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Reports of the Death of Transatlantic Relations

Byline Orlando: Reports of the Death of Transatlantic Relations Are Greatly Exaggerated

Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Remarks at National Conference of Editorial Writers
Orlando, Florida
November 13, 2006

Good morning, and thank you Jonathan for such a kind introduction. It's the bit of kindness State Department officials seldom get from editorial writers, and I savored every word.

And hello to all of you. In preparing these remarks, it occurred to me that editorial writers and senior State Department officials have at least three big things in common:

A) we get paid to have opinions;
B) we wield influence behind the scenes; and
C) usually, we can do so anonymously.

So it's particularly plucky of you to get me here on the record. I hope to some day return the favor. Maybe some day make you actually responsible for a good old-fashioned foreign policy mess.

I realize that editorial writers are above all journalists, and that you love to get scoops, so I have been wracking my brain to come up with something worthy of a byline from Orlando.

After a week like last week, that is really hard. Headlines like "Democrats take over Congress," "Saddam Hussein Sentenced to Death" and "Rumsfeld Resigns, President Selects New Defense Secretary" have already been taken.

But then I did come across something. Something so big it could not be ignored. Something that in today's media environment is so shocking, so influential, so well-guarded a secret, and so unreported, this surely should make news: The Europeans are our allies.

Even more shocking: We like each other. We visit each other. We do massive amounts of business with each other. We consult each other all the time. We tackle problems together. Sure, we argue over Iraq and Guantanamo and climate change. But beneath it all, we are actually on the same team.

Our vocabularies differ to protect the illusion. Europe speaks about neighborhood policies, the Barcelona process, common foreign and security policy. We speak about transformational diplomacy, promoting democracy, supporting good governance.

Yet we both believe in freedom, in democracy, in market economics, in human rights and the rule of law (yes, we do), and in global security and stability. Whether naively or arrogantly, we both believe we hold a certain responsibility to deal with problems in the world that challenge these values.

Despite the appearance of warring Allies, the two sides of the Atlantic form a single democratic community which faces common challenges together. And, yes, this even includes France. Secretly, so no one will know, in the global quest for human advancement, we're on the same team.

Okay, this isn't exactly "deep throat" stuff, but in the world we inhabit today, it is news. At least I never read this stuff in today's newspapers.

And this is not some goofy State Department spin. The spin, in fact, is the opposite: It is the persistent theme -- echoed in media in Europe and North America -- that Europeans are feckless, do-nothing, do-gooding whiners from Venus; Americans are stupid, arrogant war-mongers from Mars; and there is nothing we can do together. This is utterly, utterly wrong: We can do things together.

Europeans love to argue that America knows nothing but hard power, and even does that poorly. They see themselves as the champions of soft power. Americans love to argue that Europeans are unwilling to use force when necessary, and even unwilling to use other means such as sanctions to achieve a goal.

But take a look around: America has massively increased foreign aid (some figures show a tripling), pledged $15 billion to fight AIDS, it is the largest foreign aid donor in Gaza ($468 million in direct assistance this year), and has led the drive to rebuild Afghanistan, to name a few examples. We are the largest investor in research into clean technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Europe, meanwhile, is deploying forces around the globe as we have not seen in over a generation, and for far nobler reasons. France, followed by Italy, is leading the peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Europe is running the force in the Congo and has over 50,000 troops for security missions deployed around the globe. Remember Cote d'Ivoire? Sierra Leone? Bosnia? Europe is leading on those.

NATO has taken over peacekeeping responsibility in all of Afghanistan, and Dutch, Danish, Canadian, British, Australian and other troops are engaged in serious fighting to break the grip of the Taliban in the south. French, German, Norwegian, Lithuanian and other nations' special forces served alongside Americans in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The UK and Poland have been among those in Iraq dating from the initial military campaigns, and several nations -- Ukraine, Romania, Portugal, Italy and many more have contributed forces to help build security there over the past several years.

And, on the softer side, the UN Security Council has passed sanctions on North Korea, is working on a draft on Iran, authorized many of these military missions, and has even pressed for the disarmament of Hezbollah.

The truth is that Americans and Europeans are both using hard and soft power and we are doing so in coordinated fashion, toward common ends.

Let me give you a few concrete examples which should be news today, or in the coming weeks:

In Afghanistan, we are working hard to aid a long-suffering people -- people, incidentally, who are nearly all Moslem. All we hear in the news today is how the war is not going well, how the U.S. and its allies are bogged down, how the Taliban are staging a comeback.

This is at best a selective reading of what is a success thus far for -- yes -- call it multilateralism. Three years ago a brutal, Medieval regime ruled this land, lapidating women in central squares, whipping men for shaving, banning boys from flying kites. Ancient architectural treasures were blown up by a fanatical regime. Music was banned. We know exactly how many girls were attending school because the number was zero.

Today there are six million kids in school, two million of them girls. Kabul and other major cities are not just in the midst of a reconstruction boom but internet cafes have multiplied. Elections have taken place throughout the country. Afghanistan is in the midst of reclaiming its ancient, rich and unique culture. Women are no longer being dragged out of their houses and stoned to death for the sin of having been raped.

It is not NATO, nor the elected government of Hamid Karzai, but the remnants of the Taliban regime and its al Qaeda allies who are pinned in the south and east. The west and north, including such important cities as Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif are relatively secure.

Much of what has been going on in Afghanistan will be highlighted by the NATO Summit taking place in two weeks in Riga, Latvia. Remember NATO? Winner of the Cold War? Sixteen free nations? Oops -- that's now twenty-six.

