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Diplomacy in Action

The State of Transatlantic Relations

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Remarks at the Korber Foundation
Berlin, Germany
January 11, 2012


As prepared

The start of a new year provides a good opportunity to reflect on the year past while setting goals for the months ahead. This is a particularly appropriate exercise for the United States government right now, as the Obama Administration has just begun its final year in office before elections this November. I am delighted to be here and grateful to the Korber Foundation for convening this morning’s meeting, which enables me to reflect with you on what has been accomplished in transatlantic relations over the last three years and to consider the challenges that we will face together in 2012.

President’s Agenda

When then-candidate Obama spoke here in Berlin in July 2008, he stated that one of the priorities of his presidency would be to re-establish strong trans-Atlantic relations. Citing the daunting international agenda of the 21st century, he observed that “No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone.” When looking for strong allies with whom to help us deal with a changing world, he concluded that “America has no better partner than Europe.” This clear choice is based on our ability to communicate and cooperate effectively with democratic, prosperous, militarily-capable allies who share our values and our interests.

The President put this goal into action by developing three objectives that have guided our engagement with Europe over the last few years:

  • First, the United States sought to partner with Europe in addressing all global challenges. We believe that we are vastly stronger – in terms of legitimacy, resources, and ideas – when we join forces across the Atlantic.
  • Second, we wanted to work with Europe on Europe. While we have successfully consolidated the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and integrated them into Euro-Atlantic institutions, our work is not yet done. We must complete this historic project by continuing to extend stability, security, prosperity and democracy to the entire continent – including the Balkans, Caucasus, and Europe’s east.
  • Finally, this Administration wanted to set relations with Russia on a more constructive course. Our goal has been to cooperate with Russia where we have common interests, while speaking frankly about areas of disagreement, holding firm to our values and principles, and supporting our friends and allies.

Three years later, let me state it clearly: the strategic alignment between the United States and Europe has never been greater – on both international threats and internal challenges. This is not to say that there aren’t differences across the Atlantic, as there are within Europe or within the United States for that matter. But the reality is that we essentially have the same policies and we’re working on them together. The positive effects of this collaboration are confirmed by opinion polling. The Transatlantic Trends survey published by the German Marshall Fund has confirmed strong and consistent support by Europeans for the President’s handling of international affairs, with favorability ratings of 83 percent in 2009, 78 percent in 2010 and 75 percent last year. To me, this apparent desire for U.S. leadership in the world by Europeans is a reflection of the President’s emphasis on the importance of the trans-Atlantic alliance.


I’ll briefly review some of the results that we have achieved in these three areas.

First, we have made progress in our joint efforts to address a wide range of global challenges:

  • Our European allies have been critical to NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan. While some feared a “rush for the exits” after NATO announced the goal of a 2014 transition to Afghan lead, in fact the Alliance has held together behind the principle “in together, out together”. The United States appreciates Germany’s important contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), providing the third largest national contingent, and its leadership of Regional Command-North. We are also grateful for its recent hosting of the Bonn Conference, which resulted in strong international commitment to remain engaged in Afghanistan beyond 2014. As President Obama noted in his speech last June, the Chicago Summit will shape the next phase of the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). We also expect the Summit to provide a platform for significant national pledges to ANSF funding and to approve a vision for NATO’s post-2014 role in the follow-up to the Lisbon Agreement.
  • We continue to work closely within the E3+3 to engage Iran in serious discussions without preconditions regarding the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. As Iran has thus far shown no serious sign of being ready or willing to engage, we will continue to coordinate with our partners in Europe and around the world to increase sanctions pressure to sharpen the choice for the Iranian regime between continued violations of its international nuclear obligations and serious engagement with the E3+3.
  • In Libya, we cooperated closely with our European allies to pass UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, which levied sanctions against the Qadhafi regime, established a no-fly zone and maritime embargo for Libya, and provided the authority to protect Libyan civilians who were under attack by the regime. With this authorization, the U.S. used its unique assets to take down Libya’s integrated air defense system in a coalition with European Allies. Ten days later, we handed command and control of the mission over to NATO, while continuing to provide the bulk of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, in-air refueling, jamming and other critical capabilities. At the end of October, Allies agreed that the mandate’s objective had been fulfilled. NATO’s rapid action to assume command and control of the operation, followed by a flexible and precise operation that saved tens of thousands of lives, demonstrated the continued necessity of this Alliance as well as its political ability and military capability to respond quickly and effectively to crises.
  • NATO recognized at the Lisbon Summit that Europe needs to defend against the growing threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles and decided to pursue a NATO missile defense capability. At the Chicago Summit, we expect to declare that the Alliance has an interim missile defense capability to help protect the Alliance and provide another tangible expression of NATO’s core mission of collective defense. We remain committed to missile defense cooperation with Russia, including a theater missile defense exercise that Germany is planning. While we believe that cooperation with Russia will enhance the security of the United States and our NATO Allies, we will do so only in a way that does not prejudice NATO’s ability to independently defend its territory from missile threats.

