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Remarks at the Transatlantic Democracy Network Conference

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Sponsored by Freedom House, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the National Endowment for Democracy
Brussels, May 26, 2005


Good morning. Thank you very much, Ron. Good morning to everyone, itís a pleasure to see all of you. Iím very happy to be with you. I want to give you a few thoughts, an American government perspective on democracy in Europe and the Middle East and beyond. But first I want to thank the organizers, the Marshall Fund certainly with Ron and Tom Melia. We flew in together the other night. We began our careers together in Mauritania Ė Tom in 1978, me in 1980 in our little American embassy in Nouakchott. That was a great experience. And we thank Freedom House for everything that it has been doing to promote democracy and freedom around the world.

My new best friend, Carl Gershman -- [Laughter] Ė Thank you very much for the great conversation we had last evening. Itís a pleasure to be with you.

I was very happy to come in with my good friend Dan Fried, to be with all of you and to listen to a terrific speech by Minister Geremek and I felt that I was in a session of Democracy, Inc., to meet all of you and to see what you are doing in Europe and in the Middle East and around the world. It was impressive to see how many groups are working here in Europe and in my own country and in the Middle East on behalf of something that we all believe in, which is a democratic way of life.

Iím also happy to be with you. And I donít want to give you a long speech. I want to just give you a few thoughts about the policy of my own government. Iíll then go directly to a discussion, because I always find thatís far more interesting, to have some interchange among us and I look forward to hearing your perspectives.

But before I begin I have to pay tribute to two gentlemen sitting in the front row, Ambassador Tom Korologos, the United States Ambassador to Belgium, a very close friend and someone who was very helpful to me when I was part of this triumvirate as the American Ambassador to NATO. So, I welcome Tom here. He lives just across the street. And Ambassador Rock Schnabel is the United States Ambassador to the European Union. So I feel privileged to have both of them sitting in the front row, and they promised not to fall asleep because theyíve heard this speech before. But both of them have done an outstanding job.

We have three American missions here. We have the mission to the European Union which Rock has run for three and a half years. We have a mission to NATO which I used to run until two months ago. We have our embassy to Belgium, as well. So weíre well represented in this city. Thank you both for coming.

I wanted to begin by talking about the US-European relationship because if weíre going to promote democracy in Belarus and in Serbia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina and help to nurture it in Russia and Ukraine and other places -- if we really do believe in our greater Middle East project of helping the people of the Arab world plant seeds of democracy and reform there, and if you even go further to Latin America or Africa -- weíve got to have first a good marriage between the United States and Europe. And weíve had a tough couple of years.

All of us who are Atlanticists and all of you who have long worked with my own country would acknowledge that going back all the way to the 2nd World War -- I canít remember any time in the 60 years since the end of the 2nd World War when we had such a profound disagreement as over the war in Iraq. Weíve had a profound disagreement on the Kyoto Treaty which I know, having lived in Europe for the last eight years, is an important issue here -- a vital issue for many Europeans; a profound disagreement over the International Criminal Court.

The press write a lot of things and people write in the Op-Ed pages that somehow this disagreement was so profoundly divisive that perhaps America and Europe were permanently going to go separate ways. I never believed that. I certainly donít believe it now that weíre in a better time in the US-European relationship. I think all of us would agree the tone is better, that we are working better together, that the United States has embarked on a new relationship with the European Union that Iraq has led, where our President visited the council for the very first time in the history of our relationship with the European Union. Weíre doing more with the EU today than we ever have before. And certainly the United Statesí relations with France and Germany and Belgium are better than they were a year ago today. I feel that. I think if you ask nine out of ten European officials theyíll tell you that.

But Iíd like to make a very safe bet, that the US-European marriage is going to be fine. That thereís no possibility of separation and certainly no possibility of divorce between us. I say that because Iím mindful of the history of our two continents.

If you go back 50 years youíll see that weíve had one big Trans-Atlantic row per decade. Thatís what we have. Think of Suez in 1956; think of the Skybolt Affair, a very big disagreement between the US and UK over nuclear weapons in the early 1960s; think of the Vietnam War; think of the stationing of Pershing missiles in Germany by the Reagan Administration in the Ď80s; and I remember personally and was part of a very difficult debate in 1991, í92, í93 and í94 about what we do about Bosnia : where the United States decided not to go in, not to support Germany, France and Britain in going in. We settled that debate after a terrible tragedy at Srebrenica in 1995. But weíve averaged about one per decade -- one big row -- and at each point the alliance between us bent but it didnít break, and I think because we had these disagreements we have a healthier respect for each other.

We know that weíre a democratic alliance, unlike the Warsaw Pact. And in a democratic alliance countries can disagree with each other, and small countries can disagree with big countries and vice versa. But in the final analysis we move on and we decide that the fact of the alliance is more important than the differences weíve had, and I feel thatís where we are in the Trans-Atlantic relationship after our debate on Iraq. I feel weíre in a better place and are moving forward.

