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World Politics

Transatlantic cooperation in the assessments of Western experts: prospects for the "Europeanization" of the collective security system

Krivov Sergei Valer'evich

PhD in History

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University

603950, Russia, Nizhny Novgorod region, Nizhny Novgorod, Gagarin Ave., 23, office building 2

Baranova Tat'yana Vladimirovna

Assistant, Department of Political Science, Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University

603950, Russia, Nizhny Novgorod region, Nizhny Novgorod, Gagarin Ave., 23, office building 2






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Abstract: The subject of the study is expert and analytical assessments of the state, contradictions and prospects of the transatlantic partnership as an essential component of the international security system. The "turn to the East" proclaimed by Barack Obama, the transition to the principles of unilateralism of the Trump administration, and finally, the creation of AUKUS, with an obvious shift of strategic priorities to the Indo-Pacific region, raised a number of conceptual issues for the expert community on both sides of the Atlantic. The authors consider the assessments of the prospects and role of European countries in the transatlantic security system carried out by Western experts and analytical centers both within the framework of NATO institutions and in the context of the European Union's defense initiatives based on the method of expert assessments. For the first time, the paper attempts a comprehensive comparative analysis of the assessments by the Western expert community of the state and prospects of transatlantic cooperation. Particular attention is paid to the possibility of productive cooperation between the EU and NATO in the field of distribution of functional powers. It is concluded that, despite certain positive developments, at present the issue of cooperation between the two key links of the Western security system cannot be considered resolved. The paper uses descriptive and structural-functional research methods. Special emphasis is also placed on comparative analysis when considering expert assessments of various "think tanks" on both sides of the Atlantic.


transatlantic cooperation, expert community, NATO, EU, European Strategic Autonomy, Strategic Capacity Concept, Brookings Institution, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

IntroductionThe adoption by the European Union of a new Global Strategy in 2016 has intensified discussions about the need to reform its relations with NATO.

However, despite the subsequent appearance of the Joint Declaration on Cooperation in 2018 [1] and the agreement on 74 common projects, bilateral contacts remain insufficiently institutionalized. At the functional level, the overlap and duplication of powers is increasing as NATO pushes its strategic agenda beyond the extension of territorial defense, and the EU, in turn, interprets the principle of strategic autonomy as covering the areas of security, defense and armaments. Thus, cooperation can no longer be achieved through a simple division of labor, but requires general agreement on the hierarchy of powers and autonomy of decision-making.

The Analytical Group, established in 2020 on the initiative of NATO Secretary General J.Stoltenberg, confirmed the lack of attention to cooperation in both structures, and also criticized the concept of European strategic autonomy as too superficial. The authors adhere to the traditional approach to transatlantic relations, pointing out that NATO remains the main platform for consultations and decisions. At the same time, they demand "the fullest participation of NATO allies who are not members of the EU in its initiatives" and the need to avoid unnecessary duplication of functions [2]. At the same time, the International Secretariat, the main administrative body of the Alliance, supports a more balanced view of relations between NATO and the EU. Nevertheless, proposals to create a "European component" within NATO or to revise its structure, which would give European allies a greater role in decision-making, are not included in the Alliance's reform program.

In this regard, the role of analytical and expert centers is increasing both in the context of assessments of the state of development of bilateral relations between the two key actors of the international security system, and in terms of developing practical recommendations for their improvement. In a broader sense, the issue covers the entire complex of relations between the United States and European countries both within the framework of relations between the EU and NATO, and in the context of the formation of the European agenda within the North Atlantic Alliance. The purpose of this article is to analyze the prospects for the "Europeanization" of the North Atlantic security system from the point of view of expert assessments of Western analytical institutions and think tanks.

American views on the prospects of transatlantic relations  The most pressing issues widely discussed by American experts on NATO and transatlantic security are the Europeanization of the alliance and the related issue of sharing the burden of costs for collective defense.

The general opinion is that the European partners still do not make their fair contribution to the common defense of the allies.

Practical recommendations on what to do about this alleged imbalance range widely from proposals to fully provide Europe's protection to the Europeans themselves to discussions on how exactly the Europeans could contribute more to joint activities [3]. The skeptical attitude of all US governments towards the EU's efforts to achieve greater autonomy in defense and security matters is most characteristic of the conservative camp. T. Bromund and D. Kochis from the Heritage Institute warned that the EU "should not develop a defense identity or ambitions that would distract from NATO in any way" [4]. On the other hand, liberal and conservative observers agree that the United States and NATO will only benefit from closer defense integration of the EU and the formation of a strong European foothold in the Atlantic alliance. The United States, according to this point of view, "should generally welcome the prospect of strengthening the EU's role in the field of security and defense" [5]. As stated in an interview with Ch . Kupchan: "I don't like the term strategic autonomy , but the desire of the European Union to become more capable militarily, with the presence of a common foreign and defense policy, should continue" [6]. L. Ford and D. Goldgeier agree with him, arguing that "if the United States manages to reorient its defense policy towards Asia, they need a stronger Europe capable of taking the initiative in relation to its neighbors" [7].

