Category Archives: good governance

Keeping Transatlantic Relations Real

U.S.- EUImagine the headline:  “Breaking news:  The sun came up this morning!  Some European leaders suspect U.S. involvement and demand an explanation; others decry the lack of U.S. leadership in letting the sun set every evening.  In other news, it has been alleged that government intelligence agencies actually collect information.  The weather today: cloudy.”

It is not my intent to make light of the recent outcry among our European friends over alleged U.S. intelligence information gathering.  The accusation in all this outrage is not only  a privacy violation, but also government overreach reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, both past and current.  Frankly, the privacy argument falls a bit flat in the share-all facebook and twitter age.  And when did U.S. information gathering last injure one of our friends and allies?  And who can throw the first stone when it comes to collection of intelligence?

Even if only meant for public consumption, all this outrage is unnecessary.  The sun comes up every day.  Intelligence agencies collect information.  We want to know about our enemies’ communication patterns.  At times those communication paths cross your territory.  So give us a break and help us out.  The same groups that mean to harm us have the same in mind for you, after all.   What little we may have come to  know about you incidental to our anti-terror efforts (and no doubt discarded) is still far less than what many of you share readily with a wide audience on facebook or twitter.

As a U.S. diplomat in Europe, I routinely experienced the sense of ownership of our leaders among many of our European friends.  An American presidential election was also a European political event.  Somehow, even if unstated,  you expected your views of our presidents to be given the weight of those of our own citizens.  Following the irrational European dislike of our last president followed  first adulation and then European disappointment in our current one.  To a degree such attitudes were understandable and had in the past even been precipitated by us.  We Americans, for a long time, lived the role of leader and protector of the free world, its territory and its values.  But enough is really enough.

There was a time in the aftermath of a devastating hot and then a cold war when your focus on our leaders was logical, since to a great degree we influenced your fate even more fundamentally than did your own leaders.  But in the 21st century your dream and ours has been realized.  Nearly all of Europe is whole, free, and at peace….. and you own it!  Our friendship and alliance have never been stronger, more important, or  more equal.  Because and not despite of this, we both try to figure out what the other side thinks.  We both gather information on each other and our common enemies.  Other than the rough and tumble of free market competition and occasional policy differences, America and Europe have a critical stake in each others success and well-being.  As the co-architects of today’s Europe, we are proud of the powerful union you have become.  You in turn have every reason to trust in our paramount commitment to our relationship.  The U.S. does not act to the detriment of its European  or other allies.

So, my dear European friends, let it rest.   A man I used to work for and respect most highly, General Colin Powell, once made the definitive statement about American military engagement that applies equally to our ventures into cyberspace:  “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years … and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to live our own lives in peace.”

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Filed under American Values, diplomacy, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. Foreign Relations

Seriously–Two Hours in Line for Car License Plates?

I am still processing the reality that I am now home for good after three plus decades of constant packing and unpacking and bouncing between home and abroad.  First of all:  It is great to be back!  I have spent a diplomatic career extolling the dynamism, leadership and just sheer true grit of our society, and I am amazed to see how tough, resilient and still optimistic we Americans are after more than a decade of personal and national setbacks, and for too many,  real tragedies.  A lesser people would have crumbled under the pressure.  We have not.

In a few weeks we will chose our next President and other government leaders.  With the end of a long election season, the work on America’s recovery will not only continue, but intensify.  We will have to overcome political differences over the how and who and move forward — fast.  There is so much work to do!  Growing the economy and keeping our country safe are the overriding goals, but we will have to get specific on details.  As we look at other countries outperforming us in education and manufacturing or trade, it is clear that we have our work cut out for us.  We are so used to being ahead of the rest of the world that it is hard for us to have to talk about “catching up.”  So let’s not.  Let’s vault ahead, rather than just catch up to others.

Among the many macro challenges we will have to overcome,  here is a small sampling of seemingly small things that would have a big signal effect if we showed the world and ourselves a better way.  See what you think.

E-Governance:  Obtaining government services at any level in our country is much harder and old-fashioned than it should be in the 21st century.  We need state-of-the-art, fast, simple, service oriented access to our government, from obtaining vehicle license plates to passports; from mining permits to export licenses.  I just returned from tiny 21st century Estonia to vast and sometimes turn-of-the century America.  Estonians have a comfortable, even trusting relationship with their government, not because they spend a lot of time dealing with their bureaucracy, but because they spend very little.  Government services are delivered mostly electronically and fast, without long waiting lines, limited service hours, or complicated paperwork.  Most services can be obtained sitting in a comfortable easy chair at home with a laptop, tablet or smartphone, while enjoying a favorite beverage.

