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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Stefan Kornelius of Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Berlin, Germany
January 10, 2012


QUESTION: The administration just rolled out a new defense strategy which is unusual, not in sync with the Quadrennial Defense Review. Why now? Why the urgency?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think several things coming together. First of all, we are clearly coming to the end of a cycle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and after nearly a decade of very robust defense spending and very significant troop deployments there, American combat troops are now out of Iraq and we are in the process of a transition to get them out of Afghanistan. You put that together with the evolving fiscal climate and the decision recently to cut almost $500 billion over ten years, plus other dramatic developments in the global picture like the Arab Spring and the death of bin Laden. I think the President with all of that going on said now’s the time to really take a hard look at this and that’s what he asked the Pentagon to do. Rethink through strategy for a post-withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, tough fiscal climate, all this going on, and how should we be positioned? That’s what the defense review did.

QUESTION: Is it mainly a cost-saving strategy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I wouldn’t say mainly. It’s definitely a cost-saving strategy. On the heels, when you decide to cut nearly $500 billion over ten years, $50 billion a year, you need to do that strategically. You don’t want to just do that and sort of year by year figure out what you’re doing. You have to prioritize and decide what your strategy is. So definitely cost saving is a major piece of it.

QUESTION: Emphasizing the Pacific role of the U.S. and not talking too much about the European role puts a lot of nervousness on this part of the world. What does it say actually about Europe?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think Europeans have any reason for nervousness. The strategy, indeed, underscores the growing challenges in the Asia Pacific region and the need for the United States to be very present there. And you saw recently on the President’s trip to Asia, he announced a new Marine deployment in Australia and he’s made clear that even as we cut, these cuts are not going to be allowed to interfere with our ability to contribute to security in the Asia Pacific. The strategy also makes clear that we need to maintain the ability to deter and respond to aggression in the greater Middle East, which remains a threat even after Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also makes clear that we remain committed to NATO and Article 5, and we absolutely need to be able to work with our European partners in helping us to deal with these other global challenges.

So I don’t think in any way you can say that the commitment to Asia Pacific and the greater Middle East comes at the expense of Europe, where again we will remain committed to Article 5 and partnering. The strategy also makes clear that we’re going to continue to adapt our posture in Europe to deal with the real threats that Europeans face. In that regard I would want to mention a couple of things, but most notably missile defense and our commitment to the European phased adaptive approach to missile defense . . .

QUESTION: Which will go on as planned.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Which will go on as planned. The President has made clear he’s committed to all four phases which will mean American presence, physical presence, personnel and equipment in Poland and Romania and Spain, through the homeporting of Aegis destroyers and a radar installation in Turkey. So this is a concrete and new manifestation of the American commitment to Europe.

QUESTION: In overall terms, the U.S. presence will shrink in numbers? Not specified yet?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think you say day that. It’s true it’s not specified yet, and specifics on budgeting and basing weren’t part of this review. But I don’t think it’s right to think of, in terms of cuts or withdrawals. Then you have to ask the question, compared to what? It’s important to keep in mind that of the troops permanently deployed in Europe, at least nominally permanently deployed, major elements of those have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past ten years.

QUESTION: And they won’t come back. Some of them won’t come back.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: What needs to be decided is how many of them go back to a permanent deployment in Europe or alternatively whether something else is done with them, being disbanded or being based in the United States. That needs to be sorted out. But it is important to keep in mind they haven’t been there for nearly a decade. I think Europe has been amply well defended during that period. What we’re committed to do moving forward is to make sure that we still have a credible Article 5 defense, but also that we can continue to do what has been so important in the past and is becoming increasingly important, which is to be able to partner with our European allies. There are different ways of doing that and we’re looking at those.

QUESTION: What’s new in the Asia Pacific Theater to demand this kind of strategic shift? What’s the new strategic threat?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, it’s not necessarily new strategic threats, but one is just the simple continued rise of the region in general with the economic dynamism and the growth in the economic power and military power of a number of countries there. Obviously China first and foremost is a country that continues to grow economically and develop strategic military capabilities.

QUESTION: Is China a threat?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The United States has important security commitments to some of China’s neighbors and has long played a stabilizing role through its presence in East Asia, keeping sea lanes open and so I don’t think China is necessarily a threat, but China has capabilities that it’s important to balance with American capabilities as we always have, and we’re just going to make sure that we are able to do that.

You also obviously have a dynamic situation in North Korea, a country with nuclear weapons, and a massive conventional force and no peace with the south and a new leadership. So I think looking at some of those factors and the importance of energy in the region, the President just wanted to make absolutely clear that we may be leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re not going to do anything to diminish our ability to provide security in the Asia Pacific.

QUESTION: You are responsible for the strategic dialogue with Europe. Do you feel that Europe is in sync with what the U.S. analyzes on the Pacific region? Are we talking the same strategic language on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think we’re out of sync but I think we need to talk more and that Europe should play more of a role in East Asia. That’s a point that I think Europeans should keep in mind. When the Americans talk about Asia Pacific and talk about doing more in Asia Pacific, it’s not meant to be at the expense of Europe, it’s actually ideally meant to be with Europe because we’d like to see Europe play more of a role there, increase trade and investment from which we all benefit, and play more of a political, diplomatic and strategic role.

