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The Liberal World Order in Flux: Increasing US-European Tensions

European Union
Foreign Policy
International Relations
NATO
Security
USA
Gorm Rye Olsen
University of Roskilde
Gorm Rye Olsen
University of Roskilde

Abstract

Tensions between the US and the European Union have increased during the years with Donald Trump in the White House. The significant and sometimes sudden disagreements across the Atlantic are not only a phenomenon linked to the presidency of Donald Trump. Tensions and disagreements have been recurrent issues on the transatlantic agenda for several decades. It is the assumption of the paper that the disagreements between the United States and the EU will not go away irrespective of whom is the President of the United States. The paper argues that the tension between Europe and the US reflect long-term divergences of interest related to how an increasingly multipolar world should be organized. The disagreements between the transatlantic partners thereby touch upon the future of the liberal world order. The paper sets out looking into 5 core issues that are supposed to drive apart the US and Europe regardless of who is occupying the White House in the 2020s. The paper applies an Ikenberry inspired framework for interpreting the world order combined with a foreign policy analysis (FPA). Thus the paper takes over John Ikenberry's hypothesis that the existing (liberal) world order is threatened by domestic developments in Western states. First, the paper addresses tensions over defense spending mainly within NATO and it takes stock of the position of NATO in the current international system. Second, the increasing US tensions with China and Russia have repercussions on the transatlantic relationship and thereby on the world order as the European may be reluctant to choose between the security relations with an unpredictable US and work more closely with China and Russia. Third, the increasing focus of the US foreign policy on Asia and the Pacific have been under way for a number of years and the paper looks at the consequences for the transatlantic relationship of this US pivot to Asia. Fourth, the US's ability to police the world has been on the decline for a number of years. It has forced the European into reaching out to other international actors including China and Russia to maintain security and stability. How far has this changed the relationship between the two Western blocks? Fifth, the Presidency of Donald Trump has not only produced a number of conflicts and disagreements between Europe and the US. Most seriously, the current presidency has imbued the relationship with strong mistrust and mutual suspicion. To what extent has mistrust affected the transatlantic relationship and thereby the cooperation on international issues? In sum, the paper takes stock of these five basic disagreement or tension between the US and the EU with a view first to asses their consequences for the transatlantic relationship and second to assess the consequences for the contours of the liberal world order.