May 21, 2015

The Tasks Ahead

By Julianne Smith

Listen to any European or American leader talk about the transatlantic relationship these days and you will hear a handful of common refrains. Major policy addresses of this kind often start with the recognition that the world has changed. Europe and the United States face unprecedented challenges on the world stage, ranging from asymmetric warfare to non-state actors to the diffusion of technology to the return of great power politics. The speaker then reassures the audience by noting that, contrary to those arguing that the West is in decline, Europe and the US come at these challenges from a position of strength. It has been the West, after all, that spent the last sixty years establishing the world order, and it is the West that has the ability to maintain and further develop the international order according to its common values.

Many, myself included, find these speeches reassuring. They ease the minds of policymakers that feel overwhelmed by world events and breed transatlantic confidence at a time of considerable uncertainty. But are they right? Even if one assumes that the West has the ability to shape today’s complex security environment (which is by no means a foregone conclusion), one has to ask if it possesses the will, innovation, and resources to actually do so. In truth, what Europe and the US are actually doing in response to the changing face of geopolitics makes what they are saying far less inspiring.

Read the full op-ed in the Berlin Policy Journal.