Category Archives: U.S. -Estonian Relations

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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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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Building Excellent Cyber Security

Tomorrow,  November 17, the flags of the United States and Poland will be raised  during a formal ceremony at the NATO Cyber Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia.  Our Estonian allies established the Center in 2004.  It’s mission is to “enhance the capability, cooperation, and information sharing  among NATO, NATO nations, and partners in cyber defense.”  The U.S. has had staff at the Center since 2007  and we are very active at home, in the Alliance, and internationally on cyber security.  Now we are finally saying count us in officially as full members!  

President Obama’s International Strategy for Cyberspace declares that we will seek to ensure as many stakeholders as possible are included in our vision of cyberspace.  That vision calls for an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable information and communications infrastructure that supports international trade and commerce, strengthens international security, and fosters free expression and innovation.  That is why we are joining the NATO Cyber Center in Tallinn.

I was introduced to Estonia’s NATO Cyber Center shortly after my arrival in Tallinn as U.S. Ambassador in 2009 and I have ever since admired the Center’s work, including it’s impressive annual conferences on cyber conflict.  Estonia’s standing as a cyber-savvy nation is firmly established internationally and the NATO Cyber Center contributes to that reputation.  The cyber world is a rapidly evolving environment and threats to our cyber -based infrastructure, both public and private, as multiplying with equal of not greater speed.  With our new membership in the Tallinn Center we look forward to working with all the current and also future members, in fact with all NATO member countries, to increase cyber awareness and to create the secure cyber environment outlined in the U.S. cyberspace strategy.  We expect to join our Estonian allies in leading the Center and to enhancing the public profile of the Center’s work and the collaboration between private sector and Alliance efforts.

When the Polish and U.S. flags are raised on November 17,  look also for the curtain to rise on the next chapter of an important collective asset of the NATO Alliance.

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Seizing the Future in the Balkans

This week the people of Kosovo and Serbia have sadly faced another set of violent incidents where those dedicated to peace have been harmed as a result of Serb mob action, and backward-looking political agendas.  NATO peacekeepers were injured, as were Kosovars and Serbs dedicated to putting an end to hatred and violence.  Estonia, its EU partners, and the U.S. and NATO have all called for the obvious from the Serbian and Kosovar governments:  fully engage in the EU-facilitated dialog process and refrain from precipitous actions, inflamatory rhetoric, and impediments  to freedom of movement.  And obviously, don’t attack KFOR peacekeepers or aid workers.  Pretty clear.

Amazing then that exactly the opposite occurred on September 27 and 28.  A violent Serb mob attacked a NATO-led KFOR unit.  A multi-ethnic group of USAID -supported community workers was similarly attacked.  What is it that the attackers don’t understand?  The U.S.  and Estonia — the EU and NATO — stand united in not allowing a better future for Kosovars and Serbs to be denied.  Their rights to a successful, Europe-integrated tomorrow are paramount.  The narrow and retrograde interests of some will not be satisfied.

As current U.S. Ambassador to Estonia and former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, for me the contrast between a people seizing the future and others being allowed to descend into a dark past is particularly poignant.  Estonians suffered  50 years of occupation — much harsher than anything experienced in the former Yugoslavia prior to the wars of the 1990’s.  Since regaining its independence only 20 years ago, Estonia has remade itself into one of the most successful and progressive countries in Europe, in the EU, in NATO, in the world today.  The long-suffering people of Serbia and Kosovo deserve a chance at similar success.  We cannot let mobs and mob mentality deny them their rightful place in the 21st century among their fellow European and American friends.

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A U.S./European Secure Energy Future

(Taken from a lecture delivered at Estonian Energy’s Forum:  “Where Will Tomorrow’s Energy Come From?” in Tallinn September 20, 2011.)

President Obama accentuated the state of the U.S. energy situation when in March this year he said “we cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security.”

Unfortunately this has been the case for far too long in America. Our interest in energy security rides a cycle from almost manic activity when gasoline prices are high, to indifference when prices drop back down again. It is clear that continuing this cycle is no longer an option. Global demand for energy is expected to rise 50% over the next 25 years. Driven by growth in China, India and the rest of the developing world, the rising price of oil and other forms of energy is an issue we must confront head-on with resolve and ingenuity.

We in the United States and our European friends and allies owe it to ourselves and our citizens to provide for a more secure energy future by harnessing all of our available resources, embracing a diverse energy portfolio, and investing in the most promising new sources of renewable power.  U.S. – European, U.S. -Estonian, and regional cooperation, along with free markets, are key elements to reaching an abundant, clean, and secure energy future.