Regarding the distribution of military spending, even pro-European analysts from the Carnegie Endowment E. Brattberg and T. Valasek warn against excluding American companies from EU defense projects, arguing that the European Union should "give priority to opportunities, not integration goals" [8, p.16]. At the same time, an increasing number of American experts believe that, although Europeans should contribute more to the overall security system, the requirement for defense spending in the amount of two percent of national GDP is not a sufficient indicator to measure their contribution to common undertakings. According to D. Goldgeyer and G.Martin, there are "very good reasons to abandon this indicator in normal times, but the extraordinary circumstances created by COVID-19 make it even more relevant" [9]. D. Chollet, S. Kale and K. Scaluba from the Atlantic Council are sure that the emphasis should It should be biased towards measuring production capabilities, not just defense spending. Greater standardization should also be resorted to, and the Union governments should improve the principles of cost allocation. Although this will be a difficult task, in their opinion, for this, "NATO should reconsider the nature of the security of the XXI century" [10].

European Strategic Autonomy: a view from France

France has been the most consistent advocate of strengthening the European role in the field of collective defense and security since the Cold War period, where strategic autonomy is still considered a priority goal of defense policy, deeply rooted in the French strategic culture and in the expert community. Many agree with E. Macron that economic problems, security problems and global challenges are becoming increasingly interconnected and should be solved by resuming investments in the strategic autonomy of Europe. The trends distracting the US attention from Europe, the proclamation of a "pivot to Asia" by Barack Obama in 2001, as well as the "destructive policy of President Trump" require greater European independence in the field of defense [11]. Some observers even support the idea of combining NATO's strategic doctrine and the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), or at least express a desire for greater Europeanization of the North Atlantic Alliance [12]. The main focus of French observers is that European countries need to take matters into their own hands in order to be able to manage crises within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy (Eastern Europe and the Middle East). The expert of the Foundation for Strategic Studies (FRS) B. Otkouverture believes that "the issue of strategic autonomy passes through European thinking against the background of the general perception that Europe is entering an era of increased strategic and geopolitical competition" [13]. European independence and liberation from US hegemony should also manifest themselves in the field of cooperation in the field of armaments.

France's calls for joint investments in European defense projects are not only related to the complexity of the nature of threats, but also to the need to create a counterweight to the alleged economic and political hegemony of the United States within NATO. French experts agree that closer integration at the European level is necessary to overcome the inefficiency caused by the national disunity of the military industry and the armed forces. Research is being conducted and proposals are being developed regarding the possibilities of achieving strategic autonomy. For example, K. Brustlein proposes the concept of strategic potential , which assumes greater flexibility, but gives priority to opportunities "suitable for higher-level conflicts" [14]. F. Mauro introduces the idea of a "defense Eurogroup" into the discourse, which could work outside the institutional framework of the EU as an integrated and autonomous "European army" [15]. This system could provide for voting by a qualified majority or, at least, by consensus, similar to NATO.

Nevertheless, fears that France is seeking a "Gaullist turn" that will destroy transatlantic ties while strengthening French influence are clearly unfounded, and the ambitious idea of European strategic autonomy does not conflict with NATO. French analysts are rather inclined to believe that a stronger Europe will strengthen the Atlantic Alliance, which will continue to provide collective defense and increase military interoperability. Recently, France has become more pragmatic with regard to European strategic autonomy, which reflects the recognition by the French that many European leaders, even in Germany, still look at the United States as a leader in the field of defense and do not take French initiatives seriously enough [16].

The Eastern Flank: the prospect of a European contribution to collective security The statement by German Defense Minister A. Kramp-Karrenbauer that "the illusions of European strategic autonomy must be put to an end" [17] disappointed French observers.

In addition, most European experts do not share their radicalism regarding the absolutization of European strategic autonomy.

In Germany itself, analysts agree that the strengthening of the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) should not come at the expense of NATO. Even the pro-European experts of the Institute for International Policy and Security (SWP) agree that it is NATO that will be responsible for collective defense [18]. At the same time, the influence of the transatlantic camp in Germany is quite strong, rejecting such concepts as European sovereignty and autonomy in the security sphere. In their opinion, in the foreseeable future, the EU will not have enough resources, political will and strategic culture to ensure security in Europe, and the harsh rhetoric of European autonomy may serve as a pretext for the withdrawal of American troops. Supporters of a closer transatlantic partnership insist that the project of European defense autonomy should take a back seat if it contradicts the declared interests of the United States. They particularly object to the idea of a closed European defense market, the creation of integrated European units that also do not benefit NATO, and any attempts to coordinate European positions within the North Atlantic Council. However, some pro-European analysts, such as E. Lubkemeyer, argue that in the future Europe will not be able to rely on American protection, as it was in the past [19]. There are also differences of opinion regarding the possibility of a future European nuclear deterrent: from positive assessments to obvious skepticism, as in B. Kunz from the Institute for Peace and Security Policy Research (IFSH) [20].

