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December 21, 2007 |  Print | E-Mail Atlantic Faces  

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Editor of The National Interest

Dr. Gvosdev is a frequent commentator on US foreign policy and international relations, Russian and Eurasian affairs, and developments in the Middle East. He is also the author of six books, most recently the co-author of The Receding Shadow of the Prophet: The Rise and Fall of Political Islam. He received his doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

What are your priorities for “The National Interest”?
Ensuring that the magazine remains faithful to its founding goals of provoking a vigorous debate on the major issues of the day and providing the opportunity for foreign policy options based on a pragmatic and realist assessment to be presented. This also means not only engaging the American foreign policy community but the global one—and our title, The National Interest, makes it clear that we believe all countries have their own interests and perspectives. Thus, we think it critical that authentic voices from other countries also be adequately represented at the American foreign policy debate table.

Linked to the first priority is my belief that all arguments dealing with major issues of the day need to be evaluated and to make sure that, if key voices are not being given the opportunity to speak, room is provided to them. There is a real danger that, in the search for a “Washington consensus” on every issue, an atmosphere is created in which different and competing perspectives are shut out. The unwillingness of so many sectors of the American foreign policy establishment to test and challenge the assumptions that led the United States into Iraq should be a lesson to all of us.

Does a strong transatlantic partnership make sense from a realist perspective? What are the limits of such a partnership?
Certainly, a strong partnership makes perfect sense from a realist perspective, given that there are very strong shared interests on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Europe and the United States benefit from an international system that is based on promoting integration and trade, extending a zone of peace and prosperity, and keeping lines of communication open all around the world. Moreover, when the United States and Europe act in tandem, it is much easier to form true global coalitions. Finally, there are enormous savings that result from “burden sharing” among the members of the alliance.

I do believe it is important, however, to recognize the limits. And the first is that shared values are an insufficient basis for partnership without compelling shared interests. European states do not have a strong and enduring relationship with like-minded democracies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan or Australia, in the same way that they do with the United States, because Australia and Germany do not have overriding common economic or security interests.

Moreover, even when Americans and Europeans agree on the issues, it does not mean that everyone reaches the same conclusions as to what policy is most effective. Other factors beyond shared values, including geographic proximity, can change a country’s assessment. Germany’s decision to continue to engage Russia and deepen economic ties, or France’s outreach to Libya—including new weapons sales—fly in the face of American preferences for using isolation and pressure as the main tools to try and effect change. But then again, the United States does not share a “neighborhood” with these states.

What is the greatest challenge to the transatlantic relationship today?
Institutions forged during the Cold War are nearing the end of their life-expectancy and the euphoria of the 1990s that expansion of the Euro-Atlantic community could be achieved easily and at low cost has evaporated. As NATO founders in Afghanistan, fracture points will continue to open in the Atlantic community. Perhaps short-term anxiety about the resurgence of Russia might paper over those cracks, but no compelling vision for the community as a community has emerged that is shared in common by the political establishments of all the countries (other than, perhaps, concerns about the interaction between the Western and Islamic worlds).

Coping with the implications of the rise of China could prove to be problematic for the transatlantic relationship. Beijing has announced its desire to create a strategic partnership with the EU. Could not, in the future, Europeans decide that they could live with a world with defined European and Chinese spheres in a way that the United States, interested in keeping Asia an “open door” with no dominant hegemon, would find it necessary to oppose? A transatlantic community that came together in the face of a shared Soviet threat might not do so in the face of different assessments about China.

Dr. Gvosdev has written the following articles for the Atlantic Community:



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