This article first appeared on the Ethics & International Affairs blog.
I am at the Berlin meetings of the Losaich Group, a U.S.-German strategic dialogue, which has convened this week to discuss the trans-Atlantic relationship within the frame of "great power competition," particularly the rise of China. Two points that have been raised—which tie directly back to the focus of the Carnegie Council's program on U.S. Global Engagement—are the importance of domestic political support and the question of values. On the first, officials taking part in the conversations have explicitly raised the question of "narrative"—the importance not simply of having reactive policies to specific, discrete events but having an overarching narrative framework in which policies are situated and explained. On the second, the question of whether the values of "the open society"—and of creating and sustaining societies which prioritize the rights of individuals to free development—should be front and center in assessing the Western approach to China, as opposed to simply focusing on technical matters related to economics, trade, currency and even the environment.
As these discussions continue, there does seem to be some latent support for a trans-Atlantic approach that encompasses what the CCEIA report on foreign policy narratives describes as the "democratic community" narrative. This narrative:
represents an interesting "blend" of the traditional bipartisan consensus with elements of the America First critique but also a renewed emphasis on prioritizing values. Generally, it advises that the U.S. should be prepared to disengage from regimes that do not enhance the overall cause of democracy; that Americans should be prepared to produce more domestically (even at higher costs) than engage in free trade with countries who do not uphold democratic, environmental, and labor standards; and that a reduction in American interventionism abroad reduces the need to rely on less-democratic/more authoritarian partners in order to preserve forward engagement.
This narrative argues that the U.S. should pivot and reorient its core economic and security relationships to encompass a community of like-minded democracies in Europe and Asia (and perhaps Latin America and Africa). This would not only promote the development of norms (and withstand efforts by China, Russia, and others to revise the core tenets of the current international system) but would seek to re-incentivize support for a democratic coalition of nations by reorienting trading relations so that democracies trade and invest with each other, rather than "yoking" their economies to a Chinese system that may promise cheaper goods and easy credit, but which does not support the security goals or value propositions of the democracies.
In the context of the Berlin discussions, this would be to find ways to expand and deepen economic integration and cooperation between Germany (and by extension, a larger Europe) and the United States, blunting the need for Chinese markets or for seeking technological solutions from Chinese firms, and to privilege Euro-American entities committed to playing by the rules in terms of market access. It would build on unease in both German and American publics about China as an "unfair" economic competitor. It would also strengthen the ability of Western states to resist Chinese efforts to change rules and standards.
Could blunting a Chinese challenge be the basis of a new trans-Atlantic bargain? Would it also create domestic public support for retaining the Euro-American connection, particularly among younger generations for whom the Cold War is a distant memory?