Advancing Western Values

 imageLast month I had the opportunity to address the American Chamber of Commerce In Tallinn on the subject of advancing western values. What follows is the text of those remarks as addressed to my good friends in Estonia.

Tallinn, Estonia, April 5, 2018.  Good evening.  I am so happy to be back in Tallinn together with my friends here at the AmCham. Thank you so much for inviting me. I have never felt as cold — or as warmly received — as my wife and I were for more than three years in this beautiful 100 year-old republic. Elagu vaba eesti !

I would like to talk to you about values.  Values in your country and mine, on your and my continents, and in our world. Last year, at the 2017 Munich Security Conference Senator John McCain defined “the West” as a world order based not on blood-and-soil nationalism, or spheres of influence, or conquest of the weak by the strong, but rather on universal values, rule of law, open commerce, and respect for national sovereignty and independence.”

He declared that the West included “any person or any nation that honors and upholds these values.” And he concluded his remarks referring to the current troubled state of world affairs.  He said: “even now, when the temptation to despair is greatest, i refuse to accept the end of the west. I refuse to accept the demise of our world order. I refuse to accept that our greatest triumphs cannot once again spring from our moments of greatest peril, as they have so many times before. I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the west, and i believe we must always, always stand up for it—for if we do not, who will?”

Thanks to John McCain and thanks to other resolute political and private sector leadership, including the powerful role of AmCham Estonia, the West is alive and well here.  I applaud with you the improved level of tangible “western” security engagement throughout your part of Europe.  NATO has added important teeth to the article 5 common defense commitment.  And I know you are doing your own part to secure the West — diplomatically, politically, economically, militarily, and ideologically. But let’s remember that the need for such reassurance is in response to the added threat to our joint security, emanating from your eastern neighbor.

But the West is sadly also in peril in your country, in other parts of Europe, and around the world.  A renewed “western” agenda must give definition to our age. An agenda that systematically goes on the strategic offensive on behalf of our values rather than lamenting the lack of commitment to these values among some on the world stage.

As an American diplomat for more than threedecades, I consistently articulated and advanced the interests of my country and those of the American people. In all these years I never, ever used the words “America First.” It would have been an arrogantly self-serving and self-defeating tactic for achieving my country’s foreign policy goals.  But none of my international interlocutors were ever in doubt that in my eyes, America isfirst –  First when it comes to building an ever more perfect union of strong, self-reliant, open-minded, generous and compassionate men and women.  America is also first in building powerful and lasting alliances and acting at home and abroad in defense of our freedom and that of our friends.  And America is first in seizing strategic initiatives to change the world for the better and to expand the boundaries of human achievement, no matter the obstacles or the cost.   America and Americans are not perfect by any means, but we are consistently first in seeking good, facing our own imperfections, and in correcting our mistakes.

For all of you who despair or, for all of you who may even have given up on Trump’s America, take heart.  During my lifetime, i have seen our nation lose a hot war, a President resign from office, and our country land on the moon, win the cold war, and save millions of people suffering from hunger and disease.  We have emerged stronger from our experiences, both good and bad, because of the courage and basic goodness and decency of the American people.  We are still those people.  Despite our historic weariness of foreign entanglements, we have found that the world is a better place when we are fully engaged in it.  Speaking boldly:  we will continue to do great things and right great wrongs, both at home and abroad.  That is the true America.

At a time of Brexit, significant other tensions in and around the EU, the rise of autocratic populists, and geopolitical “pivots,” let me be clear:  Americans strongly support a free, prosperous, confident, active, and unitedEurope.  After all, European democratic unity and a strong trans-Atlantic bond were also an American idea!  A Europe whole, free, and at peace, is a powerful force for good – for the West — and a key partner to the United States in global leadership.

A few years ago, a senior American foreign affairs analyst pointed to what he called an apparent emerging European cultural norm of not accepting any casualties in the prosecution of a war. Along with an Asia-centric shift in world power and economic might, these were indicators that old alliances and relationships were dead or on their death-bed. More recently, the President of the United States called NATO obsolete and pulled our country out of trade deals and other international commitments. Ironically, but good for Baltic regional security and the Alliance, the current Administration also supports the European Reassurance Initiative and the new NATO Urgent Response Force.

Some policy analysts have described a decline of a common U.S. and European set of interests, that in the past have been based on historical patterns of American elites that traced their ancestry to Europe.  These same analysts argue that today’s broader elite in the U.S. relates to African, Asian, and Latin American roots.  We, so it was argued, do not share the emotional or intellectual ties to Europe that defined transatlantic relations in the 20th century.

Well, it is certainly true (and good) that American elites are much more diverse today than in the mid 1900’s.   But I contend that a Chinese-American living in Boston has more in common with an Estonian from Rakvere or a German from Stuttgart, than he does with a Chinese man or woman from Chengdu.  Shared American and European values of democracy, individual freedom, and open markets transcend ethnic heritage and continue to bind us as Americans and Europeans, regardless of ethnicity.

