The Transatlantic Relationship and the Struggle for Europe (TRASE)

Dr Christopher Browning
Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick

Whereas in the 1990s American policy towards Europe aimed to build ‘a Europe whole and free’, since the turn of the millennium American approaches towards Europe have been more divisive and are increasingly seen as representing attempts to define what Europe is or should be about. Whilst the change in American discourse is not uniform the project argues that the different, more aggressive and divisive readings of America, raise significant challenges for the transatlantic alliance, for the concept of the West, for the EU and for individual European states, including Russia. Primarily these challenges are related to questions of identity, since pending the way America is thematised, then Europe comes out differently with consequences for the transatlantic relationship and European politics in general. With the traditional frameworks of European politics ignored in the new American discourses, European states face the question of how to locate themselves in the new environment and how they should think about the future of the European project as a whole.

The project aims to analyse questions related to: the changing heritage of ‘Europe’ and the ‘West’; the challenges and opportunities that face Europe’s smaller states; the extent to which the US is beginning to replace Russia as Europe’s central constitutive other; the ability and capacity of the US to disrupt traditional power structures in Europe; as well as debates regarding what Europe is about and what global role the EU should play.

The organised Seminars

Towards a Post-Western West? The Changing Heritage of ‘Europe’ and the ‘West’
2-3 February 2006, Tampere, Finland

Organised by Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI) the inaugural event of the NORFACE seminar series on the ‘Transatlantic Relationship and the Struggle for Europe’ brought together scholars from Europe, Russia, Australia and the United States to discuss conceptual questions related to changing and developing conceptions of the West and Europe. The seminar (programme) explored both the genealogy of the West as well as its discursive utilisation in contemporary politics. Central debates focused on how the West has shifted from a unifying signifier to becoming a battleground over contested meanings and projects, especially in transatlantic relations. However, the seminar also explored the West in relation to its constitutive others and raised methodological debates as to how best to understand and study the current rift in transatlantic relations.

Europe’s Small States in a Changing Environment
 2-3 June 2006, Copenhagen, Denmark

Organised by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) this seminar explored how changes in concepts of ‘Europe’ and ‘West’ are understood and how disputes in transatlantic relations have begun to impact on how Europe’s small states position themselves in European politics and constitute their identities. Key debates focused on how Europe’s small states locate themselves in a context of multiple debates on what constitutes the West. On the one hand, this involves these states finding a position for themselves in the context of the rift in transatlantic relations over who has the right to define the nature of the true West. On the other hand, it involves issues of how to position themselves in the context of global debates concerning processes of Occidentalism and Orientalism. However, the seminar also explored the constitutive role that Europe’s small states can actually play in impacting on just how transatlantic relations will unfold and how notiong of ‘Europe’ and the ‘West’ are understood.

Rethinking Russia – Challenges and Opportunities
 18th -19th January 2007, Oslo, Norway

The third seminar focussed on Russia’s position in the current international context and the likely scenarios for relations within the EU-Russia-US triangle. The aim was to discuss how recent international developments have been interpreted in Russia, and what opportunities Russia sees in these developments.

Redefining America in the World
 17th May 2007, Keele, UK

The project stems from the tensions that have arisen in the transatlantic relationship since the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Since then American discourses on international politics have changed significantly, with considerations of realpolitik prioritised over the concerns of allies or more normative approaches to world affairs. The project argues that changes in how the US thinks about its identity and global role are also impacting on its attitude towards Europe and in turn presenting Europe with considerable challenges. Similarly, faced with the same security challenges – and in the context of EU efforts to further develop its own security and defence capacity – European thinking about its identity and role is frequently juxtaposed against that of the United States.

The seminar explored how American identity, and particular conceptions of its role in the world, are being reconstituted in the context of rifts in transatlantic relations, the war on terror, and not least in terms of a decline in reference to the idea of the West in American political debate

The New Transatlantic Agenda: Identity, Discourse and Partnership 30th – 31st August 2007, Dublin, Ireland