Prague (Brussels Morning) The June 2021 NATO Summit gave new impetus to reviving transatlantic relations and multilateralism following years of mistrust, while expanding the scope of EU-US cooperation to include other democratic partners and aligning on post-pandemic recovery.
As recurring and emerging challenges impose comprehensive collaboration and coordination, commitment is central to the advancement of the transatlantic agenda at a time when calls for distanced reengagement and strategic autonomy are voiced. Representatives from key EU, US and NATO services as well as distinguished think-tank fellows had the opportunity to debate these issues and propose policy recommendations in a special plenary session in the context of the Prague European Summit 2021.
For Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of State Matthew Boyse, the new US administration has demonstrated its commitment to the transatlantic values during the June 2021 summit. President Biden’s first official trip abroad actively reinstated diplomacy and multilateralism to the core of the US foreign policy, with the NATO 2030 agenda as the main framework for addressing plural challenges and threats through a positive economic agenda.
Key issues include responding to global challenges through cooperation with European partners, namely with regard to Russia, where the path to a more stable and transparent relationship will also depend on EU commitment, as well as with China where the main challenge is to set a comprehensive position on dealing with autocratic regimes and addressing human rights issues.
Furthermore, Boyse pointed out the commitment to a “no strings attached” vaccine diplomacy and to the ongoing negotiations on the alliance’s critical investments and financing. Policy priorities should be guided by confidence and the need to come together, while avoiding complacency in serious matters, such as defence systems. The administration’s ambition to coordinate and to go much further forward in questions of trade and security, China and Iran, are important reasons for optimism.
The need for immediate action
On a more pessimistic note, Policy Director at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies Roland Freudenstein recognised the new vigour on transatlantic relations, but noted a pressing need for immediate action. Certainly President Biden made a huge step towards re-engaging Europe, but the US foreign policy issues are not dictated by this framework alone.
On the European side, the response remains far from adequate, as questions of defence spending, the approach to China and trade relations still allow for the emergence of deep divisions. He went further with identifying “pitfalls” that the EU should avoid, such as a complacency in dealing with the post-Trump trauma. In addition, a certain defeatism in taking up a leading role in global affairs, the “delusion” that Europe can and should defend itself alone and the question of how to protect the EU economies without being protectionist demand serious answers, in order for the EU to prove its real “added value” in the alliance.
Benedetta Berti, Head of the Policy Planning Unit in the Office of the NATO Secretary General, highlighted the new impetus for cooperation within the alliance, following years of mutual distrust and uncertainty under the Trump administration. This momentum for a new chapter on the defence and security agenda implies a return to basics, ie to mutual commitment and reiterating the essential role for NATO as the sustainable and only real way for facing common security threats.
At a time where these threats vary from super-sophisticated cyber-crime, climate change, border disputes, terrorism and geopolitical tensions with China and Russia, it is crucial to agree that neither the US nor the EU are able to face them alone. In this context, the June Nato summit was an act of matching words with deeds, thus recognising that the alliance is a unique and reliable context for collaboration, but that a lot more needs be done to strengthen the resilience and cooperation within it. “Weatherproofing” the alliance by investing in it and avoiding dangerous dichotomies are the main policy orientations, Berti concluded.
NATO as a cornerstone
Distinguished Atlantic Council Fellow Frances Burnwell echoed this reaffirmation of NATO as a cornerstone for cooperation and of the EU as an equal partner. The renewed serious US approach on cooperation must be coupled with strong EU leadership and with the inclusion of European defence frameworks, such as the European Defence Agency. According to Burnwell, the alliance’s dynamic can be bolstered through the addressing of four key challenges. Firstly, to get the thorny issues of the past few years resolved, namely trade and data transfer.
Fortifying the tech resilience and seriously targeted foreign policy issues, especially in the European neighborhood with the question concerning Ukraine, Belarus and Turkey, are crucial for advancing the transatlantic agenda.
The state of both democracy and democracies
Last but not least, Burnwell called for seriously considering the state of democracies, as well as the state of democracy, within and between the US and the EU partners. This basic common understanding of the world could lead to renewed cooperation, even – and perhaps especially – when perceptions do not completely align behind a common “we” approach.
Ruth Bajada, Head of Division US & Canada at the European External Action Service (EEAS) underlined the necessity of cooperation and for the EU and US re-building multilateralism in order to deal with pressing challenges, namely climate change, democracy, the global recovery from the COVID pandemic and vaccine strategies, geopolitical tensions and the question of sanctions. Strengthening democracy and institutions within and in the wider context of the alliance constitute the main policy challenges, according to Bajada.