M. Simon Serfaty, The making of a tri-continental atlantic space: a preliminary NOTE

Over the years the Atlantic space has been viewed and discussed primarily in terms of its Euro-Atlantic dimension, namely, as a transatlantic relationship between the United States (and Canada too) and a growing number of states in Europe. After World War II and during and since the Cold War, such emphasis helped produce an ever closer, larger, and stronger Europe – now a Union of 27 states – but also an ever more intimate, broader, and powerful transatlantic partnership. To extend the vision of the Atlantic space to its Southern shores in Latin America and Africa – from Mexico and Brazil to South Africa – is not only bold and audacious but also necessary and timely.

Because of his own tri-continental identity – including an American identity that gained its native sensitivity in Morocco, Africa, and deepened its cultural temperament in France, Europe – this writer is naturally favorably pre-disposed toward such a concept. This is a case study in political, cultural, and economic complementarity. In the new security environment shaped by the end of the Cold War, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and an ongoing devolution of power, a tri-continental approach to the Atlantic space is also relevant to the complex security dilemmas faced in an increasingly integrated world All key interlocutors in this geographic area have close historical ties that provide for an emotional intimacy upon which tomorrow’s new partnerships can be formed and deepened.

Admittedly, this shared past was often painful – including the repeated excesses of US power south of its borders (not to mention America’s original sins in Africa), as well as Europe’s imperial subjugation of much of Africa (but also its attempts to do the same in the Western Hemisphere before and after the American Revolution).

Yet any discussion of the tri-continental Atlantic space and its related projects calls for much caution as to their conceptualization, modesty as to their immediate goals, and care as to their methods. The degree of difficulty is high as differences within each part of this tri-continental space are wide, and time will be needed even when the urgency of the issues is making time short. There is unlikely to be any explicit blueprint or predictable timetables – only a succession of leaps that will be made mostly in the dark and without a clear sense of the end point: a process that need not entail yet a common adhesion to a shared future so long as it acknowledges the need to move away from the shared failures of the past.

In a context that combines, therefore, audacity and prudence three fundamental realities might help determine the feasibility, scope, and form of this space.

First, the consolidation of geo-political space is a matter of time as well as a matter of facts. This is, in effect, an admonition to aim high but think small – as was done with regard to the early launch of the European Community and the subsequent development of the transatlantic partnership that covers the northern half of the new tri-continental transatlantic space to which it might lead. Relevant to this northern experience are the conditions of Europe’s birth and the pre-conditions of its finality – with rather than in spite of, let alone against, the United States.

Long before it became the large and influential Union of 27 members we now know “Europe” was launched as a small and rather modest Common Market that regrouped a few countries deeply scarred by their most recent and suicidal national history and convinced, therefore, of the need to change their ways. In the aftermath of World War II, and in the context of a Cold War à deux that confirmed their new impotence, Europe’s “happy few” who chose to seek peace a piece at a time shared unprecedented homogeneity born out of unique postwar circumstances: the division of Germany, which made it the equal in size and population of France and Italy, as well as of the three Benelux countries (Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg) that counted as one; political convergence around Christian-Democratic majorities whose allegiance to the Church or democratic practices might differ but whose discourse was nonetheless unified because of a political leadership whose prewar experiences offered striking similarities (between, for example, France’s Robert Schuman, Germany’s Konrad Adenauer, and Italy’s Alcide de Gasperi); economic dependence on external aid but also on each other for postwar reconstruction as a pre-condition for the rehabilitation of local governance and, ultimately, internal and cross-border reconciliation; and powerlessness for each of these few countries to achieve security in a European system that the rise of Soviet power and the lingering fears of Germany’s revanchisme kept under siege. These conditions, together with a determined and often intrusive U.S. assist, made it possible to launch a small and narrowly defined European Community which, 50-plus years later has become a broad and intrusive European Union with 27 Members that often matter less individually than the institutions to which they belong and which they helped create. It is clear that such homogeneity of the postwar geographic space that was singled out in the western-most tip of the European continent, combined with the availability of U.S. power and leadership as a much-needed catalyst, does not exist today within the Atlantic space at large.

