The Future of Transatlantic Relations: Perceptions, Policy and Practice

  • Published

The Future of Transatlantic Relations: Perceptions, Policy and Practice, edited by Andrew M. Dorman and Joyce P. Kaufman. Stanford University Press, 2011, 336 pp.

Transatlantic relations have been studied from many disciplines and various theoretical perspectives during the last decades: either strategic, historical, geopolitical, cultural, prospective, or in a recent, transdisciplinary combination of all these fields, known in Great Britain as “Atlantic Studies.” However, this scholarly collection of 11 essays focuses on transatlantic relations from a strategic and political point of view, with a clear focus on NATO. Both co-editors are scholars in defense studies: Dr. Andrew Dorman is from the UK Defence Academy while Professor Joyce Kaufman is the director of the Whittier Scholars Program at Whittier College in California. Among many topics raised in their introduction, they ask why these perceptions, policies, and relations between NATO countries are so often changing, unpredictable, and unstable: “This volume is not a condemnation of US foreign policy under the administration of George W. Bush. Rather, it seeks to explain from multiple national perspectives and points of view, why [original emphasis] there has been so much divergence in the approaches the various countries have taken” (p. 5). Despite the title looking at the future, most of the texts concentrate on the recent decades; very few pages provide a deep historical background (except for the introduction and the first chapters), and none try to predict the future.

Perhaps the most rewarding, the first essay by Serena Simoni provides a critical theoretical framework in international relations, highlighting the two main trends; the author argues that in recent study of the relationship between the United States and Europe, “the theories used, mainly neo-realism and neo-liberalism, are less equipped than others such as constructivism to account for an ever-evolving transatlantic relationship” (p. 17). She introduces and discusses other key concepts and ideas, such as the role of identity in the constructivist approach (p. 30). The author concludes that the overlooked notion of “self-identity” is salient to understand and make sense of these numerous shifts in states’ attitudes and changes in the relationships among NATO members and allies (p. 31). Incidentally, the insistence on identity is repeated by the co-editors in their concluding chapter (p. 234).

Ten essays present various national perspectives toward NATO from Canada, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia. As indicated in the subtitle, the main concept in these essays is “perception,” which is intangible and symbolic but nevertheless important. The chapter on Canada brings a few interesting facts about the European partners perceptions about Canada, with sentiments such as the “reciprocal apathy or ignorance toward Canada,” a phenomena explained by the fact that all nations want to intensify their key relationship with the United States (p. 53). However, the author’s arguments in some cases appear unreliable and biased: in his discussion of public opinion regarding the Canadian presence in Kandahar, David Rudd selects and considers three English-language newspapers from Ontario—National Post, Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star—to get what he sees as major print media outlets in Canada, ignoring any French-language newspaper among many published in Canada (p. 49). Even worse, Rudd only includes in his partial portrait Montréal’s Gazette, which is neither the most read nor the most influential daily in Québec, and leaves aside the three most influencial dailies, La Presse, Le Devoir, and the Journal de Montréal (p. 49). These methodological shortcomings should have been noted by the co-editors and addressed by the publisher.

On the other hand, the chapter on France analyzes its return to NATO in 2009, after 43 years of absence (p. 95). Then, in his chapter on the United Kingdom, Andrew Dorman discusses the idea of an “Anglo-Saxon hegemony” when he argues that “there has therefore been a re-emphasis on the idea of the nations of the ‘English speaking world’ as the default coalition of the willing, with Denmark and the Netherlands becoming honorary ‘English-speaking’ partners” (p. 79). The chapter on Turkey highlights the fact that, according to a poll, only 12 percent of the Turk adult population feel positive sentiments towards the United States, thus confirming an anti-American sentiment in Turkey, especially since 2003 (p. 137). Incidentally, some of the most instructive chapters focus on lesser-known, East European countries such as Georgia and Ukraine which became new NATO allies in the recent decade. Most contributors try to provide a regional contextualization, sometimes as seen from the outside, plus numerous and specific descriptions of some national issues. But the most valuable elements are to be found in their efficient conceptualization of themes, social changes, or challenges like the “frozen conflicts” occuring around Ukraine in what is known as “weak states,” characterized by their constant political instability or their high level of corruption (p. 207). These “frozen conflicts” are brought by Deborah Sanders as to identify “an ideal environment in which criminals and terrorists can operate” (p. 207).

The conclusion in 11 points is rich and draws from all previous essays; but the reader should not jump to this final chapter. There is no agreed upon or definitive definition of transatlantic relations, and even “the definition of Transatlantism changes over time and is largely dependent on context” (p. 235). The contributions are uneven, and I was disapointed by two things. First, the general focus by most contributors is on the United States, although the book pretends to address the various ways of exchange and the relationships between countries around the Atlantic Ocean. At some point, the co-editors note that Canada and the United States are often “seen as one and the same” (p. 236). Also, some chapters on specific countries are written by authors who live outside that particular state (Russia, Ukraine, Georgia), and therefore can sometimes give a perspective that is exclusively “from the outside,” as confirmed by the bibliographical references in these chapters, which too often lack non-English sources. A real will and commitment to understanding the complex transatlantic relations without any form of enthnocentrism obviously require a knowledge of foreign languages and an awareness of the perceptions expressed by scholars from the inside, and not only from “our” external point of view.

Yves Laberge, PhD

Québec, Canada

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."