NATO transformed itself after the Cold War, and did so again after 9/11. NATO remains a transatlantic organization, but its missions are global. NATO is working with partners like Australia. Wow. And fourteen NATO Allies are investing in C-17s to provide needed airlift -- so much for no defense spending. NATO is launching a Special Operations coordination center. That's new.

And think of this: a NATO Summit in Riga. How many of your readers, do you think, remember the "captive nations" and the Warsaw Pact? How many know that NATO now includes the Baltic countries, and seven others including Poland, the Czech Republic and even part of the former Yugoslavia? Remember the "out of area" debate? How many readers know that NATO is leading in places like Afghanistan, helping in Darfur, patrolling the Mediterranean for counter-terrorism goals, training Iraqi security forces, and that it delivered aid to Pakistan after the earthquake and the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina? Maybe it's time to remind them.

Remember Kosovo? It was big in 1999, which seems like ages ago. NATO took that one on and ended Milosevic's ethnic cleansing. The UN -- with NATO support -- has been running it since. Over the next few months, the UN Envoy Maarti Ahtisaari will propose a final status for the province that will begin bringing to a close this chapter of history.

Together with other developments -- an independent Montenegro, NATO Allies Bulgaria and Romania joining the European Union on January 1, 2007, and NATO looking to further enlargement in 2008 with candidates such as Croatia, Albania and Macedonia -- a final status for Kosovo will play a pivotal role in helping the whole region move forward with settling the conflicts of the past and advancing in democracy, market economy, security, and integration into mainstream Europe.

Kosovo, by the way, is also an example of Europeans and Americans working together to liberate a Muslim people and helping them make a better life for themselves.

Another country with a sizeable Muslim population where the U.S. and Europe are working together to end suffering is Lebanon. The U.S. and France led the diplomacy and Europeans are leading the peacekeeping, in support of the UN and the Siniora government.

Do your readers know much about Georgia? Not the American South, but the South Caucasus state with Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossettia and Abkhazia? Or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the "OSCE"? A few weeks ago events threatened to spin out of control as Georgia arrested Russian intelligence officers, and Russia deported ethnic Georgians, shut down Georgian-owned businesses in Moscow, and conducted live fire naval exercises off Georgia's coast.

And instead of seeing the situation spiral into conflict, the U.S. and Europe -- acting through the OSCE and its Chairman in Office, the Belgian Foreign Minister -- arranged the repatriation of the Russian intelligence officers and began the process of unwinding the tensions. The OSCE is having a Ministerial meeting in Brussels next month.

Look, I know that these are difficult places to spell, and you might fear that your readers' eyes may start glazing over. But there's a world out there beyond Iraq, and it's not all bad. Scratch beneath the surface. It's not advice you often hear a government official giving journalists. But I give it to you with confidence.

Of course, there are the differences you do report on with regularity. The Iraq war did draw a divide among many European governments and the United States, a divide which still casts a shadow today. Polls show Britons think America is a threat to global security, and Tony Blair is stepping down next year, largely because of Labour Party dissatisfaction with his policies on Iraq. (Of course, the same could be said of American voters and some important people in Washington.) According to one poll, Turks have more favorable views of Iran than the United States. European publics hate the war in Iraq and love to blame the U.S. Administration for, well, everything.

The reason is simple: What gets more votes in Islington, Lille, or Peoria: transatlantic harmony or America- and Europe-bashing?

And this is not limited to politicians. It has become a staple of pop culture to hate the United States or, conversely, to snoot at Europe. Civil society (which we value, except when we call it "special interests"), pundits, academics, journalists, and -- yes even that scrupulously neutral and cerebral bunch, editorial writers -- occasionally take this view. Dissention makes for a better story.

My point is not to minimize these differences among friends. But I also want to stress that even these are only partial stories. Within Europe, as within America, there are robust debates about all these issues. Just as the red-state / blue-state map masks the fact that our nation is nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, the reports of the "transatlantic divide" mask the fact that we are so much a single community, that we are actually living through the same domestic debates about these very issues.

The big story is this: the ties the United States and Europe forged during and after World War II -- anchored on a foundation of shared democratic values -- are unique in history, unique in their freedom-and-democracy-based orientation, and arguably uniquely the most important single historical development in the modern world.

The implications of this values-based transatlantic relationship have been astounding. In the last 20-plus years, from Latin America to Asia to the eastern half of Europe, over a billion people who did not live under democracy at the end of WWII now do so today.

And this trend is continuing, even in the Broader Middle East. Not by imposition -- that is impossible. But because the values of freedom, human rights, and justice are universal. People of this region deserve their rights no less than any others. Despite the continuing violence and terrorism in many parts, in the past few years, this region has also seen open and successful democratic elections over the past few years. In this part of the world as in all others, tyrants and ideologues will eventually no longer be able to impose their will. And America and Europe are standing with those who seek to build strong, stable, prosperous, diverse, democratic societies.

These are not just my views. They are the views of our government at the highest levels. We know that the United States cannot succeed in the world without Europe -- and vice versa.

The United States and Europe are partners bound by common values, common interests and common responsibilities in the world. And when we work together, as we did in Central Europe and are doing now around the globe, there is no more compelling intellectual foundation than the groundings of democratic society; no greater force for security and political, economic, and societal development than our combined engagement; and no greater hope for the next generation, than a transatlantic relationship which is hard at work today.

Thank you.

© Scoop Media

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