Atlantic Currents: A Conversation on 21st Century Atlanticism
On March 10, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the OCP Policy Center hosted a launch of the inaugural edition of Atlantic Currents, an annual report on wider Atlantic perspectives and patterns. The conversation was led by Dr. Esther Brimmer, J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro professor of international affairs at George Washington University and contributing author to Atlantic Currents; Dr. Ricardo Ubiraci Sennes, nonresident senior Brazil fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller, Robert Bosch senior fellow with the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. The event was moderated by Tim Ridout, Wider Atlantic fellow at GMF and editor of Atlantic Currents, with Ivan Vejvoda, senior vice president of programs at GMF providing opening remarks. The diverse composition of the panel led to a discussion as intellectually distinct as the wider Atlantic itself, attracting roughly 40 representatives from embassies, government, think tanks, and academia.
Brimmer began the conversation by highlighting five key points that she addressed in her Atlantic Currents chapter, entitled “Views from the ‘North’ on the ‘Wider Atlantic.’” Her points were: (1) the concept of a wider Atlantic appears to both enhance U.S. and erode European roles in international politics; (2) security concepts in this region may not complement NATO’s security role; (3) economic and energy policy opportunities drive shared interest in the wider Atlantic; (4) much of the region may support global human rights efforts, but not all will do so to the same degree as in north Atlantic countries; and (5) development assistance will continue to be reconceived within the wider Atlantic.
These five points, according to Brimmer, will continue define the wider Atlantic community for the conceivable future due to their structural significance. Brimmer discussed shifts in the international system, indicating a potential greater role for countries like Nigeria, Canada, and Mexico. She also mentioned that successful normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations could benefit the transatlantic community by eliminating a policy of long-standing disagreement, especially between the United States and other Latin American countries. Brimmer’s conversation established a comprehensive framework through which to understand contemporary and future relations in the wider Atlantic.
Sennes offered a unique Brazilian perspective with regard to the transatlantic community and how he sees Brazil’s role in this community. Sennes argued that it is difficult for Brazil to advance a “strategic vision” when Brazil is domestically divided on what its international role should be. Sennes noted that Brazil’s often divergent perspectives on security in the international community are seen as paradoxical and this challenges the prospect for a coherent wider Atlantic approach. Despite Brazil’s economic malaise, it will continue to exert leadership within regional affairs, and Brazil’s “primary strategic reference” remains located in South America. He mentioned the deep economic ties that Brazil has with Europe, and also noted that overtures for greater cooperation may have to come from the European side. A participant also made the point that Mercosur (Common Market of the South) has presented its latest offer for an EU-Mercosur trade deal, and that it awaits the European Union’s new offer.
Stelzenmüller offered a critical assessment of the current utility of a wider transatlantic community, noting that while major powers such as the United States and the EU continue to deal with increasing internal and external difficulties, rising middle powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) are unable to take up enlarged foreign policy agendas due to slower than projected economic growth. Stelzenmüller argued that both middle powers and major powers need to continue to concentrate on their internal challenges, which will be of increasing importance due to globalization. She noted that, just as European countries tend to look to Germany, France, and the UK to lead in their region, Brazil should play the role of regional leader within South America.
Panelists agreed that there is room for greater cooperation on non-traditional transnational security threats posed by piracy, trafficking, and terrorism, but that it would be wise to do so outside of a NATO framework. Sennes pointed out that there may be the possibility for information-sharing on potential threats generated by Brazil’s Amazon Monitoring System (SIVAM), which is used for a host of purposes from monitoring deforestation patterns and agricultural production to protecting indigenous groups to tracking illegal logging and disrupting drug trafficking.
The wider transatlantic community has the potential for greater cooperation on a host of economic, energy, environment, and security issues. Brimmer closed by stressing the need for ongoing, honest conversations in assessing the strengths and challenges of such a community.