The transatlantic relationship between America and Europe has been the bedrock of the post-war liberal international order. The relationship and its dynamics share a long, bloodied history filled with its policy dilemmas and interests. Since independence, America was concerned with its internal affairs to have dedicated a special focus to Europe. Still, the wars – World War I and II – brought American policymakers’ attention to the continent of Europe. While World War I was more of a European affair, fought primarily among European powers, the theatre in World War II did indeed brought America to the war as Japan – one of the axis power – attacked Pearl Harbour.
Since that point onwards, the transatlantic relationship between two continents has been on the evolutionary trajectory. It developed progressively. After the defeat of the axis power, the US, with its marshal plan to European rebuilding, was an integral part of the new relationship vision. Afterward, the threat of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) consolidated America’s role in European affairs, primarily in Western and Central Europe, through diplomacy and creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as the USSR came to dominate the Eastern part of the continent.
After the Cold War, America strengthened its European diplomacy and imbued NATO with a new purpose to protect and preserve freedom in the continent. Status quo in transatlantic relationship preserved until recent new threats to the relationship emerge with the election of Donald Trump, the relative increase in national power of the western European states such as France, Germany and Britain, the increasing independence in their foreign policies, role of China in European markets, the irrelevancy of NATO and most recently prevalent illiberalism in European politics, the rise of Russia and its incursions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and the Brexit issue.
Trump’s foreign policy vision regarding America’s European policy had been, like his other initiatives, characteristically inconsonant with the historical purpose of the transatlantic relationship. Trump’s understanding of the world in terms of profit and loss had been a nuisance for America’s European allies as they historically relied upon the US to provide leadership and vision. Since he was elected, Trump continually derided the reason behind NATO’s existence, primarily concerned with the funding of the alliance and European allies’ strategic mindset on policies than a business mindset. European leaders, conspicuously France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, have been in angst with Trump’s irrational behavior. The election of Joe Biden was therefore celebrated in the European capitals but with great caution.
The damage Trump did to the transatlantic relationship will require more than hope and a willingness to correct an aberration of Trump’s presidency. Besides some of his outrageous claims, Trump on some issues such as funding (on which European partners also shared their willingness to contribute more) was legitimate. His policy regarding competing with China in European markets was also in the interests of the US.
President-elect Biden is likely to continue with some of the remnants of Trump’s foreign policy toward Europe, which includes competing with China. However, on major issues of supporting illiberalism and Brexit as well as derision of European allies, Biden’s foreign policy for Europe would significantly differ.
Three particular issues will test the transatlantic relationship in a new environment: the rise of China, Russia’s offensive posturing, and international cooperation in health, trade, and security. China is the primary priority of US foreign policy posturing, outlined in national security and defence strategies unveiled by the Trump administration. Biden is very unlikely to diverge from these strategies.
In these policy documents, China and Russia are considered as primary antagonists to American foreign policy. But European https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/reshaping-eurasias-future-russia-china-and-the-eurelationship with both of these nation-states complicates America’s role in Europe. The US already started to compete with China on the European turf. US promoted Clean Networkpolicy as opposed to China’s 5G networks. Furthermore, US trade with Europe is more than China’s trade with Europe. Strengthening these aspects is the underlying principle of relationship that are the protection and preservation of liberal democracy and human rights, something which does not favor China.
But the real test of the relationship would come from within the European Union (EU). How America under Biden tread the path between Central, Eastern, and Western European countries while competing with China and would America support reforms within the EU framework of relations and distribution of resources and responsibilities is difficult to ascertain.
Alongside China, Europe’s relationship with Russia, most importantly, the transference of Russian gas to the European markets, would have a significant bearing on the American relationship with the EU. Though the US is not competing as fiercely with Russia as much as it is competing with China, Russia is more aggressively pursuing its offensive posturing in Europe than China, which is merely concerned with capturing Europe’s economic market rather than destabilizing domestic politics or territorial and cyber incursions.
On the international cooperation, Biden will revive the value in the transatlantic relationship lost in the Trump administration as Biden administration will pursue cooperation with European allies on global health issues, governing norms, cybersecurity, and international trade. Furthermore, the Biden administration would likely play a key role in reducing the influence of illiberalism in Europe by advancing values-based foreign policy vision and penalizing through various measures states’ which does not abide with set international norms of liberal democracies.
Brexit may also not significantly influence transatlantic relationship as American-British relations are always distinct from American-European relations, dating back to the American revolution. Though, within Brexit, Biden’s America would find it very compelling to offer some perspective on the issues of Ireland and Scotland after Brexit.
Relations with Europe has been very important for the American power and primacy in the liberal international order. Until recently, the transatlantic relationship has been at the forefront of shaping global norms of governance and security. It has led the world order since the end of the Cold War. With the changing dynamics in power relations and the international environment, the purpose of Biden’s European policy must be to imbue it with a new vision of the relationship. This new vision must concern with changing power dynamics within the region as well as America’s threat perception of China and other state actors as well as threats by non-state actors. This is the time to envision a new relationship with Europe.