This article was originally published in the Winter 1997 issue of the Harvard International Review.

The end of the Cold War has provided the United States with a unique opportunity to further the development of an international system that is at peace and that is characterized by open markets, democratic systems of governance, the rule of law, and regard for human rights. This is the international system Americans have supported and fought for. It is a vision now shared by countries throughout the world, but the greatest concentration of people and countries that share these interests lies in Europe. Moreover, European integration, despite its current difficulties, is an irreversible process. If not truly a “United States of Europe,” there will at least be a Europe in which foreign and defense policies, as well as other interests, will have largely converged. Given the emerging power of nations which may not share American values—such as China, Iran, and Iraq—it is critical that the United States engage Europe fully as it crafts policy for the 21st century.

Any US-European partnership would likely focus on seven major policy objectives: consolidating political and economic reform in the former Soviet states, combating international terrorism and narcotics trafficking, promoting free trade to support US exports, ensuring access to energy supplies in the Middle East and Central Asia, stabilizing social and political developments in the southern Mediterranean, helping the least developed countries in Africa and Asia to expand their economies, and promoting human rights. Such a partnership could eventually include countries from other regions such as South Africa, Japan, Australia, and the ASEAN countries, but it must begin with Europe if it is to be successful. The Clinton Administration has begun the task of making US- European partnership a reality, but more needs to be done, both by the government and in the private sector. Unfortunately, the collapse of communism has caused many on both sides of the Atlantic to question continued US involvement in Europe.

While the issue of NATO enlargement and the conflict in Bosnia have demonstrated both the utility and necessity of a US presence in Europe, neither has shed light on a way to reinvigorate the relationship between the United States and its European allies. If issues such as sharing the costs of NATO enlargement, the composition of a follow-on force in Bosnia after June 1998, and US concern over Iran and Cuba are not resolved in a satisfactory way, transatlantic relations could conceivably sour.

The issues facing Europe—integration and enlargement of the European Union through the accession of new democracies in central and eastern Europe—are daunting. If Europe’s leaders seem preoccupied at the moment with these problems, the United States must be patient. But the question of forging the US-European partnership has imperatives of its own. The people of the United States will not be willing to assume the burden of addressing issues that should be dealt with through joint US-European efforts if they perceive that Europe merely wants to stand by and enjoy the benefits of US leadership and sacrifice. Europeans must understand that US leadership has been exercised at a significant cost in blood and treasure over the past 60 years.

The nature of the post-Cold War transatlantic relationship has been widely discussed and the benefits of continued US engagement in Europe widely recognized, but little action has been taken beyond the establishment of a semiannual summit of the US president and EU heads of state to improve, expand, or enhance the institutions or modalities of the US-EU relation- ship. US contacts and interaction with the European Union need to be broadened, deepened, and made more consistent and substantive.

In particular, NATO, having fulfilled its basic mission during the past 50 years, must not be relegated to the roleof containing the potential threat posed by a neo-imperialist Russia. It should be empowered so that the capabilities that brought about its Cold War successes can be used to achieve new ones, such as deterring the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and countering threats to Persian Gulf energy supplies.

The US business and academic com- munities should buttress any transatlantic partnership, and a good start has been made in the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The TABD will be an increasingly relevant model, as the business communities on both sides of the Atlantic set the agenda for government. The TABD needs to become bolder, educating and enlisting Congress and the European Parliament to reform laws that unnecessarily constrict trade.

The US-European partnership must be strengthened and institutionalized, lest US citizens come to oppose a commitment in Europe, perceiving Europeans as free- riding on US commitments to assume the principal burdens of providing security in the international system. Moreover, European public opinion will grow increasingly resentful of what it will perceive as US unilateralism if mechanisms and modalities for important joint endeavors cannot be worked out. It has taken time to absorb the momentous changes brought about by the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War, but Europe and the United States must now forge a new relationship to preserve the fruits of that victory and to confront the challenges that lie ahead. 

Note from the Editor 

In the winter of 1997, the Harvard International Review invited eight distinguished guest writers—including future presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and John Kerry—to reflect on the role that the United States was meant to play in the global arena, as the world edged away from the Cold War and towards the new millennium. Eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the initial euphoria from the fall of the Soviet Union had paved the way for a more pragmatic consideration of what the United States could and should do with its extraordinary power. The topics of these essays run the gamut from US-Europe relations to arms transfer policy to the narcotics trade. Together, they craft a vision of US foreign policy that is bold, ambitious, and thoughtful. In short, they are portraits of engagement and leadership in a new era.