01 November 1996 - 03 November 1996

The Evolution or the Transatlantic Partnership

Chair: HE The Honorable Richard N Gardner

The prospect for cooperation across the Atlantic was scarcely a new subject for Ditchley; but we were addressing it at a time when perceptions of shadows over the path ahead seemed widespread. The facile image of a United States turning westward and a Europe turning eastward had perhaps passed its peak of fashion, but questions arose about the impact of changing social and ethnic composition, and about greater introspection fuelled by a shift in primary public concerns away from the classical international themes characterised of the Cold War.

We heard however robust affirmation from North America of the continuing power of key affinities. US leaders still recognised the impossibility of tackling alone the issues set by a complex and interdependent world, and Europe - much the largest recipient of investment from, and the largest source of inward investment into, a United States increasingly involved in overseas trade - remained plainly the most apt all-round partner. But we knew that there were risks to the health of the relationship; its flourishing was not a law of nature.           

In the US a generational shift, not least in the Congress, partnered a global scene less stably defined than it used to be by Cold-War issues and priorities to strengthen domestically-centred as against international motivations in policy; and we heard it suggested that such a Congressional orientation (uncomfortably evident, for example, in damaging cuts in the Administration’s resources for overseas operation) was compounded by the inherent limitations - more salient as the agenda became more economic and commercial in emphasis - of any assembly in coordinating policy and consulting about it as it impacted upon external partners; hence, perhaps, the phenomenon at which Europeans sometimes grumbled under the label “US exceptionalism”, meaning behaviour in which, as with the Helms-Burton legislation and the non-payment of UN dues, the US was perceived as dispensing itself from general worldwide norms of international practice. Europe, on the other side, seemed preoccupied with the awkward complications of its own evolution. Its sense of global concern and responsibility was, at best, uneven, and its effective competence limited. In several dimensions, as we were candidly reminded as much by European as by US participants, the transatlantic partnership was not one between equals, and expectation on either side must not overreach reality. Beyond the trade field the promise of the Common Foreign and Security Policy had yet to be realised, and Europe often lacked the coherence (in the absence of any consistently effective working directorate) and the will as well as the practical capacity to act as the US could, especially in matters of “traditional” security and political influence. In the military field, in particular, the gap was if anything growing wider, with US technology drawing further ahead and European resource allocations declining without prospect of reversal. Though overseas-aid effort mostly showed an opposite comparison, and though the further European shift towards all-volunteer military forces should heighten real usability, the resurgence of friction over burden-sharing was a real possibility.

European attention, at least among the countries of the European Union, was inevitably absorbed in special degree by the prospect of monetary union (a project whose external implications, we suspected, had yet to receive adequate attention). The success or failure of the project was bound in time to have a major influence on whether and how, and how confidently, the EU felt able to conduct itself as a transatlantic partner. The US had mostly judged it impolitic to express any particular views about the character, direction or pace of EU development, though several of us suspected that the US must have some preferences, for example as different options bore upon the question of eastward enlargement. We did hear explicit support diplomatically voiced for the advance of European cooperation in defence, even if hints were discernible that expectations of its effective content might remain modest.

We gladly acknowledged that NATO had come well through the main phase of post-Cold-War questioning; with the French re-appraisal there seemed no challenge to acceptance of its value, and the salutary effort now mounted in Bosnia partnered what was widely seen as a valuable if as yet incomplete general evolution in agenda and structures. And NATO was plainly a key instrument, and in some ways a key arena, for the West’s cooperative management of Russia - where weakness rather than strength had become the central problem for the West - and of the other parts of the former Soviet empire and hegemony.              

Our shared recognition of NATO as a major asset, superior to any other institution in the value and dependability of its contribution, moved us to wonder whether it might be exploited to tackle a wider agenda. We mostly agreed that to attempt to use it for subject-matter too far removed from its familiar concerns would risk damaging its efficiency for insufficient gain. We were however more divided about whether its proven utility in tackling security issues could be extended geographically, as to problems in the Middle East or East Asia; we saw no better established forum, but focus might not be easily sustained as distance diluted interest, and regional sensitivities might not be easy to handle.

We were constantly reminded that security in the classical sense, for all that it still mattered and still underpinned the relationship, no longer headed the transatlantic agenda in the minds of publics and politicians, as was vividly illustrated by the diverse and impressive sweep of the New Transatlantic Agenda recently endorsed by the US and the EU in concert (with Canada too, albeit not a party, broadly in sympathy). Problems like drugs, terrorism and migration pressures bulked increasingly large; and existing patterns and structures seemed poorly equipped for these. The difficulties began within countries - few were truly well organised even internally to tackle such matters, let alone to engage in effective external dialogue; and international fora for such dialogue were largely lacking. There was nevertheless much force in arguments that the issues almost always reached in some degree across borders, and that at a minimum there would be value in better sharing of ideas and experience. We heard vigorously urged (though not without some sceptical reaction) the case for some new forum in which elected politicians from both sides of the Atlantic might meet regularly to broaden understanding, preferably with focus on substantive challenges of common concern - health care, for example, or the problem of ageing populations - rather than just togetherness and goodwill.

