Atlanticism, also known as Transatlanticism, is the belief in or support for a close relationship between the United States and Canada, on one hand, and European countries (originally Western, Central and Southern European democracies, later additional Central and Eastern European democracies, other than Russia) on the other hand, regarding political, economic, and defence issues, in the belief that it would maintain the security and prosperity of the participating countries and protect the perceived values that unite them. The term derives from the Atlantic Ocean that separates Northern America from Europe.
The term can be used in a more limited way to imply support for North Atlantic military alliances or in a more expansive way implying broader cooperation, perceived deeply shared values, a merging of diplomatic cultures, and a sense of community and some degree of integration between North America and Europe. In practice, the philosophy of Atlanticism encourages active North American, particularly American, engagement in Europe and close cooperation between states on both sides of the ocean.
Atlanticism manifested itself most strongly during the Second World War and in its aftermath, the Cold War, through the establishment of various euro-Atlantic institutions, most importantly NATO and the Marshall Plan.
Atlanticism varies in strength from region to region and country to country based on a variety of historical and cultural factors. It is often considered to be particularly strong in Eastern and Central Europe and the United Kingdom (linked to the Special Relationship). Politically, it has tended to be associated most heavily and enthusiastically, but certainly not exclusively, with classical liberals or the political right in Europe. Atlanticism often implies an affinity for American political or social culture (or affinity for Europe in America) as well as the historical bonds between the two continents.
There is some tension between Atlanticism and continentalism on both sides of the Atlantic, with some people emphasising increased regional cooperation or integration over trans-Atlantic cooperation. However, the relationship between Atlanticism and North American or European integration is complex, and they are not seen in direct opposition to one another by many commentators. Internationalism is the foreign policy belief combining both Atlanticism and continentalism. The relative decline of European power in the world, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the spread of Atlanticist norms outside of the North Atlantic region have decreased the strength of Atlanticist thought since the end of the Cold War. Other international relationships have been increasingly emphasised, although the trans-Atlantic relationship is still arguably the most important in the world.
Prior to the World Wars, western European countries were generally preoccupied with continental concerns and creating colonial empires in Africa and Asia, and not relations with North America. Likewise, the United States was busy with domestic issues and interventions in Latin America, but had little interest in European affairs, and Canada, despite gaining self-governing dominion status through Confederation in 1867, had yet to exercise full foreign policy independence as a part of the British Empire.
The experience of having American and Canadian troops fighting with British, French, and other Europeans in Europe during the World Wars fundamentally changed this situation. Though the US (and to some extent Canada) adopted a more isolationist position between the wars, by the time of the Normandy landings the Allies were well integrated on all policies. The Atlantic Charter of 1941 declared by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill established the goals of the Allies for the post-war world, and was later adopted by all the Western allies. Following the Second World War, the Western European countries were anxious to convince the US to remain engaged in European affairs to deter any possible aggression by the Soviet Union. This led to the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty which established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the main institutional consequence of Atlanticism, which binds all members to defend the others, and led to the long-term garrisoning of American and Canadian troops in Western Europe.
After the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the United States and Europe changed fundamentally, and made both sides less-interested in the other. Without the threat of the Soviet Union dominating Europe, the continent became much less of a military priority for the US, and likewise, Europe no longer felt as much need for military protection from the US. As a result, the relationship lost much of its strategic importance.
However, the new democracies of the former Warsaw Pact, and most of the fragments of the fractured Yugoslavia, took a different view, eagerly embracing Atlanticism, as a bulwark against their continued fear of the Soviet Union's key now-separate superpower fragment: Russia.
Atlanticism has undergone significant changes in the 21st century in light of terrorism and the Iraq War, the net effect being a renewed questioning of the idea itself and a new insight that the security of the respective countries may require alliance action outside the North Atlantic territory. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, NATO for the first time invoked Article 5, which states that any attack on a member state will be considered an attack against the entire group of members. Planes of NATO's multi-national AWACS unit patrolled the U.S. skies and European countries deployed personnel and equipment. However, the Iraq War caused fissures within NATO and the sharp difference of opinion between the US-led backers of the invasion and opponents strained the alliance. Some commentators, such as Robert Kagan and Ivo Daalder questioned whether Europe and the United States had diverged to such a degree that their alliance was no longer relevant. Later, in 2018, Kagan said that "we actually need the United States to be working actively to support and strengthen Europe".
