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Kurt Volker: Transatlantic Values after Sept. 11

Transatlantic Values after September 11

Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Remarks as Delivered
The Hague, Netherlands
September 12, 2006

Released by the U.S. Mission in the Netherlands

Thank you. It is a great pleasure to be here, and to be able to speak here at the Netherlands Atlantic Association.

I have spent all of my professional career working in one way or another with NATO, and with transatlantic security issues. I believe the connection between the United States and Europe forged after World War II – anchored on a common foundation of shared democratic values – is one of the most important and historic developments in the modern world. The implications of this development have been astounding – from freedom in the eastern half of Europe, to the rise of democracy around the world, to the continued rise of global prosperity.

I am especially honored to be speaking to you on September 12, five years and one day after the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001. As we all know, on that day, thousands of innocent victims from over 90 countries, including the Netherlands, lost their lives.

Those attacks – and the many which preceded and followed them – have changed the world. As Secretary of State Rice said yesterday, the attackers know no boundaries, neither of territory nor of morality. These attacks, are attacks against us all.

And they present our generation with a challenge we did not seek, which is deeply complex, and which we must meet decisively. There is no other choice. As we have been reminded through pictures of those early days five years ago, the transatlantic community showed remarkable solidarity immediately after 9/ 11. And we have worked together to bring democracy, development and security to Afghanistan, where the 9/11 plots were hatched.

But over time, differences emerged. As America weighed the risk that weapons of mass destruction could reach the hands of terrorists, the United States began to become more concerned about Iraq. Europe was divided over war in Iraq, and thus the transatlantic community became divided. And though much has improved, that division continues to cast something of a shadow over the intense cooperation among democratic Allies we have today.

America has not suffered a major terrorist attack since 9/11, though the terrorists have tried. Europe has suffered attacks in Madrid, London, and Istanbul, for example, and has thwarted still other attacks – in the UK, Germany and elsewhere. And we must not be too Euro-centric: attacks in Bali, Amman, Sharm-el-Sheik and elsewhere have been just as deadly.

For the transatlantic community, most striking are the differences in the public perception of U.S. policy. Whereas the United States sees its efforts in the world as inextricably linked to supporting freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and security, globally, Europeans often view U.S. policy with suspicion. And the rhetoric from Europe can be strident.

As a policy official, I am used to leaping right into this kind of policy debate. But sadly, this kind of debate on policy often obscures the human issues that are really at stake.

Anniversaries are times to reflect on meaning. And as we approached the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I asked my colleagues working in the European Bureau of the State Department if they wished to share their recollections of that day, five years ago. Many responded, and let me read a few of them to you:

A colleague named Stephanie said, "My September 11 was spent in the Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan speaking with a group of women whose husbands had been imprisoned for studying the Koran. I remember leaving the meeting worried about the future of these women and our driver then frantically telling us to get in the car because they were blowing up America. I looked at my colleague and we both laughed. I remember thinking "Is this really possible?" We drove to a hotel and found a working television. For all of the words and rumors we heard that evening it was the image of the World Trade Center falling that I believed. I realized then that U.S. diplomacy was going to undergo a major transformation and I wanted to be a part of it."

Jamal, now serving in Bishkek, wrote: "The tragic events that unfolded on September 11, 2001 occurred shortly after I graduated from college. As I sat there staring at the television screen for what seemed like an eternity, watching one horrific update proceed another, I realized right then and there that I needed to do something - anything - to ensure that no one would ever have to experience what the families of the 9/11 victims had and continue to endure. Believing that I had something to offer to the nation that had given so much to my family after immigrating to the United States from Iraq, I knew that I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not pursue a career in public service. Five years later, I'm doing just that … as a Political officer in Bishkek …"

Alex wrote in: "I was serving at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on September 11, 2001. The first plane flew over me as I walked to work in mid-town; the second plane cashed into the tower just as I reached my 10th floor office. Our [secretary] had a brother who worked in one of the towers, and she was beside herself with worry for his safety. By the time I arrived, she had already failed to get through on his home, office and cell phones. As we were ordered out of the building, three of us walked her to a nearby corner, each calling one of his numbers over the din of passing sirens. After 10 minutes, she finally got through on his cell phone and discovered – mercifully – that he had overslept and was just driving on to the Brooklyn Bridge when the towers were struck. At that point, none of us understood yet the magnitude or the implications of what was going on a few miles south of us. We were simply relieved that this one family had escaped tragedy."

