Engage people, not just governments, to strengthen transatlantic ties

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Indeed, in a matter of days, the Russian invasion did more to unite NATO allies than any other event in the past fifty years, resulting in increased levels of intelligence sharing, coordination around Russian sanctions and defense spending. Meanwhile, in a development that would have seemed impossible just months ago, Sweden and Finland have applied to join NATO. The brutal nature of the threat has spurred renewed bipartisan support in the United States for the transatlantic alliance and NATO – a message President Joe Biden emphasized strongly during his trip to Europe in March.

The reinvigorated sense of purpose and partnership between the United States and Europe in the wake of the war in Ukraine is a welcome development, even if its causes are undesirable. But support for the transatlantic alliance cannot be taken for granted even now. As the war drags on, the costs of conflict continue to rise, and Europe’s dependence on Russian energy continues to manifest itself, the possibility of cracks cannot be ruled out. Any underlying weakness in public commitment to the transatlantic alliance could appear as an obstacle to future solidarity.

Support for the transatlantic alliance cannot be taken for granted even now.

To minimize these risks, the foundations of the transatlantic alliance must be cultivated, strengthened and supported not only to ensure deeper and more successful coordination against threats from Russia and growing authoritarianism, but also to meet a series of challenges. increasingly formidable worlds. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that these foundations have weakened in recent years, with the potential to jeopardize future progress of transatlantic initiatives.

Americans probably take it for granted that Europeans see us as partners in addressing global priorities. But those who remember the special relationship between the transatlantic allies during World War II, the Cold War and after the fall of the Berlin Wall are an aging group. Indeed, young Europeans see the United States as less influential than older generations and are less likely to think that American democracy is a good example to follow. Additionally, there has been a steady decline in the number of European scholars coming to the United States, and European travelers began to make up a smaller share of international travel to the United States compared to other regions. Together, these trends signal reduced engagement between audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, an engagement that is helping to build mutual understanding. and confidence.

Public polls in Europe send additional warning signals. While opinion polls among European citizens immediately after President Biden’s inauguration showed significant improvement in US approval ratings over opinions of the previous administration – in some countries up to 47 points – further analysis reveals more concerning trends. According to the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends survey, perceptions of US reliability are mixed at best, even among key partners like Germany, where only half the population sees the US as a partner. reliable. Other surveys have found that a majority of Europeans in the countries surveyed believe they cannot always count on the United States to defend them.and that they do not believe that Washington takes their interests into consideration when making international policy decisions. These trends underscore the need to publicly advocate for a strong transatlantic alliance.

American and European leaders will need sustained levels of public support to work together in the years to come. And the war in Ukraine shows that when public support is there, substantial policy change is possible. The first images of the war in Ukraine, for example, and the inspiring defiance of the Ukrainian people have prompted the citizens of Europe and the United States to push their leaders to take unprecedented action by punishing economic sanctions and even support military, pushing them to major political changes. , such as Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to massively boost Germany’s defense budget, or President Biden’s decision to ban Russian oil imports. Without public support, however, the political will needed to advance mutual priorities could erode, jeopardizing crucial initiatives such as pandemic response, climate change policies, strengthening energy security, trade and investment, cybersecurity and the fight against disinformation, the prevention of terrorism, geopolitical competition from Russia and China and the fight against corruption. Public support will also be crucial in sustaining the fight to protect and ultimately rebuild Ukraine and fight growing authoritarianism in Europe, Eurasia and beyond.

Fighting for public support

How can the United States create in Europe the most favorable conditions for a unifying and sustainable transatlantic partnership in the long term? One way is to strengthen public engagement and public diplomacy efforts that help foster shared values, mutual respect and understanding, and people-to-people relationships that provide the goodwill and support needed by leaders. to work together across the Atlantic. Public diplomacy – the promotion of national interests through efforts to inform, engage and influence public opinion – was once considered a top priority of American foreign policy in Europe, especially in the years immediately following World War II. world, an equally critical point in the transatlantic. relationship. It was during these years that the Marshall Plan, designed both to rebuild Europe and counter a growing communist threat, was introduced.

The Marshall Plan, launched in 1948, was as much about communicating ideas and values ​​as it was about aid, training and infrastructure. The $13 billion (about $160 billion today) initiative was the legislative manifestation of the spirit prevailing at the time among foreign policy elites that to fight the ideological threat of communism would require strengthening democracies and bringing European and American audiences closer together. This thinking, as evidenced by the Marshall Plan, ushered in a new era of investments in American public diplomacy, including the 1946 launch of the Fulbright international scholar exchange program, the initial 1949 broadcast of Radio Free Europe, and the United States since abolished. Information Agency in 1953, which coordinated overseas cultural programs, American speaker series, publications for specific audiences, and English lessons for foreign audiences, among other initiatives. As Nicholas Cull writes in his book, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989“The publicity of the Marshall Plan began as an effort to ensure that Europe understood the role of the United States in the [post-World War II] reconstruction, but quickly turned into a full-scale attempt to project the American way of life and the virtues of the free enterprise system. It was about building solidarity and consolidating democratic ideals.

Public diplomacy will be a necessary tool to generate support for today’s common challenges, such as rebuilding Ukraine in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, an endeavor that will require levels of investment comparable to the Marshall Plan .

This focus on public diplomacy has risen and fallen with the perceived level of external threat, particularly in Europe. With recent emphasis on priorities in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, the past two decades have been a period of “decline” for the United States. It’s time to refocus quickly. Public diplomacy will be a necessary tool to generate support for today’s common challenges, such as rebuilding Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion – an endeavor that will require similar levels of investment to the Marshall Plan (economists currently estimate that at least $220 billion will be needed) . Indeed, several political decision-makers have already pushed the idea of ​​a “Ukrainian Marshall Plan.“For these and other initiatives to be effective, however, will require an updated approach to foreign aid and public diplomacy that responds to contemporary concerns.

Youth Connections

To be successful today, public diplomacy must have many components. Our embassies must keep the public informed and engaged through traditional and social media about the common threats we face and how working together serves shared interests and values. US-sponsored international broadcasting should promote quality news, information and analysis to those who lack independent media sources. Civil society and the private sector must promote ties that unite us more closely for mutual benefit. Interpersonal interactions should occur on a sufficient scale to ensure that citizens can see for themselves the values ​​we share. Allies on both sides of the Atlantic should work together to reduce misinformation and disinformation and build the long-term resilience of citizens.

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