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Secretary Kerry Comes to Brussels

On October 4th, U.S.

On October 4th, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Brussels and delivered a major address hosted by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) on the future of transatlantic relations.  His remarks came at a critical time for the U.S., Europe and transatlantic partnership. Despite the tremendous scale of the economic, political and security relationship across the Atlantic, it has been easy to take this most strategic relationship for granted.  Today, there is no room for complacency.

On both sides of the Atlantic, societies are in revolt against policy elites and their projects. Emotion and nationalism, identity and sovereignty are the order of the day. It may be political opportunism, but it is an impulse that risks undermining a stable pole in a world of disorder.  Brexit, opposition to TTIP, differences over privacy and security, and the questioning of longstanding alliance commitments are all part of this troubling equation. Secretary Kerry comes to Brussels in a period of palpable uncertainty and mistrust.  It is also a climate in which Europe does not seem to know if it wants more America, or less. Stronger military deterrence, most welcome! More American agricultural imports or access to European data, not so sure…

The U.S. and Europe are joint stakeholders in their political futures. A self-absorbed America, with less interest in international alliances could exacerbate mounting nationalism and the fraying of the European identity. The U.S. is similarly exposed to Europe’s migration-driven challenges.  Xenophobic movements in Europe are not only anti-EU, they are also, for the most part, reflexively anti-American. The constituency for transatlantic cooperation is under siege at the political level, just as the economic and geopolitical logic for cooperation becomes more compelling.  Promoting financial stability, dealing with an increasingly assertive Russia, managing open-ended crises in the Middle East, countering terrorism and addressing potentially more existential risks in Asia, are daunting challenges.  Doing these things in the absence of transatlantic cooperation is a far more daunting proposition. 

In a chaotic international environment, grand strategy and big projects are hard to pursue. Policymakers spend too much time simply fending off problems. Under these conditions, diplomacy, even among close allies, can be reduced to a series of transactions.  Beyond the traditional question of values and interests, the Secretary is very well placed to make a more fundamental point about transatlantic affinity – the basic flywheel of practical cooperation -- and how it can be renewed for a new generation.  The big new transatlantic project is, simply put, the restoration of trust.