Indeed, such conditions do not now exist within Europe either, and Europe’s model of integration is, therefore, all the more unrepeatable elsewhere as the states of Europe themselves could not adopt it today if it were not for the fact that they are already the Union they have become in a relative fit of self-mindlessness. In fact, to parallel the U.S. role in helping launch and cement a new European space for the second half of the twentieth century the EU has become itself the catalyst needed for an effective launch of an extended Atlantic space for the twenty-first century. But for that role to be assumed the EU needs to be completed – a goal that seems compromised under current conditions of crisis: an institutional crisis of governance (ratification of the Lisbon Treaty), identity (future enlargement, including enlargement to Turkey), and mandate (including the need for new steps toward economic union, as well as the execution of never-ending project toward a common security and defense policy); a wide range of national crises whether political (weak coalition majorities whose strength is often defined by the weakness of their opposition), demographic trends that point to states that are suffering from insufficient birth rates and increasing longevity, and, of course, economic insufficiencies with insufficient growth, high unemployment, and widening inequalities; and a populist crisis, from the bottom up, resulting from, and exacerbated by, the institutional and national crises already mentioned.
The states of Europe will have to manage and overcome these crises in coming years, beginning with a much needed relance européenne without which any new project across the Atlantic in the North and toward the many Atlantic states in the South is likely to be stalled as well. That is not the least dimension of the global agenda for 2010 and, more specifically, for the newly elected European Parliament and a new European Commission over the next five years.

Second, that is not all that divides the North, however, and just as Europe was born with a decisive input of power and leadership from the United States, it will not be successfully completed in the absence of, let alone against, U.S. power and leadership. Europe’s finality requires some understanding of the modalities of its relations with the United States within the Euro-Atlantic space that was built during, inherited from, and enlarged after the Cold War. Much has been done since the serious crisis that threatened to evolve into a divorce over the war in Iraq, but much more will have to be undertaken during the first term of the new U.S. administration for a much-needed relance transatlantique as well.

For one, the transatlantic partnership needs to be re-cast in terms of both its structures and its institutions: the EU, to be sure, but also the broader terms of its relations with the US; NATO, of course, but also the more specific modalities of its relations with the EU; and, given the existing differences in EU and NATO membership, the terms of engagement within the Euro-Atlantic community of NATO and EU members.

Thus, an institutional renewal of the EU will not be sufficient without a closer and broader institutional relationship with the United States. Although the United States is not a European power it is a power in Europe, economically, to be sure, but also in security and political terms. It is hard to remember that in the spring of 1914 no foreign ministry in any major European capital ever wondered how the United States would react to a war in the Old World; it is even harder to remember that in 1945, President Truman’s main concern was his fear of a renewed burst of American isolationism that would keep the country away from Europe as had been the case in 1919; and it is hardest to remember that in 1950 total foreign direct investments of the United States in Europe stood below $2 billion (compared to over $800 billion today). As an Atlantic power, the United States still tends to provide for its allies in Europe a right of first refusal that its allies can choose to assume or ignore. As a power in Europe, the United States is not, and does not aspire to become a member of the European Union but it is sensitive to, and has interests in, any EU decision to the same extent that all EU members are sensitive to, and have interests in, decisions made by and in the United States. No other country outside Europe can make similar claims toward the EU, and even most EU members cannot claim an influence on the EU that compares with that of the United States. As currently devised, however, institutional relations between the United States and the EU do not reflect these realities and need to be reinforced in such a way as to acknowledge the EU as the virtual state it has become and will become further under the conditions of institutional relance described above.

A reinforcement of EU-US relations would in turn permit closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union and its emerging European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The goal for such cooperation is not a meaningless division of labor whereby, for example, the EU would assume responsibilities in Africa that the United States might not wish to share, or that the United States might respond to conditions in South America which the Europeans might not be able to comprehend. That would amount to a revival of old thinking having to do with spheres of influence and the like: it would not only be ineffective but also irrelevant. Rather, closer NATO-EU cooperation must reflect the complementarity of American/European power and European/American weaknesses for the execution of comprehensive strategies that demand the smart uses of hard and soft power, neither of which sufficient but both of which necessary for the management of security issues. Again, as currently conceptualized, institutional ties between NATO (a major provider of hard power) and the EU (a decisive source of soft power) do not reflect this reality and need to be acknowledged in such a way as to escape the Cold War rigidity that conditioned the birth of NATO and address the new security conditions that have grown out of the end of the Cold War and the advent of an ill-defined age of terror.
This latter point also suggests a need for convergence in the world vision entertained on the Northern side of the Atlantic. Terrorism is not the central dimension of the twenty-first century, as the then-President Bush argued repeatedly after 9/11 but it is a significant security factor for the twenty-first century as the Europeans have come to acknowledge in recent years. Indeed, in the new post-Cold War, post-9/11, and even post-Iraq environment, security issues have acquired unprecedented diversity: issues that are or can be military (like the proliferation of WMDs and long-range missiles), political (good governance), economic (access to, and manipulation of, vital resources), social (pandemics and even poverty), environmental (climate change), and human (demographic flows) create an increasingly demanding, unpredictable, inescapable, and new security environment. The Northern members of the Atlantic area and their institutions are neither prepared nor equipped to address many of these issues alone, whether in terms of capabilities and know-how or on grounds of organization and policies. This is the case because few of these threats, if any, can be managed, let alone resolved, with a single set of capabilities and a single box of tools: rather, most threats require a mixture of military and civilian capabilities, as well as a combination of national and institutional tools. This is why a holistic approach to security now forms the core of an emerging European Security Strategy, as previewed in the most recent national white papers, while the “comprehensive approach” has become the buzzword in NATO.