On our second objective of addressing remaining challenges within Europe, we have achieved some important successes in the last three years. However, it is also clear that significant work remains to be done. Notably, we have been working in lockstep with our Europeans partners to assist the political and economic progress of countries across the continent.

  • The U.S. and Europe have been working closely to integrate the countries of the Western Balkans into Euro-Atlantic institutions. We welcomed Albania and Croatia into NATO in 2009; we look forward to Macedonia’s accession when the name dispute is resolved. We are pleased that Croatia will join the EU in 2013 and hope Montenegro can begin accession negotiations this year. The U.S. also supports EU candidacy status for Serbia, pending Belgrade meeting the conditions laid down by the European Council in December. We have worked in close partnership on the Dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as on furthering Bosnia’s political development. We are encouraged by recent positive developments in Bosnia, including agreement on a Council of Ministers and some significant reforms. Germany has provided a key leadership role in the Balkans, including recent visits to the region by Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Westerwelle.
  • We have also coordinated our responses to the troubling events in Belarus. The Government of Belarus’s crackdown on civil society and the opposition following the flawed election in December 2010 was a grave violation of democratic values and norms. Together, the U.S. and EU have made clear that the improvement of relations is conditional on progress by the Government in fulfilling its OSCE commitments and demonstrated respect for fundamental human rights, the rule of law, and democratic principles. Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton have issued three joint statements, most recently on December 18. These statements, along with U.S. /EU travel bans and economic sanctions, signal our determination to maintain this joint stance until all remaining political prisoners are released without conditions and their civic and political rights are fully restored.
  • Turning to the Caucasus, our joint efforts with the EU and other international partners have achieved progress, even as disputes over territory and the need for further political and economic reforms remain obstacles to greater stability. Our ongoing engagement with and assistance to Georgia has furthered its democratic development, while we have strongly maintained our support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The U.S. and EU supported the Swiss-mediated agreement between Georgia and Russia that paved the way for Russia’s invitation to the WTO in December. Elsewhere in the region, we will continue to press for democratic reforms and an opening of the political space such that human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully respected; to encourage normalization between Turkey and Armenia; and to continue our high-level engagement through the Minsk Group to help Armenia and Azerbaijan find a lasting, peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Finally, let me say a few words about our efforts to improve relations with Russia. While this has arguably been the most challenging part of the Administration’s European agenda, the investment has paid significant dividends:

  • We signed, ratified, and are now implementing a New START Treaty. The agreement, which is the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades, significantly reduces the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the US and Russia while also putting in place a strong verification regime.

  • We brought into force a 123 Agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation and agreed to dispose of enough weapons-grade plutonium for 17,000 nuclear warheads.

  • We reached a military transit accord on Afghanistan that – as of early December – has allowed over 1,700 flights across Russian airspace and carried more than 275,000 U.S. military personnel to the region.

  • We have cooperated on the development of multi-lateral solutions to global challenges. We are both key participants in the Six Party talks and resolute in our determination to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We are also working together to hold Iran to its international non-proliferation obligations and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

  • We have set up a far-reaching Bilateral Presidential Commission with 20 working groups focusing on cooperation in diverse areas ranging from entrepreneurship and space exploration to cultural exchanges and sports.

  • We have reached important bilateral agreements on visas and adoptions that will improve the lives of citizens in both countries while also facilitating economic exchange.

  • And we have improved trade and investment ties. In the last year alone, we have seen major business deals such as Boeing’s sale of 50 aircraft to Aeroflot and 40 planes to Russian airline UTAir, the ExxonMobil-Rosneft joint venture to explore the oil and gas fields of the Arctic, and General Electric’s joint ventures with two Russian partners.

