WASHINGTON (CN) – A day after NATO sent 50,000 troops to conduct joint military exercises in Norway, a group of geopolitical analysts gathered in Washington on Thursday to discuss the rise of nationalist politicians in Europe and how the new era may challenge longstanding assumptions about U.S.-Europe relations.
Speaking at the meeting of the Helsinki Commission, Jeffrey Rathke, former diplomat and president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, said the rise in nationalist fervor across Europe doesn’t mean a full-blown resurgence of the Cold War is around the corner.
The rise in nationalism is a merely a response to changing economics and demographics across Europe, Rathke and other panelists agreed.
In order for the U.S. to help sustain democracy internationally and keep the rise of nationalism, they said, the U.S. should amplify those messages that promote lawfulness and unity.
And it wouldn’t hurt, he said, to remind people of the U.S. and Europe’s shared history combating destructive nationalist forces, Rathke said.
“Sentimentality is not a guide for policy choices,” he said. “But remember, when we look across the Atlantic, the US does find the largest collection of economically advanced, military capable and politically capable liked-minded countries that are willing to stand with us and confront challenges.”
Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., told the committee nationalism, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Though a bit of a “dirty word” in Europe and elsewhere, he said, it’s only been tarred because of its association with Nazism.
“But every stable democracy in the world was fortified by a sense of nationalism,” he said. “Without it, there can be no political community and there can be no democracy. Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill regarded this as common knowledge.”
The message the U.S. should be broadcasting about its approach to Europe should be one of strength and independence, he explained.
Europe should “pay their fair share” and commit itself to taking on greater responsibility to preserve transatlantic security, he said.
Paul Coyer, a research professor at the Institute of World Politics, a nonprofit national security think tank also based in Washington, D.C., echoed some of Bromund’s points but stressed to the commission that nationalism can be a slippery slope if mishandled.
“A healthy nationalism appreciates one’s own traditions and cultures while also appreciating those of other people,” Coyer said. “We should inculcate nationalism characterized by humility in our own national distinctiveness. This sense should be tempered by a humility which knows [one group] is not the end-all, be-all of cultural achievement,” he said.