Assistant Secretary Gordon:
Thanks, Karen, for that nice introduction. It’s great to be back here at GMF in these familiar surroundings. I see a lot of familiar faces. It’s also a pleasure and an honor to get the chance to comment on Transatlantic Trends, which is a survey I have been following for many years with great interest. I see it as a helpful way to help us understand the terrain that we’re dealing with, in identifying both challenges and opportunities as we think about the relationship between the United States and Europe.
What I would like to do here just very briefly -- because I am mostly interested in hearing from you and taking your questions -- is just make five points about the data and what I think they say to us about the transatlantic relationship.
I’ll start with a positive note that we’re encouraged by the numbers that we see. That may not surprise you. Not just to feel good because Europeans seem broadly positive about the United States and the President, but they do seem to signal genuine and sustained change in European attitudes towards the United States which were not in recent years particularly positive. That’s another great value of this project, is that it’s not just a snapshot of what things look like today, but now that you've been doing it for so many years you get a sense of the direction. The direction is a positive one. And the publication of data for the second time in the Obama administration gives us a sense that we weren’t just dealing with a blip or a phenomenon, but something that we hope will be more sustained.
Last year’s report obviously raised great questions about what Europeans thought about American handling of international policy and the change between the previous year and last year was literally dramatic, sometimes 70 to 80 points difference. Zsolt, you’re the opinion expert, but I don’t think we see that too often in polling data.
What strikes me about these numbers is they’ve come down a bit but really not all that much, and if you acknowledge that there was something particular about the election of the President that led to a spectacular initial reaction, what is both striking and encouraging about the data now is it seems more of a sustained opinion rather than just an initial reaction. The numbers are still very high. I think those very high numbers raise questions about a narrative that we sometimes hear about troubles in the transatlantic relationship or disappointment of Europeans. If disappointment is a fall from 85 percent to 75 percent in popularity and approval, that’s the kind of disappointment I think a lot of us would be delighted to accept.
I think the numbers, in addition to the fact that the truly spectacular numbers in some of the West European countries only fell a bit, it’s also worth noting that the positive but somewhat less spectacular numbers in certain Central European countries actually rose. So any notion that somehow this is just a West European phenomenon is also belied by what we see now which is a more consistent, across the board, very, I would even say, strikingly positive assessment of Europeans, of the relationship and of the administration’s handling of international policies.
A second point I would make is that President Obama seems to be a crucial actor in this change. Barack Obama ran for President -- and that’s not by coincidence, I would like to suggest -- he ran for President in part to restore America’s image in the world. His view was that we paid a price for the negative assessment that many around the world had of the United States, and not just for the sake of being admired and respected, but it’s actually in our interest and in the world’s interest to restore that image around the world and have a more positive assessment.
That is true across the world. It’s certainly true in Europe where we find our most capable partners, those most likely to join us in dealing with the very daunting international agenda that we face.
So the premise of initially the Obama campaign and since January 2009 the administration has been that we can’t deal with this daunting international agenda alone. Arguably as daunting an international agenda as we’ve seen in decades when you consider Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the financial crisis, climate change, the world economy. We know, the President knew as he ran for President that the United States can’t deal with this set of challenges alone. When we need partners, at the top of the list are prosperous, militarily capable, like-minded democratic allies in Europe, and so it matters what Europeans think of the United States and what they think of U.S. leadership. I think Zsolt pointed this out about some of these relationships, or you pointed to a relationship between the approval rate of the United States and the President and the desirability of U.S. leadership. When you see these trends over time, those two track together. I would say that there’s a relationship between both of those and the results that we get. So you get a nice little flow from how popular we are to how much people desire U.S. leadership to their willingness to support U.S. leadership. In that sense it’s nice to be popular not just because that’s kind of nice, but because there’s a relationship between that and the willingness of these allies to contribute to our common goals.
A third point. These goals are common. This is not, I think the numbers suggest, a case of the United States setting an agenda and somehow managing to persuade Europeans to support that agenda because the President is popular. No doubt there is some of that and that, to be honest, is too often the way these issues are framed. No matter what the question, it is framed as the United States has a policy, will European support it? I think one of the things the numbers tell us is actually that Europeans support the same goals the United States supports. When you look at the numbers on desirability of preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon, or preventing a nuclear Iran, you see that the Europeans share those goals which I would say is appropriate. It’s wrong to frame these questions as America having an interest in stabilizing Afghanistan, as if somehow Europe didn’t. It’s encouraging to see that Europeans share that.
