The State of Transatlantic Relations

Posted by Philip H. Gordon
February 15, 2012
Flags Wave in Front of NATO Headquarters

In early January, I had the opportunity to engage with European policy-makers and analysts in Brussels, Vilnius, and Copenhagen. Given President Obama's announcement of the new defense strategy guidelines on January 5, my visit provided an opportune moment to share U.S. perspectives on the state of the transatlantic alliance as well as policy objectives for the coming year. My central message was clear: three years into the Obama Administration, the strategic alignment between the United States and Europe has never been greater. This theme underpinned Secretary Clinton's speech at the recent Munich Security Conference, as she praised ongoing cooperation across a range of foreign policy issues and called for increased collaboration on emerging challenges.

From the earliest days of his Administration, President Obama has prioritized the re-establishment of strong transatlantic relations. He put this goal into action by developing three objectives that have guided our engagement with Europe: (1) enhance transatlantic partnerships to address global challenges; (2) work together to complete "unfinished business" in Europe, including the extension of stability, prosperity, and democracy to the Balkans, Caucasus, and Europe's east; and (3) set relations with Russia on a more constructive course, cooperating where we have common interests while speaking frankly about areas of difference.

Progress has been made in all three areas, including: joint action through NATO in cooperation with Arab partners to prevent a massacre in Libya; a tough, united diplomatic front against Iran and Syria; significant movement on the accession of Balkan countries to Euro-Atlantic institutions; coordinated responses to the troubling events in Belarus; and agreement with Russia on the New START Treaty, 123 nuclear agreement, and military transit accord on Afghanistan. On every issue of international importance, the United States and Europe are working together to develop effective policy responses. But more work remains to be done.

Now in early 2012, the global financial crisis is foremost in the minds of policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. We remain confident about Europe's ability to resolve its economic challenges. From a security perspective, we will have to adapt creatively to this new economic reality by finding ways to make our collective defense spending smarter and more efficient. We support NATO Secretary General Rasmussen's emphasis on "smart defense" and hope allies will back initiatives that help ensure security while minimizing costs. Even in this period of budgetary constraint, the United States remains committed to a strong Europe, the collective defense of our NATO allies, and to building and maintaining the capacity that allow us to work together globally.

President Obama is looking forward to hosting his counterparts for the NATO summit this May in Chicago, where many of these issues will be discussed. While allies have not yet finalized the agenda, we can expect significant attention on Afghanistan, capabilities, and partnerships. In particular, the summit will address the next phase of the transition of internal security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Over the coming months, I look forward to continuing the dialogue with my European counterparts about the many challenges facing the transatlantic alliance. Whether the issue is the security transition in Afghanistan or the continuing violence in Syria, it is clear that the United States has no better partner than Europe.

Editor's Note: Assistant Secretary Gordon is on travel to Brussels, Belgium and Moscow, Russia February 14-18, 2012.

Comments

Comments

Lindsey
March 19, 2012

Lindsey writes:

European countries are useful and comfortable allies, in terms of shared culture and norms, but I hope the United States is not being naïve in its placement of trust.
About a month ago, Geoffrey Van Orden from the United Kingdom, Derk Jan Eppink of Belgium, and Jan Zahradil of the Czech Republic, who is president of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), comprised a panel for an event titled “State of the European Union.” These men wanted to tell the American public that Europe does not have a single viewpoint and that the viewpoint is not always favorable to the United States.
Concerning the current economic crisis and the failing Euro, the panelists explained that many member states want to work economically with anyone but the United States. They implied that the European Union and the United States are now staunch competitors even if the U.S. is not aware. Van Orden raised the point that while Americans may feel the creation of E.U. defense systems would serve as a complementary force and encourage Europe to fill in its lacking foreign defense assistance, these defense systems are actually being designed to go against the U.S. It was Van Orden’s opinion that if the E.U. wanted to further help the U.S. defensively, it would go through NATO.
The United States should maintain good relations with European countries because they have been and are, at this point, allies, but the United States needs to be aware of the differences in opinion and reluctance to assist Americans within European countries. Europe, as a whole, may no longer be the ideal partner.

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