Toward an Atlantic Rim

Suffolk University Journal of International Affairs (with Jim Barron)


In the face of post Cold War parochialism and the onslaught of Pacific Century rhetoric, The Atlantic Rim Network (ARN) was developed as an independent, non-profit forum for problem-solving, experience-sharing, and cooperation among Atlantic-oriented government, academic, NGO and business constituencies. Created in 1992, ARN represents a type of “bottom up” subnational civic diplomacy that complements, enhances and accelerates traditional practices of international relations.

The Atlantic Rim Network comes in contrast to traditional views of “Atlanticism,” which are almost universally focused on Western Europe and the United States. The ARN philosophy presents a “New Atlanticism” that includes Canada, Eastern Europe, Latin American, the Caribbean and Africa. True to its subnational roots, the “New Atlanticism” views dynamic metropolitan regions, anchored by cities, as the primary building blocks of the new global economy. It stimulates broadened contacts in order to foster sustainable growth and enhance the efficient use of scarce resources. It complements and adds value to the work of other organizations by promoting their efforts to each other and to the world, under an identifiable Atlantic Rim umbrella,

Created as a series of event-based initiatives (e.g. First International Congress on the Atlantic Rim and the First Transatlantic Telemedicine Summit) and projects (in trade, tourism, transportation, education and healthcare), the ARN, now called the Atlantic Rim Institute, is being redeveloped as an Internet-based resource to facilitate the timely exchange of useful information and foster new partnerships among participating businesses, organizations and individuals. Its motto: global issues, local solutions, regional connections.

“The Atlantic Rim is a body of water surrounded by a state of mind. Our challenge is to cultivate the instinct for transatlantic cooperation and transform an Atlantic Rim vision into a program of practical benefits.”


Uncertain peace, troubled economies and tangled alliances are a permanent feature of life in these early years of the 21st century. Globalization’s many discontents combine with growing threats of terrorism to diminish much of the optimism that once marked the end of the Cold War.

We are in a high-stakes transitional moment in global affairs in which few multilateral institutions seem able to handle this new world disorder. Old trading and security blocs are changing, and just about every international entity has had its relevance questioned. Overarching international structures have less credibility in a world where people, capital, goods, information and corporations flow quite freely across borders. So the question persists – how should we best organize ourselves?

Set against the unsatisfactory searches for effective top-down solutions is a growing complementary interest in the value of bottom-up “civil society” diplomacy. This is joined by an awareness of the positive role that subnational actors, private and public, can play in promoting international connectedness, prosperity and sustainable solutions.

While “end of the nation state” claims continue to be grossly exaggerated, the proliferation of cross-border contacts has led to the rise of sub- and supra-national regional economies. The most celebrated of these various efforts have focused on the role of cities and metropolitan regions in international affairs.

In recent decades, however, the clarion call regarding regionalism was loudest about the Pacific Rim, with many scholars, pundits and public officials readily jumping on the Pacific bandwagon . They weren’t the first to do so. As US Secretary of State John Hay said over a century ago: “The Mediterranean is the ocean of the past, the Atlantic, the ocean of the present, and the Pacific, the ocean of the future."

What is Atlanticism?

The concept of an Atlantic Rim has emerged with much less fanfare than the trumpeted Pacific Rim. The words didn’t even start with the geological “ring of fire” of Pacific Ocean volcanoes. And no one seemed to know what its parameters might be, what it embraced or what value it could offer.

While creating an International Boston Initiative in 1990-92, designed to help reposition a decidedly parochial Greater Boston as a more dynamic international player, we determined to explore whether “Atlantic Rim” could be anything more than an echo of the Pacific Rim media drum roll. Could it be an organizing concept for disparate communities, businesses and peoples, we wondered at the time?

After all, what is Atlanticism? Is there or can there be a meaningful Atlantic identity? Is the Atlantic Rim mere geography? Is there more than proximity to an ocean that can be built upon for the mutual benefit?

Scholars have been treating Atlantic History as a “regional system” from the late fifteenth century. Much has been written about the region’s common or shared values, heritage and history, virtues of liberties, democracies and market economies. Some even see Atlanticism as the essence of Western civilization.

The “New Atlanticism” term originate in a speech by then Secretary of State James Baker in 1989 at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was emphasizing the “architecture” for a world that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

These leitmotifs all have an exclusive North Atlantic focus and are largely supranational security and trade arrangements. Indeed, most of the recent debate on “transatlantic rifts” has focused primarily on US –European relations. We prefer to view “New Atlanticism” more broadly. We saw the Atlantic Rim concept as a response to twin challenges: the end of the Cold War and the rise of the Pacific Rim.