Now I won’t argue that they share it entirely and there’s just an absolute equality of views across the Atlantic. It has been traditionally Americans feeling more responsible for providing international security and Europeans sometimes allowing themselves to defer knowing that the United States would do it. I think what comes out of these numbers is that Europeans share these same goals as the United States, even when you put the question in generic terms rather than specifically on the NATO out of area question. A majority of Europeans accept not just the practice of dealing with Afghanistan, but the notion that NATO should have an international mission. I think it was like 62 percent which is very encouraging.
So yes, there are differences across the Atlantic on some of these issues. Such differences are inevitable, some of them are traditional. But what strikes me more is that we have very common perspectives on the big questions out there. Indeed I would go so far as to say that more than at any time in many decades do Americans and Europeans share strategies for dealing with the big international problems of the day. And that I think is not just reflected in these numbers, but I can tell you it’s reflected in my own experience in dealing with them on these issues. And I’m not just making a comparison with the years of the Bush administration when obviously there were some major differences over Iraq and the Middle East, but even before that in the Clinton administration.
I think now when you look at how we’re dealing with, not to take the same examples over and over again, but the big ones, Iran and Afghanistan, we have the same strategies, we’re on the same page, and we’re doing it together. On the Middle East, that wasn’t possible to say not just over the past eight years, but over the past eight or arguably the eight before that.
I think that these common perspectives that I refer to are being translated into common actions. Again in Afghanistan, for all of the differences people want to point to, we not only have the same strategy, but there are some 40,000 European troops fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan. More than 7,000 new ones were pledged after President Obama increased the American troop presence and asked for European contributions as well, and not just troops, but police and trainers and money.
On Iran I would argue that we have the same strategy and worked very well, consistently together in putting together UN Security Council Resolution 1929 which was followed up by very strong EU accompanying measures which are entirely consistent with what the United States is doing.
We’re working extremely well with Europe not just on the rest of the world but on Europe itself including in the Caucasus, in Eastern Europe, and in the Balkans where we just went through a particularly important set of issues regarding Kosovo and Serbia and the General Assembly reaction to the International Court of Justice opinion. So on all of those fronts I think our policies are in line because we see things very much in the same way.
Fourth, let me say a word about Russia. I think it is also worth underscoring what the Transatlantic Trends numbers say about American policy towards Russia. I think the number is 65 percent of Europeans approve of American policy towards Russia. That policy, as people here well know, was to acknowledge that the relationship with Russia that we inherited was a difficult and even deteriorating one. President Obama believed that we had many interests in common, whether it’s in proliferation or Afghanistan or terrorism or the economy, and we should look for areas of common interests where we can cooperate concretely together, even while we disagree on things that we disagree on and we will continue to. That approach seems to be embraced by the Europeans. We think it’s paying off, having delivered a new START treaty, an agreement on lethal transit across Afghanistan which started slowly but has now seen more than 500 flights to help us diversify supply networks in Afghanistan. On Iran, which I think the skeptics doubted we could deliver on and yet Russia voted for, strongly supported Resolution 1929 and has since made clear that its sale of S300 missiles to Iran will not go ahead.
So that’s what I think Europeans wanted to see from the United States. We think it’s paying off. I would also note that support from Europeans for this policy is there because we have upheld our pledge not to pursue the relationship with Russia at the expense of our allies in Europe, particularly the Central and East European ones.
So when you look more closely at the data, and again I’ll ask Zsolt to confirm if this is right, it seems to me that it shows that even the Central and East Europeans support our reset policy with Russia and see it, a majority of Central and Eastern Europeans, because they see that we haven’t sacrificed Central and Eastern Europe or the issue of Georgia or human rights to the reset with Russia.
Last, let me say a word about Turkey. I should point out I think we should be careful with the numbers from Turkey because we also have the highest rates of saying don’t know in Turkey which may skew conclusions we can reach from the data, but it’s also clear, I think we have to be honest, that it indicates we have real work to do in addressing Turkish public opinion. That’s been true for some time. The trend in Turkey started in particular after the Iraq War which was extremely unpopular in Turkey, and we’ve had trouble, both the previous administration and this one, in reversing that negative trend in Turkish favorable opinions of the United States and emphasis on the U.S.-Turkish partnership.
