February 16, 2017

CNAS Releases New Report on the Future of the Transatlantic Security Relationship

As Vice President Pence and a host of other luminaries head to the Munich Security Conference, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has released a new report on U.S.- European relations, “Defining Moment: The Future of the Transatlantic Security Relationship.” In the report, CNAS Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith and Research Associate Rachel Rizzo provide recommendations for how the Trump administration can strengthen the transatlantic relationship, ensure Europe remains a keystone of U.S. foreign policy, and address critical joint challenges. It also provides a historical perspective of the key issues that shaped the transatlantic relationship during the Obama administration.

The report is part of CNAS’ Papers for the Next President series, which is designed to assist the next president and his team in crafting a strong, pragmatic, and principled national security agenda.

The full report can be found here:


Please find the report’s recommendations section below:

Without question, President Donald Trump has inherited a daunting international agenda. One of the best investments he could make to gain headway with that agenda would be to place the transatlantic partnership near the top of his foreign policy priorities. This relationship has been at the heart of U.S. engagement since World War II—and for good reason. History emphatically shows the United States and Europe tackle global challenges more effectively when they act in concert. But many factors could make that difficult.

Let’s start with the newly-elected president himself. Trump made many statements during the presidential campaign that demonstrated either ignorance about the value of the transatlantic relationship or sheer contempt for the United States’ transatlantic partners and the shared institutions we created together. He called NATO, the world’s most successful military alliance, “obsolete” and claimed he would only meet America’s security commitments to those allies that spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. He said Brussels was a “disaster.” Trump has also made clear he intends to pursue rapprochement with Russia despite Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior in Eastern Europe and support for the Assad regime in Syria. He repeatedly praised Putin’s domestic leadership style during the presidential campaign, expressed openness to recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and downplayed evidence of Russian atrocities in Syria.

Since November, new information has also emerged regarding Russia’s direct involvement in the U.S. election. A recent report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assesses “with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency." Trump has publicly acknowledged Russian involvement, but has stopped short of anything denigrating about Putin. Instead, he said that he “respects the fact” that Putin said Russian involvement in the election “totally never happened.”

One would hope that Trumps pro-Russian statements are being made to avoid assumptions that someone else helped him win on November 8th and do not actually represent his real views. But even if that is the case and Trump takes a more conciliatory approach towards the United States’ European allies, there are several factors that will continue to challenge the transatlantic relationship. These include the public’s loss of faith in international institutions, resource constraints, the public’s increasing disaffection with globalization, and a shrinking community of transatlantic analysts and scholars. Trump and his advisors should do the following to work against those trends.

Invest Politically and Diplomatically in the European Project

As noted earlier, Europe faces many challenges that could dramatically affect both individual European states and entire institutions such as the EU. While the United States is limited in how much it can shape the future of Europe, it nevertheless has a vested interest in seeing the European project succeed, and preserving the peace and stability of the continent. The next president should therefore identify and pursue diplomatic measures and policy changes aimed at reassuring European allies, deterring Russian aggression, fortifying transatlantic resolve, and enhancing resilience. These diplomatic measures should include high-level travel to Europe, U.S.-EU summits, and regular calls to European leaders to consult not only on challenges within the transatlantic community, but also developments impacting the entire international community such as the rise of China, the threat of climate change, and growing discontent with the disruptive changes wrought by globalization and international trade. Although the transatlantic relationship will remain central to U.S. foreign policy, American and European leaders must look farther afield together.

The next president should also take the case for NATO and strong transatlantic relations directly to the American people by showcasing the significant ways the United States’ European allies and partners have contributed to U.S. initiatives in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Although greater sharing of the financial burden must continue to be a goal of the alliance, it is critical to publicly reflect on ways NATO allies have already left their footprint. In Afghanistan, for example, the United States has lost over almost 2,400 service personnel while 1,136 soldiers from NATO allies and other partners—453 British troops, 158 Canadian troops, 88 French troops, and 57 German troops, to name a few— have given their lives to that effort.

Additionally, NATO has been critical in patrolling the Mediterranean and other vulnerable maritime domains, while Germany, Canada, and the UK are contributing troops and matériel to new multinational battalions in Eastern Europe. A comprehensive record of all of NATO’s contributions to U.S.-led or inspired initiatives would require much more space than available here; these are just a few examples to highlight how the United States’ alliances make America and its allies safer.

Investments in the transatlantic relationship can’t come from Washington alone. The daunting task of managing the UK’s departure from the EU, the ongoing difficulties of the migration crisis, and growing popular discontent with the EU’s governing structure will distract Europe’s leaders, but they must resist the temptation to turn inward.

Maintain Sanctions against Russia and Conduct a Review

Despite efforts spanning two decades to forge a productive relationship with Moscow, recent events in Ukraine, Russia’s increasingly menacing probing of the Baltic and Arctic Seas, and its brazen interference in American and European political processes demonstrate the United States and Europe must prepare to contain a revanchist Russia and reassure nervous allies in the region. The next president should begin his tenure as president by calling on the transatlantic community to conduct a thorough review of Russia’s relationship with the West. On the United States’ side, this must include close cooperation by the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Department of defense, and should include an audit of the parameters of the Minsk Protocol.

Trump should also quickly signal the United States’ intention to maintain all existing sanctions against Russia—while calling on the United States and Europe, as the need arises, to impose more targeted travel and financial sanctions on additional Russian officials for violating the Minsk accords, Russia’s actions in Syria, and its hacking of the US elections. Allowing the sanctions to lapse without a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine would delegitimize sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy while normalizing Russia’s flagrant violation of international norms. Trump’s advisors should warn him that relaxing sanctions and pursuing warmer ties with Russia could incentivize future aggressive actions against European states, including NATO allies, without first securing significant concessions from Russia on restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea or affirming the right of independent European states to join alliances of their choice.