Dana wrote to me: "I was serving as the management officer and post security officer at U.S. Consulate Naples. Our consulate had been a potential target for attack for some time, and all summer long we thought that the terrorist attack warnings could potentially be aimed at us. We were on full alert for months. I was sitting at my desk working when a fellow Bostonian colleague, Claire, called me from the visa waiting room: "you are never going to believe this, but there was a terrible accident —a plane from Boston just crashed into the World Trade Center!" We got word from Washington that there could be other attacks but we didn't know where. I called my police and military contacts who immediately sent armored vehicles with .50 cal machine guns to guard our premises. We were fortified, protected by the Italians. The Chief of Police, the Carabinieri Generals, the Regional president, the Mayor and other officials all came to the Consulate to express their deepest sympathy and complete disbelief at what had happened. Dozens of local Italians lined the Consulate gate with flowers and offered their condolences …"

My own 9/11 started with a walk into the Old Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex, where I had recently taken up duties at the National Security Council.

I remember the walk, because it was a beautiful fall day. The kind one remembers on the East Coast, after a hot and humid summer, and the air is cool and crisp, and the sky is bright and clear and blue. It was invigorating. Today, I am marked, because when I experience weather like, I always think of 9 /11.

I had just moved to Washington from Brussels, so I was living in a temporary apartment, and our oldest child had just started school the previous day.

I arrived slightly late for the staff meeting, having helped get the kids ready in the morning. As I walked into the meeting, our secretary was watching the news, and the first tower was already burning. She said a plane had struck it, and I reported that to my colleagues as I walked in. The meeting went swiftly, and as we left, I glanced at the TV again and was able to watch live as the second plane struck. We were stunned.

But as a testament to how unprepared we were mentally for this kind of attack, we simply went back to work, wondering what this attack meant, and how we would deal with it. I then received an email, in red font, ordering us to evacuate the building immediately. Having just watched planes fly into buildings on TV, I did not hesitate, and as our office trooped down the stairs, I heard that another plane had hit the Pentagon.

But I still didn't get it. I knew I did not want to stand around on the sidewalk just outside the building – what if another plane did hit? So I decided to go across town to the Department of Motor Vehicles, because having just arrived in Washington, I still needed to register my car. My office was out of reach, so now was a good time to run an errand.

I got to the motor vehicle office, and they had closed and sent their employees home. And that's the first moment I realized that this was far bigger than I had at first understood. And we all have been on a learning curve ever since.

One of the things we have learned is the nature of the challenge that we face. This is more than a criminal act. It is an ideologically based assault – one that deliberately targets civilians on a massive scale – that is against freedom, tolerance, democracy, and all the values you and I share. And don't take it from me: that is what the terrorists say about themselves.

Given its history, the Netherlands, of all countries, knows that passivity in the face of determined violence against democratic values just doesn't work. Neutrality in those circumstances is an illusion.

Do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that we are in a clash of civilizations. Indeed, we believe our civilizations are united in a belief in human dignity, justice, tolerance, and peace. We face a number of determined, violent extremists who exploit Islam and the desperation of many people in the Islamic world – and even here in Europe – to justify their goals and their violent actions. This is an affront to Islam as much as it is to non-Islamic civilization. And we must reach out and work together with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and all others who stand for civilization, tolerance, and peace.

To be sure, we need to counter the violent extremists. Given the attacks we face, military means are appropriate – for example, in Afghanistan, where military means are being deployed by the terrorists against the civilian population, against NATO forces, and against the Afghan government. Our job is to defend the population against those assaults, and to maintain a secure space so that democratic institutions and economic development can proceed.

We must also use intelligence, law enforcement, financial sanctions, and all other legal means at our disposal to fight these terrorists.

But something else we have learned along the way is that the real antidote to global terrorism in the long run is advancing the human condition: freedom, economic opportunity and prosperity, social integration, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, security. Military and law enforcement and judicial and financial means are all necessary against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. But success will come only when the majority of moderate, peaceful citizens throughout the world insist on an end to violence, and a focus on building better societies.

One of the principal jobs of western governments must be to help empower these people, to help them gain their voice. These values are universal. They are captured in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Foreign policy may come and go. But there is something different about freedom, about free people choosing how to build their own society – that is lasting and significant.

This recognition of the long-term struggle of ideas – of freedom versus an imposed, violent ideology – is one reason why the President launched the Broader Middle East Initiative at the Sea Island G8 Summit in 2004. Taking account of EU's Euro-Med process and the United States' Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Broader Middle East Initiative embraces a positive vision of support for civil society, business, and political and economic development throughout that region.

I mentioned that the war in Iraq divided our community. And that is true. But there are three myths about the Iraq war I think it important to debunk:

First, the war in Iraq did not cause the global terrorism we see today. The attacks of September 11 took place before the war in Iraq. And that was the second attack on the World Trade Center. The first one, in 1993, failed. Colleagues of mine were killed by al Qaeda at U.S. Embassies in Africa in 1998. The U.S. Cole was bombed in 2000. The Taliban was running Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of terrorists had trained in facilities there, and returned to form cells in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America. These terrorists were plotting their attacks years and years ago. The war in Iraq did not create them.

