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Atlanticism and multilateralism

A third possible source of estrangement between Europe and the US has been attributed not so much to either a mismatch in threat perceptions or a deterioration of mutual sentiments as to the views which the public on the two sides entertain about the role each of them respectively should play in the world and about the character of the transatlantic relationship. After more than 40 years of unchallenged hegemony in the Western camp, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new, more elusive, threats, whose nature seems more compatible with the strength the European Union seems to have acquired over time than with the traditional attributes of power, the US leadership may seem less and less indispensable among the European publics than it was in the past.

In this connection, there is a fundamental asymmetry that should be taken into account when discussing relations across the Atlantic. The meaning and purpose of the Atlantic Alliance have always been framed quite differently in Western Europe and in the United States. In the United States, since its inception in 1949, 'Atlanticism' was part and parcel of a more general, and comprehensive, view of the international system that, as far as the mass public is concerned, has been rotating all along the Cold War around two major dimensions: internationalism and containment. The first dimension - the traditional internationalism-isolationism continuum - has to do with the need for the United States to be actively involved in world affairs and to exert world leadership in containing threats and deterring enemies. The issue here, at least as far as the United States has been concerned, has never been whether isolationism might come back again. Isolationism, after all, has always been an elite phenomenon, also in its former golden age (Jonas, 1966). One real issue during the Cold War, and still now, was whether there is enough support in the United States for a foreign policy that accommodates the needs and interests of major allies or rather whether it should go it alone, no matter what this might imply for the allies. The second dimension has to do with the means through which this foreign policy - be it unilateralist or accommodative - should be carried out. On this account, the classical distinction is between cooperative and military instruments in foreign policy and the divide is on the problem of the use of force.

On the European side, the framing of the discussion has always been quite different. The issue in Europe is not isolationism, because no one in Europe wants (or can afford) to be isolationist. In Europe, in different fashions and under different headings, the discussion has traditionally revolved around how distant from or how close European countries should be both diplomatically and politically to the United States. Practically, this has resulted in major cleavages during most of the post-war period, with the Left more strongly in favor of a Europe distanced from the United States, and the Right supporting the opposite. Much less discussed, but analytically similar, has been the question of the means through which to realize one's goals. In Europe, like the US, we can find, on the one hand, those who are more supportive of an Atlantic Alliance joining in arms against a sea of troubles, so to say, and, on the other hand those who favor more economic, diplomatic and non-coercive means.

A critical issue in transatlantic relations is the conflict between the desires of many on both sides of the Atlantic to continue close cooperation and work together through institutions like NATO, while many others are seeking greater autonomy or even want to go separate ways. We refer to this general orientation toward cooperation across the Atlantic as Atlanticism. It describes a mutual liking and a general disposition to cooperate through multilateral transatlantic institutions to solve common problems in security as well as in other areas. To measure this general orientation, we analyzed a set of three questions: a) the desirability of American global leadership among Europeans and a greater role for the EU in world affairs among Americans; b) the desire to work in close cooperation rather than independently; and c) general orientations toward NATO. How strong is each of these groups in the various countries and has there been a shift in one direction or another over the years? How does the Obama presidency affect attitudes in this area?

Let us first briefly discuss the available data on each of these indicators and then describe the index that we can construct from them.

 
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