When President Obama took office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. This past March, the President pledged that by a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third. He put forward a plan to secure America’s energy future by producing more oil at home and reducing our dependence on oil by leveraging cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency.

First, we will develop and secure America’s own abundant energy supplies: We need to deploy American assets, innovation, and technology so that we can safely and responsibly develop more energy at home and be a leader in the global energy economy. Developing our existing energy supplies means improved drilling for oil and natural gas. And it also means exploring exciting opportunities for U.S.-Estonian cooperation by putting together Estonia’s oil shale expertise with America’s vast oil shale resources. I very much look forward to seeing Enefit’s investment in Utah develop swiftly, and will continue to do all I can to ensure this project is a full success.

Second, there is also an important ongoing role to play for nuclear energy. Some countries in Europe decided to write-off nuclear power in the aftermath of the natural disaster in Japan this year. That is not the course the United States will take. Abandoning such an important stream of rather clean energy will only lead to higher electricity bills, increasing dependence on fossil fuels – which are often imported, and further complicate our uphill challenge in reaching climate change goals. Instead of abandoning nuclear energy, we intend to continue to make nuclear power function safely, and we have high hopes for new generation reactors being developed.  The United States will provide consumers with choices to reduce costs and save energy: Volatile gasoline prices reinforce the need for innovation that will make it easier and more affordable for consumers to buy more advanced and fuel-efficient vehicles, use alternative means of transportation, weatherize their homes and workplaces, and in doing so, save money and protect the environment. Increasing energy efficiency is something we can do now, with existing technology, and have a major impact on our energy and climate security.

Third, we will innovate our way to a clean energy future: Leading the world in clean energy is critical to strengthening the American economy. Our Government has invested over $90 billion in clean energy research and development over the past 2 years. This unprecedented investment demonstrates our commitment to one day creating limitless clean energy supplies. This process will take many years and until then we must use all we have responsibly: our oil, gas, oil shale and nuclear power along with nascent renewables.

Along with our domestic energy program, we will also pursue three main, interconnected components of our Eurasian energy strategy. We want to assist Europe in its quest for energy security. I recently wrote a blog re-stating the obvious: having strong European allies is essential for the health of the American economy and for our national security. The EU and the U.S. account for the largest bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world. Europe is also our partner on any number of global issues from Afghanistan to Libya to the Middle East, from human rights to free trade and to peace and security for the citizens of those regions. Promoting energy security in Europe is good for America and good for Europe.

In Europe, energy security is a more pressing issue to some than to others. Some countries in Europe do not have a diverse energy mix and depend largely on a single supplier and transport route. When that route is disrupted, as we witnessed in January 2009 with the Russo-Ukrainian gas dispute, the consequences for countries downstream can be severe in the immediate term and profoundly unsettling for the future. Also, for the European side of the Atlantic, we want to encourage the development of new oil and gas resources and also promote efficiency and conservation in the use of all types of energy.

Because there is a fungible world market for oil, new production contributes to meeting growing demand anywhere in the world, including in the United States. Such a global supply chain does not exist for gas, but security of supply is equally important. We often speak about new natural gas production in the Caspian region, shale gas in Poland, and other potential gas resources in and near Europe. It is unlikely that any of that gas will reach the U.S., but these sources will improve the energy security of our European allies and add to international gas supply. Additional supply in one place naturally frees up supply in another. Also, as the market for liquefied natural gas continues to grow, we can start to plan for gas to move around markets in much the same way that oil does.

Finally, we want to help Caspian and Central Asian countries find new routes to a free market. To turn an old phrase, “happiness is multiple pipelines.” We want to help foster economic growth and prosperity in these countries. By expanding export routes, they can increase competition for their resources, demand a fair price, and create strong links to the global economy. These countries must also be able to make their own independent choices regarding how their energy resources reach the market.

So, how can we achieve our common energy security goals together with and in Europe? We know that energy markets work best when free market forces drive decisions on how oil and gas are produced, transported, and purchased. This is normally the case for private firms and can even be the case for state-owned oil and gas companies. Governments can and should play a facilitating role. They should put in place the right business climate to attract free investment and work with neighboring states to expand market access and increase interconnections. As with all other goods in a global trading system, the value added by the public sector is the creation of the political framework in which businesses and commercial projects can thrive.

At the heart of U.S. policy is our conviction that energy security is best achieved through diversity – diversity of suppliers, diversity of transportation routes and diversity of consumers. This of course applies to existing as well as future technologies, including renewable and other clean energy technologies, and products and methodologies for increased energy efficiency.

