NATO DSG Rose Gottemoeller addresses the audience.

GMF’s Brussels Forum: Testing Transatlantic Understanding

A Young Transatlantic Network Member Perspective

By: Constance Chucholowski, Young Transatlantic Network — Berlin Chapter

It was fitting that global security influencers offered their unique insight on the strength of the transatlantic security partnership on the final day of GMF’s Brussels Forum, at the same time that thousands of Europeans rallied for the European Union, on its de facto 60th birthday. The final forum session, Transatlantic (In)Security, focused on the state of NATO and security threats against its partners resulting from acute changes facing an ill-prepared institution, or so, the majority of participants maintained. The pessimism regarding transatlantic security cooperation and coordination could not have more starkly contrasted the optimism of pro-EU marchers.

Whether NATO has a fan club was up for debate at GMF’s Brussels Forum, that the EU has a fan following was clear in the streets of Europe that day.

Transatlantic Dissonance?

The now well-known statement by U.S. President Donald Trump that “NATO is obsolete,” has cemented transatlantic insecurity — in the self-doubt sense. Although NATO DSG Rose Gottemoeller and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson assuaged us, as many close to President Trump have had to do, that NATO is not in fact obsolete, there was strong dissonance about what urgent security threats allied forces face and what NATO must do to address them.

The greatest threat to transatlantic security? Trump. Participants of GMF’s Brussels Forum thought as much when responding to a live survey. Senator Johnson dismissed participants’ response as resulting from exaggerated media reports and argued instead that terrorism is the greatest threat to transatlantic security. If respondents’ reasoning was that President Trump threatens the liberal order, leading to a weak security apparatus and the loss of diplomatic avenues to address security threats, such as terrorism and Putin’s Russia, perhaps there is no real disagreement. Yet, transatlantic dissonance is overwhelming. A first step to strengthening NATO should be strengthening transatlantic communication.

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson addresses the audience.

United Front or Divided Backsliding?

The questions now are: can NATO members from Ankara, to Brussels, to Washington agree to disagree on budgets for long enough to develop security strategies fit for the present? Can they separate the divisive rhetoric used at home — “more military spending” on the one side, and “less military spending” on the other — from the united security framework that must be implemented in practice?

So-called “democratic deficits” — or the illusion thereof — and a lack of transparency by international institutions have had profound negative impacts — direct and indirect — on the liberal order. Leaders are tempted to say one thing at home and agree to another abroad. This has led to divided backsliding — mistrust among parties to NATO, a needless lack of confidence — and has ultimately painted a strong, capable alliance as fearful. Instead, parties to NATO must paint their participation patriotically and advocate loudly for their contribution to peace. Unlike Senator Johnson argued of the U.S., Americans are not adverse to paying more for defense, Americans do not condemn the aid budget, they advocate for peace and security, specifically American-led peace and security. And unlike Gottemoeller claimed, Europeans do not reject military responsibility; they are for peace and security, specifically European-arbitrated peace and security. These may be different approaches, but the reality, when acknowledged, has the potential to shape an even stronger partnership.

A united front and subsequent strong transatlantic security, will be the reality when NATO leaders acknowledge that their constituents have always advocated for a comprehensive security concept to address complex security challenges, it is time they do the same. NATO is capable, strong, and arguably united, leaders must call it what it is at home and abroad, or else watch its undoing and expect transatlantic insecurity.

For more on GMF’s Brussels Forum, check out BrusselsForum.org for all of the session videos, transcripts, blog posts, and more.

The ideas expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.