Finally, to motivate the re-casting of the EU and NATO, as well as the re-thinking of their respective relations with the United States and the EU, there is an urgent security agenda that cannot be ignored by any state let the consequences of neglect be endured by all. This agenda is not merely matter for concerns in the Euro-Atlantic West as it is fraught with significance for the framework that will determine the modalities of global order in the 21st century: not only what is to be done but also who does what—where, why, and how; with and in spite of whom?

In fact, to reduce the current issue agenda to one is not enough as there are instead three distinct agendas that overlap from one country, one region, and one continent in function of differing perspectives—geographic and historical—but also interests, needs, and capabilities that are or can be shared but often remain uneven and thus different: a post-Cold War agenda, consisting mainly of traditional security issues resulting from the unfinished business of the Cold War and the redistribution of power and influence since then; a post-9/11 agenda shaped by a genuine concern over the issue of terrorism with a global reach, and involving mainly but not exclusively a wide range of conflicts located in, or emanating from, the broader Middle East; and a post-modern agenda more deeply rooted in time but first raised in its most modern incarnation three to four decades ago as a rebellion against a Western preponderance deemed to be no longer reflective of global conditions and aspirations, capabilities and needs.

The most immediate specifics of each agenda can readily be identified: the reformulation of bilateral relations between the major Great Powers, including a need for some (like the United States and Europe) to re-think their prerogatives as the sole “holders” of stability and order in the world, and the need for others (including China and India) to adapt their vision and their policies to the stakes they now have in a stable and orderly world order; the resolution of three wars (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine) and the management of many near-wars (with Iran, North Korea, and others) that feed the self-defeating perceptions of a grand clash of civilizations and distort global patterns of regional engagement, bilateral estrangement, and cultural disparagement to the expense of the stability that is needed for the new multipolarity that lies ahead; and the management of the excesses of globalization, including spreading new inequalities within and between states and regions, the uneven access to vital resources as a precondition for sustainable growth and prosperity, the continued threats to the environment, rising obstacles to the free flows of people, goods, and capital at the expense of both providers and recipients alike—and much more.

It may well be that never before has there been so many overlapping issues – threats and risks, but also opportunities – so readily identifiable with as much urgency attached to each or at least most of them. It is as if the long term had run out of time – a reformulation of John Maynard Keynes’ old dictum that “in the long term we’re dead”: now we shall all be well in the long term so long as we find it possible to not be dead in the short term. If not now, when; but also if not with each other, how?
During the Cold War the Euro-Atlantic vision worked well, not only on behalf of the northern half of the Atlantic area but also on behalf of the rest of the world which, arguably, is better off now than it was a century ago during an imperial age that denied hundreds of millions of people their most fundamental rights, and on the eve of the age of total wars when hundreds of millions of people were slaughtered, most often unnecessarily and with a growing emphasis on civilians over combatants. But that vision is no longer sufficient and extending and completing its original terms to the southern half of the Atlantic area without neglecting other parts of the world across the Pacific is a good way to proceed.
The goal is not to duplicate what was started 60 to 50 years ago, with new institutions built on the pretenses of a homogeneity and convergence that are still missing. For these to emerge will take time, and for such time to be used most effectively will require much flexibility, selectivity, and efficiency. In sum, a tri-continental Atlantic space, which has been a given of geography over time is at this time an imperative likely to emerge around partnerships that are formed one issue at a time, and perform with such efficacy as to encourage a habit of cooperation conducive to an ever larger number of such coalitions for the management and resolution of an ever larger number of issues of shared interest and concern to an ever larger number of Atlantic partners.

Delivered in French, Skhirat, Morocco, May 29, 2009
Adapted in English, Washington, DC, June 12, 2009

Simon Serfaty is the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Strategy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. He is also a senior Professor of US Foreign Policy, and Eminent Scholar, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. His many books include La tentation impériale (Odile Jacob, 2005), Power and Order (2006), and Architects of Delusion (2008).

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