We strongly support the establishment of a new pathway, the so-called Southern Corridor, to bring natural gas to Europe, via Turkey, from the Caspian Region and potentially other sources beyond Europe’s south-eastern frontiers. Gas from Azerbaijan’s offshore fields will be the first significant volumes available to supply the Southern Corridor. Development of a major field in Azerbaijan is well underway and three separate pipeline consortia are laying the financial, technical and organizational groundwork to compete for the right to ship this gas to Europe. The best outcome of all these efforts is the one that brings the most gas, soonest and most reliably, to those parts of Europe that need it most. But at the end of the day, any solution for bringing Azeri or other gas to European customers must make commercial sense. In light of the momentum achieved over the past 18 months, we are confident that a commercially viable Southern Corridor will be realized. The investment decisions to make that possible should occur by the end of this year.

Some people have portrayed our energy policy and Russia’s as the next round in the “Great Game” in Central Asia. I could not disagree more. Energy security is no game. And we are not playing. Energy security and energy investment are topics for serious two-way discussions with Russia. The importance of these issues is reflected by the inclusion of a Working Group on Energy, chaired by U.S. Energy Secretary Chu and Russian Energy Minister Shmatko, under our U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. Russia is an important supplier of oil and gas, and we welcome market-driven expansion of its production capacity.

In Central and Eastern Europe, we support efforts to more effectively diversify energy sources. We encourage states throughout the region to coordinate work toward a common energy market and to increase gas and electricity connections with each other and with the larger, better-supplied economies of the rest of Europe. To this end, the U.S. is actively cooperating with Estonia and its neighbors in implementing the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP), which strives for full integration of the states in the Baltic/Nordic region into the European energy market. We have already seen important successes on this front, for instance with the Estlink project between Estonia and Finland. I applaud Estonia for the hard work, leadership and patience it has demonstrated on regional energy cooperation.

New pipelines alone will not fully assure Europe’s energy security. The U.S. supports the other initiatives that Europe is undertaking to increase its own energy security. This includes building a single market for energy, unbundling the distribution and supply functions of energy firms, building interconnectivity of European gas and electricity networks, environmentally sound development of shale gas reserves, enhancing LNG import capabilities, increasing gas storage, improving energy efficiency, and exploring alternative and renewable sources. All of these are pieces of the puzzle to ensure European energy security.

In November 2009 our governments launched the U.S.-EU Energy Council to formalize our ongoing engagement. Through this body we have developed coordinated approaches to Ukraine, Russia, the Southern Corridor and Iraq. The Energy Council is also making important practical strides toward harmonizing battery and plug-in charging standards for Electric-drive Vehicles (EVs) and software for Smart Grids. We are also working to facilitate an unprecedented level of researcher exchanges in key areas of clean and renewable technologies research.

U.S.-Estonian energy cooperation fits seamlessly into the broader U.S. – European energy framework. Of course the most prominent area of cooperation between our countries is on oil shale. Putting together Estonia’s 90 years of experience utilizing oil shale with America’s immense oil shale resources could unlock 1.8 trillion barrels of shale oil. This year we have seen two significant steps further intensifying our cooperation: Eesti Energia’s/Enefit’s investment in Utah with plans to build a sizeable shale oil production facility, and the oil shale research cooperation agreement Minister Parts and I signed in February. My Embassy has strongly supported Enefit’s investment in the United States and I will firmly continue that support. Estonian oil shale investment is just beginning in the U.S., but the potential benefits to both of our countries are enormous. As to further research cooperation, I am happy to report that experts at the Department of Energy are already in contact with their counterparts in Estonia. Among the many things we can do together are enhancing the efficiency of oil production from oil shale, identifying new and commercially feasible processes to produce high quality oil from shale, and minimizing the environmental impact associated with shale oil production.

Naturally, our mutual interests go beyond oil shale. We have also encouraged development of renewable energy through initiatives such as the Clean and Green Energy Conference in 2009. This conference brought executives from clean energy businesses and leading American clean energy researchers to Estonia to develop contacts and share their knowledge. And again we have encouraged and applauded Estonia’s efforts to unify the Baltic electricity market and link it to NordPool and the rest of the EU. Estonia has routinely demonstrated leadership on this issue, through projects such as Estlink 1 & 2, by beginning the process of opening the electricity market last year, and by encouraging your neighbors to create a single Baltic electricity market. A very good step in the right direction is also Estonia’s commitment to the Visaginas nuclear plant project in Lithuania. I was happy to see that the American-Japanese consortium of General Electric and Hitachi was chosen to move the project forward and my embassy stands ready to assist in next steps and to further progress in any way we can. Nuclear energy will offer Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania a stable, reliable energy supply that will not contribute to climate change or be subject to political pressures.