I would say, though, I don’t think it’s accurate that Turkey is turning away from the West. Turkey is a very dynamic place. There are a lot of things going on. And Turkey has for a long time had multiple identities and interests in the Middle East. I can say that our work with the Turkish government leads us to conclude that they remain firmly interested in a close relationship with us and the West, and in joining the European Union.
I think again, we have to be honest about what the numbers show on joining the European Union, and that’s not encouraging that fewer and fewer Turks believe that they’ll get in, because no doubt there’s a relationship between those who believe they’ll get in and the productivity of the reform processes that we think is linked to the incentive of European Union membership. So those aren’t encouraging numbers, and clearly the European Union has work to do as well in keeping Turkey focused on that agenda.
It’s up to the EU whether Turkey will join the EU, and to Turkey it’s obviously not an American call, but it’s something that we continue to support. We think it would be good for Turkey and good for the European Union.
So acknowledging that there is work to do in certain areas and that views across the Atlantic are not identical, I would conclude by going back to where I started which is overall we think this is a very positive result because we value the cooperation of Europeans. I would go so far as to say we need the cooperation of Europeans given what we’re dealing with around the world. We are more likely to get that cooperation when Europeans have a favorable view of our President, of our policies, and of our leadership in the world. My conclusion from this year’s Transatlantic Trends is that they do have that positive and favorable view which is very encouraging to us.
Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for a very thoughtful response. We are lucky to have Assistant Secretary Gordon here until 2:00 p.m. I do realize how lucky we are to have him for that period of time. And Zsolt and I talked and feel that we’d like to encourage those of you who have questions for Assistant Secretary Gordon to ask them now. He does need to leave at 2:00 and at that point if you have questions about methodology or other items, Zolt is here and would be happy to engage with you then, but we really would like to privilege those who have questions.Question:
Thank you, Secretary Gordon. My question is obviously about Russia. You touched upon that.
Can you describe to us a little bit how is the thinking developing in terms of relations with Russia for the new NATO concept, strategic concept? And what can we expect from the upcoming NATO Ministerial in New York? Thank you.Assistant Secretary Gordon:
Those two things are obviously linked, and the second part of your question refers to a ministerial of the NATO-Russia Council which will take place next week in New York during the UN General Assembly.
We have felt from the start of the administration that the NATO-Russia Council was under-utilized and under-developed. NATO and Russia shouldn’t be antagonistic. Just as we’ve had a reset in the U.S.-Russia relationship, we think a NATO-Russia reset would also be welcome and we’ve tried to invigorate the NATO-Russia Council and we’re glad that Ministers will have a chance to meet in New York next week. There’s a big agenda between NATO and Russia that could be useful to both sides, having to do with Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, missile defense. We would like to see NATO and Russia -- we have never believed that missile defense should be seen as anti-Russian. It should be seen as a common interest, and NATO and Russia can pursue that together.
So next week is an opportunity for NATO and Russia to work together on this full set of issues.
The first part of your question was about more broadly NATO-Russia and the strategic concept. The strategic concept is not drafted yet so I couldn’t tell you about it even if I were willing to, but I think you will find that allies will agree that partnership with Russia is a core interest of NATO. The strategic concept will talk about Russia and underscore what I just said as the agenda for the ministerial, that NATO will reiterate its strong commitment to collective defense in Article 5, we hope, but it will do so while underscoring that it has common interests with Russia and wants to work practically with Russia on many areas of common security interests.Question:
Thank you, Dr. Gordon for a very interesting analysis. Transatlantic Relations definitely have come a long way from when I was taking your French Politics course in the fall of 2003 at Hopkins.
My question is on one thing you didn’t talk about. It seems to me you’re right on most main foreign policy issues Europe and the U.S. think alike. But the one thing I think which will dominate your job for the next maybe six months to a year will still be the economic crisis. It seems to me that’s one area where there’s fundamental differences, especially when it’s to do about further stimulus or whether how Europe and the United States see on solving or getting out of this financial crisis. And one additional short question. It seems to me America’s not too worried about the U.S. over the Euro sovereign debt crisis either, or there’s not very active American policy towards Europe about this. I wonder what your thoughts are on that. Thank you.Assistant Secretary Gordon:
Thank you. It’s nice to see you again.
