Through the best and the worst of times, proponents of the transatlantic relationship have argued that its genuine bedrock lies in the density and magnitude of US-European economic links.1 Diplomatic crises across the Atlantic reflected deficient awareness of those links among policy-makers: symmetrically, such crises could subside provided the full extent of the transatlantic economic symbiosis was advertised more forcefully. This “stabilizer argument” is simultaneously descriptive, prescriptive, and theoretical. It is also inherently contrarian – as its advocates recognize that they must make their case against prevailing winds, namely the fashionable paradigm that describes the rise of Asia as the dominant feature of the twenty-first century. Efforts to push back against this mantra often resemble an intellectual crusade, aiming to produce a paradigm shift, or rather to restore the pride of place once held by transatlantic economic relations in dominant policy discourse. This contrarian descriptive outlook combines with two prescriptive value judgments. First, the argument draws a clear distinction between high politics – unpredictable, antagonistic, theatrical, self-defeating – and low politics – linear, moderate, helpfully obscure, and effective. Pointing especially to the incompetent tug-of-war among national leaders during the Iraq crisis, the argument claims that transatlantic politics are too important to be left in the hands of politicians. Second, the prescriptive facet of the “stabilizer argument” reaches from the political to the economic realm, when its proponents explain that transatlantic economic relations are preferable to classical-Ricardian “north-south” economic linkages among unequally developed and complementary protagonists. Instead, US-European exchanges are said to embody a “north-north paradise” where two mature, co-equal, trustworthy, predictable economic actors exchange broadly identical products. Though most expositions of the argument are not explicitly beholden to a specific theory of international relations, political scientists have highlighted – and criticized – its premises and implications in their field. The “stabilizer argument” implies not only that transatlantic economic relations can remain immune from antagonistic high politics between the two

sides: but that heightened awareness of economic realities can affect high politics for the better. Elected officials, once apprised of transatlantic economic interdependence, will shift their policy preferences to reflect the fact – producing a virtuous cycle whereby economic comity will spill over onto the diplomatic realm. Yet the assumption that such spill over can occur amounts to a controversial theory of international relations. Critics of the “stabilizer argument” have questioned its descriptive, prescriptive, and theoretical facets. They berate its reliance upon a description of economic realities – and especially economic trends – that is selective, myopic, or even factually wrong in the wake of the financial crisis. Its economic and political prescriptions are said to be equally problematic, if “north-north” transatlantic exchanges do not amount to an economic paradise, and if a clear-cut distinction between high and low politics, and the value-judgment cast upon both, are analytically flawed. Lastly, the proposition that sound economic relations (and heightened awareness of their existence) can produce positive diplomatic effects is debatable from a theoretical standpoint. The following pages revisit each aspect of the controversy. All the nuances in the world cannot refute the fact that the pendulum of received opinion, among Western pundits and policy-makers alike, has gone too far towards an exclusive focus upon the rise of trade relations with Asia and other BRIC nations. Efforts to strike a more accurate balance by highlighting the continued relevance of transatlantic economic exchanges are indeed welcome, useful, and urgent. Analysts who would fight this fight face a daunting mountain of data that heralds the advent of trans-Pacific commerce as the organizing principle of twenty-first-century global economics. Yet the obstacle is not genuinely insuperable, if only the debate shifts away from a focus on trade. Daniel Hamilton and Joseph Quinlan, two of the most vocal advocates of the “stabilizer argument,” call for a more balanced interpretation of twenty-first-century economic trends based on this exact analytical shift.2