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BIPR | The West Is Back (Again): Transatlantic Relations and the Ukraine War
The West Is Back (Again): Transatlantic Relations and the Ukraine War

March 6, 2023 - 18:30

Jussi Hanhimaki, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland

Event Recap

Professor Jussi Hanhimäki begins his presentation by examining the popular claim that "The West" is back after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Before Putin's invasion in February of 2021, many prominent politicians, including Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States, had declared NATO essentially obsolete. However, since the war's onset, NATO member states have once again aligned themselves against the security concern posed by Russia. As a result, the West is now more united than ever.

Hanhimäki posits that this is not the first time the West has been "back." Since World War II, the North Atlantic states have experienced tensions with each other, but have ultimately remained allies and cooperated with each other when needed. During the Cold War period, sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age" of the West, transatlantic states came together for measures such as the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, and the general promotion of freedom. However, this period was not without strain. In the 1970s, relations between the United States and Europe deteriorated slightly as Europe emerged as an economic rival. After the Cold War, issues such as trade tariffs, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Iraq War also caused contention between the United States and European Union.

Hanhimäki maintains that despite the challenges, none of these tensions have made a significant imprint in overall transatlantic relations. He provides three "reality checks" to illustrate the continued transatlantic cooperation. The first is the transatlantic security space. NATO exists and continues to expand, despite previous questions about its relevancy. The second is the transatlantic economic space. No other two regions in the world are as deeply economically integrated as the United States and Europe, and the transatlantic space is the world's wealthiest. The third and final "reality check" is the transatlantic political space. Hanhimäki claims that this is more volatile because of the constant elections that take place among the over 30 liberal democracies that are member states, and because of the fear that populist movements will dominate politics. However, in an optimistic view, he claims that since we see similar political trends in the United States and across Europe, people are voting for similar reasons, which is another thing that connects the two regions.

After explaining the continued connections between the transatlantic states, Hanhimäki notes that the invasion of Ukraine has created new momentum for the enlargement of NATO, particularly for Finland and Sweden because of the security threats posed by the war. He concludes by offering several takeaways. The first is that the transatlantic relationship has had its ups and downs since World War II, and there have always been tensions present. The second is that the fundamentals of transatlantic relations (security space, economic space, and political space) remain strong in 2023. The third is that community and conflict are the old and new 'normal' in transatlantic relations. Conflict is inevitable, but sustained cooperation between the transatlantic states demonstrates the enduring sense of community between the two regions.

The West Is Back (Again): Transatlantic Relations and the Ukraine War

hosted by Professor John L. Harper

Jussi Hanhimaki
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland

Jussi M. Hanhimäki is currently Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute, Geneva and an editor of the journal Cold War History.

Hanhimäki was previously a Lecturer at the London School of Economics, and from 2002 to 2003 was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars (Washington, DC). He was the recipient of the 2002 Bernath Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and in 2006 was elected Finland Distinguished Professor by the Academy of Finland. His main research interests include American foreign policy, transatlantic relations, and the international history of the Cold War.

Hanhimäki's books include The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (2004); International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond (2015); The Rise and Fall of Detente: American Foreign Policy and the Transformation of the Cold War (2013); United Nations: A Very Short Introduction (2008, 2015); Pax Transatlantica: America and Europe in the Post-Cold War Era (2021); Just Symbolic? Sport as a Barometer of International Relations (2022).
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