Managing 21st Century Change within the Transatlantic Community
GMF is pleased to announce Maya Malkani as the winner of the GMF Blog Competition on Transatlantic Cooperation. One can compare generational changes within families to transatlantic relations, which is similarly experiencing this phenomenon due to political forces and demographic trends on both sides of the “pond.” If not heeded, these forces may undermine the paradigm of the quasi-familial partnership of the past seventy years that came at the expense of millions of lives, and weathered the redrawing of maps. The transatlantic model, including NATO, is arguably sui generis and capable of addressing today’s seemingly unprecedented challenges.
Yet initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic with an eye to the interests of the next generation could enhance it at this juncture in time. Actively engaging the general public, including youth communities, with resonant messages, and intermixing existing transatlantic and non-transatlantic actors provide two ways governments, think tanks, and academic institutions can strengthen transatlantic relations. The forces shaping today’s world include isolationism, nationalism, globalization, Euro-skepticism, extreme political movements, and desires for decentralized decision-making. Woven into this colorful mix are external zero-sum political forces aimed at creating division. Demographically, American Baby-Boomers and Generation Xers who studied Europe are giving way to Millennials who are increasingly engaged with the Middle East and Asia.
Migration flows and socio-economic trends in the United States highlight changing demographics, while declining birth rates and immigration underscore an evolving Europe. European elders often have positive sentiments towards the United States, while many youth seek an alternate path grounded in Brussels or national capitals. In this context, governments and institutions like NATO must actively engage wide swathes of the general public in articulating the value of transatlantic partnership, and addressing skepticism towards key global security and defense efforts. Increasing accessibility to populations and consciously “giving the future a seat at the table” will dispel perceptions of the community’s insularity and relevance.
Leaders must also endeavor to create regional teams across governments that cross different organizational levels, thereby leveraging the transatlantic framework in addressing international challenges. Internally, governments must maintain persistent and frank communications, and utilize appropriate channels when managing differences. The transatlantic community of interest has worked tirelessly to advance this relationship. Recalibrating efforts to align the transatlantic community with other regional communities would identify common lines of effort and build networks attuned to a globalized world. For example, think tanks could bring together experts from the U.S. and Europe with other international colleagues to examine policy issues.
Within academia, established exchange programs between universities on both sides of the Atlantic could institutionalize new partnerships whereby American and European students study together on other continents. Technological advances can facilitate such efforts. Relationships have ups and downs. After watching the New York skyline crumble on television in Germany one September, I appreciated the unsolicited kindness of strangers in the period thereafter. Living in Europe a year later, I occasionally felt like a human dartboard. The transatlantic community can drive its own relationship upward and forward for future generations by reconnecting with domestic populaces and blazing new global networks.
Maya Malkani is a 2009 Manfred Wörner Seminar Fellow and is the Country Director for Austria, Germany, and Switzerland in the Office of the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. The views herein are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Department of Defense or the United States Government.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.