Rebalancing the transatlantic partnership
Professor Emeritus, Political Science,
recent short book, and a report by five former NATO commanders, both reach broadly
similar diagnoses, namely that recent world developments call for a renewal of
the relationship between
Two aspects of their arguments are commented upon on this occasion. First is the possibility that the timeframe of opportunities for renewing the relationship in the next two decades. Second is the importance of rebalancing that relationship in the direction of greater equality.
Two recent documents deserve the attention of all students and practitioners of transatlantic relations and global security. Eduard Balladur’s proposal for a ‘Union of the West”  offers a masterly analysis of the contemporary situation, and a succinct but well-aimed list of solutions for reinvigorating a partnership that has tended to fray as it came to be taken for granted. A report by five high-ranking NATO commanders from Europe and the United States  reflects parallel preoccupations, albeit on a more practical level but issues similarly strong calls for “renewing the transatlantic relationship”.
Rather than entering upon a full-scale review of a pair of substantial documents, this paper is designed to make two specific points: to highlight the fact that the authors of both of them arrive at a broadly similar diagnosis of to-day’s conditions: the world is changing fast and has – past a decade of post-cold war self-satisfaction - moved into a new phase – in a way that threatens to affect adversely, and in equal measure, the interests of both Europe and the United States. Balladur, a former French Prime Minister, fears that recent developments are setting in motion not just the “marginalization” but even possibly the “rejection” of the West, and he points in particular to the rise of China and India, and the return of Russia. The generals write of the “climate of uncertainty” in global politics, and set as the goal of “grand strategy” for the West the “restoring of “certainty” without which “there will be nothing”. ‘Certainty’ will be the product of a “zone of common security and common action from Finland to Alaska” created by an improved use of existing institutions such as NATO, and the EU.
In relation to these important arguments let us consider just two sets of comments. The first concerns timing, and time frame, and argues that change is timely, and possible; the second examines the issue of revitalizing the partnership, in particular by means of “rebalancing” it, on the major premise that, over the long span of decades that lie ahead, the development of a condition of equality between the United States and Europe is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of its long-run viability.
The next two decades
t has become increasingly evident that the window of opportunity for renewing
US-Europe relations is now, both for tactical and for strategic reasons. The
conditions that favor such initiatives include, besides gathering storm clouds
all round, the new EU constitution (the Lisbon Treaty) that (when it comes into
force) would mean a full-time President, with a tenure of 2 1/2 years,
renewable, and a High Representative (foreign minister), two posts that could
strengthen the EU’s capacity for global action A significant change in the situation might
already have occurred with the election of a new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy (to whom Balladur is
close) who is making ready for France’s reentry into NATO’s integrated military
framework, hence a possible change for the strategic context in the long
term. In the
Balladur reminds us that ‘to-day, American leadership might be thought to be indispensable’, but that ‘soon’, it might no longer be so: “in less than twenty years, in fact, what changes [there will occur] in relative power!”  Twenty years might sound like a long time, but not in global politics.
This also reminds us that global politics is not a static, frozen, unchanging system, nor is it a steam of random events but rather a patterned, or phased, process, in which structural changes can be traced, and also anticipated. Students of this field  propose that driving politics at the global level since the 15th century has been a competition for leadership at the global level (not unlike the kind of competition for office that animates national politics, timed by electoral campaigns). That competition has been punctuated by generation-long global wars at intervals of just over 100 years. (for an average interval of108 years between the onset of four such wars, with the most recent – 1792 to 1914 – of 122 years).
These global wars, in turn selected the occupants of the informal ‘office’ of global leadership. First Portugal, and then the Dutch Republic laid the early groundwork for this development, whereupon Britain, over the next two “cycles” constructed, and executed, the mature form of that institution. The United States succeeded to it in the 20th century not just by replaying the experience of Britain but by raising the bar of this role, and setting in motion an evolutionary move toward higher levels of global organization. The next phase of that move will be the stuff of 21st century global politics.
The qualifications for global leadership have been forces of global reach including sea power; economic innovation, open society and sponsorship of the wining coalition of global war. Those falling behind in that competition – the challengers - including Spain, France, and Germany - deployed powerful land forces and featured large but non-innovative economies, and closed societies, and failed in coalition-building.
The ‘big’ questions for students of global politics have been these: who will fill the office of global leadership or some variant of it later in this century, and will competition for global leadership once again be decided by global war (we shall soon observe – in 2014 - the centenary of the start of the most recent such event) or will global institutional evolution make it possible to avoid such an outcome?  Many should like to think the latter – citing globalization, and the destructive power of nuclear weapons - but students of world affairs cannot completely exclude the former, by assigning to it a probability of zero. In any event, in the ‘soon’ horizon proposed by Baladur – some twenty years - this raises important questions.
global wars have not been the only evidence of
regularity. Global politics also shows
‘phasing’, that is changes in characteristic behavior over time, governed by
generational turnover at intervals of some 20-30 years.. Since the end of the last global war period
in 1945, we can distinguish three such phases.
