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Transatlantic Security Relations in the 21st Century

May 21 , 2011

The end of the Cold War more than a decade ago created a world in which the relative stability between the two superpowers has disappeared. During the Cold War, a country’s every action was conducted in the light of the adversary relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the possibility of a major power declined dramatically, large military organizations with the primary mission of fighting interstate war became somewhat redundant.

The new security challenges that arose, be they international terrorism, illegal immigration, human trafficking, cyber-security or ethnic conflicts, all required new or modified instruments to combat them. Modern terrorists are flexible in their movement and in their operational planning. They easily change location, transfer money and people across borders and conduct a range of preparatory activities before every attack.

The leading 9/11 suicide kidnappers; for example, lived in Germany and regularly traveled both to Asia and USA while planning their attacks. Such patterns of travel, movements of funds, communications and interpersonal relations can only be analyzed and effectively monitored by transatlantic security cooperation and extensive information sharing. Only by pooling intelligence resources can the USA, and the European States hope to surmount the inherent flexibility of terrorism and effectively determine intent for active prevention.

Transatlantic security and intelligence cooperation is the most important weapon in the battle to contain the global terrorism, but its significance is even greater than that. The first few years of the twenty-first century have witnessed a change in the role of the international politics. Security and intelligence issues are now more prominent than ever in Western political discourse as well as the wider public consciousness. Much of this can be attributed to the shock of the terrorist acts in New York (09/11/2001), Madrid (03/11/2004) and London (07/07/2005).

In the 21st century, a key task of transatlantic cooperation is to protect the critical functions of our deeply interconnected societies. It is about time to call for a strategy of transatlantic resilience. The United States and the European Union member states must work together to ensure that the basic structures and critical functions of our interconnected societies remain strong and can go on even in the face of natural or man-man disasters. Such a strategy must involve several areas such as intelligence sharing; creating common standards for data protection on air, and seaport security; CBRNE issues; and cyber-warfare. The part of the strategy that deals with counter-terrorism should include collaboration on threat assessment as well as better cooperation between EUROPOL and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Similarly, the Situation Center (intelligence body of the European Union) must develop strong cooperation with the USA security community.

Furthermore, the European Union new Stockholm Security Program focuses on prevention and allows the opportunity for a strong transatlantic community on upstream security issues related to risk analysis, research, intelligence, threat assessments and disaster mitigation.

However, since September 2001, law enforcement authorities in the United States and the European Union states have been pushed to abandon their traditional local or traditional orientation, with only mixed results. As with information collection,  transatlantic efforts have moved in parallel but largely separate tasks, with the emphasis on building collaboration with the United States and the European Union, rather than reaching out across the Atlantic.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has given increasing emphasis to an antiterrorist mission; an evolution which has been efforts to revitalize institutions such as EUROPOL and EUROJUST by developing joint transatlantic investigation teams which will cooperate on cases that cross international borders. Furthermore, the European Union border agency (FRONTEX) must start a strong cooperation with United States authorities.  

The price of non-cooperation, or only partial cooperation, for international order could be enormous. Further terror outrages could have more destabilizing effects in numerous regions, sending shockwaves that will affect moderate secular Islamic regimes and directly affecting international economies through rising energy prices.

However, to have the United States and the European Union cooperate in reconstructing international order in an era of global terrorism should be easy in principle. There are differences in their foreign policy role concepts. For the United States, the role concept contains strong doses of unilateralism and an inclination to seek solution through military force. For the European Union, a strong commitment to multilateralism and international institutions in principle is marred by lack of cohesion and an inclination by EU member states in practice to put other, national considerations first. Therefore, a transatlantic alliance for world order will not only require, on both sides of the Atlantic, the ability to agree on a common vision, a clear shift of political priorities away from domestic preoccupations, and the political will to mobilize the necessary resources, but also, and most importantly, changes in role concepts on both sides of the Atlantic that would enable the United States and the European Union member states to cooperate efficiently.

At the end, in the 21st century, the war against international terrorism requires more than ever collective action from both sides of the Atlantic in order to prevent terrorist acts in major European and American cities. There is no time to lose!

Prof. Ioannis (John) M. Nomikos (PhD) is the Director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) based in Athens, Greece. He specializes on transatlantic security studies, counter-terrorism, organized crime and illegal immigration in the South-eastern Mediterranean region.

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