Europeans feel they know America. It fills their newspapers, their screens, and their social media feeds. Europeans watch American TV, they use American slang, and they know how Americans brew tea. Despite their distance, the two continents share perhaps the most intimate social and cultural relationship in the history of international relations. This intimacy means that most European foreign policy think tanks believe they do not need to examine America in the same way they conduct research on Africa, Asia, or the Middle East – after all, everyone on a European street is a US expert. They prefer programs on ‘transatlantic relations’ that, as the names implies, seek to understand not America but how Europeans and Americans can improve their relations.
But European intimacy with America also blinds Europeans to how America is changing. The United States is not immune to the forces of polarisation and fragmentation caused by the rise of anti-globalism and populism. Indeed, it arguably leads them. Deep domestic divides mean that US foreign policy on issues such as Ukraine and climate change are more the product of partisan politics than of any considered strategy process. As a result, US foreign policy has often been inconsistent, and at times even incompetent, to a degree that has shocked its allies and amused its foes.
ECFR’s US programme will give both Europeans and Americans fresh perspectives that are often lacking in the transatlantic debate. The US-European alliance remains a cornerstone of security and stability in Europe. But a strong transatlantic alliance requires understanding how America is changing and what that means for Europe. It requires managing and responding to the divergences that are emerging across the Atlantic, rather than papering them over in the hope of sustaining an unsustainable status quo. And it requires a Europe that can express its own interests in the alliance, take responsibility for its own security, and contribute equally to common goals.
ECFR’s US programme will use its convening power and its pan-European networks to explore how the domestic politics of US foreign policy are changing, to assess what those changes will mean for Europe, and to recommend to European governments specific ways to adapt. Europe’s intimacy with America has long been a source of strength. It can continue to be so, but only if Europeans choose to see what America is becoming, not what it used to be.