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Interview with Daniel Hamilton

Image credit: CTR/SAIS

Image credit: CTR/SAIS

The Senior Editors of European Geostrategy have been undertaking a number of interviews with various individuals who are involved in thinking about European foreign, security and military policies. In this interview, Luis Simón talks with Daniel Hamilton, Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Professor and Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, about the United States’ rebalancing to Asia and the future of the transatlantic relationship.


LS: With most United States (US) and allied combat troops set to leave Afghanistan after 2014, the so-called ‘rebalancing’ or ‘pivot’ to Asia seems to be supplanting the ‘War on Terror’ as the referent paradigm in US foreign and security policy. What does this all mean for the transatlantic relationship?

DH: There are serious reasons behind renewed US attention to Asia-Pacific dynamics, which contain the seeds for severe political confrontation and possible great power conflict. Defence budgets are increasing everywhere in Asia; in 2012 total defence spending in Asia exceeded total defence spending in Europe. In the Asia-Pacific region, reconciliation between old enemies has not taken place and territorial disputes rage as open and closed societies contest basic norms and principles and have yet to develop the types of institutions and mechanisms that have helped Europe transcend many of the defining cleavages of its history. The US is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power, and will continue to play a critical role in both regions. As I explain below, the so-called pivot was always intended to be a pivot ‘with Europe’, not ‘from Europe’.

Attention to Asia notwithstanding, Middle East troubles are not going away. In fact, despite all the rhetoric about a US pivot to Asia, US Secretary of State John Kerry has spent most of his tenure trying to contain Middle Eastern instabilities and insecurities. The ongoing human tragedy in Syria is the most immediate of these challenges. The US and most European countries have been reluctant to become involved militarily in Syria. Yet Western hesitation has created a political vacuum that jihadist forces associated with al-Qaeda have exploited to their advantage. The Syrian crisis has already destabilised Iraq and threatens to do the same to Lebanon, Jordan and even Turkey. How the US and Europe approach the crisis will have considerable implications for their relations with other key actors, including Russia and especially Iran. The transatlantic partners have aligned their dual-track approach of pressure and engagement with Iran and secured an interim agreement with Tehran regarding its international nuclear obligations. As the Arab Awakening continues to unfold, the US and the European countries have coordinated their messages on the need for peaceful and inclusive change. They provide the majority of funding for the stabilisation of Afghanistan, even though it is unclear whether Afghan forces can assume primary responsibility for their own security as Western presence diminishes. The urgent agenda now is to develop a credible political strategy to complement the military drawdown.

LS: Some analysts are arguing that the US ‘pivot’ should force Europeans to concentrate their strategic energies in the European neighbourhood. The corollary is that they should refrain from engaging with Asian security dynamics. How do you see this from a US perspective? To what extent, and in what ways, could Europe and the transatlantic relationship contribute to underpinning security in the Asia-Pacific region?

DH: Too much commentary in Europe seems to assume that more US attention to Asia means less attention to Europe. This type of commentary reflects more on the narrow regional perspective of the commentator than on the enduring reality of America’s position as both an Atlantic and Pacific power.

Despite the significant progress that has been achieved in stabilising Europe over the quarter-century since the fall of the Iron Curtain, security challenges remain in Europe. Contrary to mainstream opinion in much of the US and western Europe, the European continent is not fully whole, free and at peace, especially in its turbulent spaces to the east and south of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Washington remains committed to stationing two brigade combat teams in Europe, to rotate a third from the continental US to train and exercise with European allies and partners, and to engage together on common security challenges. The US and the EU continue, with uneven and often frustrating results, to coordinate efforts to help the Balkans integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community; create space in Belarus for the free expression of political views, human rights, civil society development, and media freedom; and encourage Ukraine’s transformation into a free market and democratic society. Cooperation on issues of anti-terrorism continues. They have found renewed common cause in managing difficulties with a newly blusterous yet relatively brittle Russia.

Nonetheless, both the Cold War and post-Cold War models of transatlantic security partnership seem less attuned to today’s challenges. While Washington has signalled its continued commitment to the Alliance, it argues that it is not unreasonable to expect European allies to step up their relative contributions and engagement. The US has demonstrated that it is prepared to provide assets only it has – whether political credibility in Kosovo; cruise missiles in Libya; or advanced communications and logistics capacities in Mali –  but it does not need to command every operation and expects European allies and partners to bear the brunt of the burden for managing regional crises below the threshold of mutual self-defence. The US is not standing in the way of European efforts at more unified security and defence policies; European countries themselves continue to block such efforts, due to differing threat perceptions tied to their own national interests.