The first point is obviously right. I won’t deny that the economic financial crisis in Europe makes everything harder, just as the financial crisis here makes everything harder. These massive projects we’re undertaking around the world are all expensive, or mostly expensive. As are other challenges like climate change or development where we have important goals as well. If part of what I was talking about and alluding to is how we deliver Europeans on this shared agenda, it’s just harder. Leaders have to go to their publics and explain why they should spend X amounts sending trainers to Afghanistan or why they should prevent their companies from investing in Iran where there’s money to be made. That’s a common challenge and again it’s undeniable that the financial crisis makes our job harder, but it doesn’t make it any less important. We would still argue that these things have to be done, and I think it’s fair to say we haven’t yet seen any stepping back of what we consider to be joint responsibilities or commitments. Nobody has said well, we were going to send X number of trainers to Afghanistan but now budgets are tight so we’re not.
On the contrary, we’re very encouraged to the degree to which governments in Europe are remaining committed to this common set of issues.
I would challenge a little bit the notion that we have fundamentally different views of the economy and how to deal with the crisis. Yeah, there’s a discussion and debate about fiscal stimulus and debt just as there is within our country, within European Union, among different European countries and within them. These are hard questions. Nobody has a simple magic wand answer of more stimulus or more austerity debt relief.
One of the first things President Obama did was launch and encourage the G20 process on the grounds that at a minimum these are things we need to talk about internationally, globally indeed, beyond the U.S.-European relationship so that we have some semblance of a common strategy. We’ve invested a lot in that process of engaging and having this discussion and trying to do it in a coordinated way and ultimately fine some balance between the obvious need to keep deficits under control with an equally obvious need to not cut back on spending at a time of recession. That’s a major challenge and part of the agenda for upcoming G8s, G20s and USEU summits. This will be a core issue to talk about.Question:
Thank you, Phil. I would endorse your sanguine reception of those data with one important exception I’ll come to in a minute, but two comments on the sanguine perspective.
I would explicitly agree with you on Turkey – I said sanguine, positive reaction to the data -- I would explicitly agree with you on Turkey, because I think it is basically a healthy normalization of relations which we are observing there. And I would broaden that to the theme that interests us this year, the global shift and the rise of Asia. I do not frankly see important differences in the perceptions here, which you have presented to us, a difference in policy, but in terms of perception, I do not see a major difference.
The one decidedly un-sanguine impression I would take away from the data is on Afghanistan, and there it seems to me that our governments have a major problem, yours and ours. I would like to ask you, on Afghanistan, A, how do you seek the cooperation working at the moment; and b, where you think it could and should be going. Assistant Secretary Gordon
: Thank you Hans. I worked with Mathias in 2003, I worked with Hans in 1993. The next question will be from somebody well out of the past.
I share your view on the Asia thing, the numbers are interesting, but I have to say, I don’t, this doesn’t come up in our, in our engagements with Europeans. It doesn’t loom large as an issue on the agenda when our leaders get together. How we handle Asia, a few years ago when the EU arms embargo came up, it was a subject of debate. I really can’t say that among the many, many big issues that we have to deal with, this one is not breaking through as a major difference or problem whether on the economic side or the security side.
Afghanistan on the other hand does tend to come up. I don’t, and I tried to say this, and I think the numbers say it, I think you can overstate the degree of difference between Europe and America on this issue. Are European publics skeptical and worried about Afghanistan? Yes, just like the American public. It’s a major challenge, it’s a war that has gone on for a number of years, it is very costly. There are questions about our success. But at the same time, as I think I noted, the governments are with us. They are with us in major numbers in terms of troops, in terms of trainers, in terms of money and in terms of the political goals. I think I said there are some 40,000 Europeans in Afghanistan, there are more than ever. So the idea that Europeans are gradually withdrawing is just not accurate. There are more Europeans than ever, they boosted after the last NATO ministerial which followed the president’s speech and we expect further contributions between now and the NATO summit in Nov.