Admittedly, Europe is not the singular center of America’s universe.  It never really was.  America, since its inception with powerful European roots, has steadily continued to develop its global vocation. But our ties to Europe form a critically important partnership – and, by the way – one that has never been characterized by full harmony or parity in national power.  France kicked out NATO headquarters in 1966 and did not return to the unified NATO military command until 2009.  In 1983 Germans threw Molotov cocktails at the U.S. Embassy in protest over the introduction of U.S. Medium range nuclear missiles to Europe – for the defense of Europe!   And yet NATO stands strong today, more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact –With increased capacity and engaging in support of the West right here in your neighborhood and as far away as Afghanistan and Iraq. Pretty good for an obsolete alliance.

Of course, NATO, like any partnership, requires constant attention and the full commitment of all the members.  Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once stated that he harbored concerns about NATO becoming, “a two-tiered alliance that is split between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”  He was right.  But that frank statement does not suggest that the alliance, and the trans-Atlantic relationship have lost their meaning and importance.  Our very disagreements, sometimes loud and in public, bear testimony to the continuing strength of an alliance not simply based on realpolitik or pure national self-interest – and certainly not on coercion.

Ours is a value partnership, freely entered into by free peoples – a transatlantic bulwark that remains essential not despite an increasingly multi-polar world, but because of it.  If recent strains in the fabric of western values affecting both Europe and the United States – from populist nationalism, to refugee flows, to illiberal governments and attacks on our democratic systems – have taught us anything, then it is the de-bunking of the notion that Europe is somehow “solved.”  That more pressing issues in other parts of the world need U.S. attention. You and we share not only values, but also challenges, and we are both better off seeking joint solutions.  Abdication of our commitments to each other or to our joint global responsibilities is no more acceptable an option for Europe today than it has ever been for the United States.

Held back by Obama era international leadership hesitancy and now trump administration ham handed unilateralism, America is allowing others to attempt to roll back the successful world order the west created over the past 70 years.  In this roll back attempt, Russia and China claim to set the standards for international behavior.   Political voices even among NATO allies like Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, and Turkey assert values foreign to us.  And even the U.S. Administration seeks to settle our legitimate trade fairness concerns through unilateral tariff actions.

I do not wish to accept such a new world order. Together with you, i am proud that we fought communist totalitarianism and global terror.  I am delighted that we threw Saddam Hussain out of Kuwait and that we dislodged Slobodan Milosevic and brought him to justice for his crimes against humanity.  And I strongly support the international economic and trade structures that have brought unparalleled prosperity and market opportunities to so many, including the United States.  Our countries, yours and mine, have paid a price for our victories as well as our failures.  And we have set the standards and remain the guardians of character-driven leadership in a world of western values.

Think of these pronouncements of just two past American Presidents:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

 “I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.” President Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

Two decades apart, two U.S. Presidents, one Democrat and one Republican, affirmed similar American resolve in reaching for the stars. One landed a man on the moon and the other ended the Cold War.  Great ambition — great results.

It is high time that we retake the initiative of acting on our ambitious values.  In a poignant way some weeks ago, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, showed us the way. Together with our allies and friends, we have to take the lead. There is no substitute for American leadership.

The “western agenda” is vast and there is much to be done.  You don’t have the patience for me to try to list every element of that agenda. So here are just a few thoughts on showing renewed transatlantic, renewed “Western”  resolve:

  1. Champion a new era of transatlantic prosperity with a renewed push for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership.
  2. Continue to enlarge NATO to include all European countries that wish to join and that meet Alliance requirements. Europe should take a similarly ambitious enlargement approach to new European Union memberships.
  3. Rebuild U.S. Military presence in Europe, including the addition of a permanent U.S. and NATO presence in the territories of alliance members unable to meet challenges to their security without our visible on-the-ground support.
  4. Provide lethal defense weapons to any non-NATO country in Europe whose democratic ambitions are threatened by outside force and intervention.
  5. Aggressively pursue the competition for the hearts and minds of people in favor of free societies, open markets, and human rights, reclaiming the public pulpit – in person, in cyber space, in traditional and new media –for “Western” values.
  6. Resolutely commit full moral and physical resources to building global good governance, rule of law, protection of the environment, a responsible and secure digital world, and protection of the most vulnerable among us.

The answer to the challenge of our age demands the unapologetic articulation and the decisive actions of all of us who subscribe to character-driven leadership and the values of John McCain’s “West.” The time for such leadership is now.



1 Comment

Filed under American Values, diplomacy, Europe, U.S. Leadership

One response to “Advancing Western Values

  1. Cline, William CIV NSWC Crane, WXMRM

    Ambassador Polt, I was glad to see your incoming email. As usual, a pen as solid as a sword. Western values cover of so much and still combine common sense reasoning tempered by much exposure to not only American views but readily incorporate other countries and their citizens views. Sonny Cline

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