Transatlantic Relations: Greater Challenges, Smaller Means

Representatives from US-based think tanks join a discussion at the DGAP

11/09/2013 | 12:00 - 14:30 | DGAP | Invitation only


Category: United States of America, Transatlantic Relations

Relations between Europe and the US developed over decades and are by no means losing their relevance. However, changing geostrategic conditions mean that new efforts are needed to keep the cooperation as deep as it has been in the past. What challenges do the partners face? What roles await Europe and America in the future? Representatives of US-based think tanks came together with German counterparts and the DGAP’s Transatlantic Relations Discussion Group to address these questions.


Ben Rhode, Elbridge Colby, Henning Riecke, Kelley Sayler and Daniel Kochis

Will military interventions in the future be undertaken only with the approval of the population, and only in cases where a conflict immediately affects a country’s own interests? Perhaps the Syria crisis represents a new culture of restraint in international crisis management – or indeed a “new West,” as some of the participants phrased it.

When Americans and Germans met at the DGAP to consider new challenges for and new perspectives on transatlantic relations, the current situation in Syria was by no means left out of the discussion, which was titled "Do Geostrategic Divisions and Dwindling Capabilities undermine the Transatlantic Bond?"

Since the end of World War II, transatlantic relations have formed the very heart of what foreign policy circles refer to as “the West.” Here, the collective defense organization NATO provides the guiding institutional brackets. But shifts in power over the last two decades – above all, the rise of Asia and Europe’s security policy weaknesses – are putting the partnership to the test. Washington has placed a new strategic focus on Asia. A number of NATO members have been reducing their defense budgets for years.

The guest speakers from American think tanks presented a rather gloomy picture of the future of transatlantic cooperation. For Daniel Kochis, a research assistant at the Heritage Foundation, NATO is heading straight for an identity crisis with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Even though the alliance is still vital to the US and must continue to exist under American leadership, this will only be possible if both Americans and Europeans make available the necessary military resources.

Participants agreed that enormous effort would be required to keep the partnership going with the same intensity that has characterized it in the past. Elbridge Colby, analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis, emphasized that from the American perspective, Europe’s most important task was to lend political support to Washington’s actions.

Some participants of the Transatlantic Relations Discussion Group sought to balance this  pessimistic take, pointing out that the outlook for the alliance was hardly bleak. Reviewing the common history as well as the shared cultural, political, and ideological values makes clear that it continues to rest on a strong foundation. The problem is not so much a weakening of the transatlantic bond per se as it is the changed international circumstances in which the partnership finds itself and must define itself anew. Ultimately, the participants agreed that the transatlantic alliance will remain an essential foreign policy pillar in the future – for the US as much as for Europe.

Dr. Henning Riecke, head of the DGAP’s transatlantic relations program, moderated the discussion, which involved 14 representatives from a variety of US-based think tanks. The Americans came to the DGAP as part of a week-long informational trip to Germany. The event was supported by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung and the German embassy in Washington, DC.


Elbridge Colby
Research Analyst, Center for Naval Analyses

Daniel Kochis
Research Assistant, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, Heritage Foundation

Ben Rhode
Doctoral candidate, University of Oxford

Kelley Sayler
Research Associate, Center for a New American Security

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