Though it receives much less attention than its Pacific counterpart, the Atlantic hemisphere is a critical nexus of globalization. The four continents surrounding the Atlantic Ocean constitute a region confronting challenges in energy production, climate change, trafficking, terrorism and cybersecurity, among others. This insightful explainer from analyst Daniel S. Hamilton uses a new 20-country cooperation agreement as a springboard to underline the importance of the Atlantic hemisphere in commerce, politics and society.
- The Atlantic hemisphere highlights many aspects of globalization.
- The region faces challenges that differ from those of the rest of the world.
- Pan-Atlantic nations can work to achieve greater cohesion on climate, economics and data.
The Atlantic hemisphere highlights many aspects of globalization.
Twenty countries on the continents of North America, South America, Africa and Europe signed on to a September 2022 UN agreement to address issues common to their socioeconomic development. The pact’s principal objective is to foster greater communication and collaboration within the Atlantic hemisphere.
“If there is an ‘Asian Hemisphere,’ then there must also be an Atlantic Hemisphere. Yet the contemporary dynamics of the Atlantic Hemisphere have been relatively unexplored.”
The Atlantic Ocean is the most traveled body of water in the world – moving trade, data and people – and it acts as an “inland sea” to most of the globe’s democracies. Commercial traffic in the region competes with and often exceeds that of the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic economy has seen unprecedented growth in workers and consumers since 2000. It contributes as much as the Pacific does to globalization, but focus on the Pacific region – with its geopolitical issues of North Korean saber-rattling, conflict between India and Pakistan, and a rising China – has often shifted attention from its Atlantic counterpart.
The region faces challenges that differ from those of the rest of the world.
The Atlantic hemisphere is an area both of abundance and hardship. Climate change has brought extreme weather to the region, and interconnected economies facilitate not only commerce but also the drugs and arms trade. Piracy is a concern, as are political instability and terrorism.
“The Atlantic Ocean plays a pivotal role with respect to changing global climate and weather patterns, and offers the most immediate opportunities for ‘blue growth’ strategies to harvest its riches.”
Unlike in the Pacific hemisphere, which faces challenges to the security of sovereign states, “human security – protecting societies from violence or disruption” tends to be a greater issue in the Atlantic region. Nonetheless, state security problems exist, in the form of maritime and territorial disputes. Recent evidence of sabotage to the Nord Stream pipelines is an example of vulnerabilities across the Atlantic.
Pan-Atlantic nations can work to achieve greater cohesion on climate, economics and data.
Countries within the new UN agreement are moving forward. The first of two areas of focus will address environmental objectives of shared sustainability, climate change mitigation and scientific progress. These are crucial to the planet: The Atlantic’s thermohaline system, a circulatory pattern that disperses heat across the globe, is threatened by warming seas, as is the Atlantic’s carbon storage capacity. The risk of extreme weather events and the proliferation of marine “dead zones” are increasing. “Blue energy” derived from the ocean, as well as the mining of sea minerals and the development of “blue biotechnology” promise economic benefits to the region. The second area of focus seeks to improve maritime governance to mitigate, if not entirely proscribe, trafficking networks.
“Building out the digital Atlantic holds particular promise for the two billion people in the Atlantic Hemisphere without regular access to the internet. Most are in Africa, which has achieved just 22% internet connectivity. But a third of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean also has no internet access.”
The “digital Atlantic” is another critical forum. Both public and private entities are investing in linking countries across the ocean. Sines, Portugal has become the preeminent center for European data connections to Africa and to North and South America. Undersea cables now link “hub cities” like Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Bilbao, Spain, as well as Sines with Fortaleza in Brazil. Future Google- and Meta-funded projects plan on connecting even more points across the Atlantic hemisphere.
About the Author
Daniel S. Hamilton, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the president of the Transatlantic Leadership Network and its Atlantic Basin Initiative.