Last spring the leaders of the North Atlantic Alliance met in Chicago to reaffirm their commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership and to devise new strategies to deal with pressing threats to our collective security.
One thing is clear — the challenges facing the alliance are so substantial that we’ll need more cohesiveness and cooperation than ever before. Security threats, such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, regional conflict, and cybercrime and electronic warfare, pose great risks to peace and prosperity in the 21st century.
There’s a growing and welcome awareness among NATO partners that we can’t meet our security needs without stronger, healthier economies. Flagging competitiveness, unsustainable entitlement spending, and the ticking time bomb of oversize sovereign debt threaten our ability to tackle urgent security threats and pose the greatest challenge to the future of the trans-Atlantic community since the Cold War.
The wolf closest to the throat of trans-Atlantic prosperity and security remains the potentially catastrophic eurozone crisis. In the United States, a looming fiscal cliff at year’s end—triggering massive tax increases and draconian cuts in national defense — could drive the American economy back into recession.
These immediate challenges can be traced back to a more fundamental problem that has plagued the trans-Atlantic economy for years — paltry levels of growth driven by steadily eroding global competitiveness. It is time to make growth the overriding objective of trans-Atlantic economic policy — not just in word but in deed.
To be sure, growth alone won’t solve all our problems. But without it, we can’t solve any of them. Without greater growth across the Atlantic, the NATO alliance — the most successful partnership for security, prosperity, and humanitarianism in history — will fall into inevitable decline.
Sustainable growth comes from only one place — the private sector. Government’s responsibility is to create conditions in which the private sector can drive economic expansion, investment and job creation. That means trans-Atlantic nations must further open markets, weed out unnecessary regulations, reform taxes, improve the workforce through better education and immigration policies, and let the marketplace, rather than government, pick the winners and losers.
One significant way to stimulate job creation and growth in the alliance is through an ambitious trans-Atlantic economic and trade pact that would reduce costs by eliminating tariffs, free services trade, minimize unnecessary regulatory differences, facilitate investment and broaden procurement opportunities. A pact could help expand our economies by $170 billion in five years if we did nothing more than eliminate tariffs on goods.
We don’t need another amorphous concept with overambitious labels that can mean anything to everyone — nor do we need to embark on another tedious years-long trek of studies, summits and negotiations about the negotiations. Government and industry leaders across the Atlantic already know what’s in their interests and what’s not. They know which issues will be easy and which ones will be hard. All that’s lacking is time.
A stronger economic partnership and healthier economies would also help us compete in the world amid rising competitors, including China, India and other emerging economic powers. Their growing prosperity and purchasing power may mean tougher competition for capital, talent and markets, but they also mean a world of new customers eager for our goods, services and technologies. Rather than fretting about change, we should be seizing opportunities.
Now that we are past the election, Americans will quickly want to know if our European partners are ready to move decisively to the next level of trans-Atlantic economic integration. If not, Europe should not be surprised to see U.S. policymakers shift their focus to our West and our South, rapidly accelerating new trading arrangements with emerging partners in Asia and Latin America.
The trans-Atlantic community still represents nearly half of global GDP, and we conduct nearly 40% of global trade. Even more compelling are the standards we set and the values we instill. An energetic U.S. and EU partnership is a must if we are to uphold the principles of a rules-based trading system through the WTO and other vehicles and advance our common interests. Those interests include curbing rampant theft of intellectual property, protecting data privacy while keeping the Internet open and free, and finding common approaches to what could emerge as one of the greatest economic and security challenges of this century — cybersecurity.
In the last century, the trans-Atlantic community saved mankind — by working and sacrificing together. Now, it’s time to make history again by securing a better future through a stronger NATO alliance and a vibrant economic partnership for prosperity.
General James L. Jones, USMC (Ret.), is a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and serves as chairman of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This piece was first published on Investor’s Business Daily.