Connected in freedom? Reconstructing a foundational value in EU and US foreign policy discourses

Abstract

The ideal of freedom has historically instituted the Transatlantic Community of Values spanning the USA and Europe. Given the framework of liberal crises that currently dominates Western mental maps, it is crucial to contemplate what has happened to this legacy of freedom and, consequently, to the very foundations of this value community. To achieve this, we draw on the theoretical debates on freedom to construct a novel conceptual framework of the potential uses of the notion in political discourses. This scaffold is then utilised as a tool to analyse, and ultimately compare, the employment of freedom in a selection of documents produced by the leaderships of the EU and the USA since the turn of the millennium.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We are naturally aware of the different connotations of the notions of freedom and liberty, prevalent in the English language—but not in, for instance, French, German or Finnish. The latter would seem to relate to unrestricted (political) action, and the former more generally to the contractual nature of political community. This difference, however, proved limitedly relevant for our analysis.

  2. 2.

    Berlin [1]. There is a lively and still ongoing debate on Berlin’s own interpretation of these notions, as well as efforts to introduce more nuanced categorisations of freedom. See, for example, Pettit [2]; Lagerspetz [3]; Skinner [4]; Kioupkiolis [5]; Podoksik [6]; Spector [7].

  3. 3.

    Cf., for example, Dowding [8].

  4. 4.

    We could also talk of an ‘essentialist paradigm’ as one form of a positive understanding of freedom. ‘Essentialism’, however, can turn out to be highly problematic, a way towards the acceptance of the existing state of affairs. In other words, ‘[c]ritical and imaginative autonomy renounces essentialist preconceptions which posit absolute limits on the choice of norms, and it rectifies negative ideas which bypass the need to wrestle with present constraints’. Kioupkiolis, ‘Three Paradigms,’ 481.

  5. 5.

    Pettit, ‘Freedom as Antipower’.

  6. 6.

    Skinner [9].

  7. 7.

    Mahbubani [10].

  8. 8.

    Wallace [11].

  9. 9.

    Honneth uses the attribute reflexive to denote the type of freedom usually labelled as ‘positive’. See Honneth [12].

  10. 10.

    Vogt [13].

  11. 11.

    For Honneth, social freedom is the third main category of freedom, along with the negative and reflexive classifications. See Honneth, Das Recht der Freiheit.

  12. 12.

    Berglund [14].

  13. 13.

    To a degree, we in fact here disagree with Ian Manners, the initiator of the debate on Normative Power Europe. For him, ‘freedom is always just one of several rights, held alongside other equally important principles such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law’. Manners [15].

  14. 14.

    Solana [16].

  15. 15.

    Tusk [17].

  16. 16.

    Borg [18].

  17. 17.

    Van Rompuy [19] (emphasis added).

  18. 18.

    Ashton [20]. See also the European Commission’s definition of ‘deep democracy’ at European Commission [21].

  19. 19.

    Van Rompuy [22].

  20. 20.

    European Union [23].

  21. 21.

    European Union [24].

  22. 22.

    Tusk [25].

  23. 23.

    Mogherini [26]. Cf. Mogherini in the Foreword to European Union, ‘Shared Vision, Common Action,’ 4.

  24. 24.

    Juncos [27].

  25. 25.

    For many scholars, resilience represents a neoliberal justificatory device; it makes it possible for the EU to pursue its policies without being accused of neocolonialism. There are, however, others who see the notion in much more positive terms, a source of real societal critical potential. Of these two interpretations, the former seems to represent a systemic logic—misused systemic freedom—whereas the latter proponents think in terms of social/institutional freedom. Cf. Mckeown and Glenn [28], Bourbeau and Caitlin [29].

  26. 26.

    European Union, ‘Shared Vision, Common Action,’ 27.

  27. 27.

    This form of pragmatism may also echo the ‘pragmatic turn’ of International Relations scholarship (whatever that may mean); the ideas of academia do make an impact occasionally.

  28. 28.

    European Union, ‘Shared Vision, Common Action,’ 8 (emphasis added).

  29. 29.

    The debate initiated by Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida in the aftermath of the Iraq war in 2003 is the most famous example in this respect, see Levy [30]. It might also be possible here to refer to the establishment of the EU’s defence/military dimension in the late 1990s, beginning from the St. Malo Declaration by the British and French leaders in December 1998. However, as, for example, Henrik Larsen argues, the logic of action at the time was primarily based on problem-solving—crises such as the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s should not be possible in the EU’s neighbourhood—rather than identity-building in terms of sovereignty. See Larsen [31].

