The troubled transatlantic relationship today

Any overview of the transatlantic relationship today has to recognize that both the US and Europe are internally divided partners. But despite the present persistent crisis in the European Union with Brexit and the rise of nationalist right-wing populism in many countries, the big picture still is that Europe today is much more united than it was after the second world war.

European discords are therefore much more muted than the deep divide that has taken hold of the United States. The bipartisan consensus which guided the United States at the time of the Marshall plan and the founding of Nato has already been more or less moribund since the turn of the Millennium.

The US today is a deeply divided country, and this is not because of Donald Trump, which is merely an added complication. Even without Trump there are clearly two Americas. On one side there is the Democratic one, which believes in a rules-based international order and more or less free trade and open frontiers, which believes that government has a necessary and constructive role to play in managing the economy and in education and the like, which stands for gender equality and minority rights and which is increasingly concerned with the immense concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands.

On the other side we have Republican America, which believes in a God-given American right to rule the international order with its overwhelming military superiority when American interests are at stake, but is happy with less than benevolent isolationism when not, which believes increasingly in protectionism, which is in climate-change denial and believes that the only thing wrong with the distribution of wealth is that there are still too many restraints such as taxes on the rich getting richer than before and which favors the death penalty and hates gun control and Obama-care.

While the mainstream of European thought is roughly in sync with the values of the Democratic half of America it is totally misleading to talk of any shared values with the Republican half of America. Economic and geopolitical rivalry aside, this America actually has more in common with the social conservative values of Putin’s Russia and formally Communist China.

This is a particularly painful dilemma and challenge for the Nordic countries, which rejoiced at the kind of special relationship with the US that President Obama’s invitation for the five Nordic heads of state or government and the eight page long joint declaration adopted at the meeting a year ago seemed to embody.

On almost every item in the declaration the Trump or any other republican administration today would have almost diametrically opposite views. In these circumstances it is ridiculous to talk of any transatlantic value partnership. And this applies not only for the Nordic countries but for most of the rest of Europe as well, including Catholic Europe at least as far as the Pope is representative of its values. There are some “Friends of Trump” in Europe, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Marine Le Pen and the Front National and others, who in many instances can also be identified as “Friends of Putin” too.

We recognize these “friends” as a threat to European values and are ready to stand up to them, but we are much more reluctant to challenge the same opinions when expressed by American politicians. This is, of course, realpolitik, because the gap in values notwithstanding there is still a community of interests with the US. Worries about Trump’s commitment to Nato make it necessary for Europeans to remain on amicable terms with whoever is in power in Washington.

Having a business-like relationship with the US based on shared interests should not be allowed to weaken the European commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule-of-law and upholding a rules-based-world order and the necessity to implement the UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. We should not overlook either, that not speaking up on these issues with the US means letting down the majority of Americans who did not vote for Donald Trump.

2.6. 2017

Julkaistu myös Helsinki Timesin nettisivulla