"The Progress of Seven Decades Is Now in Peril"

The transatlantic partnership is increasingly being called into question by nationalist and divisive forces in both American and European politics and society. New impulses and analyses are needed to reinforce transatlantic cooperation. This is the main objective of the "Brookings - Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative". Brookings' president Strobe Talbott explains, why the initiative could not be more timely.

Robert Bosch Stiftung | April 2017

What results should the "Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative" generate so you would consider this cooperation a success?

Strobe Talbott: The goal is as simple as it is ambitious, indeed daunting: Brookings and Bosch are going to work together to contribute bold but pragmatic solutions to the problems – I would even say the threats – endangering the Transatlantic community. Brookings’s mission is to improve governance, including the agreements, rules, and institutions that govern collaboration among nation states. Germany has been crucial to the evolution of an integrated Europe. The United States has supported that evolution from the days of the Marshall Plan, a transformational project that Brookings helped implement. The progress of the last seven decades is now in peril, on both sides of the Atlantic. Brookings and Bosch share a commitment to the values and interests, on which Atlanticism is based. Our cooperation is not just essential – it could not be more timely.

Recently, various parts of the population in Western societies have felt that their economic standard is declining. Globalization and migration turn into scapegoats. What could and should politics do to deal with this?

We need to recognize and diagnose the various causes of despair and anger, then work with governments at all levels, civil society, and the private sector to find remedies, including reforms to the social compact. Globalization in and of itself is not a boon or a curse – it is a reality borne of technological and communications revolutions. It needs better governance on the part of nation states, acting both unilaterally and cooperatively, and multilateral institutions. Migration is related to globalization: it’s a fact of life – and very often (far more often than not) it’s a way of enriching national populations and meeting the demands of labor markets. The massive inflow of refugees into Europe is largely a result of failed states, ungoverned spaces, murderous regimes, and horrendous civil wars elsewhere. What might be called crisis-migration requires sustained, vigorous diplomacy backed by force to maintain international security.

The perception that traditional politics does not care for large parts of the population seems to be a major motive for the lack of interest of some parts of the electorate. In your opinion, what are the challenges for Western democracies resulting from these developments?

One important answer is the need for a more robust, responsible, fact-based media as a counterweight to fake news and hatemongering. In all our countries, we should put more resources into civics in our schools, from the primary grades through colleges and universities. And our established political parties need to take seriously the fringe ones that have managed to inspire more passion among their disaffected followers. As for us Americans, our primary system and gerrymandering are damaging our democracy, and so is low voter turnout.

Looking into the future, what do you think will this transatlantic cooperation look like in ten to twenty years? What are the major challenges both sides of the Atlantic will have to deal with?  

Rather than what I think, what I hope is that we in the West will have worked our way out of our current doldrums and restored what, for the second half of the 20th century and into the first years of this century was the single most successful system to promote peace, liberty, and prosperity as well as a model for the rest of the world.