The United States should also raise the issue of Russian information warfare, cyber espionage, and political interference to the highest levels of U.S.-EU dialogue. Washington and Brussels should coordinate a strategy to counter Russia’s aggressive disinformation campaigns—particularly on matters of acute importance to transatlantic security such as Russia’s ongoing belligerence in Syria and support for pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.

Forge a New Strategy with Europe on Turkey

As an indispensable NATO ally and a key contributor to the global anti-IS coalition, Turkey’s strategic value to the United States cannot be overstated. Straddling Europe and Asia, Ankara has also long sought EU membership while maintaining close economic and trade links to Asia. But Turkey’s position in the transatlantic community has recently come under unprecedented strain, especially in the wake of the attempted coup in July 2016. While no one on either side of the Atlantic questions Turkey’s strategic importance, many capitals view President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to consolidate power with great concern. The challenge is how the United States and Europe ought to balance Turkey’s vital role as a bulwark against the Middle East’s instability while urging Erdoğan to respect the rule of law and avoid an erosion of democratic norms. Instead of addressing their respective relationships with Turkey largely in isolation, Europe and the United States might want to consider launching a dialogue on and with Turkey addressing today’s list of grievances (on all sides) and looking at where the partners might take their relationships with Turkey in five to ten years’ time.

Enhance Deterrence in the Black Sea Region and in Eastern Europe

The 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw launched a series of important measures aimed at enhancing deterrence in the Baltic states and Poland, including plans to rotate multinational battalions to vulnerable eastern territories. One of the first questions Trump should ask is whether those encouraging developments are in fact enough. He should consider extending similar measures to the Black Sea region. He should also consider what more the NATO alliance could do to address Russia’s anti-access/ area-denial capabilities in the region. This is particularly important in light of Russia’s aggressive investments in submarine capabilities and alarming steps such as the deployment of the S-400 air missile-defense system to Kaliningrad, which threatens to erode the credibility of NATO’s deterrence posture by rendering significant swaths of eastern NATO territory inaccessible to allied aircraft during a conflict. Russia has stationed sizeable forces in the western military district that are ready to conduct large-scale exercises with little or no notice. This raises questions about whether NATO’s multinational battalions are enough to deter Russian aggression. The United States should invest more to bolster NATO’s enhanced forward presence, conduct larger and more frequent brigade and division exercises, and enhance intelligence and security cooperation with vulnerable non-NATO states such as Georgia and Ukraine.

Deepen Cooperation with European Allies on Counterterrorism

The fight against IS will last for a long time. While it is of the utmost importance that the United States and Europe work together to defeat IS, the threat of terrorism more broadly will not simply go away even if the Islamic State is defeated. This means the next U.S. president must work alongside Europe to create a long-term counterterrorism strategy to address the remnants and offshoots of IS. Both sides of the Atlantic should continue their efforts to increase information sharing, even in the face of privacy concerns throughout Europe. Recent attacks— such as those in Paris and San Bernardino, California—on both sides of the Atlantic demonstrate the importance of addressing the problem of self-radicalization through the internet.

This is not an easy problem to address given the diffused nature of the internet and the constitutional implications of regulating speech and information in the absence of clearly illegal or threatening conduct. The United States and its European allies should counter the problem of self-radicalization by promoting public awareness of the problem, encouraging schools to engage with youth to warn them of the dangers of associating with extremists through the internet, and engaging directly with parents, religious institutions, and community figures to describe the warning signs of radicalization and resources to address the problem early through community-based intervention. The United States should also dramatically expand the scope of intelligence gathering sharing with its European allies and partners.

Create New Policy Tools in Collaboration with European Partners

The rise of cyber, outer space, and other new domains such as information warfare pose a grave challenge to the security and cohesion of the transatlantic community. In particular, Russia’s aggressive investment in cyber espionage and disinformation campaigns can destabilize the political systems of allied states, limit U.S. efforts to end the conflict in Syria, and reduce tensions over Ukraine. For the United States and its European partners to adequately tackle the challenge of Russian meddling and sabotage, the next president should not only place a premium on cyber resilience and, if necessary, offensive capabilities; he should do so in concert with European allies. Furthermore, the next president must join European allies to aggressively counter Russian disinformation tactics, call out Russian aggression more forcefully, and publish information exposing false Russian narratives.

This is not easy to do when information today is diffuse and identifying sources of false narratives is technically challenging. One solution is investing in a proposed Center for Information Analysis and Response, which features prominently in a bill recently introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) known as the Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016. This measure would provide funds to civil society organizations such as think tanks and non-governmental organizations to expose and counter false narratives from foreign sources. This kind of initiative is necessary given the imbalance of investment relative to foreign adversaries; for instance, Moscow spends $400 million per year on the Washington bureau of Russia Today, a multi-national television network funded solely by the Russian government. Neither the United States nor Europe is yet capable of heading off the threat of disinformation warfare.

Move the European Reassurance Initiative to the Base Budget

In 2016, the funding for European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) was increased from $789 million to $3.4 billion. This was a positive development, but the initiative is still located within the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, which is separate from the base budget and does not count against the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. OCO is temporary and must be approved by Congress each year, which makes long-term planning difficult, if not impossible. To reassure European allies and signal the United States’ long-term commitment to Russia and the region, ERI funding should be moved to the base budget.

Smith and Rizzo are available for interviews. To arrange one, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409.


  • Neal Urwitz

    Former Director of External Relations

    Neal Urwitz is the former Director of External Relations at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). In that capacity, Mr. Urwitz was responsible for the organization’s ...