The Transatlantic Bargain

Reviewed by Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch

To its credit, the opening pages of this discussion document lay out the problems facing NATO and call for a fresh look at the relations between the United States (and Canada) and its European Allies and partners.

Introducing the thirteen contributing authors who address specific issues in detail, we are told that NATO’s image in confronting the Soviet Union, ending ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and in helping Central and Eastern Europe to re-integrate with the rest of Europe is generally positive. We are also reminded that the original ethos of the transatlantic bargain was that each side of the Atlantic divide would willingly sacrifice a bit to the other side for the benefit of the whole.

Then three broad and sometimes competing perspectives are outlined for the reader. Firstly, that post-Cold War debate on the way forward for NATO could have undone the bargain. Secondly, there were those who emphasised the commonality of interests while focusing on the need to challenge ‘new threats’.  Thirdly, there was the viewpoint that countries would remain within NATO as long as it served their own national interest, particularly if Europe was permitted a greater voice in decision making.

Herein lays the rub!  European governments were content to maintain the solidarity line in principle while reducing defence spending and while the US continued to set the agenda and carry the bulk of expenditure burden. And worse, “European publics became more disenfranchised from a NATO that seemed divorced from their sense of their own national interest”.

While NATO rhetoric followed the logic of the modernising second approach to the problem, transatlantic relations were increasingly no longer the most important organising factor in national security policy.

NATO’s Strategic Concept was updated in 1991, 1999 and 2010 and each consolidated the move away from traditional military deterrence and defence to issues of crisis management, peacekeeping, security partnerships, cyber-security measures and sea-lane protection. But none of these new measures re-established the ‘transatlantic bargain’, apparently.


The call has gone out, in the politest possible terms, for Europeans to re-commit to NATO, and not just politically this time. The hardware capability gap must be bridged and burden sharing must become a reality. It’s time for the Europeans to front-up and ‘we’ are going to be called to account in Chicago in May, it would seem, based on what Dr Karl-Heinz Kamp and Ambassador Kurt D. Volker have to say in their ‘chapeau paper’.

The following nine contributors, six American and three European authors, make their individual contributions under three broad headings, ‘What has the Transatlantic Bargain Been and Evolved into Today?’, ‘What would a New Transatlantic Bargain Look Like?’ and ‘What is NATO’s Role in a New Transatlantic Bargain?’. They are generally informative and sometimes insightful and will be a useful reference for those who follow developments within NATO as an academic exercise.

However, it is left to Dr Charles L. Barry to draw the disparate threads together in his Epilogue and conclude that the Transatlantic Bargain “must not be allowed to grow weak or simply endure. It must be nurtured, exercised and strengthened”.  He outlines six basic commitments which he asks those gathered in Chicago in May “to make and keep in a time of austerity” in order to build on them in an improved economic climate.

Undoubtedly, the ‘capability gap’ and ‘burden sharing’ calls will run up against the ‘facts’ that the US pays 75% of the cost of NATO operations and that few European members meet the NATO defence spending target of 2% of GDP. This means that the ‘reality gap’ between current funding and agreed activities in the 2010 Strategic Concept is unlikely to be bridged.

Author: 
Mark Ducasse (editor)
Publisher: 
National Defence University Centre for Transatlantic Security Studies and the NATO Defence College
Year published: 
2012
ISBN: 
n/a