In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger famously asked, “who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” After more than three decades, he may finally get his answer. Last week, the European parliament began debating the powers and responsibilities of a new president of Europe, a position made possible by the recent decision of the Irish people to approve the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. The EU will also soon have a foreign minister. The establishment of a strong executive in Europe means the 27-member EU is poised to play an even more powerful role in world affairs.

The Lisbon Treaty’s ratification is not the only new development in Europe to which we should all pay close attention. France’s return in April to full participation in NATO’s military structure after more than four decades says something important not just about France but about NATO as well: NATO remains vital to promoting and protecting transatlantic values.

These developments present an opening for new avenues of cooperation among the United States, NATO and a more powerful European Union. While maintaining NATO as a critical pillar for transatlantic ties, U.S. and European leaders have an opportunity to forge a new connection across the Atlantic. A formal U.S.-EU relationship, perhaps even through a treaty, would allow Americans and Europeans to assess the challenges they face and then call upon the transatlantic institution best suited to meeting them.

America and Europe could more effectively act together on:

•Iran. The U.S. and the EU are together trying to convince Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons at the negotiating table. But to change Iran’s policies, the negotiating track needs to be backed by the possibility of stronger measures, and so Washington and Brussels should jointly develop a transatlantic strategy to contain Iran if talks fail. Both NATO and the EU have appropriate roles. NATO, which deterred a nuclear threat for more than 50 years, can work with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and with Israel to organize against Iran’s nuclear threat. The EU can adopt, in concert with Washington, financial and other economic and investment measures to help clarify for Tehran that a nuclear weapon will make Iran less rather than more secure. NATO should begin working with Russia and other interested countries to develop a missile defense system that can effectively defend against the threat of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

  • Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan is NATO’s most important mission, and the alliance must succeed there, but the effort in the Hindu Kush cannot be accomplished by NATO alone. Military efforts must be supported through joint U.S.-EU action to provide humanitarian assistance and promote economic development in Afghanistan and, crucially, also in Pakistan.


  • Cyber security. In the past two years, both the U.S. and the EU have come under cyber attack. As such attacks grow in sophistication, they have the potential to cripple economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic. The U.S. and the EU should launch a joint defense cyber initiative – encouraging participation by European and American businesses that own 85 percent of the information infrastructure – to protect vital networks from attack. NATO should keep working on new capabilities to identify the sources of cyber attacks and be ready to protect defense and security infrastructure. The U.S., NATO and the EU can jointly focus on increasing the resilience of our societies to recover from cyber attack.


  • Energy and climate change. The U.S. and the EU can work even more closely to tackle the challenge of global climate change, especially in advance of the Copenhagen meetings next month. They can do this by reaching out to others such as India and China, both with great needs and great capacities in this area. It should be a transatlantic goal to enhance energy security by diversifying energy supply, including a joint U.S.-EU endeavor to make the Nabucco pipeline – designed to bring natural gas from Central Asia to Europe – a reality.

The time has come to create a transatlantic relationship for the 21st century. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can build on the results of the U.S.-EU summit earlier this month to make clear that America is prepared for new thinking about the transatlantic relationship and to begin the conversation about how best to work with NATO and the EU to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Marc Grossman, an Atlantic Council Board member, is a vice chair at the Cohen Group and was under secretary of state for political affairs from 2001 to 2005. This essay was previously published by the Baltimore Sun as “New Partnership Dawns.”