Indispensable, interdependent, or independent? A critical analysis of transatlantic relations

Authored by: Markus Thiel

The Routledge Handbook of Critical European Studies

Print publication date:  December  2020
Online publication date:  December  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138589919
eBook ISBN: 9780429491306
Adobe ISBN:


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Contemporary transatlantic relations are at its lowest point since the end of the Second World War. Having been a dominant but stable protector of its own interests, as well as of Western European ones during the Cold War, more recent US administrations severely challenged this transatlantic elite consensus. President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq despite the protest of many European allies, followed by President Obama's strategic pivot to Asia (away from Europe and the Middle East) culminated in the Trump presidency and its contentious transatlantic policy. Within the first two years in office, the Trump administration withdrew from the multilateral Paris Climate agreement limiting greenhouse emissions, abandoned unilaterally the Iran Nuclear deal that EU governments were instrumental in establishing as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and imposed tariffs on European steel and aluminum with threats of more trade sanctions to come. More than just weakening transatlantic ties, the current government also heavily criticized UN bodies and other intergovernmental institutions, and vowed to review any treaties that may expose the United States to their jurisdiction. While this turbulent period may be exceptional and many hope, only an aberration, it highlights the volatility of the post-war transatlantic relationship, and has led to a fundamental rethinking of Europe's relations with its traditional ally. Is this relationship one of interdependently related allies, as often pointed out, or have they become too structurally independent to be politically aligned partners? In order to more deeply examine these questions, the following sections will highlight differences in terms of how publics on both sides think about contemporary transatlantic relations, and point to issues that make a continued alliance difficult, such as differences in leadership motivations and socio-economic models, the subservient role of Europe during the Cold War and its ongoing quest for autonomy, and divergence over the acceptance of European integration and an emerging multipolar world order.

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