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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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A World of Opportunity Ready for U.S. Leadership

U.S.-EUDemocratic political transitions always provide a good opportunity for strategic policy reviews and fresh starts.  That includes second terms of incumbents.  Many expectations of a new beginning accompany  Barack Obama as the American people prepare to swear him in for his second term.  The Administration’s dance card for the next four years is already full, even before the first inaugural ball strikes up the band.  Critical economic deadlines loom, along with other complex domestic concerns, from gun violence to immigration policy.    All of the toughest foreign policy challenges of the past remain, with several coming to a head in the near term:  Afghanistan/Pakistan future, Syria civil war, Iran nuclear ambitions, Putin’s Russia, China’s global role, Al Quaida’s and other terrorist whac-a-mole appearances around the world, and the list goes on.

The President’s new national security team is taking shape.  Stacks of briefing papers will greet the new cabinet members in their offices, many reiterating the past and some projecting the future.  Much of the focus will be on the trouble spots and less on new opportunities, especially in foreign policy.  We have become a bit cautious in our ambitions.   Americans are exhausted from years of recession, economic uncertainty and personal sacrifice and loss — from Kabul to Newtown.  Our friends in Europe and many other parts of the globe share in this weariness.

Our governments are responding to citizens’ concerns, as they should.  But that’s not enough.  Even as we are calling on our leadership to “do something,”  and often make conflicting demands, we are actually not asking for what we really need — a new project, new hope.  We have been to the moon, but U.S. astronauts now need a ride from the Russians to the International Space Station.   We need new “moon missions.”   And they have to be bold and exciting.  President Obama has called for investments in domestic infrastructure, research, and education.  Yes, absolutely; and maybe bold given our fiscal state, but hardly exciting.

So what would be an exciting effort to pull us out of our doldrums?  How about a tremendously ambitious project that, if successful, would result in happy, prosperous, employed people enhancing and powering the largest economic and political relationship in the world?  How about the much talked-about, but never realized U.S. – Europe Free Trade Agreement? How about totally eliminating redundant and expensive barriers to trade such as differing standards from car bumpers to yogurt?  How about turning a $16 trillion U.S. economy and a $17 trillion EU economy into a $33 trillion transatlantic economic juggernaut?  Expected GDP bumps range from 1%  to 2%, yielding hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of Atlantic. Now that’s exciting!  As a confidence building measure between Administration and Congress, the two should agree on fast track legislative approval for a deal.  Reaching for this goal would signal hope.  Success would signal U.S.and European energy, confidence, and commitment in a critical relationship.  The markets, and our other trading partners and competitors, would be impressed, as they should be.

We must snatch the initiative for creating good news from reacting to bad.  This is just one new “moon mission.”  We really need this — and more — on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world.

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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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Diplomacy: High Value – Low Cost

Things are tough right now.  The U.S. and European economies are seeking to regain their footing after a recession.  In the midst of European countries’ debt issues, the very structure of European unity is being examined.  Many government budgets are in defict and on both sides of the Atlantic we are faced with tightening our belts and reducing public expenditures.  People without jobs are struggling and many with jobs are deeply worried about their future as well.  In this hard reality, no public outlay can be held sacrosanct.  Of course our political leaders are looking for equitable ways to distribute cuts in spending, including in our diplomatic services.  

In nearly 35  years as an American diplomat, this is hardly the first time I have seen, discussed, and experienced reductions in my country’s foreign affairs budget affecting, among other things, our diplomatic capacities.  A few short decades ago, our intake of new diplomats had fallen to such a low level that we literally could no longer staff some positions in our embassies.  The watch word was “do more with less.”  In fact, our dedicated Foreign and Civil Service team worked long and hard hours to do what had to be done.  Morale stayed amazingly high, but at some point “more with less” in reality became “less with less” and U.S. diplomatic engagement inevitably suffered.  Eventually, under inspired foreign policy leadership, we rebuilt our diplomatic strength, enabling us today to strongly serve American interests globally, including in the most complex and dangerous environments such as Afghanistan and Iraq.   

Today I see cost cutting challenges facing European diplomacy.  Here in Tallinn, and in other parts of Europe, some European embassies are closing or reducing staff, in some cases even after opening diplomatic missions only a few years ago.  All public expenditures are understandably subject to scrutiny.  That said, it is important to recall what the cost and value of diplomacy is to any nation.  In the United States and in Europe, the foreign affairs part of national budgets generally hover around the 1% mark or even lower.  That means that for most if not all countries, even the complete elimination of all diplomatic functions and facilities (a ludicrous notion no one is suggesting) would mean a reduction of no more than a tiny precentage of public outlays.

Unacceptably high budget shortfalls will not be fixed by cutbacks in countries’ embassies or diplomatic staff.  On the contrary, just at a time when we need maximum diplomatic cooperation, coordination, and contact, the loss of even one diplomat or one embassy makes a difference.  In short, we need the 1% to help fix the 99%.  Really!

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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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Filed under American Values, Peace and Security, U.S. -Estonian Relations, U.S. Foreign Relations

A Quiet People With A Powerful Voice

Ever since my arrival as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia on a frosty winter evening in 2009, I have been confronted with the loud volume of the Estonian people’s silence.  For a typically extrovert American, keeping a conversation going in this country can often be challenging.  That is until the American learns the power of Estonian silence and the astounding success and rebirth of freedom in a nation that quietly never gave up on re-independence throughout decades of occupation.  On August 20, 2011, my wife Hallie and I will be joining our Estonian friends in celebrating their 20-year miracle of  success.  Tens of thousands of Estonians will take part in events in Tallinn and throughout the country in what is expected to be the most visible (and even loudest) outpouring of patriotism by the Estonian people in a decade.

At a time of considerable political and economic turbulence throughout Europe and in the United States, it is particularly poignant to celebrate not only Estonia’s existence as a free country, but also its standing as a proud nation in the 21st century.  Emerging today from the most recent world-wide recession, Estonia is almost everything so many other countries today are not.  First of all, Estonia and its government are solvent.  With negligible national debt and an equally insignificant government budget deficit, Estonia is part of a very small group of countries that can lay claim to economic health and positive prospects.  There are of course challenges, including high unemployment, inflation, and unmet demands for better salaries and a social service improvements.  But in comparison to apocalyptic headlines, such as Time Magazine’s most recent cover proclaiming “The Decline and Fall of Europe,” Estonia stands apart.  No one  here believes that Europe is about to fall, and more than 70 percent of Estonians fully support their country’s adoption of the stressed Euro.

Meanwhile, Estonia stands ready with scant complaint to do (and pay) its part to help Europe overcome its ongoing debt crisis.  And for the part of Europe that is still struggling with its democractic, economic, and social development, Estonia has invested both its expertise and resources to help out.  Estonians are also fighting and sacrificing from Afghanstan to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.  When asked “why does your small country do so much,'”  leaders here are a bit taken aback, explaining that nations and people stood by them during the darkest hours of occupation and its payback time!

Estonians see the problems on their and our side of the Atlantic with traditional stoicism.  Privately, I suspect, they wonder why the rest of us are so slow in implementing to them obvious solutions.  They have seen much worse and not only survived, but excelled.  For Estonians, there are no problems that can’t be surmounted with stubborn commitment to the solutions, no matter how painful they may be.  Their experience, looking at their past, is to live for the future – focussed and most of all – quietly.  I am really looking forward to being quiet tomorrow, together with our wise Estonian friends.

Happy Anniversary Estonia!

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Filed under Civil Society, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. -Estonian Relations