Second, some people speak as though all the problems in the Middle East stem from the war in Iraq and American policy in the war on terror. Let me recall that the Middle East had suffered from violence, authoritarian governance, and conflict long before the war in Iraq. Syria occupied Lebanon. Hezbollah and Hamas openly supported terrorism and refused to recognize Israel's right to exist – as they still do today. Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war had claimed over a million lives. The Arab-Israeli conflict had gone on for years. The UN Human Development Reports, the first of which was issued in 2002, documented these and other challenges in the region. So yes, the war in Iraq has inflamed emotions, and violence has risen in the past few years. But the problems in the Middle East have origins well before the Iraq war: it did not cause them.

Third, the picture since the war in Iraq began is not uniformly negative. Syria withdrew from Lebanon. The Lebanese and the Palestinians held free elections. The Iraqis have agreed a democratic constitution, held free elections, and formed a government including Sunni, Shia and Kurd. Kuwaiti women have gained the right to vote. Elections are scheduled under new constitutions in some of the Gulf States next year. Taboos on open political debate are being eroded throughout the Broader Middle East. The Forum for the Future has become a vital forum for Arab civil society to speak with Arab, European, and the American government about its concerns.

Critics of the United States will argue that the problem with this vision of long-term democratic progress is that the United States has lost credibility, and is not adhering to its own values. First, this is an exaggeration, and I cannot stress enough the need to hae a more balanced and serious discussion about the very difficult challenges we all face. But second, I want to point out some of the important decisions the President announced in his speech on September 6.

The significance of those decisions is that the President is squarely reaffirming that the United States stands as a nation of law.

Let me recap a few of the key elements of what the President said:

* All detainees have been transferred to DoD control, have been notified to the Red Cross, and the Red Cross has access to them. There are no detainees in CIA-run secret facilities anywhere. * The President confirmed that Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions indeed applies to these detainees. * He affirmed again that the United States does not condone or conduct torture, nor cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees. This is a matter of policy, a matter of treaty obligation, and a matter of U.S. law. And it applies to U.S. personnel, civilian and military, at home and abroad. * The President has made clear he intends to close the "legal gap." He is seeking legislation on military commissions consistent with the recent Supreme Court ruling. We will bring detainees to trial. And provided their home countries will accept them, not torture them, and where appropriate keep them guard or surveillance, we will return them. We hope to reach that point when the Guantanamo facility will be closed. * We continue to face a longer term legal gap – between the application of civilian justice and the law of war. International terrorism does not neatly fit either category. And the President said he wants to work together with other nations to address the continuing, long-term challenge of handling terrorist detainees.

Given the significance of these decisions – the President moving to close the legal gap and give clear legally-binding assurances on treatment issues – I thought I would have seen European politicians patting themselves on the back for having pushed for decisions like this for some time. These are major decisions on the part of the President, and I would hope they would be reciprocated in Europe – by a renewed commitment to working together, based on our shared values, to meeting the terrorist challenge.

Instead, I have heard a media focus on the acknowledgement that secret facilities have existed, and even accusations that the United States misled Europe. This latter allegation is simply wrong. Secretary Rice was very clear in her comments last December before and during her visit to Europe: the United States adheres to its own laws; meets its international obligations; and respects the sovereignty of others. The Secretary was asked specifically about secret sites, and said with great clarity that she would not comment on specific intelligence activities. She did, however, stress that intelligence cooperation with Allies is vital for the safety of our citizens.

And this is a critical point. The difference between law enforcement and intelligence is this. Law enforcement is for prosecuting individuals after a crime. Intelligence, however, is vital for preventing the crime from happening. And when the crime is bombs on 10 airliners out of London, or trains in Berlin, intelligence saves thousands of lives.

So we would hope to see greater, sober recognition from our allies that intelligence sharing is necessary for the safety of citizens around the world. And equally, a sober recognition that our current, international legal framework is not adequate for dealing with the kinds of challenges we face. Neither civilian law enforcement nor the laws of war are fully adequate for addressing a global terrorist network that has no state, no uniforms, and yet can inflict damage at the level of a state.

Underlying this hope is a recognition that it is critical that the transatlantic community remain united in facing common challenges. When divided, we are less effective, and we send a confusing signal to the world. But when the two pillars of our democratic, transatlantic community speak with one voice, based on our shared values, we provide a clarity and combined commitment that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In closing, let me say that five years after 9/11, we are better prepared to face the challenges in the world than we were before. We have learned a lot along the way. We see that we face not only determined groups of violent individuals – we face an ideology of extremist violence that we must overcome with a better, more positive vision of human development. And we know that to succeed in the long-term, the United States, and other democratic states throughout the world need to act together, based on our shared values. We have been doing this work for some time now, and we look forward to continuing to do so, together with our close friends in the Netherlands.

Released on September 12, 2006


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