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July 27, 2012 |  Print | E-Mail Atlantic Faces  

Dr. Stephen F. Szabo, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy

The European Union, NATO, and above all transatlantic relations are the specific areas of expertise of Dr. Stephen F. Szabo. He is the Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy, founded by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Bucerius Zeit Stiftung, the Bosch Stiftung, and the Bradley Foundation to promote research and dialogue between scholars, policy experts, and authors from both sides of the Atlantic.

Previously, Dr. Szabo had been with the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, where he served as Academic and Interim Dean in addition to Professor of European Studies. Prior to that he had taught as Professor of National Security Affairs at the National Defense University and was Chairman of West European Studies at the Foreign Service Institut of the US Department of State.

1. What are your current priorities in your work as Director of the Transatlantic Academy?

The Academy was established last year to foster a new transatlantic learning community by bringing together scholars from both sides of the Atlantic to work in a collaborative environment on themes of common importance to both Europe and North America. Our goal is to get new thinking on such issues as immigration, dealing with Turkey's new foreign policy role and the rise of Asia and its implications for the transatlantic community. We just issued our first collaborative report on high skilled immigration with the title, "No Shortcuts: Selective Migration and Integration". We hope that this report will contribute some of the best academic research to one of the most pressing challenges facing the west, namely how to increase competitiveness and productivity in a global market by attracting and integrating immigrants. Our priority is to attract the best policy oriented scholars to the Academy, including a new generation of younger scholars and to revitalize the transatlantic relationship in a new global era. We would like to increase the number of scholars we can bring and to expand both publications and workshops.

2. What is the greatest challenge to the transatlantic relationship today?

To arrest the drift and alienation of the past decade in the relationship. The tone and quality of the transatlantic conversation reached new lows and we tended to exchange accusations rather than listening to each other, assuming the worst and neglecting the strengths of the relationship. Today we realize we need to reengage, especially with younger generations of emerging leaders. However this reengagement must be on new terms. The Obama Administration is looking to Europe to be a real partner but is facing a Europe which is badly divided and looking inward. American leaders are looking not only for advice but also for real contributions and sharing of responsiblities. So far Europe has not offered much back in the way of vision or real contributions to the issues which matter to the new President. The risk is that American leaders, already hard pressed by problems and threats in Asia and the Middle East, will lose interest in Europe and look elsewhere for partners. The new President, like most Americans, is a pragmatist and will look for results and not just sentiment or excuses. American leaders must also understand that the US is a far weaker than it was before the Iraq war and the economic crisis. Too many live in a Washington bubble which insulates policy makers from the real world outside of America. Too many have been socialized in an imperial foreign policy culture and tend to underestimate the limits of American power and the intractability of foreign countries to American power and ideas. Europeans can play an important role in helping to burst this bubble and to present an alternative world view, but as friends. However Europeans need to understand that the America they grew used to and which could play the role of hegemon is gone or fading fast. They too will have to come out of their bubbles.

3. For which political issue does the United States need Germany the most?

Russia. Both Russia and Germany are back on the US agenda. Russia will be a key element in a wide array of policies that will be central to the Obama administration, including dealing with Iran and the construction of a broader nonproliferation regime, energy security, nuclear arms reductions, and Afghanistan. Russia policy will also be central to US designs for NATO, including how to deal with Ukraine and Georgia, and the viability of a pan-European security structure. Germany will be the key player in Europe on dealing with Russia. Given the lack of any consensus in Europe over Russia, Berlin plays a decisive role in shaping a coherent and successful Russia policy. Yet, while Germany is crucial to any Western policy consensus on Russia, there are real differences in interests, cultures, and approaches between Berlin and Washington, which could lead to dangerous divisions if not handled well. There is a real danger that without a common approach, Germany could increasingly play the role of mediator between Russia and the United States. It is imperative that Germany and the US work closely to develop as much of a common approach as possible.

4. What changes do you anticipate in the transatlantic relationship after the German elections?

It seems likely that Chancellor Merkel will emerge in a stronger position than is currently the case. Even if there is a continuation of the Grand Coalition, the SPD will be much smaller relative to the CDU/CSU than it is in the current configuration. The Obama Administration has held back making many requests from the Chancellor with the election campaign in mind. This will change after a new government is formed. This will test not only the Chancellor but the German-American and, therefore, the transatlantic relationship. Given Gordon Brown's problems and the prospect of a David Cameron Tory government in the UK and the unpredictability of President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel will be seen in Washington and the strongest leader in Europe. I think there will be a major effort both in Berlin and in Washington to create a German-American engine to drive the transatlantic relationship. Let's hope that they succeed.



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