Initially, there was the establishment of a post-war order around the
leadership role of the
But that is also the phase of coalition-building in anticipation of a renewal of competition for global leadership. Opportunities have opened up for assembling and re-assembling coalitions that will, in the “soon” horizon of two-three decades, contend for a renewal of global leadership around reprogrammed agendas. The phase of coalition-building has about two more decades to run, and Balladur’s estimate might be just about right. Within an emerging democratic community, that might well prove to be the timeframe for the optimal management of a renewal of the transatlantic partnership.
All this makes it clear that renewing the transatlantic relation on a durable foundation is a matter not just of tactical opportunity, and of the strategic dangers now becoming apparent to the naked eye , but is also sustained by a basic analysis of the global processes at work that indicate the approach of major tensions.
generally, let us stipulate that an essential condition of the success of Balladur’s proposed, ‘more perfect’, union
is the emergence of a balance (as of equals) between the
Why a balance of equals? Because in the long run, and in a changing world, a balanced structure is the one most likely in the long run to be viable: fairer, more flexible and adaptable, and sturdy enough to weather crises. Balance refers to the distribution of authority and power within a system; unbalanced structures, such as power monopolies, imperial constructs, autocracies, or single party systems, tend to produce undesirable and/or unfair outcomes that undermine stability. The sovereign equality of states is one of the basic principles of international law. Balance (embodying ‘checks and balances’) is a structural requirement of democratic institutions. 
are weighty considerations but there is one important caveat to be entered into
this discussion. Innovative products and services for a time create by their
very nature as novelties a condition of monopoly for those originating
them. Successful inventors and
innovators create valued ‘brands’ that yield important (albeit temporary)
advantages. In that sense, the
From an earlier condition of inequality, some conditions of balance are now in place. The European Union has a population larger (500m) than the US (300m), also a larger GDP, a greater share of world trade, and the world’s biggest development assistance budget. Indeed in economic matters the EU stands strong, and a condition of equality now prevails i.a. in world trade talks and in anti-trust matters. The (US-EU) Transatlantic Economic Council (established in 2007) now directs economic cooperation .Balladur proposes to build on these foundations a transatlantic common market (elements of which had already begun to be put in place in the Transatlantic Market program), possibly retracing on an intercontinental scale the steps that some half-century ago launched what is now the European Union.
Europe also has serious military potential, a space program, and in the UK, and France, experience of global operations, and two basic nuclear arsenals, but a total of defense expenditures only about one-half of the United States. It lacks a coherent military doctrine, lags in technological sophistication, and its overall posture is viewed as weak In consequence, NATO has ‘traditionally’ been dominated by the United States, and recent years of ‘unilateralism’ have only compounded that problem.
Does ‘equality’ mean actually mean some formal identity of political influence or military power? Not in a partnership that commonly involves a division of functions and responsibilities under an overall concept of common interests, continuously reviewed. Thus for the European Union that might mean greater (but not exclusive) commitments to the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Baltic areas, while for the US the emphasis could be on the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Nor is it right to argue that a fuller military potential of the EU is many decades away from realization, given the past half-century’s experience that opened with the 1954 defeat of the European Defense Community project for a European army. If and when a need arises, and is perceived as urgent, then the response could very well be swift. The first seeds of a European defense capacity were sown in 1999 with the launch of a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) that is focused in the first [lace on humanitarian and crisis management tasks. The European Rapid Reaction Force (conceived as up to a dozen ‘battle groups’ of some 1,500 troops each) was declared partially operational in 2004.  Combined with the accumulated resources of NATO’s infrastructure this could be rapidly expanded if the need for it arose. The basic premise of Balladur’s argument is that such a need is now appearing on the horizon.
has, of course been for the past half-century notable for being steered by the
United States, and in its inner councils, by a US-UK alignment, the “special
of the effects of World War II, and early American preference for a British leadership
role in West European defense; yet soon
the building of ‘Europe” was driven by a Franco-German partnership. But can both NATO, and the transatlantic
relationship as a whole, become more balanced?
