We’ve been thinking a lot about rebuilding the U.S.-EU alliance, and while there are some conventional areas that need attention and focus, others are now ripe for change or expansion. The United States can’t just focus on reconstituting what existed previously. The world is in a different place than it was even four years ago. We have an opportunity to think differently and more boldly than we might have done if not for the cavalier disregard for norms, laws, and alliances that has dominated the headlines in recent years. To that end, we suggest two ideas that could help make the U.S.-Europe partnership not only stronger and more effective but also truly fit for purpose in today’s world.
Redefining Burden Sharing
First, we propose that the United States and our allies in Europe develop a new definition of burden sharing that encompasses more than military spending as a percentage of GDP. The goal of 2 percent of GDP that NATO set some years ago was never a good measure of an ally’s military contributions to the alliance, as it can be met even without building useful capabilities or actually doing anything to help the alliance achieve its security goals. And of course, military spending alone cannot fairly measure an ally’s true contributions to global security and to our common objective of winning the contest between democracy and authoritarianism.
A new definition of burden sharing should outline more precisely what military capabilities are needed by our democratic alliance to meet our common goals. This new definition should encompass not just spending on those capabilities but also what contributions individual countries are actually making to joint military, peacekeeping, and training missions—whether through NATO, the EU, or the UN. It should also take into account what allies contribute to the promotion of democracy and human rights, humanitarian relief, refugee resettlement, and collective defense against everything from cyber attacks to pandemics. Under U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, we’ve seen burden sharing demands weaponized to divide the United States from Europe; instead, we need to recognize that every ally can do more, and we must encourage greater and more useful contributions from all.
Taking a Global Stand Against Corruption
Second, we’d like to see the United States and EU member states commit to much stronger, more coordinated, and more comprehensive anticorruption efforts. Most authoritarian regimes today, including those of Russia and China, are more politically vulnerable to charges of corruption than accusations that they are undemocratic. Anger at leaders who steal from their people and hide their ill-gotten gains outside their countries is almost universal—so a transatlantic policy of exposing and punishing kleptocracy would align us with ordinary people living in authoritarian countries and put their leaders on the defensive more than anything else we could do.
Of course, a credible global anticorruption policy will only be possible if we set a good example at home. But if we are able to achieve change in Washington, the manner in which we will have done so—through civic activism, a free press, and free elections—will itself serve as a powerful example. We will also need to enact the bipartisan beneficial-ownership legislation currently pending in Congress to make it harder for kleptocrats to hide their money in anonymously owned shell companies registered in the United States. The EU has already passed a similar law, with each member state obligated to establish a public registry of company ownership. Meanwhile, the EU is moving toward the enactment of legislation like the U.S. Magnitsky Act that would allow it to sanction foreign officials responsible for serious corruption. If these laws are robustly enforced with adequate resources, there will be tangible opportunities for transatlantic collaboration.
Doing so would require making anticorruption a genuine foreign policy priority, in ways that it was not under previous presidents, even those, like Barack Obama, who took some useful steps forward. The United States and the EU will have increasingly strong legal tools to go after kleptocrats, but they will also need to dedicate resources and muster political will. In the United States, this would mean greatly expanding the offices at the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury dedicated to exposing and prosecuting international corruption and assigning a far higher priority in the intelligence community to tracking illicit financial flows. Meanwhile, the United States and the EU should share more intelligence about the flow of dirty money and coordinate sanctions and enforcement.
Taking global corruption seriously would also require accepting the diplomatic costs when, inevitably, our efforts expose criminality by the leaders of countries with which we do business. But that would be a price well worth paying for revitalizing our alliance with countries that share our values around a principled cause to which our adversaries have no good answer.
Tom Malinowski is a Member of the House of Representatives for the Seventh Congressional District of New Jersey.
Sarah Margon is Director of U.S. Foreign Policy at the Open Society Foundations.