Transatlantic energy security discussions are fraught with emotion born from frustration and burdened by repeated inaction as we go from shock to trance. Our governments and our publics don’t always agree on the precise path or the pace toward a secure energy future, but there is zero argument about the ultimate goal. In the end nothing succeeds like success. Whatever works in getting us there, and does so in the fastest and most economically sound way, we will be able to agree on. Our assets are not only fossil fuels and modern renewable energy resources, but also a joint commitment to free markets that literally keep energy flowing.  Together we will keep the lights burning.

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A Europe that Matters

Last week a gave a talk to students, faculty and visitors at Estonia’s Tallinn Technical University expanding on my earlier blog on this subject.  The engagement with a full house of very bright and knowledgeable individuals was invigorating and challenging.  So much so that I decided to come back in the future and explore the issue of “An America that Matters.”  Meanwhile, I want to share my presentation of last week on this forum.  The provocative question I posed and sought to answer was:  In today’s global political, economic, strategic and moral environment, does Europe still matter?  And more specifically, does it still matter to the United States?

In the interest of full disclosure, let me be clear that I come at this issue with a certain bias.  As a U.S. diplomat, I have dedicated a large portion of my career to acting as a contributor to, and a steward of, the trans-Atlantic relationship.   As a result of my professional experiences, as well as my own personal story-I was born in Europe – I have always closely followed the relationship between our continents. It was with great interest that I read an op-ed by the president of the highly prestigious American Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, entitled “Why Europe No Longer Matters” in the June 18th edition of one of our country’s most important newspapers, the Washington Post.  Richard is a former colleague and a friend and I am grateful that his think piece gives me the opportunity to talk to you about his thesis and my own today.

Richard Haass is a brilliant international affairs expert, who, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has joined other political scientists in seeking to define and characterize the emerging new world order – or disorder as some might call it.  An early consensus of sorts was formed among many who believed that as the U.S.S.R and the United States were the two major world powers before 1991, by virtue of winning the Cold War, the United States became the world’s sole superpower.  Some went further and characterized the United States as the only hyper-power of the world and a historically unique nation that could singularly exert is might across the entire globe.

However short-lived that last assessment, since 9/11, the wars in the Middle East and South Asia, and the U.S. and world economic and debt crisis, an equally large number of experts today conclude that the uni-polar world of U.S. dominance has rather rapidly transitioned into a multi-polar world of various powers exerting their influence — not unlike 18th Century Europe. It is against this backdrop that I would like to examine with you Richard’s arguments and conclusions and my response on Europe’s status today. For brevity’s sake, let’s call his conclusion “Europe No” and mine “Europe Yes.”

First, let’s put my own perspective of Europe on the table:  Europe does matter.  That is not to say I fully disagree with Mr. Haass’ arguments.  In fact, I actually concur with many of his views about Europe and the way it exercises its role in the world today.  That said, however, I arrive at a different conclusion about Europe’s ultimate standing and importance as an international player and as a partner to the United States.    

So now to the debate and first the strategic security dimension.  “Europe No” posits that if NATO didn’t exist today, no one would feel compelled to create it.  The “Europe No” argument cites inadequate European financial and physical commitment to Alliance action as a case in point.  It points to the Libya operation, despite the success of NATO support to the Libyan people, as only the most recent example of lack of organization, lack of participation, and lack of capacity.  So for “Europe No”, if NATO stands for U.S.-European strategic power, then only the U.S. and a very few number of Europeans actually matter.  I believe “Europe No” would concede that Estonia counts among the allies that do matter.  In that we would certainly agree, but also concur as I would that not all allies are pulling their weight equally.

“Europe No” looks at divergent attitudes between Americans and Europeans and cites the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan as demonstrating this parting of ways, along with the emerging European cultural norm of not accepting any casualties in the prosecution of a war.  Europe No” looks at NATO as a relic of the past, and along with an Asia-centric shift in world power, economic might, and U.S. orientation, sees this as a clear indicator that old alliances and relationships are dead or on their death-bed:  “Europe and the United States have changed. The World has changed.”  No argument with that last comment:  We have all changed.  Asia is incredibly important to the United States and the world and our relations with this emerging international economic juggernaut will inform much of the next century.  Other players are also increasingly demanding attention and input in a global structure where their economic power and strategic influence are required to make the world go round.

