America and Europe : What we need to do

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Bloß nicht zu gemütlich werden. Amerikaner und Deutsche müssen sich ihr Verhältnis jede Generation neu erarbeiten. Bild: dpa

Fundamentals should not be questioned. But the inner glue of the transatlantic relationship cannot be the goal in itself for a generation that has a different estimation of proximity.

          3 Min.

          No German news outlet over the past several weeks, surely not this one, neglected to notice that the Wall has now been down for longer than it stood. At the age of five, I watched the events of November 9, 1989 from the television in my home in New York City and today I can still picture the children my age on the screen. My husband, a Berliner and a few years older, was there picking at the wall with his hammer. Nearly three decades later, those that came of age with little personal experience of the Cold War era should recognize why this moment in history so clearly demonstrated the importance of the transatlantic alliance, and affirm its importance in a more complicated, and more nuanced world.

          As it passes to a new generation, this relationship will remain rooted in our economic ties, our mutual defense, and our commitment to democratic governance and rule of law. These fundamentals should not be questioned. But this inner glue cannot be the goal in itself for a generation that has a different estimation of proximity—be it through the internet or frequent air travel, or the economic prosperity (in aggregate) of the postwar era that allowed us to travel in the first place. The future challenge will be to develop a shared view of the world and a joint strategic culture that allows us to look outwards, together, at a new set of geopolitical challenges that do not lend themselves to easy solutions.

          From here in Washington, the future transatlantic relationship will depend on a strong and capable Europe that looks to maintain and deepen its ties across the Atlantic and bolster the Nato Alliance, but also builds a toolbox of foreign policy and defense capabilities that can be exercised independently, among a community of like-minded European capitals, or by the institutions of the European Union in support of regional and global security. In particular, efforts at defense integration must boost stakeholdership in a strong Europe.

          An increasingly thorny European neighborhood will demand a strategic culture proportionate to external challenges. We need only look to the impossibly interwoven network of interests in Syria, an intractable hot conflict in eastern Ukraine, or the security vacuum of the Sahel region to build a more complicated picture of what transatlantic cooperation will look like. In executing this, governments and institutions will need to overcome, or manage, intra-European differences, retaining the United Kingdom as an integrated and vital European security actor, and the skepticism of domestic constituencies that may take a negative view of stronger military power and activist foreign policy.

          A new transatlantic generation will also require a different constellation of stakeholders, one that opens the aperture for cooperation on security threats such as breaches of critical infrastructure, efforts to undermine democratic processes, or commercial decisions that allow third parties to gain leverage over government decision-making and the private sector. The U.S. and Europe must approach unconventional threats side by side to protect our values, and our democracy. Yet it is clear that we have not yet found a cohesive interdisciplinary way forward in these areas, which go beyond traditional government capabilities and will likely require—at least initially—an uncomfortable intersection of professionals who are not usually in the same room together.

          Addressing economic security challenges posed by China, for instance, is arguably the new focal point of transatlantic cooperation, but the ranks of those who will address it are stocked with economists, regulators, and analysts who, going by their job descriptions, may espouse competing policy priorities. These players likely did not think they would be addressing national security when they chose their professions, nor did they envision that they might be caught in a conceptual battle between public and private sector models for digital governance or wonky definitions of intellectual property. 

          Among my cohort, I encounter colleagues who may not instinctively identify themselves as “transatlanticists” but engage in daily consultations with their European counterparts on North Korea, Iran, and Russia, as well as on cyber threats, illicit finance, and energy security. They do not need to be convinced of the inherent need for these conversations, because, simply put, we cannot be successful without each other. It is an honor to join the Munich Young Leaders program this year—to learn from the global community, exchange ideas, and take something home with me. Our task will be to move beyond this act of self-definition and rhetoric, and for us to get to work.

          Julia Friedlander is working for the National Security Council of the White House in Washington D.C. and a Munich Young Leader 2018. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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