Dec 09, 2020

Stronger Together

A Strategy to Revitalize Transatlantic Power

The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) convened a strategy group of experts and former government officials from the United States and Europe over the past year to discuss the crisis in the transatlantic relationship and to propose a strategy to revive and strengthen it.


We Europeans and Americans launched this project due to our shared commitment to the transatlantic relationship. We met throughout 2020 — first in Munich and Berlin and then virtually during the pandemic — to develop a truly transatlantic fusion of ideas and strategy. This comprehensive report and eight individual action plans lay out an ambitious agenda for tackling challenges to the transatlantic community. The action plan issue areas are as follows: 

  • Economics and Trade 
  • Security and Defense 
  • China 
  • Russia 
  • Energy Policy and Climate Change 
  • Democracy 
  • Technology 
  • Middle East and North Africa 

Each action plan includes an in-depth assessment of key challenges and proposes recommendations to U.S., Canadian and European policymakers. Where significant disagreements exist between the U.S. and Europe, we outline the debate and propose solutions for how they can be resolved. 

Executive Summary 

The United States, Europe and Canada must work together toward one ambition in 2021—to renew, revitalize and retool for the decade ahead the most powerful democratic community in modern history. 

With the election of Joe Biden, Europe and Canada will once again have a committed Atlanticist as its American partner. After years of mistrust, recrimination and division, the bridge across the Atlantic should be “built back better” and we must do that together. 

But it would be a dangerous mistake to think that the result of the American election alone will repair the breach. The U.S. and Europe cannot simply rebuild the ties of a previous era if we are to succeed in meeting today’s challenges. 

The world has not stood still: a more confident China, an aggressive Russia, resurgent authoritarianism and the existential threat of climate change present the U.S. and Europe with new and grave challenges. The transatlantic relationship must be rebuilt and reimagined. Our institutions must be strengthened. As the U.S. embraces its allies again, Europe too must rethink its approach to some fundamental issues. 

The task is urgent. The world needs a more powerful and purposeful transatlantic alliance to drive a new global agenda. 

By traditional measurements, the U.S. and European Union are the world’s two largest economies. But China will likely overtake them in this decade. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remains the world’s strongest military alliance but is falling behind technologically. Our joint capacity in science, research and digital technologies is unrivaled—for now. A renewed transatlantic commitment to human freedom and democracy is needed to safeguard the future we seek for our children and grandchildren. 

With vision and hard work, a “New Deal” for the transatlantic community is possible, joining in common action a more globally committed America with a more self-reliant and capable Europe to meet the challenges to our health, security, prosperity and way of life. 

This new compact must begin with an immediate ceasefire across our own lines, ending, on all sides, aggressive rhetoric, punitive economic sanctions and exclusionary regulatory measures. 

We must also harness our joint power to deter a more confident and aggressive China and a cynical and disruptive Russia. They have exploited transatlantic tensions for too long. Together, we must oppose their illiberal agendas in Europe, Africa, the Indo-Pacific and around the world. This is Europe’s challenge as much as America’s. 

We Europeans and Americans have come together under the auspices of Harvard Kennedy School and the German Council on Foreign Relations to produce this strategic plan for a renewal of the transatlantic community to which we all remain deeply committed. We believe Europe and the U.S. will be “stronger together” in meeting common threats and advancing democratic values in the world than operating at cross purposes from each other. 

To do so, we must rededicate ourselves to three strategic goals for the year ahead: 

  1. Rebuild the bonds of trust at the heart of our alliance and revitalize our democracies; 
  2. Commit to a joint strategy to meet global challenges and defend liberalism; and 
  3. Transform our political, military, technological and economic capacity to be the most effective force for freedom and rules- based order in a challenging world. 

We recommend to our governments and to the 800 million Europeans, Canadians and Americans who comprise our alliance the following priority objectives: 

1. Rebuild the bonds of trust at the heart of our alliance and revitalize our democracies 

The commitment to liberal democracy is the heart of the transatlantic community. But we must do better to repair and strengthen democracy at home against internal and external threats even as we defend it abroad. 

  • The transatlantic nations should reaffirm at NATO and U.S.–European Union Summits in early 2021 the key commitments that have bound us together for decades—Article 5 of NATO’s Washington Treaty; our shared support for a strong, globally oriented European Union; and a United Kingdom with the will and capacity to act around the world. 
  • We must strengthen the legitimacy of our democracies in an age of systemic competition by ensuring our governments are more responsive to our citizens and address the problems of income inequality, inclusion, and racism. 
  • We must also roll back authoritarian tendencies within our region, including in Hungary, Poland and Turkey, by conditioning NATO security investment funds and EU financial support. We must be as rigorous with ourselves in defending democracy as we are with Moscow and Beijing. 
  • We must defend democracy and human rights more assertively around the world, countering the spread of Russian and Chinese-style authoritarianism. 

