Between Nationalism and Multilateralism: A Renewed Approach for Transatlantic Economic Engagement
Issue Brief 59
The Ancient Greeks invented the concept of the Golden Mean, and the idea that “the truth lies somewhere in the middle” is a well-rooted one. Given the opposing international economic policies of U.S. nationalism and European Union multilateralism that are contributing to the polarization of transatlantic relations, is there a center ground that the United States and the European Union could jointly occupy?
Yes, but not because these two concepts are equal outliers judged against a commonsense mid-point of policy. Multilateralism has a 75-year record of mitigating trade, currency, environmental, and other economic conflicts through the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the UN, and similar institutions and agreements. Nationalism—and its associated destruction in the twentieth century—gave rise to the postwar multilateral institutions that were created to serve as its antidote. Multilateralism’s performance today may be lackluster (especially in trade policy) but a return to the protectionism and mercantilism of the 1930s would shipwreck the global economy.
These considerations notwithstanding, there is a space that lies between the “America First” nationalism of the Trump administration and a historic allegiance within the EU to multilateralism where policies can be crafted to promote the global economic interests of both sides of the Atlantic. But for this approach to be successful it will be essential that Americans and Europeans first grasp the distinction between liberalism and multilateralism in international economic relations.