The importance of NATO was reaffirmed during Barack Obama's administration, though some called him relatively non-Atlanticist compared to predecessors. As part of the Obama Doctrine, Washington supported multilateralism with allies in Europe. Obama also enforced sanctions on Russia with European (and Pacific) allies after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. After his presidency, Obama also stressed the Atlantic alliance's importance during the Trump administration, indirectly opposing Trump in the matter. During the Trump years, tensions rose within NATO, as a result of democratic backsliding in Hungary and Turkey, and Trump's comments against NATO members and the alliance. Robert Kagan echoed common criticisms that Trump undermined the alliance. Despite this, NATO gained two new member countries (Montenegro and North Macedonia) during that time. The importance of NATO in Europe increased due to the continuing threat of the Russian military and intelligence apparatus and the uncertainty of Russian actions in former Soviet Union countries, and various threats in the Middle East. German-Russian economic relations became an issue in the Atlantic relationship due to Nord Stream, among other disagreements about trade in the EU. As the Biden administration began, top officials of the European Union expressed optimism about the Atlantic relationship.
Atlanticism is a belief in the necessity of cooperation between North America and Europe. The term can imply a belief that the bilateral relationship between Europe and the United States is important above all others, including intra-European cooperation, especially when it comes to security issues. The term can also be used "as a shorthand for the transatlantic security architecture."
Supranational integration of the North Atlantic area had emerged as a focus of thinking among intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic already in the late 19th century. Although it was not known as Atlanticism at the time (the term was coined in 1950), they developed an approach coupling soft and hard power which would to some extent integrate the two sides of the Atlantic. The idea of an attractive "nucleus" union was the greatest soft power element; the empirical fact of the hegemonic global strength such a union would hold was the hard power element. This approach was eventually implemented to a certain degree in the form of NATO, the G7 grouping and other Atlanticist institutions. In the long debate between Atlanticism and its critics in the 20th century, the main argument was whether deep and formal Atlantic integration would serve to attract those still outside to seek to join, as Atlanticists argued, or alienate the rest of the world and drive them into opposite alliances. The Atlanticist perspective that informed the scheme of relations between the United States and the Western European nations after the end of World War Two was informed by political expedience and a strong civilizational bond. Realists, neutralists, and pacifists, nationalists and globalists tended to believe it would do the latter, citing the Warsaw Pact as the proof of their views and treating it as the inevitable realpolitik counterpart of NATO.
Broadly speaking, Atlanticism is particularly strong in Britain (linked to the Special Relationship) and eastern and central Europe (i.e. the area between Germany and Russia). There are numerous reasons for its strength in Eastern Europe, primarily the role of the United States in bringing political freedom there after the First World War, the role of the US in defeating Nazi Germany (which occupied the region) during the Second World War, its leading role during the Cold War, its relative enthusiasm for bringing the countries of the region into Atlanticist institutions such as NATO, and a suspicion of the intentions of the major Western European powers. Countries such as Denmark, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom are among those who generally hold strong Atlanticist views, while Germany tends to promote continentalist views and a strong European Union.
In the early 21st century, Atlanticism has tended to be slightly stronger on the political right in Europe (although many variations do exist from country to country), but on the political center-left in the United States. The partisan division should not be overstated, but it exists and has grown since the end of the Cold War.
While trans-Atlantic trade and political ties have remained mostly strong throughout the Cold War and beyond, the larger trend has been continentalist economic integration with the European Union (and its regional partners) and the North American Free Trade Agreement notably dividing the Atlantic region into two rival trade blocs. However, many political actors and commentators do not see the two processes as being necessarily opposed to one another, in fact some commentators believe regional integration can reinforce Atlanticism. Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty, added by Canada, also attempted to bind the nations together on economic and political fronts.
The North Atlantic Council is the premier, governmental forum for discussion and decision-making in an Atlanticist context. Other organizations that can be considered Atlanticist in origin:
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
- North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC)
- Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC)
Well-known Atlanticists include former U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan; U.K. Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown; former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson; former Assistant Secretary of War and perennial presidential advisor John J. McCloy; former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski; and former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana.
- Transatlantic relations
- United States–European Union relations
- Special Relationship
- Western World
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
- Mid-Atlantic English
- Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA)
- German Marshall Fund, an Atlanticist think tank.
- Atlantik-Brücke, a German-American non-profit association and Atlanticist think tank
- Atlantic Council, an Atlanticist think tank
- Streit Council, an Atlanticist think tank
- Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
- Bilderberg Group
- British-American Project
- Columbian Exchange
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