2. Commit to a joint strategy to meet global challenges and defend liberalism 

We will be more effective by adopting common policies on key global challenges. Priority issues are: 

The Pandemic: 

  • Europe, Canada and the U.S. should join forces to ensure equitable access to vaccines, to support and strengthen COVAX and the World Health Organization (WHO), and to create health security stockpiles and expertise banks for the benefit of all our citizens. 

Economic Recovery and Innovation: 

  • Our governments should align fiscal and monetary stimulus and infrastructure investments to renew middle class growth for the fastest possible recovery; lead the G-7 and G-20 in protecting free and fair trade and open markets and regulating financial instruments and innovation to favor transparency and global equity. 
  • All transatlantic states should remove unnecessary tariffs and punitive regulatory measures directed at each other and commit to working jointly to strengthen the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

Security and Defense: 

  • NATO should strengthen its capacity to contain and deter Russia in all domains. The alliance should also make its troop deployments and rotations permanent in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as in Romania and Bulgaria. 
  • The U.S. should overturn the mistaken decision to draw down U.S. forces from Germany, and only reallocate forces within Europe in close consultation with allies. 
  • All NATO allies should meet their pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024; this should be linked to a major capabilities drive in both NATO and the EU, including greater investment in cyber defense and offense, Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum, and nano- and biotechnologies. 
  • In Afghanistan, NATO should maintain its “in together, out together” policy, tying troop reductions to concrete progress in the intra-Afghan peace negotiations, while keeping our commitments to the Afghan citizens, government and military. 


  • The transatlantic nations should join forces with Japan and other democracies to present a united front in trade negotiations with China and at the WTO. 
  • We should harden our security against a predatory China by strengthening and harmonizing investment screening mechanisms, instituting targeted export controls to protect critical infrastructure and technologies, including barring Huawei from our 5G networks, and increasing intelligence sharing. 
  • We should oppose China’s illegal grab for power and territory in the South and East China Sea region at the United Nations and urge stronger legal measures in international courts. 
  • We should condemn and sanction China’s massive violations of human rights and freedom in Hong Kong, against the Uighur population and elsewhere. 


  • The transatlantic nations should expand joint efforts to stop Russia’s malign election interference, disinformation campaigns and cyber espionage and sabotage, and oppose Moscow’s destabilizing behavior in Ukraine, Belarus, in other European countries and in the Middle East. All U.S., Canadian, UK and EU sanctions on Russia must be maintained unless and until Moscow changes course. 
  • The U.S. should extend the New START Treaty for a limited period, linked to Moscow’s commitment to engage seriously in comprehensive nuclear and conventional arms control negotiations. 

Climate Change and Clean Energy: 

  • The transatlantic community should accelerate and integrate U.S., UK, Canadian and EU initiatives to “build back greener” and reduce carbon emissions; support joint research and development of green technologies; and drive more ambitious global targets at the COP26 in Glasgow. 
  • Most of our group members believe that the Nord Stream 2 project and the sanctions on it should be suspended by mutual agreement early in 2021. We all believe the U.S. and EU must work out our differences on this controversial project amicably and without public threats. We must also revitalize consultations to strengthen diversity, redundancy and resilience in Europe’s energy supply. 

Digital Technology and Regulation: 

  • The transatlantic community should join forces to ensure a free and fair digital future that protects our citizens and government systems from malign influences, state surveillance and monopolistic practices. 
  • Together, we should craft a common approach to digital tax policy. A 12-month truce on member state tax plans and resumed negotiations at the Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD) are necessary. Regulatory, competition, content and privacy challenges should be addressed in close coordination; and we should jointly set standards to shape global norms and block authoritarian and malign practices. 
  • We should also strengthen network security by building stronger internal controls on investments in strategic industries and technologies and by blocking Chinese and other unsecure investments in critical technologies. 


  • The U.S. and Europe should lead with diplomacy in seeking to end Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and ballistic missile program. The U.S. should rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) P5+1 negotiation framework with Iran if it agrees to return to all the restrictions on its nuclear program in the 2015 agreement. 
  • In addition, any new set of agreements must be stronger, deeper, more verifiable and of longer duration. Most members of the group think they should address Iran’s ballistic and cruise missile programs. 
  • Together, we should stand united against Iran’s regional aggression and support for terrorism in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. 