I won’t deny at all that Afghanistan is a major challenge, but I don’t think, and Zsolt will talk about this, that the numbers suggest a vast gap between the United States and Europe. It’s a common problem and a common challenge. As I say we are hoping that the NATO summit will be an opportunity for us to get together and not only review the way forward, but consolidate further contributions from our NATO allies, and demonstrate to our publics that we have the right strategy, that we are implementing it and our goal is to get to a place where we can transition to Afghan lead in both security and politics. I think you heard General Petraeus on the radio this morning saying that our ambition isn’t to stay forever, but we want to turn this over to the Afghans, but only when we have provided security. Question:
I had a question on Turkey.
You said the trend is starting from Iraq War. It seems there is a reset period for the Turkish people after Obama administration, because approval of presidency is skyrocketing in 2009. My question is in terms of the Turkish government and U.S. government in this period because after 2009 everything is becoming upside down again.
My question is, could you use this period to get the support of Turkish people’s opinion, Turkish people’s support?
[inaudible] the Obama administration could use this opportunity properly? And in terms of Turkish government, do you think because in Turkish press there are a lot of confrontation between U.S. government and Turkish government in Iran issue, in Hamas issue, in several issues. In the rapprochement with Armenia. And you gave interview before the Toronto Summit to AP and you gave tough messages to Turkish government because you criticized Turkish government on several of these issues.
My question is what was the role of Turkish government’s policy [inaudible] on this public opinion change? Comparing 2009 and 2010.Assistant Secretary Gordon:
Repeat that carefully. What is the role of the Turkish --Question:
-- government’s policy in foreign policy on Iran, on Hamas. Because in Turkish press, the atmosphere in Turkish press there is a confrontation between two governments on several issues on Iran, on the [inaudible] sanctions, and on Hamas, because U.S. sees Hamas as a terrorist organization but the Turkish government doesn’t think that. And the Armenia rapprochement, because some sources from government is accusing U.S. to push Turkey to the peace with Armenia. The rapprochement [inaudible] is a nationalistic issue in Turkey. There are several of these issues seem as a conflict between two governments. And what was the role of Turkish government policy on this public opinion change in terms of U.S. government side and Turkish government side? Could you use this opportunity, Obama’s positive thinking on Turkish opinion, this one year period? And what was the role of Turkish government on this change?Assistant Secretary Gordon:
Thank you. That’s an important set of topics.
First on the numbers. As I noted, I made the point that the Iraq War had a significant impact on popularity of the United States and you pointed out how it’s changed over the years and with Obama it went up and then it fell back down to about 28 percent which is relatively low, but it’s also I think four times higher than it was prior to his election. So Obama is less popular in Turkey in this year than last year, but he has four times the favorability rating of the American President a few years before that. So everything is relative, and again that’s the value of looking at this over time.
I can’t tell you the impact of Turkish government policies on Turkish opinion, on the United States. What I can tell you is that we have on all of the issues you mentioned an absolutely clear and frank and intensive discussion with the Turkish government. We have differences, and we have many common interests and policies.
On Iran, we were clear publicly and privately with the Turkish government. We had exactly the same view on the desired outcome which was to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. We had significantly common views on how to get there including getting 1200 kilograms of uranium, LEU, out of Iran and holding it potentially in Turkey which is a scenario we supported. Then we had some differences on exactly the criteria that would have to be met for this to be useful. We were clear with the Turkish government about that. Then when the Turkish government and the Brazilian government reached the Tehran Declaration we didn’t think it met those criteria and they did. We were frank with them and they were frank with us in just the way -- that’s all governments can do.
Similarly on the other issues you mentioned, Hamas and the flotilla, we’ve had our differences. We’ve been clear about them in public and in private, but I can tell you that there’s not a government in Europe with which we have more ongoing and open dialogue than with the government of Turkey. Secretary Clinton speaks regularly with Foreign Minister Davutoglu. President Obama, I think regularly is probably the right word for his engagements with Prime Minister Erdogan.
You mentioned Armenia as another arguable difference. We haven’t been shy about saying that we support the Turkey-Armenian normalization process. It’s not a question of pressure, it’s a question of our belief that that would be a positive thing for Turkey, for Armenia, and for the region. And by the way, that’s the view of the Turkish government as well, is to support that process.