Wireless Communications:  I finally have my new iPhone 5, my home internet connection, and I can find he nearest Starbuck’s with free WiFi.  All good, and many around the world envy us for the technology we have invented and put in place.  But in fact our internet access is slower and/or more expensive than in other proudly “wired” — or better — “wireless” countries.  Too often during my once again daily commute from the Washington suburbs into the capital of the United States, I am faced with the “can you hear me now?” problem as my — hands free — phone connection suddenly drops put.  Outside the Beltway it is even worse.  In Estonia, broadband wireless access throughout the country — at little or no cost — is a given.  The internet is a utility, as universally available and affordable as water, electricity and indoor plumbing.  We still grit our teeth paying a hefty charge for slow internet access in top hotels in the country that invented the internet!

Cyber Security/Privacy Protection:  I spent a solid amount of my time as Ambassador on national and international cyber security issues.  It is a hot topic in diplomatic, military and international law enforcement circles.  Our leaders warn of potential “Cyber Attack Pearl Harbors.”  Serious stuff and deserving of its high national security priority.

On an individual level, protecting ourselves from identity theft and other forms of cyber crime is of similar importance.  In that latter area, the question is not whether we shield ourselves, but how.  We do what we can with computer virus detection software, encryption packages, and dozens of passwords with every internet entity from on-line stores to our banks and our digital media subscriptions.  We live on the internet, and we live with a confusing array of what we hope are adequate security and privacy protections.  Dozens or even hundreds of interloctutors in cyberspace have large chunks of our personal data and all promise “iron clad protection.”  Really?

Estonians too are fully vested in the internet age.  They embrace the reality that we work, live, shop, interact and play in cyberspace.  But  they have decided to entrust the security of these interactions, including access to government and commercial services, to a national identity access card — a most difficult subject to raise here in the U.S.   We start to shiver when we hear “national ID card” and “government central database.”  I readily share our wariness of “big brother.”   But I have concluded that big brother already exists in multiple databases that all too readily share  information to make big brother larger and more unpredictable than any single, user monitored and legally secured personal identity system would.  My friends in Estonia repeatedly demonstrated to me the utility of their ID cards as well as the electronic fingerprints they were able to monitor of those who had accessed their data, including even the police.

So I did spend two and a half hours at my local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to get my car license plates  — something I should have been able to do by inserting my ID card into a license plate vending machine similar to an ATM in about 2 minutes.   Of course my gripe is not simply about waiting in line for a government service or even slow or expensive internet access.  It is my concern that  what should be America’s leadership as a modern, agile, and innovative society is in a bit of a rut.  I am among those who believe in American exceptionalism — not arrogantly placing us above other nations, but accepting and exercising the unique role or country’s founders placed on our shoulders as visionaries and innovators.  The citizens of Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” should not be waiting hours at the DMV and the people of Madeline Albright’s “Indispensable Nation” should not have to shout into their smart phones “can you hear me now?”

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A Diplomat’s New Life

I am back.  On July 22 this year I departed Estonia for the last time as U.S. Ambassador and launched the transition from 35 years in my country’s Diplomatic Service into my new life as a private sector diplomat.  On October 1, I joined the new McCain Institute for International Leadership as Senior Director.  Located in Washington, D.C. and supported initially by a $9 million gift from the McCain Institute Foundation, we are part of Arizona State University (ASU), America’s largest public university.  Our mission is to advance leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom, and human dignity, in the United States and around the world.

I will be directing a unique new global leadership fellows program that will bring emerging leaders from around the world to the U.S. to engage in a year-long deepening of their “character-driven” leadership skills, along with professional development in their respective fields.  As an ASU Professor, I will also be passing on 35 years of diplomatic and international leadership experience to the next  generation of U.S. and international foreign affairs leaders.

And of course the issues and subjects that have been important to me in the past continue to excite me in my new capacity:  cyber security, e-governance, U.S. global leadership, the trans-Atlantic relationship, American values, and technology and policy, to name just a few.  Thank you for your patience with my temporary absence from the blogosphere and stay tuned — you will hear from me on these and many other issues again from now on.  Follow me and the McCain Institute also on Twitter and Facebook.