At present I think there’s a disequilibrium. It’s sort of out of balance. So it’s not as if we differ on Asia, but the United States is much more present and active and we welcome a more active dialogue with Europe on Asia and a greater European role in Asia.

QUESTION: Would Europe, and specifically Germany have to make up their minds on its relations to China since it’s mainly business driven and less strategic driven?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think we would like to see Europeans share responsibilities for not just growing trade and investment with China and other Asia Pacific countries, but stability and security as well.

QUESTION: Europe is right now in the moment of excessive soul searching and self-doubt due to the economic crisis, probably as much as the U.S. is. So, two ailing continents probably are aiding each other. What’s, from the American perspective, Germany’s role in this shifting power pattern we see right now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Clarify a bit more what you mean on Germany’s role in the self-doubt part or --

QUESTION: I’d like to get your opinion on Germany’s role in aiding the European economy right now and aiding the euro, basically saving the euro. There’s lot of criticism coming in from the U.S., also from the President on Germany’s reluctanceness in firing up the, building up a firewall. Is Germany too hesitant in saving its own interests?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t know that there’s necessarily been criticism from the United States or certainly the President. Nobody has easy answers to this situation, and we certainly don’t pretend to. We do have a major stake in Europe’s success as our most important trade and investment partner. We need to see Europe succeed. First of all, we’ve expressed confidence, we do believe that Europe has the resources and the will and the institutions to deal with this. We have encouraged and urged our European partners to take vigorous action to do so, not only out of Europe’s interests but out of our own. As for specifics of how it can be done, again, we’re very interested, we’re engaged in a dialogue with our European partners but we’re also clear, this is a European problem that Europeans can and should and will lead in dealing with. It’s the European leaders, the European Union and the European institutions that are going to do it, not the United States.

QUESTION: There are two opposing views on how to solve such crises. One is to fire up national reserves, the national central banks; the other one is to basically go the austerity path. Germany has decided to go for the austerity path, which is not going that well in the Anglo-Saxon economic sphere. What would happen to the U.S. economy if this country sees this course through over the next year? Will it affect the U.S. economy if we demand more austerity and simply go saving?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Again, it’s not for the United States to make specific policy prescriptions in European fiscal policy. I don’t think anybody doubts that more fiscal discipline is necessary in a number of European countries. That is an agreed principle by the countries, both those in deficit and not. Clearly too much debt has been accumulated over the years and countries need to deal with that.

At the same time I do think it is something to keep in mind that you can’t just cut yourself out of this crisis and economic growth is going to be necessary as well. I think in that sense it has been encouraging to hear leaders talk about that in recent days and weeks. I think that was a major emphasis of the Sarkozy-Merkel Summit yesterday, the need for growth. I think the new Italian government has started to implement measures that will stimulate growth even as they’re cutting. Clearly there is going to need to be a combination of the austerity and dealing with the debt, but also measures to ensure growth.

QUESTION: Coming back to this earlier one. In this crisis now Germany has a remarkably strong role since our economy is very strong, and also since maybe even taking the lead in Europe. Is this something the U.S. looks to worrisomely or is this --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The United States certainly recognizes the German leadership role. Germany has a major leadership role to play, major responsibility. It’s in Germany’s interest, it’s in our interest to see that done. I think we welcome that.

QUESTION: Does the European leadership role match the global influence Germany plays right now? Or would you wish Germany to play a stronger --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Germany has been an important global partner for the United States. One of the things I think we’re most pleased about three years into the Obama administration is the degree of global coordination we’ve seen with our European partners, be it on Afghanistan or Iran or most recently Libya, Syria, North Africa. Even in this context of economic difficulties, Europe has really been a go-to partner for the United States and Germany has certainly been in that category as well. The President speaks frequently with the Chancellor and they address international issues. We know and respect all the challenges Germany has at home and in Europe but we welcome the fact that German leaders and European leaders have been able to set their sights more globally as well.

QUESTION: If Germany is such a go-to partner why is it so under narrated basically in the new document? Is it simply not necessary anymore to emphasize all the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, I think the document says just that. If you look at the way the President talked about NATO when he introduced it, and the way he’s talked about it since, and the way he talked about it when he came to Europe at the Lisbon Summit, calling Europe the cornerstone for our engagement in the world. That is the way the United States sees Europe these days. And the document makes that clear and our policies and actions make that clear.

Again, no one should believe that just because the Asia Pacific is important and there are continued challenges in the greater Middle East, that Europe is somehow diminished. I would argue the opposite. It’s because we face such challenges there that we need strong partners and those strong partners are going to be the countries of NATO and the European Union that think like we do, that have similar interests to us, that have capable militaries, that have adequate resources. And I would stress, we obviously need to see European countries not just remain interested in these things, but maintain the capabilities to deal with them. So we are paying close attention to European defense spending capabilities, emphasizing this in the context of the NATO Summit, because we need strong partners and we would regret it if Europeans stopped investing in the ability to be our partners globally.


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