Our first challenge was to overcome the post Cold War spirit of a new parochialism. Europe was turning inward and looking east. The United States was turning inward and looking west. There was a mutual perception that a new generation was in charge; that the historic “special relationship” between Europe and the United States was less relevant, if not past. There was a concomitant prevailing view, as well, that Atlantic institutions and concerns had declined in importance.

Furthermore, with few exceptions, transatlantic relations were seen primarily as Northern Hemisphere-oriented. Both Europe and the United States continued to underestimate the abundant, long-term opportunities available to them by looking south, toward Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The second challenge was to respond to the growing Pacific Rim mindset and overcome the perception that an Atlantic orientation was a relic of the past. Asian Tigers and other regional economies were celebrated. Asia Pacific forums touted limitless business opportunities. There was no precise definition of what the Pacific Rim actually embraced, but that never diminished its allure as a new paradigm and a powerful metaphor for action.

Building Momentum

In response, and with the help of many others, we explored the potential for an Atlantic Rim Network (ARN). Ideas were tested in university seminars in Europe, Canada and the US, before chambers of commerce and trade associations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and political leaders from city halls to the US Congress and European Parliament.

Fueled by positive reactions, International Boston hosted the first-ever Atlantic Rim Symposium in Boston in 1992. Our intent was to examinee whether the Atlantic Rim concept had any merit and viability. Participants concluded that Atlanticism really does have its own inherent brand identity, and it would be useful to assess how an Atlantic Rim Network concept could be a fruitful organizing device. This breakthrough came even as the emerging European Union was capturing all the headlines.

We continued to receive encouragement. The European Commission and other private and public entities supported follow-up activities. Subsequent events were held in Boston, Saint Johns (New Brunswick), Rotterdam, Montreal, Brussels, Washington and Paris. In June 1993, we participated in a symposium convened by representatives of European cities and universities at the French National Assembly to compare Euro-Atlantic experiences and to discuss the development of an emerging Atlantic Rim Network.

Organizing Principles

The Atlantic Rim Network’s organizing principles involve inclusivity, subnationalism, and collaboration. Its trademark tagline is: global issues, local solutions, regional connections.

1. Inclusive Orientation: The ARN called for minimizing rigid geographical and definitional limits, suggesting instead that the Atlantic Rim is really a “body of water surrounded by a state of mind.” Atlanticism needs to start, not end, at the water’s edge if it is to be relevant and productive in the long term. While the Atlantic Rim Network includes the littoral communities around the ocean’s circumference, it also extends inland in all directions, in the spirit of open regionalism, to those who share an Atlantic orientation.

True “pan-Atlanticism” is an authentic representation of how our world really works, concerning itself as much with North-South issues as it does with more traditional East-West matters, fostering collaborative undertakings and sharing information between developed and developing regions. At its core, the vision of a new New Atlanticism presents an educational challenge requiring new approaches to semantics, curricula, scholarship and cultural exchange that incorporate and integrate all Atlantic communities.

2. Subnational Leadership: By its very nature, a New Atlanticism attracts
individuals and institutions both at and below the level of the nation-state. The very issues that slow the United Nations to a halt, or produce watered-down G7 communiqu├ęs, are being effectively addressed today by individuals, businesses, NGOs, cities and regions around the Atlantic. In the new realities of a rapidly changing post Cold War world, nation-states are no longer the sole actors on the international stage. There is growing, often informally connected leadership at subnational levels from outward looking businesses, governments and others. These subnational players tend to be more nimble and more entrepreneurial, enhancing cooperation and technology transfer while accelerating learning curves, achieving economies of scale and avoiding costly mistakes.

3. Informal Collaborative Networks: The New Atlanticism creates longstanding, informal and highly collaborative networks of individuals and institutions who share some common values and vision.

The vision of a New Atlanticism incorporates all points of the Atlantic compass. Atlantic players have much to learn from each other if we understand that, say, Buenos Aires and London are both engaged in cultural tourism, that New York City and Lagos are both implementing community policing programs, or that Halifax and Rotterdam are both concerned with port-security issues. The New Atlanticism accepts that we share common challenges and that we will all benefit from diverse, highly collaborative and informal networks of contacts, resources and “best practices” that deliver approachable and understandable solutions. Sometimes, a rolodex and an Internet bulletin board can deliver a more meaningful solution than an EU directive or UN program.

Atlantic Rim-oriented communities that share a common history and identify similar challenges, but take different political, social and economic approaches to solutions, are poised to be leading laboratories and test beds. Informal networks today have been enlivened and animated by the power of the Internet to enhance communication, share content and build communities. More than any other resource, the Internet has empowered individuals and institutions across geographic and cultural divides to coalesce around issues that matter most to them. This has given enormous clout to individuals and NGOs to generate awareness, engage in advocacy, build capacity and raise money.

Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work advocating the banning of antipersonnel landmines, built her campaign from humble beginnings, largely using the Internet as an organizing device. Never before have individuals, movements, cities and regions had such access to information, connectivity and organizing power, Internet access is by no means limited to the wealthiest nations, either. Only one-third of Google searches emanate from within the United States; the rest are in 88 other languages from around the world.

We’ve long maintained that the world doesn’t need more organizations as much as it needs better networks, complementing the work of current groups and institutions, creating new linkages and opening up and promoting diplomatic “back doors.”

First International Congress on the Atlantic Rim

In November 1994, the First International Congress on the Atlantic Rim gathered over 500 attendees in Boston. Some 200 accredited delegates from communities oriented toward the Atlantic Ocean, representing over 20 countries, endorsed the creation of an Atlantic Rim Network, designed “to promote economic cooperation, create jobs and enhance the quality of life among the cities and nations of the region.” A Declaration on the Atlantic Rim was presented and signed, underscoring in its own words:

“That primary building blocks of the new global economy are dynamic metropolitan regions, anchored by cities. That a strong Atlantic community requires international cooperation at all governmental levels. That networks and organizations exist on either side of the Atlantic, which bring together city as well as state and provincial governments and which form the basis for transatlantic cooperation.”

The Congress was a dramatic success, meeting three strategic objectives —agreement on a statement of principles, a commitment to build a framework for collaboration, and approval to establish a secretariat to begin work. Indeed, on the first day of the Congress, the nascent Atlantic Rim Network had, according to The Boston Globe, “already scored it first concrete result.”

Delegates from Lisbon to Moscow, Dublin to Buenos Aires, Toronto to Cape Town, Seattle to Hampton Roads, representing government, business and academia, united in their desire to shape what they described as a new Atlantic community. They voted to create a permanent framework through which working groups from cities and nations throughout the Atlantic region could set agendas and define clear and practical collaborative projects. These included: trade and investment; transportation; tourism; telecommunications and information technologies; the environment and sustainable development, education and training; and government restructuring. Among the issues debated was how efforts to facilitate immigration and social inclusion must not unwittingly aid international drug trafficking and terrorism.

Informal working groups were started, building on the event’s momentum. In a largely pre-Internet era, these networks supported a variety of public policy, educational and economic objectives, often morphing to meet the needs of the participants. It was clear in these early, kaleidoscopic years that an expansive “New Atlanticism” provided a powerful forum for informal exchanges and a showcase for “best practices.” Some of these productive connections continue to this day, underscoring the timeless promise of informal, people-to-people exchanges in developing new markets, technologies, and opportunities.

The Halifax Mandate

Atlantic Rim Network participants reconvened in Halifax at the conclusion of the 1995 G-7 meetings. Lacking the resources to play all the roles that were asked of us, we spent much of the sessions ranking priorities, managing expectations and encouraging decentralized project leadership. We wanted to provide a conceptual umbrella to help unify many disparate activities. We didn’t want to micromanage the working groups, simply because it would have stunted their enthusiasm and their growth. Success meant creating the right informal structures through which formal progress was attainable.

In Halifax, the ARN voted to limit its direct involvement to select activities, encouraging others to take the lead in developing a larger agenda. We urged that the emerging Internet be the vehicle to help foster and facilitate Atlantic Rim contacts, giving life to the network. ARN supporters were not required to participate or endorse all projects or programs, but instead were encouraged to choose from a “cafeteria” of choices that suited their interests. Jazz improvisation, not rigid orchestration was the operative metaphor.

The agenda was still ambitious, as ARN sponsored forums, conferences and meetings, conducted research and, as part of our outreach, promoted and participated in the activities of others. We worked with various Atlantic Rim regional economic development authorities in brokering information, helping them shape alliances and activities to assist regional Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). We contributed to the New Transatlantic Agenda and Transatlantic Business Dialogue. We conducted studies with the US Conference of Mayors, League of Cities and Eurocities on urban competitiveness and competences in the global marketplace. We produced a strategic marketing plan to evaluate cities on their international visitor preparedness.

The primary direction from Halifax, however, involved planning and executing the first high-level gathering on health-care delivery, through telemedicine, to underserved populations on and around the Atlantic.

The First Transatlantic Telemedicine Summit

In 1997, the Atlantic Rim Network convened a Transatlantic Telemedicine Summit at the request of representatives of the American Telemedicine Association, the French Telemedicine Association, the Pan American Health Organization, the European Commission’s DG XIII Health Care Telematics, the Canadian Society for Telehealth, the US Department of Defense, and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The Summit’s objective was to provide a candid forum for policy makers and corporate leaders from all sides of the Atlantic to assess regulatory, economic, technical and clinical obstacles they confronted in the international development of telehealth products and services. As then Vice President Al Gore wrote,” By participating in your summit, we look forward to learning what is happening worldwide.” The Summit convened over 100 key Atlantic Rim policy makers, health care practitioners and technology providers capable of leading the development of sustainable, cost-effective global telemedicine.

