Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations | Program 2021-2030: Transatlantic Relations in an Age of Sino-American Competition

September 17th 2020 - 17:00

Europe and the United States must adapt to a new reality, one in which the geopolitical center of gravity has moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The transatlantic relationship  will irreversibly change in the coming decade due to a series of converging trends. As its strategic competition with China intensifies, U.S. grand strategy will be pulled towards the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. military is increasingly overstretched as a result of multi-regional commitments in the Asia-Pacific, Persian Gulf, Europe, and elsewhere.  Though there remains broad public support for a global role, both ends of the political spectrum are pushing for alternative approaches to U.S. foreign policy. The COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic crisis could bolster those who wish to prioritize domestic issues. Simply put, Europeans should no longer expect the U.S. to be everywhere, or that transatlantic relations will return to an idealized past. At the same time, enduring shared interests and values remain on both sides of the Atlantic, even in a Pacific era.

Europeans should respond in three ways. First, they should look for issues where transatlantic interests and values converge, and engage with the United States in these areas to secure the international norms and institutions established in the preceding decades. Second, Europeans should address the deterrence gaps and shortfalls that will emerge in NATO Europe during periods when the United States is preoccupied with China. Third, they should identify potential partners within the United States with whom they can build coalitions around issues of shared interest. In turn, U.S. policymakers should recognize the value of independent and capable partners in Europe so that the United States can better manage the demands on its limited resources and focus its attention on the Asia-Pacific.

The HCSS Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations, with its Program 2021-2030: Transatlantic Relations in the Age of Sino-American Competition, aims to ensure that both sides continue to enjoy the benefits of the shared interests and values on which the transatlantic relationship is based. Facilitating a smarter and more equitable distribution of the current benefits and burdens will be an important goal for both sides. The initiative looks to put the transatlantic relationship on a new footing, one that is based on the reality of today, not nostalgia for an earlier era.

Core Mission, Partners, and Steering Board

The HCSS is launching the Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations in response to the shift in U.S. focus from Europe towards the Asia-Pacific. This research program analyzes the trends driving U.S. engagement with Europe, formulates solutions for the emerging security and governance shortfalls, and identifies future opportunities for transatlantic cooperation, including coalitions developed to address specific issues of shared interest. The program aims to educate and mobilize a new generation of 21st century strategic thinkers who understand the role of the transatlantic relationship in the new era of increased Sino-American competition.

The HCSS Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations is a partnership between leading research institutions located on both sides of the Atlantic. The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) is its launching partner. The consortium works with a broad network of forward-looking experts in the United States and Europe. It explains and shapes the evolution of the transatlantic relationship, identifies concrete gaps in security, and identifies opportunities for concerted transatlantic action. A steering board of leading U.S. and European experts safeguards the Program’s mission and contributes to the dissemination of its research and supports its activities.

Content and Products: Research and Public Engagement

The HCSS Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations rests on three research pillars:

Maintaining the Transatlantic Institutional Order

First, the initiative develops strategies to engage, manage, and maintain the transatlantic relationship. The U.S. and Europe continue to share interests and values in an era of increased geopolitical competition; these include rule-setting in trade, finance, access to dual-use technologies, intellectual property rights, the internet and cyberspace, human rights, and climate change. The program identifies policies, debates, and transatlantic political coalitions in which European governments can invest to maintain U.S. engagement with Europe and uphold multilateral approaches to global governance.

Strengthening European Deterrence

Second, the initiative develops new ideas designed to improve the European contribution to NATO’s conventional deterrence. Improved conventional deterrence will allow Europeans to address possible capability shortfalls and deterrence gaps if the U.S. is engaged elsewhere, and give the U.S. flexibility in confronting challenges in the Asia-Pacific. It addresses emerging deterrence gaps while avoiding the re-nuclearization of European security. Beyond doctrinal and technological innovations, the initiative also identifies European bilateral or mini-lateral partnerships alongside NATO and the EU through which European governments can enhance concrete capabilities.

Mapping the Sources of U.S. Engagement with Europe

Third, the initiative looks beyond the White House to explore the evolving political factors that drive U.S. engagement with Europe: at the subnational level, U.S. states and cities have divergent interests, trade and investment flows differ by state, and demographic trends affect the nature of U.S. foreign policy. The HCSS also tracks the demands on U.S. forces around the globe, especially hotspots, which could create capability shortfalls and deterrence gaps in Europe.

Fostering the Next Generation of Transatlantic Thinkers

The HCSS Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations engages in a number of activities that identify and train a new generation of transatlantic thinkers who understand the implications of intensifying great power competition. This includes disseminating research, hosting events, and facilitating relevant discussions in the media.

HCSS Products

The HCSS Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations draws upon substantial in-house expertise and an extensive national and international network to draft research reports and briefing memos, as well as policy menus and dashboards, based on original analysis and the sophisticated use of data. The initiative offers creative and concrete answers to meet today’s transatlantic challenges.

The initiative’s members also publish in top-tier academic journals. With its partners and affiliates, the HCSS brings together policymakers, scholars, and researchers from both sides of the Atlantic through seminars, workshops, simulations, summer schools, and other public events.

Promoting a Revitalized Transatlantic Relationship

The shift in the geopolitical center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific requires a transatlantic response. Europeans and Americans should work together to maintain and strengthen the existing international order, while Europeans must strengthen their ability to defend their security when United States is engaged elsewhere. For the relationship to thrive in the 21st century, both sides should strive to build anew political coalitions based on shared interests and values. Through its Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations, the HCSS shapes research and public debate on the future of the transatlantic relationship.


The Program is made possible through the generous support of an assortment of institutional and philanthropic  foundations. Would you like to know more? Please contact Program Co-Chair Dr. Paul Van Hooft, at, or Program Co-Chair Dr. Jack Thompson, at

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Paul van Hooft is a Senior Strategic Analyst at HCSS and the Co-Chair of The Initiative on the Future of Transatlantic Relations. He was a postdoctoral fellow from 2018 to 2020 at the Security Studies Program (SSP) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including as a 2018-2019 Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow. His work focuses on: the origins and logic of American grand strategy; European grand strategy and security; nuclear strategy; Indo-Pacific security, transatlantic relations; alliances; and extended deterrence. Paul attained his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Amsterdam (UVA) and was a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute (EUI) from 2016 to 2018. Paul received the 2016 prize from the Dutch and Flemish political science associations for his dissertation on the impact of experiences with war on postwar grand strategy.
Jack Thompson is a Senior Strategic Analyst at HCSS, where he leads a range of projects in the fields of security and defense. His main research interests are US foreign policy, European security, transatlantic relations, and great power competition. Before joining the HCSS, he was Head of the Global Security Team at the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich and Lecturer at the Clinton Institute, University College Dublin. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, an MA from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a BA from the University of St. Thomas. He is author of Great Power Rising: Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of US Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press, 2019).
Dr. Tim Sweijs is the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for horizon scanning, early warning, conflict analysis, national security risk assessment, and strategy and capability development. Tim has lectured at universities and military academies around the world. His main research interest concerns the changing character of contemporary conflict. Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Defence Academy and an Affiliate at the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.