A worker sets up banners with the flags of the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) outside Strasbourg's Congress Center April 2, 2009.
Christian Hartmann / Reuters

For more than two centuries, big thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic have highlighted differences between Americans and Europeans. After 1945, however, the Soviet threat drew them both together into one transatlantic "West," a relationship given institutional expression in NATO. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union raised crucial questions about the West's future: Would America leave Europe once again? Would the Atlantic partners continue to be able to define common threats and responses? In the late 1990s, the first wave of NATO enlargement and the war in Kosovo seemed to show that the bonds remained tight, but in this decade battles over Iraq and military setbacks in Afghanistan have given the questions new life. The following works offer insight into the transatlantic relationship's history, status, and possible future.

A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963. By Marc Trachtenberg. Princeton University Press, 1999.
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Irresistible Empire: America's Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe. By Victoria de Grazia. Belknap Press, 2005.

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Central to U.S. involvement on the European continent after World War II were Germany's division and the future role of the West German state. Marc Trachtenberg's forcefully argued and extensively documented book focuses on the German question in order to analyze broader themes of the early Cold War transatlantic relationship, such as Europe's military and nuclear dependence on the United States and America's uncertain commitment to Europe's defense. President Dwight D. Eisenhower would have preferred to leave the continent but ultimately recognized that a Europe capable of defending itself meant a strong and possibly nuclearized Germany -- something that troubled not only Moscow but also Paris and London. In the words of its first secretary general, Lord Ismay, NATO kept "the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down," but it never really settled Europe's final disposition. For Trachtenberg, it was President John F. Kennedy who provided coherence to America's Europe policy and, after the Berlin and Cuban missile crises, worked with Nikita Khrushchev toward a de facto European settlement that was sustained through 1989. In addition to its military presence, the United States remade Europe through its dynamic market economy, the subject tackled by Victoria de Grazia. Her fascinating book focuses on the role played by American business elites and advertising and marketing experts, working with Washington's support when necessary to overcome European resistance to American consumer culture.

Political Community and the North Atlantic Area: International Organization in the Light of Historical Experience. By Karl Wolfgang Deutsch, Sidney A. Burrell, Robert A. Kann, Maurice Lee, Jr., Martin Lichterman, Raymond E. Lindgren, Francis L. Loewenheim, and Richard W. Van Waganen. Princeton University Press, 1957.
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Karl Deutsch and his cast of thousands produced a political science classic that departs from high politics of diplomatic history to examine the conditions under which separate political entities can establish a common "security community" within which war is unthinkable. People in such a community, according to Deutsch and his successors in this research program, are bound by common values, trust, mutual sympathy, and a "we-feeling," all terms normally associated with domestic nation building. For Deutsch, NATO and the entire institutional edifice of the Atlantic order were prime examples of such a phenomenon, and they remain so today. 

Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft. By Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice. Harvard University Press, 1995.
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The Cold War's peaceful end was soon pocketed and taken for granted, but without deft diplomatic handling, the demise of the Soviet empire could easily have led to conflict. Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice trace the process by which the Soviets acquiesced in the revolutions of 1989 and, within a year, to a unified Germany within NATO. Their study focuses on the steady support of George H.W. Bush for German unity and of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's willingness to seize the moment once the East German regime started to crumble, transforming vague initial plans for confederation into a plan for annexation of the East by the West. Zelikow and Rice were both senior analysts at the National Security Council during the events in question and, as a result, attained access to documents unlikely to be surpassed for a generation. The result is a rich tapestry of personalities and stories that show just how the British and French, who initially opposed Germany unification, were brought around, and how the Bush administration came to an understanding with embattled Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Not Whether but When: The U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO. By James M. Goldgeier. Brookings Institution Press, 1999.
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With the Soviet threat gone, America's future role in Europe was unclear. NATO enlargement seemed the natural next step because it promised to bind the post-communist world to the democratic West, surround Germany with "Western" countries, and forestall any Russian idea that the old Soviet empire could ever be put back together. But the U.S. decision to push for NATO enlargement was a controversial one, not only in Western Europe and Russia but also within the United States itself. James Goldgeier talked to just about everyone in the Clinton administration involved in the decision and beautifully documents the intricate bureaucratic politics that surrounded this momentous policy decision. He discounts the notion that President Bill Clinton was courting the Polish vote and instead convincingly argues that Clinton was influenced by the appeals of both Lech Walęsa and Václav Havel. The administration's task was to integrate Central and Eastern Europe into Western security and economic structures without endangering good relations with Russia. Historians will debate whether the effort succeeded.

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. By Robert Kagan. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
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Allies at War: America, Europe, and the Crisis Over Iraq. By Philip H. Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro. McGraw Hill, 2004.
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Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power not only captured the spirit of its time but also helped shaped American foreign policy during the George W. Bush administration. Kagan argued that U.S. strength enabled Washington to define threats and respond forcefully, while Europe's weakness encouraged it to see international affairs as a Kantian world of law and cooperation. "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus," as he put it. Philip Gordon's and Jeremy Shapiro's book remains the best analysis of the conflict that arose between the United States and its European allies during George W. Bush's first term as president, thanks to both the differing worldviews Kagan identified and the Bush administration's wholehearted embrace of its international primacy. The authors provide background to the dispute over Iraq policy and a fair and critical assessment of the competing positions. Ultimately, their criticism falls mostly on the Bush administration for violating reasonable norms of alliance behavior.
The End of the West? Crisis and Change in the Atlantic Order. Edited by Jeffrey Anderson, G. John Ikenberry, and Thomas Risse. Cornell University Press, 2008.
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Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America. By Andrei S. Markovits. Princeton University Press, 2007.
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It is no exaggeration to say that what is at stake in the break caused by Iraq is the future of the transatlantic West. The contributors to The End of the West? disagree among themselves over just what caused the rift and whether it can be bridged. Charles Kupchan argues that the divide is deep and structural, while Henry Nau attributes it to the vagaries of partisan politics in each camp -- a hypothesis that might be tested by how the alliance fares during the more Europe-friendly Obama administration. Kathleen McNamara and Jens van Scherpenberg argue that economic interdependence will not be enough to sustain the alliance, and Thomas Risse ponders what a real split might look like. Collectively, the volume's authors offer an excellent primer on what is coming down the road. Andrei Markovits, meanwhile, focuses on the significant minority of elite opinion in Europe that has never liked America, criticizes it for whatever it does, and would be happy to break away. These anti-American intellectual elites dislike America, he argues convincingly, not for what it does but for what it is. He traces disturbing affinities between European anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. The most interesting parts of the book, however, are those where he finds anti-Americanism in the most unlikely places, such as entertainment and sports. His book is a sobering reminder that the transatlantic relationship needs tending as never before.

  • JEFFREY KOPSTEIN is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto.
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