The transatlantic relationship must make its own pivot from an agenda focused inordinately on Europe itself to a broader partnership that can effectively address many challenges far from European shores. The US pivot is intended to be a pivot with Europe, not from it.  This does not mean that Washington is trying to push Europe to play a role in Asia commensurate with America’s, or to slavishly follow US direction, but rather signaling that Europe would draw on its comparative advantages to pursue common interests and coordinate policies towards Asia with the US wherever possible. Both partners will have to develop new habits of working together if they are to make a common pivot more operational. Unfortunately, despite some potential for common or complementary approaches to Pacific issues, there is a dearth of networks bringing together both transatlantic and Pacific experts and opinion leaders; these experts typically do not know one another and have had relatively little exposure to each other’s perspectives. A reorientation of transatlantic relations to broader global and regional challenges must involve a recasting and refocusing of such networks.

LS: For years you have pointed to the need to realise the full potential of the transatlantic market through greater economic integration. You have also encouraged European and American policy-makers to work together to develop a more integrated Atlantic Basin, encompassing the countries of the North and South Atlantic. Does America’s current strategic and economic reorientation towards the Asia-Pacific region make this more difficult or more urgent?

DH: Not at all. Once again the question implies an either-or choice that the United States (US) does not have the luxury of making.

First on the transatlantic vs. transpacific economic issues. The US is not shifting from one region to the other, it is engaged simultaneously in an ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiation with eleven other Asia-Pacific countries and in an even more ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with twenty-eight European Union (EU) member states, represented by the European Commission. If both deals are successful, the US and its partners will have opened trade and investment across both the Atlantic and the Pacific with countries accounting for two-thirds of global output. As the only party to both initiatives, the negotiations give the US a distinct advantage in leveraging issues in one forum to advance its interests in the other, while potentially reinvigorating US global economic leadership and supporting a number of broader US goals. The TPP and TTIP offer the US an opportunity to influence the formulation of standards and the establishment of norms among very diverse economies in the Asia-Pacific, while simultaneously aligning US and EU standards as much as possible while deepening shared US-EU norms as a core for global standards. Greater trade and investment opportunities and alignment on high standards and norms are important not only in terms of how the US and its partners relate to each other, but how they together might best relate to rising powers, especially emerging growth markets, whose leaders are still debating their role in the international system. Whether those powers choose to challenge the current international economic order and its rules or promote themselves within it depends significantly on how the US and its partners engage, not only with them but also with each other. The stronger those bonds, the better the chances that rising partners will emerge as responsible stakeholders in the international trading system. The looser or weaker those bonds, the greater the likelihood that rising powers will challenge this order. In this regard, the TTIP is far more than just another free trade agreement; it is poised to be the major political, strategic and economic driver of the transatlantic relationship over the course of this decade.

This relates to your question about the changing dynamics of the broader Atlantic. The rise of developing Asia has rightly captured the world’s attention. The dynamism of that region is dramatic, and will change the world. Yet by its very nature globalisation is not confined to one region of the world. In fact, for all the talk of the Pacific, it is important to recognise that the Atlantic Basin is a central arena of globalisation. With little fanfare, the peoples of the North and South Atlantic are engaging and interacting in a whole host of ways that present both opportunities and challenges. This new dynamic should prompt Atlantic leaders to consider ways to work more effectively together to forge public-private networks encompassing the full Atlantic Basin. There a number of reasons why.

Globalisation has generated more connections across the Atlantic than perhaps ever before. The well-being of people across this vast region is increasingly influenced by interrelated flows of people, money and weapons, goods and services, technology, toxins and terror, drugs and disease. It has given them greater access to each other’s markets and resources. It has also created issues particular to the nations of the Atlantic Basin that deserve concerted attention.