The most important characteristic of the Transatlantic Telemedicine Summit was summed up in Telemedicine Journal. “The ARN provided a neutral forum permitting sometimes competitive players to discuss common problems and goals.” The diverse, multidisciplinary nature of the attendees underscored ARN’s capacity to convene broad cross-sections of people around particular issues who could set aside their personal agendas. European, North American, African and Latin American participants stimulated a variety of follow-on activities and helped extend interpersonal networks and information sharing.

Toward a Virtual Atlantic Rim

The Atlantic Rim Network initiated its own programs, too. For example, sensing the dangers of increasing parochialism in news coverage, ARN teamed with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to host a symposium on international news coverage. We gathered news executives, editors and journalists, from, for example, The New York Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, CNN, El Mercurio (Santiago, Chile) and German Public Radio. Recommendations were made to improve journalism education and open op-ed pages and other news and feature opportunities to journalists throughout the Atlantic Rim. It was at this session in January 1999 that a seasoned CBS News producer pointedly warned that the world was ignoring at its own peril an emerging, nefarious figure named Osama Bin Laden – fully two-and-a-half years before the events of September 11, 2001.

In the wake of 9/11, the Atlantic Rim Network, as with many organizations, underwent a period of reflection and reassessment. It began with an internal organizational change to become the Atlantic Rim Institute (ARI). Founded as an independent and flexible nonprofit international organization dedicated to generating transatlantic cooperation through practical programs and projects, complementing and enhancing the work being done by separate groups and individuals, the ARN discovered that many of those it had worked with for ten years had narrowed their horizons or moved on.

While the Internet had made less critical many of its original information clearinghouse functions, the ARI could still bring together in multidisciplinary forums, high-level experts and decision-makers to address important issues of common concern. It could also serve as an honest broker between competing interests. It had a strong brand name, a successful track record, and was still being called on to make connections and provide information.

In May 2002 some of the founding intellectual architects and builders of the Atlantic Rim Network met at Suffolk University in Boston in a “Toward a New Agenda” symposium. Many projects were considered, including the creation of an Atlantic Rim Journal. There were formal presentations on urban security and international collaboration, as well as how cultural and creative institutions can drive regional economic development.

Other recommendations involved hosting an annual Atlantic Rim Economic Prospects program, bestowing an annual Atlantic Rim award, organizing a triennial Young Leaders of the Atlantic Rim program and facilitating short-term academic exchanges. Most strongly supported were measures to prioritize critical issues of common concern, benchmark best practices, and enhance international networking through creative use of the Internet and related multimedia technologies. Transforming the Atlantic Rim into a virtual community, advancing people-to-people, city-to-city and region-to-region dialogues, exchanges and partnerships, could take it to the next level.

Right Idea, Right Time

The successes of the much heralded, much envied Pacific Rim were based almost solely on economics, and the fanfare never authentically included Pacific nations like Mexico, Peru or Russia. It most definitely did not emphasize bottom-up, subnational activities or shaping a comprehensive identity. Quite the contrary, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization is a formal, hierarchical body that emphasizes East Asia and chooses not to be, or to stimulate, informal, subnational networks.

Furthermore, the cultural, linguistic, political and other barriers limit the region’s ability to share a truly common purpose or common destiny. The obstacles certainly exceed anything that can be found in and around the smaller Atlantic Ocean, where more integrated colonial histories really do provide some common ground. Economies rise and fall over the long term, as do models and methods of organization built predominantly on business relations. The Pacific Rim still represents the future. Atlanticism is today!

In that sense, we believe the Atlantic Rim has been playing the “tortoise” to the Pacific Rim’s once fast-moving “hare.” As an organizing model, Atlantic communities offer greater permanence built around shared – though sometimes painful and bloody – historical, cultural, linguistic, security, educational, social and economic interests. These represent the cornerstone of what marketers might call “the brand promise” of Atlanticism.

In a world desperately searching for better methods of political, security and economic collaboration and organization, we believe that the New Atlanticism is the right idea at the right time. Informal, subnational, people-to-people exchanges can deliver the energy, dexterity and speed that are required to accomplish great things. It is time to build on the progress made over the past decade, and welcome and acknowledge the many new individuals and institutions from Miami to Brussels to Accra who embrace and help shape the New Atlanticism. Our challenge is to cultivate the instinct for Pan-Atlantic cooperation and transform an Atlantic Rim vision into a program of practical benefits.