues arising that need to be solved. This will cost a lot of effort and political capital, leading to a weaker role of Britain on the world stage, which arguably can already be observed. The United Kingdom needs to replicate and renegotiate treaties and agreements not only with the European Union but also with third parties worldwide. The analysis of how international arrangements are affected by Brexit is a complex process, notwithstanding the need for quick solutions to avoid unforeseen uncertainties. In order to reach legal clarity on these treaties, the United Kingdom must define its political standpoint on the future relations with the European Union and the United States.

Looking at the widespread and complex foreign policy issues, it is increasingly important that Britain highlights its common values with its allies. At the Munich Security Conference this weekend German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed in an unexpected emotional speech that despite growing national isolation the time of multilateralism is not yet over. Cooperation, negotiation and compromise with others require time and effort and often only lead to slow progress. Therefore, it is time for Britain to reinforce its close bond with its American and European friends, whether that be through NATO or other avenues, through a Brexit process designed as smooth as possible.

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