The Atlantic Community is very far from fully consolidated. Its consolidation should always be the top priority. This means upgrading, wherever possible, all transatlantic institutions - NATO, OECD, G7, G8, US-EU summit and TEC, ANZUS and U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea alliances, IEA, suppliers clubs. It means seeking new transatlantic structures when feasible. It means drawing all these together into a more visible and explicit “Concrete West”, with an identity that transcends its specific elements.
It means deepening NATO decision-making, akin to the deepening of EU decision-making, so the expansion of membership will not prove to have been an exercise in community-dilution and dis-integration. It means reducing the democratic deficit, by reducing the unit-veto power in the Council, and by increasing the role of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. This will be easier legally in NATO than in the EU, without the need for new treaties, since NATO does not pass supranational laws; its Council works out Alliance postures and authorizes joint actions, with participation encouraged, undermining discouraged, by peer pressure.
It means deepening OECD and G7 into a transatlantic economic community, with a program of movement toward a free trade area or customs union and a coordinated currency arrangement. It means using new issues to enhance Atlantic institutional competences -- and making sure the issues can be dealt with in sufficiently "communautaire" fashion, before giving them a visibly transatlantic status; not risking the reputation of the Atlantic Community on things it lacks the competence to handle.
It means finding ways to reinforce and update the Atlantic identity, which is still too much connected with the Cold War in people's minds. It means teaching the full 120-year history of trans-Atlantic institutional development, showing its genetic growth from the Atlantic diplomatic rapprochements after 1890 to the alliances of the world wars to the organizations formed after 1946 from the Marshall Plan to OEEC NATO ECSC ANZUS US-Japan EEC OECD G6-7-8. It means wrapping the institutions together under a common umbrella structure with a name resonant enough to carry identity and sustain loyalty, such as “Western Community” or “Atlantic Union”.
It means producing a public and scholarly literature that upholds the Atlantic community, in its historic and probable future roles in the world, as something meritorious, from which the world has benefitted greatly, not something to be ashamed of. It means developing popular Atlantic symbols. It means getting schools to use historical curricula that teach our children a transatlantic history of our intertwined development of the things we are proud of. Something like this used to be taught fairly widely; it has been unduly forgotten in recent decades, buried under the weight of habitual national and continental uniqueness histories, and trendy ethnic and global histories that ignore (or deplore) the specificity and centrality of Atlantic development in the course of global development.
It means deepening the links with Atlantic Asia -- Japan, S Korea, some other tigers, and (sotto voice) Taiwan. It means giving Atlantic Asia a full voice in the formation of Atlantic policy on the other East Asia, which is at best non-Atlantic and too often anti-Atlantic.
It means refuting the false consensus on the "decline of the West". It means explaining that the economic weight of Atlantic Asia is to be added onto the weight of Europe and America for calculating the Western total vis-a-vis non-Atlantic Asia, not subtracted from the West (a continentalist geopolitical habit that ignores inter-continental sociological reality). It means making people aware of the fact that the economic weight of the concrete institutionalized West has increased not declined over the decades, as it has grown both in geographical membership and in domestic economies.
It means opposing the pressures for phasing out Atlantic institutions (G8, OECD) in favor of undifferentiated global ones (G20, an OECD widened into just another 1st-3rd world conference group). It means updating the classical model of two necessary complementary levels of international institutional development, Atlantic and global. It means overcoming the temptation of trashing one level in favor of the other, a temptation of sectarian anti-Atlanticists and sectarian anti-globalists alike.
As you can see, it is a huge agenda. One that surely deserves priority, not at the expense of the more popular issues but as an under-layer that should have first place in the consciousness of those of us who tend to the Atlantic per se.
This article is a response to atlantic-community.org's poll "What Should Top the Transatlantic Agenda in 2011?"
Dr. Ira Louis Straus is coordinator of the American branch, Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO and author of the atlantic-community.org article "The Myth of Western Decline and G7-OECD Obsolescence."