Disputes between the United States and Europe are nothing new, as past tensions over Korea, Suez, and Vietnam demonstrate. But these earlier disputes occurred within a very different geopolitical context – the Cold War – and the bygone intellectual and political framework of containment. This context and framework disciplined transatlantic ties. Europeans and Americans alike recognized the need to limit and manage their differences in order to conserve their ability to deter and, if necessary, to defeat the Soviet Union.
The Cold War’s end changed everything. Can the winning alliance survive its own success?
The fundamental features of the post-Cold War geopolitical context are relatively clear. They include American strategic primacy; massive and rapid cross-border flows of people, technology, goods, services, ideas, germs, money, arms, e-mails, carbon dioxide, and just about anything else; and relatively peaceful relations among the major powers – the US, China, Japan, Russia, India, and an increasingly integrated and enlarged Europe.
But if the geopolitical context is clear, the intellectual and political framework – the successor to containment – is not. The challenge for Europeans and Americans today could hardly be greater: to cooperate in a very different context than the one for which the relationship and its institutions were designed – and to do so without any agreement on a new strategic framework.