  • In addition, after 19 years of accession negotiations, Russia finally secured a historic invitation to join the World Trade Organization -- a milestone that will benefit the U.S., Russia, Europe, and the entire WTO membership.

  • These tangible achievements have been noted by the Russian public, as a September poll by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research reported that 55% of Russians positively view the United States -- a significant increase from 31% in November 2008.

We have achieved these goals without compromising our principles or values, including our steadfast commitment to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in Europe. Furthermore, we have maintained that the security and prosperity of Europe rests in adhering to commitments to advance human rights and democracy. Where problems exist, we have and will continue to speak out and strongly support the rights of Russian citizens – as we did most recently following the flawed parliamentary elections in December. As Secretary Clinton put it in Bonn, “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them. And we believe that that’s in the best interests of Russia and we’re going to continue to speak out about it.”

Year Ahead

While this brief review demonstrates that we have made considerable progress on numerous common interests, it is equally clear that much remains to be done in order to continue ensuring the security and prosperity of Europe and the United States. Let me now address some of the challenges and opportunities facing our countries in the new year.

Foremost in the minds of policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic is the global financial crisis, which has had a considerable impact on our intertwined economies and decision-making processes. The United States has closely consulted with European leaders and individual governments on the eurozone crisis. During the U.S.-EU Summit in late November, President Obama conveyed American readiness to do its part. And as Secretary Clinton said in Brussels last month, “Resolution of Europe’s economic challenges is beneficial to our own economic fortune. So, we see ourselves as your partner, your supporter, your friend, going forward. We have a great stake in Europe’s success. We will continue to work constructively with our European partners. And we are confident you will succeed.”

From a security perspective, we will have to adapt creatively to this new economic reality by finding ways to make our collective defense spending smarter and more efficient. This will likely include reforming NATO and streamlining its operations, as well as finding ways to advance NATO-EU cooperation so that the full resources of both institutions can be harnessed most effectively. The United States strongly supports NATO Secretary General Rasmussen’s emphasis on “smart defense” and hopes Allies will support initiatives – such as Baltic Air Policing and common funding of Alliance Ground Surveillance – that help ensure our security while minimizing costs.

Even in this period of budgetary constraint, the United States remains committed to a strong Europe, the collective defense of our NATO Allies, and to building and maintaining the capacity and partnerships that allow us to work together on a global scale. We remain on schedule to deploy the new capabilities we announced last year, including missile defense assets in Poland, Romania, and Turkey, as well as the home-porting of Aegis destroyers in Spain, as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and NATO’s missile defense capability.

President Obama is looking forward to hosting his counterparts for the next NATO summit in Chicago this May where many of these issues will be discussed. While Allies have not yet finalized the agenda, we can expect significant attention on Afghanistan, capabilities, and partnerships. The Summit will also provide an opportunity for the Alliance to take stock of the work tasked at the Lisbon Summit, including the goals outlined in the Strategic Concept.

As the Strategic Concept recognized, the changing nature of the security environment demands that we look at the world in a new way. The United States has just transitioned to a civilian-led mission in Iraq and is working with its allies to draw down forces in Afghanistan. The world has witnessed a historic transformation across the Middle East and North Africa, as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are working to consolidate their democratic gains. We greatly appreciate Germany’s strong backing for these democratic trends, as well as its support for Middle East peace efforts and the work of the Quartet. We must continue working together to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to address continuing unrest in Syria. Looking further afield, the United States recognizes the need to invest in the Asia-Pacific region, which has become a key driver of global politics and economics. We see the emerging power of China as well as new leadership in North Korea. There are also ongoing challenges in Africa, including our joint efforts to counter Somali pirates and assist those affected by devastating famines. On all of these issues, it remains clear that close transatlantic cooperation is the indispensable starting point.

Let me conclude where I started, which is in Berlin. Relations between the United States and Germany have been particularly strong under the leadership of President Obama and Chancellor Merkel, signified by the President’s decision to present the Chancellor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and host a state dinner in her honor – the first official visit and dinner by a European leader during this Administration. In addition to two presidential visits to Germany, Secretary Clinton was here for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the NATO ministerial and the Bonn conference. There should be no doubt that this President and Secretary are firmly committed to the trans-Atlantic alliance and believe strongly that “Europe remains the cornerstone of our engagement with the world and a catalyst for global cooperation.”

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