  30. 30.

    Solana [32].

  31. 31.

    Ashton [33].

  32. 32.

    Unlike in many other fields, in defence cooperation European integration seems to be taking steps forward at the moment. As a confirmation of this, 23 Member States signed a joint notification on Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in this field in November 2017. Under this framework, member states can, for example, jointly develop their defence capabilities and strengthen the operational readiness of their armed forces. The notion of strategic autonomy is frequently employed.

  33. 33.

    European Union, ‘Shared Vision, Common Action,’ 11 (emphasis added).

  34. 34.

    Myrdal [34].

  35. 35.

    Wilson [35].

  36. 36.

    Ikenberry [36].

  37. 37.

    Reagan [37].

  38. 38.

    Albright [38].

  39. 39.

    See e.g. Kupchan [39] and Cha [40].

  40. 40.

    Brands [41].

  41. 41.

    Hamilton [42].

  42. 42.

    Bush [43].

  43. 43.

    Bush [44]. On the failure to realise this attitude of modesty from the perspective of third countries, see Mahbubani, Has the West.

  44. 44.

    Obama [45].

  45. 45.

    Ibid.

  46. 46.

    Obama [46].

  47. 47.

    Trump [47].

  48. 48.

    See White House [48].

  49. 49.

    Trump [49].

  50. 50.

    Obama, ‘United Nations’. See also White House [50].

  51. 51.

    Trump, ‘United Nations’. See also Trump [51].

  52. 52.

    Charles S. Maier introduced the notion of consensual hegemony in the late 1970s to describe the relationship between the US and its European allies in the post-World War II context. The arrangement can be termed consensual because the European allies consented to US leadership replete with economic support and security guarantees, but it can also be regarded hegemonic in the sense that Americans were able to define the terms (e.g. rules, norms, practices) of the arrangement. Maier [52].

  53. 53.

    Kupchan, ‘The Clash of Exceptionalisms’.

  54. 54.

    Cf. Lilla [53].

  55. 55.

    Daalder and Lindsay [54].

  56. 56.

    Brown [55].

  57. 57.

    Hassan [56], Reus-Smit [57] and Smith [58].

  58. 58.

    White House [59].

  59. 59.

    Krauthammer [60].

  60. 60.

    See especially US Department of State [61].

  61. 61.

    Rice [62].

  62. 62.

    Alessandri et al. [63].

  63. 63.

    Hassan [64].

  64. 64.

    Obama [65]. Obama ultimately failed to deliver on this pledge, largely due to domestic political constraints. At the time of writing, October 2018, Guantanamo Bay remains in operation, and there is little prospect of closure during President Trump’s term(s).

  65. 65.

    Ibid.

  66. 66.

    US Department of State [66].

  67. 67.

    Obama [67].

  68. 68.

    Obama [68].

  69. 69.

    White House [69].

  70. 70.

    Pence [70].

  71. 71.

    Margon [71].

  72. 72.

    Tillerson [72].

  73. 73.

    Bush [73, 74]. Cf. Caroline Kennedy [75].

  74. 74.

    Bush [76].

  75. 75.

    Bush [77].

  76. 76.

    Huntington [78].

  77. 77.

    Bush [79].

  78. 78.

    Donald J. Trump, ‘People of Poland’.

  79. 79.

    Donald J. Trump, ‘Inaugural Address’.

  80. 80.

    Trump [80].

  81. 81.

    See, for example, Wike [81].

  82. 82.

    See Waltz [82].

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank discussant Torbjørn Knutsen and the participants of the panel ‘Uncovering the West in Crisis’ at the 59th ISA Annual Convention for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Juha Käpylä, Manuel Fröhlich and the two excellent reviewers of the JTS warrant special mention for commenting on earlier versions of the article. We are also grateful to Anu Ruokamo for her research assistance. Henri Vogt’s research has been supported by the project ‘Participation in Long-Term Decision-Making’ (312671), funded by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland (www.palosearch.fi).

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Sinkkonen, V., Vogt, H. Connected in freedom? Reconstructing a foundational value in EU and US foreign policy discourses. J Transatl Stud 17, 341–369 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s42738-019-00024-y

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Keywords

  • Freedom
  • Transatlantic relations
  • Liberal world order
  • European Union
  • USA
  • Non-domination