Rory Kinane
Former Manager, US and the Americas Programme
Head, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs

As the United States’ international engagement changes, Canada and Europe should increase coordination with it to prevent power vacuums from emerging.

Marine One, carrying US President Barack Obama, departs the White House on 26 August 2014, Washington DC. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.Marine One, carrying US President Barack Obama, departs the White House on 26 August 2014, Washington DC. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The United States’ transatlantic allies need to appreciate how its global leadership is changing and what this means for their interests, and respond accordingly. Notions of US decline have been overstated, but the country is not going to play the same international role in the future that it has previously.
  • As the United States’ international engagement changes, Canada and Europe should increase coordination with it to prevent power vacuums from emerging. The transatlantic allies should work together to build greater links at all stages of the policy process, from perceptions of threat, prioritization, analysis, threat definition and policy formation to implementation and action.  
  • As the United States’ capabilities adapt to its changed circumstances and role, so too must those of its allies. This adjustment must go far beyond military aspects to enhancing diplomatic, energy, economic, intelligence and other resources.
  • In addition to the challenges around differing interests, priorities and capabilities inherent in any alliance, Europe appears to have lost its confidence. In part this is due to its growing disengagement and introspection. But Europe retains huge potential for influence if it uses its resources effectively. There is much that European states can do, individually and together, to take more control over advancing their strategic interests. Equally, by working together they can do much to nudge the United States in helpful directions to support the mutual interests of all parties.
  • The conversation on reforming global institutions such as the IMF must move beyond the need for change per se towards articulating the actual shape of such changes. Europe and Canada will likely need to push the United States into accepting reform of these institutions to better reflect today’s reality and tomorrow’s challenges. Global institutions need more diversified leaderships if they are to ensure their long-term legitimacy and influence. This will be difficult to push through politically in the United States, but by working with new regional and global powers to propose reforms, Europe and Canada can help find an acceptable solution.
  • The use of ad hoc coalitions does not necessarily damage the efficacy of broader consensus institutions such as NATO. In fact, flexible coalitions may often be desirable when solutions to new challenges need to be developed and agreed quickly.
  • Canada and Europe should consider partnering with other actors besides the United States where necessary. This may be expedient for meeting individual objectives, and would have the secondary benefit of demonstrating to emerging powers that the West does not exclude cooperation with others out of an arbitrary loyalty to the United States.
  • Europe needs to appreciate the potentially dire consequences of failing to adapt to changing US leadership and an increasingly complex world. There is a real chance that the European project could unravel in the next few years due to external and internal pressures. While many European policy-makers display an understanding of these challenges in private, in public there is little appetite for taking the decisions necessary to bring long-term stability to the continent.