The Atlantic Basin is recasting the world’s energy future. An Atlantic Energy Renaissance is setting the global pace for energy innovation and redrawing global maps for oil, gas, and renewables as new players and technologies emerge, new conventional and unconventional sources come online, energy services boom, and opportunities appear all along the energy supply chain and across the entire Atlantic space. Together these developments are shifting the center of gravity for global energy supply from the Middle East to the Atlantic Hemisphere. Over the next twenty years the Atlantic is likely to become the energy reservoir of the world and a net exporter of many forms of energy to the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean Basins. Already twenty-one percent of China’s oil imports come from the Atlantic Basin.

The volume of Atlantic commerce is staggering. Despite the rise of the Pacific, more trade and investment flows across the Atlantic than any other part of the world. Never have so many workers and consumers entered the Atlantic economy as quickly or as suddenly as in the past fifteen years. Rapidly developing Atlantic countries are connecting with the global marketplace and becoming a major engine of the global economy. At the same time, too many people have yet to benefit from these developments; poverty, conflict and environmental degradation still hold back their potential.

The international strategic community has turned its gaze from the Atlantic because it lacks the defining conflicts, cleavages and existential flashpoints evident in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean. Yet while challenges of state-to-state security are greatest in the Pacific, challenges to human security are most relevant for the Atlantic. Drug trafficking, arms flows, piracy, political instability, and terrorist infiltration are all becoming concerns of pan-Atlantic scope. The situation in Mali is emblematic. The French-led intervention was widely characterised as an effort to roust al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from territory twice the size of France. But what gave the movement real potency was not the attraction of its radical ideology but its close and lucrative links to crime cartels trafficking in drugs and guns, primarily from the Americas and Europe. This nexus of crime, drugs, guns and terror has become a pan-Atlantic challenge and requires pan-Atlantic answers.

Furthermore, these security challenges tend to be common, and thus present an opportunity to unite efforts and test new modes of governance between developed and developing countries. In fact, the Atlantic may offer more innovative and effective governance solutions than can be adopted within either the Asian-Pacific or Indian Ocean contexts, since traditional state-to-state mechanisms fit the Atlantic space less well than do networks of public and private actors organized around the principle of open regionalism. Yet there are still no pan-Atlantic mechanisms comparable to Pacific Basin cooperation as embodied by APEC and other groupings. My Center is spearheading an Atlantic Basin Initiative to fill this gap.

LS: Finally, to what extent are revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) wire-tapping in Europe likely to affect the negotiations on a TTIP?

DH: Disclosures of extensive spying operations by the US NSA against European allies and other governments have put a major strain on transatlantic relations and forced serious debate about the proper relationship between liberty and security in democratic societies and about the nature and effectiveness of the US-European link in a rapidly changing world.

European media, however, have on the whole paid less attention to the fervent debate the spy scandal has unleashed within the US. Towards the end of December a review group tasked by President Obama recommended new procedures, as well as amendments to existing laws, to reign in the most egregious abuses. A growing and unlikely coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in the US Congress are drafting legislation pointing in the same direction. Others, however, believe that European reactions are incredibly naive. They contend that the US is being singled out for activities conducted by many countries. They  argue vociferously that terrorism and other threats to the US warrant such extensive surveillance methods. They also point out that Germany and other European allies cooperate regularly with US intelligence services, and that such cooperation has helped to foil various terrorist plots, including against European targets.

President Obama begins the year having to make some tough choices. Although he has defended the intelligence community’s activities, he has also acknowledged that the US has not yet found the right security-liberty balance. He has ended the Bush Administrations’ rhetoric about a ‘war on terror’, has begun to alter US policy on use of remotely piloted aircraft systems, and has sought to shift America’s domestic framework towards greater transparency and rules legitimised by democratic consent and oversight. But he has yet to address head-on the concerns voiced within the US or across the Atlantic due to the revelations of NSA activities.

The question how democratic societies can best balance individual freedom and fundamental values such as privacy with expectations of individual and national security has long been contentious across the Atlantic. Despite differences, the US and the EU have reached agreement in past years on ‘safe harbour’ provisions for data privacy; passenger name recognition arrangements providing for safe air travel; and access to financial transactions that could be related to terrorist financing. This time, however, mutual trust and confidence has been eroded to such an extent that some in Europe are calling for the EU to suspend various agreements with the US and to halt bilateral negotiations on the TTIP. European leaders have resisted such demands, however, as they know that TTIP is far more than just another trade agreement and that Europe has a great stake in a successful outcome to the negotiations.

Vol. 6, No. 2 (2014)


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