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The Atlantic Geopolitical Space: Common opportunities and challenges

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This report summarizes discussions among a group of experts who met on 1 July 2011 to examine the prospects for cooperation in the Atlantic space. Summarizing the tenor of these discussions is a challenge given the wide variety of experts involved – academics and government officials from all parts of the Atlantic participated, drawing on themes across a range of issues – economic, security, energy, environmental, crime and many others. The report therefore stays close to the original discussion, with some small editorializing here in this executive summary and in the conclusion.
The Atlantic space is a region connected by growing linkages and common challenges. One of the aims of this conference was to begin thinking about and elaborating that which distinguishes and unites the region, and indeed whether unifying characteristics are sufficient to overcome the divergences and disparities among these four continents, which together house the world’s richest and its poorest.
It is clear that economic flows and social linkages are growing across the Basin. Investment, trade, migration, social networking, criminal activities, and other indicators are on the rise, though in some cases the same is true for extra-Atlantic interactions, especially with Asia. Yet most agreed that these flows and links alone were sufficient to call for agenda-setting on governance issues, and to begin thinking about how to resolve common problems collectively.
Meanwhile Northern Atlantic basin states are the architects of the post-war economic and security order – a liberal order whose foundational ideas remain more widely accepted today than its institutional architecture, which represents a snapshot of the distribution of power in 1945. In the absence of global agreement on reframing institutions of governance, it seems doubly important to examine the Atlantic space as a region ripe for better mechanisms of cooperation.
In terms of cross-border interactions, conference participants discussed activities between social actors such as private enterprises; they looked at region-wide economic and social activity; they disaggregated activity by state and by sector. Different pictures emerged from these analyses. Taken as a whole, economic activity between South America and Africa is low (by comparison to the EU-US relationship), but in certain areas like mining and energy there is growing investment in Africa, especially from Brazil. A bewildering host of challenges and concerns emerged from these discussions. Promoting security linkages in the South Atlantic – where there is virtually nothing in place – was seen as important both because of Brazil’s rising military strength and also because new discoveries and new technologies make it possible to exploit offshore resources more comprehensively.
Likewise, new security threats – including drug shipments, piracy, and other illicit activities – threaten weak littoral states and call for cooperative security solutions. Energy, climate change, and natural resources are a key theme in the Atlantic. The divergence between the most and least efficient producers (and the most and least prolific consumers) is perhaps greater than anywhere else on the planet. The North Atlantic states have technological solutions that are the most advanced in the world. Yet they cannot translate into control of agendas and solutions, or preservation of historical rights and access to common resources. Governance mechanisms for common resources have been devised in the North
Atlantic. How can these be translated successfully to other parts of the basin? Thus, different parts of the Atlantic basin clearly have diverging objectives and concerns given varying levels of development, democratization, and security challenges. Opening the discussion of these factors raises a host of questions needing attention, among them:
★ How do interactions drive interests and what does that mean for Atlantic basin cooperation? Most (but not all) Atlantic states are market economies and democracies – can norms and values also play a role in driving cooperation, and if so what should they be?
★ What should the emerging powers of the South Atlantic do with their power? Can they serve as anchors (along with North America and the EU) around which all Atlantic states can coalesce in order to promote democracy and development, and to find solutions to common natural resource problems?
★ What is the best way forward for cooperation and policy coordination? A sectoral approach often seems most feasible, drawing together stakeholders in agreements which are limited to interested actors and to narrow sectors. But how does this affect national sovereignty? Is sovereignty still so tightly held by most states that meaningful cooperation is precluded, or can cooperative solutions be forged among Atlantic basin states without EU-style relaxation of sovereignty norms?
★ What role do (and should) civil society groups play in the Atlantic space, and how do we best ensure respect for democratic accountability and the rule of (international) law given the deep power imbalances and the diverse interests at stake?
Society (Growth and Development)
Country of publication: 
European Union
Publication date: 
Friday, July 1, 2011
Title Original Language: 
The Atlantic Geopolitical Space: Common opportunities and challenges