Toward a Broader Atlantic Community
America’s next transoceanic geopolitical and economic pivot.
On the sidelines of last September’s United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, the United States launched another transcontinental economic initiative: the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation. This new endeavor brings together Atlantic Ocean littoral states in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, from Canada and Argentina to Uruguay and Brazil, Morocco and Nigeria to the United Kingdom and Iceland. All told, a total of 32 countries have endorsed the Declaration on Atlantic Cooperation that officially launched the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation.
The announcement reflected a recognition that countries in the North and South Atlantic had for too long been treated as “separate entities,” and that Washington aims to build a broader, more interconnected and interdependent Atlantic system. This initiative follows on the heels of the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC) announced during the G20 summit, illustrating a significant strategic shift in US foreign policy.
The Declaration on Atlantic Cooperation sees the Atlantic Partnership through a maritime lens, with the littoral states of the Atlantic possessing intertwined interests in the maritime trade routes as well as the ocean’s substantial energy reserves. As the most traveled ocean in the world, the Atlantic Ocean contributes $1.5 trillion each year to the worldwide economy—with projections indicating that this figure will double by 2030. What’s more, the Atlantic’s massive contribution to the global economy is not just a function of the tremendous trade that occurs across its waters: a vast network of underwater data transfer that crisscross the Atlantic Ocean, making it busiest data seaway in the world. Sustainable ocean sectors such as marine biotechnology and offshore renewable energy, moreover, have the potential to create 50 million jobs in Africa and boost Latin America’s gross domestic product by $21 billion.
Indeed, sustainability is a theme that is inextricably linked to the Atlantic, as the ocean is one of the most consequential with respect to climate change and its impacts. To confront climate-related issues and other shared challenges, such as illegal fishing, the maintenance and protection of submarine cables, and illicit trafficking, collective action is imperative. No individual nation can effectively address these issues in isolation, and attempts to create pan-Atlantic governance systems remained in their infancy until very recently. The Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation recognizes the immensely strategic nature of the Atlantic requires serious and dedicated efforts to make meaningful progress toward strong mechanisms for and networks of multilateral cooperation among coastal nations.
This shift involves five key elements:
First, it reflects a commitment to a transoceanic and transcontinental approach to geopolitics and economics, especially in the face of growing competition with China.
Second, the grand designs of the Atlantic partnership and IMEC reinforce Washington’s present-but-waning maritime dominance around the Eurasian and Atlantic rimlands.
Third, while IMEC demonstrates a de facto recognition from Washington of the power shift from the West to the East, the Atlantic initiative represents a parallel understanding of the rise of the Southern Atlantic states such as Brazil, Nigeria, and Morocco.
Fourth, the symbolism of announcing the pact on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly should be seen as an attempt to reform the international system by building new “minilateral” formats that give more agency and leadership roles to the so-called Global South without undermining the existing international institutions like by the United Nations.
Fifth, the Atlantic partnership and the IMEC will join a growing list of multilateral and minilateral formats such as the Quad, I2U2, and AUKUS that Washington has been forming or encouraging to maintain a leading position in global politics.
The Atlantic partnership doesn't have a security or military aspect yet, making it distinct from NATO. It does, however, include a commitment to guarantee that Atlantic countries remain "free from interference, coercion, or aggressive action." Partnership members will also work to safeguard "sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and political independence." While the United States does not wish to extend its formal defense commitments beyond existing alliances like NATO or various treaties with Pacific nations like Japan and Australia, this section gives the United States and other nations the ability to mobilize the Atlantic Partnership for collective security purposes if necessary—much in the same way the Quad, initially formed to provide humanitarian support for tsunami victims, evolved to emphasize security issues in the Indo-Pacific.
All told, the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation represents a creative and significant addition to U.S. coalition-building efforts—one with a welcome emphasis on transnational challenges affecting many developing countries. As competition with China and Russia continues, the United States is reinventing itself geopolitically and economically by embracing order-building around the Atlantic basin and the Eurasian rimland. Ultimately, the Atlantic Partnership may amount to the start of a U.S. initiative to establish an alternative growth market near the American mainland should tensions escalate in Asia.
If nothing else, this diplomatic achievement sent a clear signal that the U.S. and the broader West are dedicated to countering the influence of Beijing and Moscow in the Global South and that they are committed to stabilizing the ailing international order. It remains to be seen how unanticipated developments like the war between Israel and Hamas will affect initiatives like the Atlantic Partnership or especially IMEC. Still, the Biden administration deserves credit for thinking outside the post-Cold War statecraft toolbox when it comes to international economic policy.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and State Department Director of Policy Planning Salman Ahmed call this wider project a "Foreign Policy for the Middle Class." It aims to address flaws in the post-Cold War international economic system that left people behind and led to widespread disenchantment that they believe could harm American democracy. The Atlantic Partnership, IMEC, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework all manifest the Biden administration's efforts to rethink the prevailing vision—the so-called Washington Consensus—that has shaped the global economy since the end of the Cold War. It’s part of a visible shift away from granting foreign nations market access in exchange for their geopolitical alignment to focusing on industrial policy, de-risking with China, anti-trust, and the creation of economic blocs. While this vision has identified many of the problems in America’s international economic policy and holds undeniable appeal across party lines, it remains a work in progress.
The task ahead for the Biden administration is a difficult one: it must stich these disparate initiatives together into a coherent global economic policy, one where the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Mohammed Soliman is the director of the Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program at the Middle East Institute and a visiting fellow with the National Security Program at Third Way. His work focuses on the intersection of technology, geopolitics, and business in emerging markets. Follow him on Twitter: @Thisissoliman.