There were spirited exchanges pro and con the idea of a Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) to help cooperative transatlantic treatment of the trade-and-commerce issues increasingly salient in international relations. The fulcrum of the debate was whether such a structure would in practice prove a promoter primarily of greater openness within the WTO framework, or of a new exclusivity. There were differences of view on whether evident difficulties over agriculture and textiles could be surmounted, and on whether wider advance in WTO would be helped or hindered; some participants held that a valuable TAFTA-like agenda could be pursed pragmatically without the risky encumbrance of a new institution. The debate will certainly outlast our conference.

All this however constituted, as we were justly admonished, no more than the customary agenda of governments. There lay beyond (or above?) it a rich range of transatlantic contact in which government was not the prime actor, if an actor at all - a huge web of personal, educational and cultural content. There was massive opportunity here, but also some risk. Funding, at least from public sources, for such fruitful endeavours as the post-war Fulbright enterprise seemed less easily secured, and there was a case for a fresh drive - including perhaps provision in school and university curricula, and more determined use of multimedia possibilities - to foster, especially among the young, understanding and awareness on a deeper and more systematic basis than just the exchange of backpackers.

The most up-beat element of our debate, again reaching out beyond the mainstream activities of government, related to transatlantic cooperation in private-sector business. The surging scale of this was massive, as we were hearteningly reminded; great further opportunities lay ahead, as markets opened and expanded; and the key contribution governments could make was mostly to keep out of the way, and let partnership profit increasingly from the binding force of natural business links.

That consoling theme lightened our uncertainties about the inter-governmental prospect. The road ahead might in principle be one marked primarily by cooperation, or by competition and tension, or by an unsystematic ad hoc oscillation. Our clear preference, unsurprisingly, was for cooperation, but it would not be consistently secured without effort, care and patience on all sides, and a real willingness to attach substantial value to the legitimate interest of partners for its own sake. Europeans and Canadians looked for standards of timely and candid consultation which the US appeared not always to have achieved in practice; the US for its part would reasonably expect in such consultation a realistic recognition (also not always apparent) of frequent disparities in roles, capabilities and responsibilities. For all partnership members, whatever the detailed evolution of agendas and structures and whether or not there was formulated some special animating vision or mission, the concept of the partnership needed constant recognition as having a massive long-term value - not least as insurance against the disagreeably unexpected, or as instrument for coping with it - that should in its own right affect attitudes and priorities infusing the whole range of shared activity.

This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: HE The Honorable Richard N Gardner
United Stated Ambassador to Spain


The Hon Roy MacLaren PC
High Commissioner of Canada to the UK
Ambassador Jacques Roy
Ambassador of Canada to France

Monsieur Gilles Andréani
Directeur, Centre d’Analyse et de Prevision, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères
Monsieur Jean-Christophe Bas
Director, Institut Aspen France
Dr Dominique Moïsi
Deputy Director, Institut Français des Relations Internationales

Dr Klaus Friedrich
General Manager and Chief Economist, Dresdner Bank Group
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger
Director General for Political Affairs, Foreign Office, Bonn

Dr Janós Rapcsák
Professor of International Relations, Budapest University of Economic Sciences

General Klaus Naumann
Chairman, Military Committee, NATO

Sir Michael Alexander GCMG
Deputy Chairman, Wasserstein Perella & Co Limited, London
Mr Robert Ayling
Chief Executive, British Airways pic
Mr Lionel Barber
Financial Times, Brussels
Sir John Coles KCMG
Permanent Under Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Lord Hayhoe PC
Life Peer (Conservative)
Professor Peter Hennessy
Professor of Contemporary History, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London
DrBeatrice Heuser
Lecturer, Department of War Studies, King’s College, University of London
Sir John Kingman FRS
Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol
Mr David Logan CMG
Minister, British Embassy, USA
Dr Richard Maidment
Head, Department of Government and Politics, The Open University
Mr Bruce Mann
Director of Defence Policy, Ministry of Defence
Mr David Peretz
Assistant Director, International Finance, HM Treasury
Ms Joyce Quin MP
Opposition front bench spokesman on Europe
Mr Christopher Roberts CB
Director General for Trade Policy, Department of Trade and Industry
Mr John Roper
Head of Western European Union, Institute for Security Studies, Paris, 1990-95

HE The Honorable Reginald Bartholomew
United States Ambassador to Italy
Ambassador Robert D Blackwill
John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Mr Anthony Gardner
Hogan & Hartson LLP, Brussels
Mr David C Gompert
Vice President and Director, The RAND Corporation, National Defense Research Institute, Sant Monica
HE The Honorable Robert Hunter
United States Permanent Representative to NATO
Ms Linda McGoldrick
Managing Director, Financial Health Associates Limited, London
Mr Andrew Pierre
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Dr James A Thomson
President and Chief Executive, The RAND Corporation, Santa Monica