The idea of "embedding" Europeans in the transatlantic security system is characteristic of Italian and Spanish think tanks. The prevailing view here is that a reformed NATO will remain the basic reference point. Italian experts are even modeling scenarios in which Europeans will be asked to defend NATO's eastern flank with limited US support focused on the Pacific region [21]. To shoulder this burden, European NATO allies will have to work more closely together. However, given the uncertainty of the American leadership, Europe's recently announced ambitions to achieve strategic autonomy are becoming a matter of necessity. However, this should not happen at the expense of NATO, and European defense initiatives, such as PESCO, should be consistent with NATO's strategic agenda. Although Italy does not meet the NATO target of two percent, the issue of cost sharing among Alliance members is not discussed publicly and is not even considered a problem by think tanks. Perhaps this is due to the fact that American criticism was not directed against Italy, which perceives itself as an exemplary performer of the overall strategy of the North Atlantic bloc. Italian analysts, as a rule, support proposals to expand the NATO agenda, including issues of sustainability of social development.

The Spanish expert community supports both strong transatlantic ties and European defense initiatives that will lead to greater EU capacity and autonomy. At the same time, analytical circles close to the Socialists are traditionally more in favor of European defense than those who lean towards the more right-wing People's Party. The former support European projects such as PESCO or the creation of the European headquarters of NATO, while the latter perceive European defense initiatives as a means of strengthening the alliance and increasing its attractiveness to the United States [22]. They are skeptical of Macron's initiatives, fearing that efforts to ensure European autonomy could weaken NATO. At the same time, European cohesion, in their opinion, should be achieved through coordinated cooperation involving not only France and Germany, but also Italy, Spain and other countries [23].

Transatlantic cohesion is also a key issue for most British experts. At the same time, Trump's activities and Macron's statements have become the most popular objects for consideration. The latter, in particular, were subjected to more harsh assessments by commentators from British think tanks. Despite the fact that Macron himself criticized the lack of cohesion in the North Atlantic Alliance, his remarks are seen as further aggravating NATO's key problems: transatlantic disagreements over its future, cost sharing, as well as the contribution of Europeans to common defense efforts.

The rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration have put the differences between the US and its European allies in the spotlight. But there is a general understanding that disputes about the distribution of costs between allies will continue under Biden, when the United States has returned to a more centrist foreign and security policy. For the United States, the key security challenges lie in the Asia-Pacific region, while the Europeans are clearly more focused on Russia. At the same time, the support of Americans is critically important in this regard. The analytical group of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) even conducted a simulation game based on a scenario according to which the United States would leave NATO, and the Europeans would defend themselves from an attack. The result of this simulation turned out to be simple: it is in the interests of Europeans to support the participation of the United States in Europe. This can be achieved, for example, by adapting to US strategic priorities: "A new transatlantic deal may need to be built on the idea that the Europeans act globally to help the US with its various unforeseen circumstances in exchange for a confirmed US commitment to European security through NATO" [24].

 At the same time, the Europeans must increase their military potential in order to keep the United States. The increase in defense spending is an obvious consequence of this recommendation. The emphasis is on a pragmatic approach. For example, the two percent target of NATO is often viewed critically if interpreted too harshly, but at the same time it is also seen as an important symbolic benchmark that encourages Europeans to invest in maintaining security [25]. The EU's efforts to achieve strategic autonomy are viewed with a similar pragmatism. What is important here is not institutional choice, but capacity-building. Where institutional issues are discussed, a clear preference is given to focusing on NATO and creating "a kind of European core within NATO" [26] instead of a separate strategy within the EU. This would, of course, also make it easier for the United Kingdom to achieve a leading role.

However, this does not mean that the EU is seen as a competitor to NATO. Some analytical materials indicate that, being a "regulatory force", the EU has more opportunities to solve certain problems more effectively than NATO. This applies, for example, to the areas of "cybersecurity, the development of rapid reaction forces or defense-industrial cooperation and in increasing resistance to so-called hybrid threats" [27].


After four years of the Trump administration and after the approval of European defense initiatives by the Biden administration, the previous differences between Europeanists and supporters of the transatlantic orientation have softened. Experts are convinced that EU member States will have to share the burden of costs and that the EU will play a role in coordinating national efforts. The multilateral approach of the new US administration, the rise of China and the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region in the global security system are changing perceptions of the relationship between NATO and the EU's security and defense policy. European self-sufficiency and/or a stronger European position in NATO are no longer seen as a counterweight to unilateral US approaches. Instead, Europe's greater responsibility for security and defense is increasingly perceived as a need to compensate for the likely redirection of American attention and military potential to East Asia. Although experts expect that the United States will continue to participate in Europe, they nevertheless assume that European states will have to compensate for the future partial withdrawal of American troops with their own efforts. As a result, the boundaries between Europeanists and supporters of transatlantic unity are becoming blurred. At the same time, there is still no institutional framework for developing a common transatlantic agenda. 

The research was carried out with the financial support of the RFBR in the framework of the scientific project No. 20-011-00666 "Integration processes in Europe: comparative analysis".











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