Where “Europe Yes” parts from “Europe No” is in the conclusion that with the entry of other power players into the new international order, existing participants are by definition marginalized or worse, sidelined completely.  NATO, if it can muster the political will, still wields an extremely powerful punch, matched by no one.  As to trade, 40% of all world economic activity still takes place between Europe and the United States.  Hardly an insignificant amount that does matter!

“Europe No” also describes the decline of a common U.S. and European set of interests, in the past, based on historical patterns of American elites that traced their ancestry to Europe.  Today’s broader elite in the U.S., Europe No, would argue relates to African, Asian, and Latin American roots and does not share the emotional or intellectual ties to Europe that defined transatlantic relations in the 20th century.  The “Europe Yes” response:  agreed that American elites are much more diverse today than in the mid 1900’s.  But I contend, for instance, that a Chinese-American raised in San Francisco has far more in common with an individual from the town of Rakvere, Estonia or Manchester, England, than he does with a Chinese individual raised in Beijing.  The American and European belief in democracy individual freedom and open markets transcends ethnic heritage and will continue to bind American motivations and goals throughout the world with Europe.

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 one characterized by full harmony or equality of strength on each side of the Atlantic.  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 introduction of U.S. medium range nuclear missiles in Europe – for the defense of Europe!  And yet NATO stands today, 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and is fighting – and winning – in Afghanistan, and just helped successfully to turn the tide in Libya.  Pretty good for an irrelevant Alliance.

Does this mean that we Americans are always happy with the security posture of each one of our allies?  Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as recently as June of this year, stated that he had long 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.”   Doesn’t sound very happy to me.  And he was right.  Does that mean Europe is now or about to become irrelevant?  It does not.  Our very disagreements, sometimes loud and in public, bear testimony to the continuing strength of an Alliance not simply based on realpolitik or pure self-interest.  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.  And by the way, let’s not fall into the trap of characterizing certain opinions in Europe as “the European opinion.”  For instance, I would point to our broad agreement with our Estonian allies on the vast majority of issues.  Estonian opinion is no less the “European opinion” than is the opinion of any other ally or partner on this continent.

Implicit in “Europe No” is also the thought that Europe is somehow “solved.”  There are no more European problems, so why focus on a place that has no issues?  Fair enough, not even the most pessimistic among us believe that fighting may erupt anew in the Alsace.  But what about the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia and the continuing tensions in parts of the Balkans?  What about the regime in Belarus?   What about energy security concerns?   What about the euro crisis and its effect on U.S. debt issues?  What about a drop in the NYSE in response to trouble on the DAX?  Just like the U.S., Europe will also never be “done.”  The challenge, the dynamism, and the capacity of seeking solutions on both sides of the Atlantic continue.  

And finally, beyond the security and economic dimensions, Europe plays a determined role alongside the United States on a vast range of global issues from human rights to the environment.  Despite occasional disagreements on tactics, the United States and Europe form a critically important policy community.  Our combined influence in world events weighs heavily on other countries and actors.  That is a powerful tool and a major responsibility we share.  Authoritarian regimes risk vital foreign investment and sanctions from Europe and the U.S.  Without our combined condemnation of Sudan over the genocide in Darfur and without our further engagement to encourage a referendum in South Sudan, would Khartoum have ever come to an agreement with the South?  Without sustained U.S. and European pressure, would the dissident Aung San Suu Kyi ever have been released from her house arrest imposed by the military junta of Burma?And together, Europe and the U.S. are central to cleaning up our environment, developing new forms of energy, and eliminating world hunger.  Wherever there is a need for action, we are present.

In contrast to vocal U.S. foreign policy and moral leadership, Europe does not always make the same headlines or dominate diplomatic discussions, but Europe’s voice counts, especially in unison with ours.  The example that the peaceful, democratic nations of Europe set for the rest of the world on the issues of democratization, human rights, the environment, conflict mediation, and civil action is unquestionably a major force for good in the world.  A force unmatched by emerging power centers in other parts of the globe.

So, the issue for me and for “Europe Yes” then is not whether Europe still matters, but how Europeans choose to exercise the significant power and influence they possess.  The American challenge as close allies and partners is to continue to insist that Europe must matter.  And that is one of the key lessons of the post-Cold War 21st century:  Abdication of global responsibility is no more an option for Europe today than it has ever been for the United States.

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