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An American Diplomat’s Message in Support of Europe

As I prepare to depart my mission as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia in a few days, the future of European unity — economic, political, and perhaps most importantly, emotional, remains hotly debated by our friends in Estonia and the rest of the continent.  Governments, parliaments, and supreme courts are passing judgments.  Their sovereigns — the people of Europe — are expressing their views forcefully.  In a determined effort to emerge from the current economic crisis, European leaders are seeking to put systems in place to heal current ills and prevent future disease.

With its decision last week, the Estonian Supreme Court supported Estonian Government’s participation in the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), designed to create a rescue fund for ailing economies.  Despite the burdens such participation places on his country’s finances, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is quoted as saying:”I have always believed that our interests are protected through cooperation.  In the last 20 years, Estionia’s primary foreign policy goal has been integration with ….European institutions.” 

The firm and politically courageous (and risky) statement by this European statesman again demonstrates the model role Estonia continues to play in European affairs today.  One of the smaller members of the Union, Estonia is also one of its most courageous and most committed.  Courage and commitment in support of European cohesion — and correction — are exactly what is needed right now, along with further swift action.  The U.S. position is clear:  we support a strong and united Europe and any and all actions in support of this unity and common success.

Clearly failure is not an option.  Errors of the past matter only in so far as they inform future success.  Stakes are too high for both sides of the Atlantic, as are the opportunities for greater prosperity of our 800 million people in the U.S. and Europe.  It is at times like this that as an American diplomat I am reminded of our first, and infinitely more emminent  American diplomat, who in a wholly opposite context spoke words that nevertheless have some meaning in Europe today:

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

– Benjamin Franklin, in the Continental Congress just before signing
the American Declaration of Independence, 1776.

 

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Fifteen Years AmCham Estonia: A Booming Business

A few days ago, together with my friends, Estonian Foreign Minister Paet and Ambassador Kaljurand, Estonia’s Ambassador to the U.S., I congratulated the American Chamber of Commerce  in Estonia on its 15th birthday.  Almost as old as renewed independence for Estonia itself!

Estonia’s journey from Soviet occupation to a vibrant and innovative economic leader is an example for others to study and follow.  Of  course, for neither Estonia or the Chamber was the path always easy or without its challenges.  But similar to Estonia’s transformation as a nation, the rejuvenation of AmCham I have witnessed over the past several years is tangible and deserves enthusiastic recognition.   AmCham’s mission and desire to grow into an ever stronger and more prominent voice for U.S. business in Estonia is being realized.  I am proud of my Embassy’s strong and creative partnership with AmCham in that role.  Our cooperation runs the gamut of issues and events. From drawing attention to issues such as intellectual property rights, to American community events like our joint Fourth of July celebrations, to creating the Estonian American Innovation Award, we indeed have much to be proud of.

Looking ahead, we see new challenges and opportunities that will require even stronger engagement to help create more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  Through expanded business ties and putting our respective innovative economies in high gear.

Many pundits have spoken recently about the United States turning its attention away from Europe and towards Asia.  This has stoked fears that U.S.-European economic and security relationships will suffer. They will not.  The U.S. and Europe, politically, economically, socially and emotionally represent two sides of the same coin.  As to our relations with the Asia/Pacific region, Americans, Estonians and other Europeans can and will walk and chew gum at the same time.

Let’s recall the facts:  Transatlantic trade accounts for 40 percent of the global economy.  Americans and Europeans are not only preferred, but also natural partners.  We recognize that concerted action by the United States and our allies in Europe is required if we want to tackle the global challenges and opportunities of our time.  This is true for building a vibrant and free 21st century global economy, mitigating climate change, engaging emerging economies, and recovering from the global financial crisis.  And it is true for combating terrorism or cyber threats, and completing our mission in Afghanistan.

On the business front, the U.S. and EU are working through one of my favorite cross-ocean institutions — the Transatlantic Economic Council.  We seek to avoid unnecessary divergence in regulations and standards that impede trade; develop fully compatible approaches to emerging technologies; and coordinate our activities to level the playing field for our companies in third countries, particularly in emerging economies.  All of this is under the overarching goal of creating a truly open transatlantic marketplace and improving the prosperity of our 800 million people.

Estonia, and AmCham Estonia, have important roles to play in the U.S.-European economic partnership. In this, Estonia’s compact size is both a plus and a minus.  A small and advanced rule-of-law country can quickly take advantage of new entrepreneurial opportunities.  It can offer stability and low risk that many much larger economies can only hope for.  But a small domestic market also means that the 800 million people have to become Estonia’s target  market.  And a small population means having to tackle the limits of in-country human capital – in terms of education and training as well as immigration policy.