3. Transform our political, military, technological and economic capacity to be the most effective force for freedom and rules-based order in a challenging world 

To meet our shared vision, the transatlantic community will need new institutions, new investment and new tools in the decade ahead. These should include: 

  • A major initiative to increase defense and civilian spending in both NATO and the EU to meet the Russia and China challenge and to win the race for leadership in AI, cyber, space, quantum computing and other high-tech military spheres. 
  • A NATO–EU Task Force, with dedicated staff, to maximize coordination, pool capabilities, and drive implementation of our shared policy agenda across the 36 member states. 
  • A Transatlantic Dialogue on China that will include all NATO and EU states to craft a common strategy on trade, technology, human rights and in multilateral institutions. 
  • A Transatlantic Technology Forum to drive unity of effort on all the security, economic and regulatory challenges above and set global standards that protect privacy, competition, transparency and fairness. 
  • A Transatlantic Trade and Economic Dialogue, including the U.S., Canada, the UK, the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers, drive innovation, align policy regarding new technologies like AI, biotechnology and quantum, and to coordinate positions in inter- national economic organizations including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and WTO. 
  • A revitalized U.S.–EU Energy Council to coordinate investments in clean energy, diversification away from hydrocarbons and to lessen dependence on Russia. 

To protect democracy standards and institutions at home and abroad: 

  • A major transatlantic initiative to support democracies at risk, advance liberalism and freedom worldwide. 
  • A joint EU–U.S.–UK–Canada initiative to provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to promote transparent finance and infrastructure funding for developing countries. 

Introduction to Action Plans 

We believe the U.S., Canada and Europe must rebuild and reenergize the transatlantic alliance in 2021. That task is urgent. 

When we began this project one year ago, the United States was facing its greatest crisis in decades of strategy, trust and values with its NATO allies and European Union partners. This schism across the Atlantic coincided with the pandemic, economic collapse and resurgent populism. 

As we conclude this report in December 2020, the election of Joe Biden as U.S. President provides the opportunity not just for repair of our tattered democratic community, but for fundamental renewal. There is strong bipartisan support for NATO and the transatlantic relationship in the U.S. Congress and among the American public. In Europe, there is a deep wish for unity of purpose in its long alliance with America. 

It would be a mistake to believe, however, that the relationship should simply revert to where it was a few years ago. China is stronger and more self-confident. Russia is trying to weaken and divide us. The pandemic is still killing too many and crushing our economies. The world is falling behind in the fight to avoid a climate catastrophe. 

With all this in mind, the transatlantic bridge must be rebuilt and even reimagined. 

The action plans that follow chart a course for the U.S., Canada and Europe to rebuild our confidence and strength and to advance our democratic values. 

The transatlantic nations are the primary driver of democratic progress and of the free world’s political and military power. Together and strengthened, we must remain that preeminent global force for freedom, security and prosperity for years to come.

Download the full report with the eight action plans here (PDF, 5MB). 

Transatlantic Strategy Group 


Nicholas Burns, Goodman Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations and Faculty Chair, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship and Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School; Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO; Former U.S. Ambassador to Greece 

Daniela Schwarzer, Director of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) 


Torrey Taussig, Research Director in the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship (PETR) at Harvard Kennedy School and Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution 


Sophia Becker, Research Fellow for U.S. Security and Defense Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations 

Josef Braml, Head of the Americas Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations 

Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Executive Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship at Harvard Kennedy School 

Anthony Gardner, Senior Advisor at the Brunswick Group; Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union 

Thomas Gomart, Director of the French Institute of International Relations 

Christian Mölling, Director of Research of the German Council on Foreign Relations 

Robin Niblett, Director and Chief Executive of Chatham House 

Victoria Nuland, Senior Counselor at the Albright Stonebridge Group; Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; Non-Resident Senior Fellow in the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School; Former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO 

Kristi Raik, Director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Centre for Defence and Security; Adjunct Professor at the University of Turku 

David Sanger, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Senior Fellow in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; National Security Correspondent at the New York Times 

Amanda Sloat, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution (on leave at time of publication) and Non-Resident Fellow in the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship at Harvard Kennedy School; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs 

Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution 

Nathalie Tocci, Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali and Honorary Professor at the University of Tübingen; Former Special Advisor to High Representative/Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini 

All participants contributed to this project in their personal capacities. Not all participants agree with every recommendation in this report.


Bibliographic data

Clüver Ashbrook, Cathryn, Daniela Schwarzer, Christian Mölling, and Sophia Becker. “Stronger Together.” German Council on Foreign Relations. December 2020.

The report by the Transatlantic Strategy Group convened by the Harvard Kennedy School and DGAP was published on December 9, 2020, 100 pp.