Robert Kaplan, for one, seems to reject this possibility outright,
arguing that “NATO cannot be an alliance of equals”. But he then injects a longer-term
consideration: “that does not mean that
it won’t play a significant role in our grand strategy: to create a web of
global arrangements and liberal institutions that will allow
Both reports show awareness of this problem (though the generals’ is less explicit). In the institutional realm, Balladur proposes the creation of an Executive Council composed of the Presidents of the United States, and the European Union, backed by a permanent secretariat, to meet quarterly (as does the European Council), and to harmonize policies via consultations on all pending problems. Such an arrangement would clearly signal a partnership of equals, provided all important questions, and especially those of global security, were on the table. Annual Presidential summits have, of course, been the practice in US-EU relations since 1990 – albeit with modest results. Perhaps a higher frequency of meeting (while adding to an already busy schedule of official meetings), combined with new constitutional arrangements (for the EU, yet to be realized), with new occupants of key positions, and a new doctrine, might make a difference.
generals suggest a more complex arrangement, one that would join together the
US-EU, and the NATO processes, via the formation of a US-EU-NATO “steering
directorate at the highest political level”, to coordinate response to crises,
to agree who should take the lead, and to ensure mutual support. It might also help to introduce long-term
problems such as climate change into the practical arena. That arrangement would tie the EU directly
in with NATO as such, and not just via individual members. By bringing in the EU into the nexus of
linkages, a broader basis for more balanced cooperation might emerge. The insertion of NATO into an US-EU
relationship would strengthen
Both Balladur’s and the generals’ suggestions might be labeled as “largely symbolic”, as generating favorable imagery but lacking in real substance. We would maintain that it is unwise to minimize the role of symbols for they clarify, and help to shape, reality. That is why even an initially symbolic change might help to push developments into an increasingly balanced direction.
At the end of the day, what might matter most is the movement of the global system beyond what political leaders might have intended or planned. Over the next decade or two, events such as wars without end, severe financial crises, or natural disasters, might do more for rebalancing than the designs of men, and women. But that does not mean that they should not be thinking about it. That, too, means that prudence calls for being prepared for a variety of contingencies.
A new transatlantic bargain?
“no nation and no institution is capable of dealing with current and future
problems on its own” – is a truism that tended to be forgotten in the heady
days after the collapse of the
the notion of close coordination at the global level is not really foreign to
the practice of global leadership, and has at various times been conducted as
between equals. In current practice it
means, in the first place, discontinuing the recent US preference for
unilateralism, and in the second place, jointly taking stock of, and responding
to, common problems, avoiding opportunities for springing surprises, and above
all, in Balladur’s words, “parler d’égal à égal avec L’Union”: “the United States cannot pretend to decide
alone on behalf of all” . In
diplomatic practice, it also means a new strategic bargain, in which
Balladur is well aware that partnership is always two-sided, and calls for
comparable contributions from both sides.
the Quebec Agreement of
is an area that calls for debate because including a possible global war in the
planning horizons makes the nuclear question more urgent. But neither Ballladur
nor the former NATO commanders seem ready to envisage a world without nuclear
arms – a position that is now urged by a number of other former high government
officials, both in
Either way, if the EU is to be independent, equal, and to have a grand strategy, it needs to be prepared for greater, riskier, and more costly, efforts in response to the dangers that loom over the horizon.
balanced and effective transatlantic partnership, a
federative enterprises, “dangers from foreign arms and influence”  are the principal motive force for union, and override divisions inherent in democratic
diversity. Such was the case in the
is why we might need to observe future developments in this matter as operating
on two levels. In
For publication in Nação e Defesa (
1. Eduard Balladur, Pour une Union occidentale entre
2. “Toward a grand strategy for an uncertain world: Renewing the transatlantic partnership”
(2007), 150 pp, A report by General Klaus Nauman (
Inge (UK), General John Shalikashvili (USA), Admiral Jack Lanxade (France), and General Henk van den Breemen (Netherlands), (with the advice i.a. of Gen. Brent Snowcroft). Text available on www.csis.org/media/csis/events/080110_grand_strategy.pdf.
3. Balladur, p.107: “…sans leadership américaine …on ne peut réussir grandchose; il est donc indispensable. C’est vrai aujourd’hui, mais bientðt ne le sera plus. Avant vingt ans, en effect, quels changements dans les rapports de puissance!” .
4. See i.a. G.
Modelski Long Cycles in World Politics,
5. See also “The evolution of global politics” at https://faculty.washington.edu/modelski/evoglopol.html
6. In the classic definition, democracy is ‘equality under law’. We can then argue that in international relations, “the good functioning of a system of rules is dependent upon a power balance between the actors of a system of states” L. Levi Federalist Thinking, Lanham: University Press of America, 2008, 141.
7. The Nordic battle group, led by
8. Robert D. Kaplan, “Equal alliance, unequal
New York Times Op-Ed page,
9. David P. Calleo “The unipolar illusion” Survival Autumn 2007, 73-78.
10.. Balladur, pp.76,10.
11. . Ibid., p.97; the US-UK (Roosevelt-Churchill) Quebec Agreement of August 1943 is listed by the U.S. Department of State on its website as “in force”:
The Special Relationship,
12. More recently, the EU-3 (
14. The Federalist, No.3; the first four of the substantive Federalist papers were given to “foreign dangers” as grounds for union.