How can the Euro-Atlantic community revive global multilateral cooperation in the age of de-globalisation and regionalism?


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Ana-Maria Rufanda
Ana-Maria Rufanda

Student at the Erasmus School of Economics

This article is the winner of our first-ever transatlantic essay contest, designed to engage young voices from both sides of the Atlantic.

Nothing unites nations more than war. Albeit a bold paradox, history has proven that the disruptive force of war catalyses countries to re-evaluate their economic and political state, and most importantly, their alliances. The Second World War forged strong alliances between like-minded states, resulting in the creation of the United Nations, NATO and eventually the European Union as means of economic and political cooperation to maintain international peace and security.

In the context of a new tumultuous war paved by a mistakenly too long period of de-globalisation and regionalism, the Euro-Atlantic community has been woken up from its stagnant state and forced into the middle of a burning crisis. The Russia-Ukraine War marks a pivotal turning point for the Euro-Atlantic community ‘to strike the iron while it is hot’ and to establish the future direction of transatlantic relations. Will Europe and North America use their power to instigate cooperation against peril, like our predecessors did in the world wars, or will they choose the path of their own strategic autonomy, leaving the world in a fractured state?

Following the Trump administration’s hostility towards European leaders and multilateralism, Biden’s inauguration was seen as the panacea able to revive the commitment to close collaboration between the transatlantic community and, consequently, lead to global cooperation. Biden’s ‘Proclamation of Adjusting Imports of Aluminium Into the United States’ offering a global corporate minimum tax proposal, and his decision to re-join the Paris Agreement are two noticeable amendments of Trump’s legacy indeed, but is this enough to maintain a united front in the light of the challenges that the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought?

The war does not have to be a divisive issue within the transatlantic alliance

Despite the initial influence on the transatlantic unity, the unifying effect has faded in time, making space for divergences, as also demonstrated following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. A lasting war in Ukraine is becoming a normality in which the transatlantic community is not willing to invest as much anymore. North America has grown dissatisfied with the lack of European security burden-sharing and financial engagement in this war, especially given the recent US midterm elections and upcoming presidential elections in 2024. Conversely, European parties fear that the Trump administration was not merely an anomaly and that a potential ‘American First’ administration in the near future is  no guarantee of the US’s crucial security role on the European continent.

Meanwhile, tendencies towards inward economic and political focus and de-globalisation over recent years, condemnation of involvement in international conflicts and overly permissive immigration policies drive another nail into transatlantic unity’s coffin. Will common interests and shared principles, such as energy security and protection of existing borders, prevail in this new battle of values, duty and self-interests? There is still time and opportunity for the Euro-Atlantic community to remove bilateral irritants, stabilise its relationship by setting a needed framework for collaboration, and then direct global governance towards multilateral cooperation, whether out of choice or necessity.

The war does not have to be a divisive issue within the transatlantic alliance but should act as a unifying force. Shared values should not be underappreciated, as the fight against climate change, terrorism and most definitely wars, combined with protection of biodiversity and prevention of future pandemics, have always been motives to maintain unity and cohesion as a group, regardless of ideological differences. The Climate Club or the EU-US Trade and Technology Council are examples of initiatives that can boost both transatlantic and overall multilateral cooperation.

In order to achieve a true revival of global multilateral cooperation, the transatlantic community has to play in a wiser, more assertive and more ingenious way than ever

Interdependency is another pillar through which trust and openness grow. Europe’s dependency on gas supply from Russia, which led to the disastrous energy crisis, has left Europe vulnerable. In the attempt to bind Russia to a multilateral system with European rules, led especially by former German chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia has checkmated Europe by using its weakness. Therefore, diversification of resources, such as finding transatlantic alternatives for gas, is the best solution, although there is a slightly tangible line between the desire for complete, ‘flat world’ globalisation and national security. Interdependency is desired so that no party remain leveraged.

Revival of global multilateral cooperation can also be achieved by learning from mistakes and remaining on high alert to prevent nasty surprises. For instance, if Ukraine had been offered immediate NATO membership at the 2008 Bucharest summit or if harsher consequences for Russia had followed its annexation of Crimea in 2014, we might not be in this precarious situation. Investment in complementary analysis approaches may contribute to early detection of relevant developments. Active engagement with parliaments, businesses and civil societies at the bilateral or regional levels can also raise awareness of unexpected topics and global developments, making each country, despite its size, feel heard and seen.

The security sphere is certainly of importance when discussing global cooperation. A strong, strategically autonomous Europe capable of conducting its own military operations, and the transatlantic security partnership should both aim to attract partners under their patronage, especially in the midst of war on the European continent. Therefore, the potential of countries like Ukraine, Finland or Sweden to join NATO should be of fundamental interest.

In order to achieve a true revival of global multilateral cooperation, the transatlantic community has to play in a wiser, more assertive and more ingenious way than ever, even with concessions if needed, because much more than merely trade or gain is at stake, including security, peace and life. The goal is clear: start building bridges, not walls.

The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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