Saving the Transatlantic Partnership: Why and How?

Yangmo Ku

Norwich University

Yangmo Ku is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Peace and War Center at Norwich University. He received a BA in German Language and Literature from Sogang University in Seoul, and earned a MA in International Affairs and a PhD in Political Science from George Washington University. He previously taught in the School of International Service at American University. Dr. Ku’s research focuses on Korean politics, East Asian security, U.S. foreign policy, and the politics of memory and reconciliation in East Asia and Europe. His coauthored book, titled Politics in North and South Korea: Political Development, Economy, and Foreign Relations, will be published at Routledge in December 2017. His previous research has also appeared in numerous journals, including the Journal of East Asian Studies, Asian Perspective, Pacific Focus, Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, and the Yale Journal of International Affairs, as well as in two edited volumes on memory and reconciliation and North Korean nuclear issues.

He is a 2017-2018 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).

Since the end of World War II, the partnership between the U.S. and European countries, built on common security/economic interests and shared values, such as democracy, liberty, rule of law, and human rights, has played a pivotal role in the stability of global security and economy and the establishment of the liberal world order. However, the transatlantic partnership has gradually weakened in the wake of the demise of the Cold War. The disappearance of a common Soviet threat removed a core motive for the maintenance of the strong partnership. On top of this natural cause, a series of incidents revealed the divergence and clashes of their interests and value priority, thereby driving a wedge in the transatlantic relationship. Among the events damaging the partnership were Europe’s heavy dependence on the U.S. in handling the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, American unilateralism notably shown by the U.S. war against Iraq, U.S. military agencies’ torture of terrorist suspects without due judicial processes, and the NSA’s wiretapping scandal. Moreover, the transatlantic relationship recently hit the bottom as a consequence of U.S. president Donald Trump’s public skepticism over the NATO and EU values, U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, and the disagreements over how to deal with refugee/migration issues. In addition, the rise of China and the subsequently mounting importance of the transpacific relationship has further diminished the necessity of bolstering the transatlantic partnership.

Running counter to these circumstances, the two sides of the Atlantic should strive to save the crumbling transatlantic partnership for the following reasons. First, the transatlantic partnership is and will be beneficial to both sides in the midst of uncertain world conditions, although they need to recalibrate their policy priorities in the realms of defense burden sharing, trade, and environment. NATO can continue to serve as an engine for protecting Europe from a growing Russian threat. The alliance also could help the U.S., though in an indirect manner, to cope with increasing China’s assertiveness, relentless North Korean nuclear/missile provocations, the continually unstable Middle Eastern region, and evolving terrorist threats all around the world.

Second, despite the surge of China’s economic significance, the U.S.-EU economic partnership, especially in high-tech industries, is indispensable to the prosperity of both sides and global economic stability. Third, moving beyond such security and economic benefits, the strengthening of the transatlantic partnership would keep intact the liberal world order based on their shared values mentioned above.

In the current world where nationalism, Islamic extremism, and far-left or far-right populism is an increasingly widespread phenomenon, the consolidation of the liberal transatlantic partnership would work as a good and clear example for many other nations to follow, as opposed to being attracted to such extremist ideas or competing values like Chinese-style state-driven capitalism and Russia’s aggressive use of energy exports as a political weapon.

Given this rationale, a most effective way to save the fractured transatlantic partnership would be to mobilize and proliferate the so-called “norm entrepreneurs” who have a conviction for the utility and value of the strong transatlantic partnership. The general public on both sides of the Atlantic tends to have little sense of the deterioration of the transatlantic partnership and its harmful implications, because they are usually stuck in their own daily life issues. Thus, such norm entrepreneurs, who could be politicians, governmental officials, experts in think tanks and academia, journalists, NGO workers, teachers, students, businessmen, and so on, could take the lead in spreading the importance of the robust partnership to people within the range of their influence. As an anecdotal example, this blog author, who has primarily focused on East Asian issues in his research and teaching, became a new norm entrepreneur to place much weight on the transatlantic partnership as a result of his participation in AGI’s Next Generation project.

This mobilization of norm entrepreneurs should take place in as many sectors and areas as possible. High-ranking political leaders who are committed to the idea of the transatlantic partnership would make every effort to adopt policy measures favorable to the partnership. Like-minded municipal leaders would seek to form many sister city relationships across the Atlantic, which could promote mutual understanding. For the same purpose, educators would seek to create and increase youth exchange programs between the U.S. and European nations. Student entrepreneurs, who usually spend a lot of time on the Internet, would exert positive influence on their peer groups in cyber space. In a similar vein, churches and many other civil society organizations could work as a catalyst for the strengthening of the transatlantic partnership, as they played an important role in historical reconciliation between Germany and its former adversary states such as France and Poland.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.