A Sea of Risk
Take nothing for granted. That may be the best advice for those confronting the extraordinary pace of developments on the international scene. Trade regimes and security alliances are threatened. Hard fought agreements, from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal are unraveling. The European project, as Americans like to call it, is being challenged by a wave of populist sentiment around the EU. Nationalism and the re-nationalization of policies are the order of the day. Virtually everywhere one turns, the established order is being challenged, and not just at the margins. The threat is structural, and potentially durable. Sources of risk abound, and mere crisis management is clearly not sufficient.
Almost ten years ago, when GMF joined with others to launch a new initiative on the “wider Atlantic,” the logic seemed simple. Africa was set for a more prosperous future. Brazil was on the rise. Cuba was changing, and so was U.S. engagement with Havana. Relations in North America were stable. Atlantic sources of energy were becoming more prominent in world markets. Positive examples abounded, and there were few if any animating conflicts around the Atlantic basin. Traditional transatlantic relations along the Washington-Brussels-Berlin axis seemed a settled affair. New dynamism could be sought elsewhere, engaging partners around the Atlantic basin as a whole, many keen to join the transatlantic conversation.
A lost golden age? Perhaps it is, if we understand this as a vision of wider Atlantic membership in a “liberal international order” (was this idea, not to say the terminology itself, ever really shared?). Today, the rationale for thinking about the Atlantic space as a whole is still compelling. But the content of the conversation must be different. New dynamics are at work. It has become fashionable to say that great power competition is back. This, too, can be felt in the Atlantic as old actors such as Russia return and newer actors, above all China, increase their activity and exposure. Will Atlantic partners face too much America, or too little? We will need a greater focus on risks emanating from the Atlantic — political, economic, and security — and global risks affecting Atlantic societies. And we certainly need to focus more directly on the ocean itself — issues related to maritime policy, and the tangible environmental and logistical links among Atlantic societies.
To be sure, this sea of risks still holds opportunity. The changing geo-economics of this vast region need to be understood in global context, including the implications of new shipping routes, developments in manufacturing, the digital economy and the blue economy. It is also an extremely fertile area for conversation and cooperation between governments, the private sector, regional and international organizations, and civil society. North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Atlantic’s island states are stakeholders in this wider Atlantic future. What is on the horizon? How can we hedge against current and emerging risks? What can a wider Atlantic conversation contribute to our understanding of these new dynamics, and perhaps, help us deal with some potentially heavy weather on the horizon?