Going the Distance, Together: Transatlantic Leadership Amid Crisis on the Home Front
This is part of a series from our Young Professionals Summit, a side event of Brussels Forum.
During the inaugural session of the GMF Young Professionals Summit, European and North American leaders challenged young Altanticists to consider the causes and effects of overlapping crises spanning the two continents.
Europe and North America face steep challenges – emergence from the financial downturn, overhaul of immigration policies, populism in electoral politics and hybrid threats to the East and South. The advantage is that the two continents face them together. Crises bear opportunities to reach new levels across dimensions that affect the very foundations of our sense of security:
- The NATO Aegean mission puts the NATO Maritime Command and FRONTEX in a working relationship for the first time. Looking ahead to NATO’s next summit in Warsaw, this stepping stone towards closer cooperation is an encouraging development.
- Counter-terrorism operations and information sharing across the Atlantic has reached a strategic inflection point, with the US in razor-close cooperation with Belgian and French agencies on leads, movements and trafficking.
- Concern over specific aspects of Human Security, such as the Protection of Civilians, has prompted innovative cooperation across the Atlantic and among international organizations in the aim to create and uphold a common standard.
Threats are no longer emerging. Issues spanning political, economic and security domains have been evolving apace, especially since ISIL and Crimea changed the international liberal paradigm in 2014. The solutions, and the roots of these matters, reside in the fabric of societies themselves. In the words of Xenia Wickett of Chatham House, “the only people who can help, in the end, are the people on the ground.” Today, hope lies in cross-sectorial, community-led initiatives, as stepping stones for raising top-down awareness and making great leaps that will affect change.
In the economic realm, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) stands to take Europe and North America to a new level of cooperation. The devil is in the details of congressional and parliamentary approvals, but advisers fuelling this process interact with a diverse cross-section of civil society. The agreement is not an end in itself, but an indication of what can be possible – and what can complicate matters – when a relationship of trust is built and core interest groups are involved. “If you can figure out how the paper flows and where the money comes from, you can be successful,” observed Mrs. Wickett. In order to move forward at the current pace of change, she said, “the US and Europe are going to need to find different ways of working together; we’re going to have to start to bring together major actors – particularly from China and India.”
On migration, electoral politics has exacerbated population flows that are challenging welfare systems in countries across the Atlantic. The “visceral” matter of migration is one of the many areas where, Mrs. Wickett offered, “civil society can provide the space for the government to catch up.” Naakoshie Mills of the U.S. State Department appositely queried the panel on the connection between terrorism and domestic exclusion. This issue is not the only one that permeates all levels of society and governance, but one where U.S. Permanent Representative to the EU, Ambassador Adam Shub, shared his view that we cannot afford to address issues without a whole-of-government, interdisciplinary approach.
Finally, turning to security, participants considered the offensive versus defensive, assertive versus passive transatlantic leaders’ stances on situations in Syria, Iraq, Crimea, the Balkans and beyond. A defensive stance need not be mistaken for unpreparedness. Leading from behind need not be understood as passivity. According to Mrs. Wickett, America is becoming less interventionist due to the nature of the global challenges it faces and the social contract. Sticking to principles of international humanitarian law, the UN Charter, rule of law and just use of force, Europe and North America have resisted pressure to rewrite the rules of the game. Post-Westphalian sovereignty may not be the bottom line, but there is still value in the Post-World War II international organisations as we grapple with pluri-disciplinary challenges. According to Amb. Shub, we cannot afford to not take whole-of-government approaches in matters beholden to our livelihoods, such as the environment. In a way that might not have been expected in recent past, “it devolves into security,” offered Amb. Shub. Walking softly and carrying a big stick has afforded Europe and North America an unintimidating posture, and it also has proven their steadfast commitment to common values.
Divergence over the most pressing issues to address exists, but consensus prevails over the need to build buy-in from on-the-ground agents of change. Whether for TTIP or Tip O’Neill, during this election year, as in the past, “all politics is local.”
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.