So on all of these things, I’m not going to argue there’s an identity of views because we have some differences, but going back to my remarks I’d underscore that our engagement with the government of Turkey is not consistent with the notion of drifting away from the West because everything they do and say indicates they continue to see themselves as a valuable member of NATO, they continue to want to be in the European Union, and they continue to want the strategic partnership with us which continues to flourish on issues like cooperation against terrorism, Afghanistan, and others.Question:
Just a couple of quick follow ups if I may. First on Afghanistan, was I right in taking your comments about consolidating and increasing the numbers of Europeans is looking to increase the ranks of Europeans in Afghanistan beyond 40,000, to more than 40,000, and trying to get that commitment before the NATO summit? Also, is there not in that context a little bit, at least a glimmer of concern about European defense cuts, such as cutting the Germany army by 33% and the UK defense budget by 10-20% while somehow accommodating the cost of Trident? And a quick follow up on Turkey, if I may, given the differences you mentioned, is it accurate to describe the relationship with Turkey as a model partnership these days?Assistant Secretary Gordon:
First on Afghanistan, let me be clear, the focus is and has been on fulfilling current commitments which are at present, largely in the area of trainers. Police trainers, trainers of Afghan security forces. Europeans, NATO members have already signed up to goals in those areas that we would like to see fulfilled by the time of the NATO summit. I don’t think people are particularly focused on or expecting major new troop contributions between now and November. So we are really focused on trainers, and as I say, that has actually been going, we’ve been making progress in that area.
And, yes, we are concerned about potential defense cuts that would have an impact on our ability to execute missions, like the mission in Afghanistan. That’s not a new concern. It has always been a challenge. NATO members have commitments about defense spending that haven’t always been fulfilled, capabilities commitments. And as I have indicated earlier, I think the financial crisis will make that more difficult.
It’s a challenge in the US as well, we are all tightening our belts at the moment. But it doesn’t make, as I said, these goals any less important. We have to succeed in Afghanistan, we can’t ignore the international agenda. That is part of the reason for the extensive engagements that we have. Upcoming up we have a NATO summit, a US-EU summit and an OSCE summit. These will be opportunities to keep people focused on these global challenges even as their finance ministries press for cuts.
Turkey and model partnership, you’re quoting what President Obama said on his visit to Turkey and I meant to say that in the context of the earlier question about Turkey as well. The administration came in and recognized the importance of Turkey and that partnership. And by the way, I think the quote referred to seeking to have a model partnership with Turkey, and yes we still seek to have a model partnership with Turkey.
But the president went there, because we care, not just about Turkey, but Turkish opinion. That trip, if you recall was a previously scheduled NATO summit, that the president, that the recently inaugurated president was going to go to. And then he said, do I have time for one more stop, I would like to go to Turkey -- as a reflection of the importance of the country and the importance of engaging the Turkish public opinion. That’s why he spoke not just to the government, but to the parliament, and to the people of Turkey. Secretary Clinton also went early in her tenure to Turkey for the same reason, to turn that around. And so, this is an important partnership, a strategic partnership, there are lots of adjectives, but it is one that we very much value and think is very productive for both sides. Question:
I would like you to follow-up once again on the Turkey-EU question. When you had your remarks during your presentation you said two things which I couldn’t totally get together on. On the one hand you said the figures show a clear link between the reform process and the belief whether Turkey will join the European Union, but in the last sentence you said so it depends on the European Union whether Turkey will join the European Union. I thought it depends on the reform process in Turkey more than -- I thought Turkey has to reform and change, not the European Union in order --Assistant Secretary Gordon:
I think I said two things. I said it depends on the European Union and it depends on Turkey. I think I said both of those things. They’re both absolutely true. They’re both more true than it depends on the United States. What I was trying to say was that we have a view on the subject which I think is perfectly appropriate and legitimate. We think Europe would be strengthened by a Turkey that meets the criteria for membership. We think it would be good for Turkey and good for the EU. But I was careful to say that it doesn’t just depend on the EU, it depends on Turkey.Moderator:
I know there are lots of other hands. You can try to catch Phil as he’s racing out of the building, but I need to keep my part of this deal. [Laughter].
Speaking of model partnerships, I’m delighted that we have Zsolt here to do TT and I’m delighted that we have someone like Phil in place at State to be managing all of these challenges that we’re facing. Please join me in thanking both of them.