Tag Archives: people-to-people

Honoring Women in an Age of Participation

Secretary of State Clinton has noted that “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.” These words have particular relevance as we celebrate International Women’s Day around the world and as we continue to make strides for women’s progress.

On December 10th, 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three extraordinary women who have led the fight for human rights and democracy in their home countries – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. Their achievement signifies recognition on the world stage of the essential role that women must play in the hard work of building peace and sustainable communities in the 21st century.

In December, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how the United States will accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the government to advance women’s participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace. This initiative represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict, by ensuring that their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the fabric of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.

This International Women’s Day, Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama will host the 6th annual International Women of Courage Awards, honoring 10 remarkable women from around the world. These women have shown exceptional bravery and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Their stories represent just a few of the emerging leaders found in every corner of the world.

Yet, as we rightfully honor achievements, we must also be reminded that International Women’s Day is an opportunity to renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women’s equality. We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as “the Participation Age”. This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society.

Around the world, we are witnessing examples of the Participation Age.  I have been privileged to meet a large number of Estonia’s remarkable women, women who led Estonia into freedom and women who spearhead this country’s political, diplomatic, business and artistic communities today.  Estonian women are no less than the very foundation of a society that has suffered much throughout history and has persevered and emerged victorious.  Estonian women rock!

Women are also a cornerstone of America’s foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity.  Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone – the world over.  As we honor them today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of equality each and every day of the year.

 

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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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There is an App for That! U.S. iEmbassy Tallinn, Estonia

I know what you’ll say.  “Where have you been?  Smart phones and tablet computers were hardly invented just yesterday! And havn’t you been using an iPhone and an iPad for years?”  You are right and you are right again.  But for my Embassy as a diplomatic platform for America today is a new day:  Our entire staff will receive new iPhones today as a uniform technology platform and a new tool in our diplomatic arsenal.  In addition, we are employing tablet computers — iPads to be exact — to use for Embassy tasks that until now required lots of paper and heavy briefcases.  In Estonia, our diplomats on duty to assist American citizens and Estonians in need of our consular services will now carry all the information they need in a single iPad that connects them directly to the Embassy, to Washington, and to the world.  Also, as part of our outreach to our Estonian hosts, by the end of this year we will roll out the U.S. Embassy Tallinn Mobile American Corner — an iPad-based ultralight mobile mini-Embassy if you wish — that our diplomats will be able to set up in minutes virtually anywhere in the country to bring America to the Estonian people.  And no surprise, it is an Estonian software company that is helping us design the application to run our new system!

But back to our iPhones.  In a few minutes from writing this short blog, I will be meeting with my American and Estonian team to encourage them to let their imaginations run wild (legally that is)  as we come up with new ways to deploy this tool in the service of the American people.  I am determined not to sound like the government official that I am during this meeting, but rather as the closest I can get to a garage brainstormer in the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates tradition.  I won’t be able to hide that I am already 57 years old, but I will also not highlight it.  In my vision and in my mind I feel  like I a twenty-something, terribly excited about the possibilities of new information technology in the service  of diplomacy — a centuries old information profession.

So I am off now to rouse my diplomatic troops, but I am first taking off my tie.

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The Importance of International Schools

Everyone is talking education these days.  Education for the very youngest of our children.  Secondary education.  Higher education, and adult learning.  International education is an important subset of all of these discussions.  For international families in the business, NGO, military, and diplomatic sectors, international primary and secondary education is not just important, it is essential.  As these “nomadic professionals”  circle the globe with little time spent (as little as one or two years) in any one location, they desperately search out consistency for their children’s education:  an International School.  The presence of such a school thus becomes a critical asset for any country that wants to play on the international economic and politial scene and attract the players that play on there.

An truly international school offers offers kindergarden through high school education of an international standard that transfers easily from country to country and continent to continent.  The International Baccelaureate (IB) offers this universal standard with some 900,000 IB students in 140 countries around the world.  An international school has an international faculty, uses English as the primary common language of instruction, and offers wide flexibility for students to enter and leave school at other than standard starting and completion points.  For students not yet ready to function in English, support programs quickly bring them up to speed.  Finally, international schools must be fully adaptive to accomodate students at all levels of learning ability, including students with special needs.  In other words, international schools do not have the luxury of simply picking the best and letting “the system” take care of those less capable.  There is no other “system” for nomadic professionals.

So what’s the problem?  Well, international schools are expensive to run.  Unless a host government helps finance such international education, tuition costs become prohibitive for professionals whose organizations, companies, or governments do not pick up the tab.  As an American “diplomatic nomad” for the past 35 years, I have faced the challenge, if not the cost, of international education for my children around the world.  I was always fortunate that my government covered the cost of our extraordinary education needs.  And I found that the countries that offered the best international education were also the best centers of foreign direct investment and important platforms for international diplomacy and civic society activity.  Estonia has one truly comprehensive, but small  international school, and ongoing ambitions in global business, government, and civic endeavors.  Twenty years into Estonia’s amazing growth as a free, independent, prosperous, and highly modern nation, now is the time to decide whether the country is interested in supporting and sustaining its unique international education platform for the long-term.

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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 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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American Staying Power is Staying

The last 10 years have been hard on the United States.  From the tragendy of 9/11 forward, good news has sometimes been in short supply.  Instead, we have seen an abundance of conflict, an economy stumbling, and often bitter political debates over the future of our society and our country as a whole.  At the same time, we have also rediscovered who our true friends are around the world, along with reminding ourselves of our innate strength and determination to help others in need, from Haiti to Japan and the African continent, as well as our fellow citizens from the Gulf oil spill to nature’s devastation in the South.

The elimination of a major threat to the lives and safety of peoples in all corners of the globe by removing Osama Bin Laden was more than a brilliant military operation by the bravest of Americans.  It was an affirmation of our nation’s persistent vision and enduring reality that we are an exceptional people, not without our faults, but ultimately good, compassionate, and fearless in standing up for our values, not matter how often we fall or are pushed down. 

Pundits at home and abroad have long speculated that the end of the American age has arrived; that the American dream has faded and that new world powers and a new world order are on the rise.  Many have predicted dire consequences for our nation’s future in the face of exploding budget deficits and a staggering debt burden.  Critics have asserted that we lack the discipline, the peseverance, and the maturity to overcome our most serious challenges.  And yet ……for ten years and longer we have pursued global terrorists, together with our allies and friends.  We never tired.  We never gave up. We just scored a major success.

I have never been prepared to write the United States off.  Since our 18th century fight for independence in the face of overwhelming odds, and through countless struggles since, including a bloody civil war, we have always prevaled.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” is after all an American saying.  Our country continues to carry the hopes and dreams of the world, not because Americans are a special people, but because special people are Americans.  From every corner of the globe, the American melting pot has created the most diverse nation on earth, united by the pride of making ourselves and calling ourselves Americans.  So as long as there is a place called earth there will be a special and important place on this planet called the United States of America.

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