All week, the media’s foreign policy focus has been on the developments related to the release of prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. But flying under the radar, President Obama’s trip to Europe this week could lead to a new chapter in transatlantic relations. For that chapter to be written, much depends on what happens next. As we argued earlier this week, the transatlantic alliance faces new threats and strains and it’s a pivotal time to rebuild the alliance on the security, economic, and political fronts.
On security, President Obama offered strong reassurances in his speech in Poland and some concrete proposals, including a $1 billion fund for security aid in light of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. For weeks, European allies — particularly those in Eastern Europe — have publically fretted about the U.S.’ commitment to protecting them against a seemingly resurgent Russia But a lot depends on how Russia responds to recent events and what further steps Europe is willing to take this summer. As former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder argued, NATO must take more steps to offer reassurances to its members in the east. Preparations for the next NATO summit in Wales in early September are essential to planning NATO’s next steps.
It is difficult for the United States to do more on Europe’s security than what its European partners are willing to do, and that’s why President Obama expressed his disappointment with France’s decision to go ahead with military deals it has with Russia — at a time when Russia has been making destabilizing military moves. Beyond Europe’s immediate sphere, there’s a lot more the transatlantic alliance could do together to address continued instability not far from Europe in North Africa, including Libya and Egypt.
Another challenge that looms for the transatlantic partnership is the economy. The distraction of the media frenzy about Bergdahl obscured several important geopolitical stories this week, including the European Central Bank aggressive moves to stimulate the economy, an effort that could be a key move towards dealing with the Eurozone’s longstanding economic growth problems. More broadly the United States and its European partners have an opportunity in the remaining years of Obama’s presidency to take another step towards advancing negotiations on a new Transatlantic and Trade Investment Partnership.
On Friday, Obama commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, standing alongside European leaders in memory of one of the most tangible products of the transatlantic alliance. All in all, away from the major distraction of the week, the Obama administration took some important steps towards jumpstarting that alliance. But now the real test comes in the follow up and implementation.