Estonia, and more importantly, “E-stonia, is already an established leader in a number of 21st century economic priority areas.  These include processing rare earths; developing alternative as well as new forms of traditional energy; information technology; and of course the myriad of e-services that Estonians already treat as routine and that make the rest of us jealous.  The world has come to learn about innovative Estonia.  Expanding and delivering on that reputation will be the task of Estonian entrepreneurs and this AmCham together with American innovators.  My Embassy will continue to be part of this exciting and promising future. 

With that in mind, once again, Happy 15th Birthday AmCham Estonia!

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Internet Freedom AND Intellectual Property Rights

The positive power of the internet has changed the paradigm of international diplomacy, of global governance, and indeed the human condition.  Secretary of State Clinton articulated most clearly last year that the United States, “On the spectrum of internet freedom, [places itself] on the side of openness.”

Over the course of the last several weeks, interested parties in America and around the world have reacted strongly for or against efforts in the U.S. to maintain internet freedom while attempting to find a way to protect the vested property rights that creators, artists, and engineers have in their product.  At issue were two proposed pieces of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA.”) Amongst all the complexity of this issue is a rather clear goal we Americans share with our democratic partners and friends around the world:  Full, unfettered and free access to the internet by the global citizenry AND the protection of the intellectual wealth of our innovators and creative minds from on-line theft.  

As we seek to address both of these interests, it should come as no surprise that our efforts of protecting intellectual property online cause legitimate attention to the scope of any regulation of the internet.  Of course neither our government nor the American people wish unintentionally to provide a pretext to those who wish to suppress democratic rights under the guise of “legal protections.”  Once completed, U.S. legislation that would protect the rights of American intellectual property and internet freedom would likewise serve to protect such rights and values the world over.  Again, Secretary of State Clinton has confirmed that “there is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

The White House meanwhile has set U.S. Administration policy regarding intellectual property legislation, stating that while piracy is a serious problem on the internet, the President will not support any proposed legislation that would reduce freedom of expression or otherwise detract from the Internet’s potential.  Both the President and our Congress have called for legislation that is narrowly-tailored with a focus on criminal activity.  Such tailoring should address U.S. and international concerns about internet freedom and its liberating role for people seeking free expression and democratic rule from one corner of the world to the other.

Two important engines of America’s economy, represented by places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and their international counterparts, should work together and help tailor workable laws in all our countries that will protect property rights, freedom of speech, and internet assembly.

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Smart Power in Austere Times

There has never been a better time than right now to set in motion Smart Power as the new pardigm of American foreign policy than during current belt tightening by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.  I have always disliked what I would call the predecessor of Smart Power:  “Do more with less!”  Unless we are talking about nuclear breeder reactors, there really is no “more with less.”  In an organizational context  that term has always suggested to me that people should work more hours, achieve all the same goals with little or no prioritization, and with fewer resources and even less compensation for their efforts.  You can do this for a brief period to bridge a temporary crisis, but in the long term, any organization that demands more with less ends up only achieving less with less and demoralizing its workforce, robbing it of its  creative energies.

In contrast, Smart Power proposes to to do more and to do it better by combining the energies of more contributors to a common goal, even as program and human resources of individual organizational units are being reduced.  Take as an example Secretary of State Clinton’s “3 D’s ” of U.S. foreign policy:  diplomacy, defense, and development.  Through the combined efforts of the Department of State, the Pentagon and USAID, along with those of other U.S. government entities in support of the 3 D’s, U.S. foreign policy becomes smarter and more effective, even as the budget knife cuts into U.S. government outlays.

Such constructive interagency cooperation is far from routine in an environment famous for interagency disagreements and outright bureaucratic battles.  And while the leadership of President Obama and his relevant cabinet officers is a decisive factor in making Smart Power work, necessity also plays a key role.  The common enemy of deficits and economic downturn is no small motivating factor in turn bureaucratic warriors into Smart Power players.  In Washington and around the world, we have already made a strong start down the Smart Power road and the coming years will show whether we can sustain this new foreign policy paradigm even as our fiscal situation improves.

Our friends here in Estonia are also Smart Power players.  Estonia, since regaining its independence 20 years ago has been a Smart Power nation.  The rewards for the country and its people have been remarkable, making Estonia today one of the most economically and politically stable and future-oriented places in the world.  And here too, sustainability of Smart Power policies will be tested as things get better, as prosperity and popular demand for public services grows, and as government’s ability to do more with more becomes possible.

In the United States and in Estonia, we should look forward to that happy dilemma, but remain unalterably committed to Smart Power.

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