The Presidentís trip here was important. Itís fashionable to say that in the age of advanced technology you donít need diplomats, you donít need meetings, you donít need conferences like this. But, I think you do. The three of us had the great pleasure of hosting our President here in this city on February 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of this year and his dinner with President Chirac in Tomís dining room across the street; and his visit with Chancellor Schroeder in Mainz allowed them to spend some time together and allowed them to overcome some of the misunderstandings they had. It was those two discussions that led the United States to agree to support the EU-3ís negotiating effort with Iran on Iranís nuclear program. That was a course correction by the United States. And it was in that discussion where I think we made our big step forward with the European Union, to recognize and to give a strong measure of US support for the European project.

So, I think that it does matter what we say to each other and I think weíre in a much better place. But we also have mutual interests in this relationship. We have a trillion dollar/euro trade relationship; we have a symbiotic defense relationship centered in NATO; we have a political alliance in what we do with the rest of the world, which is terribly important. So, I think those mutual interests keep us together. And lastly, because Iím speaking to democracy promoters and people who believe in democracy, we have that together. Thereís no question in my mind that we are natural allies because we are democratic, and that will be the glue that really holds this Trans-Atlantic relationship together.

So, if we think about what can Europe and America do to promote democracy around the world, well, we start with a firm foundation in our Trans-Atlantic marriage which stays together.

What is our common agenda as we move forward? This is an American perspective, but I think that we are at a pivotal point in the Trans-Atlantic relationship. Because for 60 years we were focused here in Europe, the full attention of every American government since Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, all the way to George W. Bush, was in the center of Europe. And that was the attention of the European governments. Thatís where the Trans-Atlantic relationship was grounded, because of the Soviet threat between 1946 and 1991; because of the Balkan wars throughout the entire period of the 1990s.

I think a lot of us feel that weíre now at a transition point where the great common project that unites Europe and America is no longer Germany, itís no longer the East-West divide, itís no longer what we can do to preserve democracy and security here in Europe. The great common project has to be what can we do outside of the Trans-Atlantic relationship to preserve peace and security and democracy around the world. That has to be our project. Whether itís the Greater Middle East Initiative of the European Union and the US and the G8; in NATO to expand our relations in that part of the world. Whether itís dealing with Sudan, Darfur and the huge crisis in Central Africa where 3.5 million people have died over the last five years. Whether itís working strategically with a rising democratic India and a rising communist China -- very different great powers in South Asia and East Asia. Whether itís responding to the new wave of populism in Central America and South America, which for Americans is an urgent national priority. This is the new US-European agenda. I think that informs the policy of my government and it informs the agenda for this year.

Let me tell you what weíre working on as we meet with the European Union and with NATO. Iíve just had a couple of days here in Europe, and had a very good meeting with Javier Solana two days ago. We were way up -- 62 degrees latitude, 500 kilometers north of Stockholm -- 46 countries at a NATO meeting: 26 NATO allies and 20 of our partners. Actually 45, the Uzbek
government did not send a delegation. We were all very disappointed because Uzbekistan was going to be the focus of our meeting given the horrible events there.

But at this meeting a common agenda emerged -- let me share it with you. The first is to finish the job of democratization of the Balkans, the job that we began so well together in the mid- 1990s when NATO stopped the Bosnia war and NATO kept the peace there for nine years. NATO stopped the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in March, April, May and June of 1999. NATO has kept the peace there for six years. That jobís not finished. Because if our largest strategic objective between Europe and America has been for a good 15 years the creation of a Europe that is united, peaceful and stable, we canít achieve that vision together unless Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and Kosovo and Serbia Montenegro and Albania and Macedonia are part of it.

The Balkans today are an island separate from the great European project, and not yet at the heart of the democracy wave that has swept over Eastern and Central Europe. So what we announced last week in our government was a renewed American offensive Ė diplomatic offensive Ė to try to do three things this year.

First is to promote final unity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. You remember the Dayton Accords left that government, left that country with overlapping governmental authorities among the ethnic groups, but the great wave has to be to have a united defense ministry, a united presidency, a united country where the ethnic breakdown vanishes, and where that country can finally emerge as a candidate for European Union membership and for NATO membership. That is possible. I think all of us believe that Bosnia has made tremendous progress since 1995, but they need our help.

Second will be to tackle the problem of Kosovo. The dreams and the aspirations for autonomy or independence or whatever it is that the Kosovars will choose to have when they negotiate this with Belgrade, have been deferred for six long years, and my government announced last week that we believe this should be the year of decision for Kosovo. That we should support Kofi Annan and the United Nations in launching final status talks this autumn. The United States and Europe should be behind those talks, and Belgrade and the authorities in Pristina should work out the future of that province.

You canít hold peopleís dreams back forever. Thereís been enough progress made in Kosovo to see this go forward this year and the United States and the EU, Britain, France Germany and Italy, have met and we have agreed to support Kofi Annan. I think youíll see final status talks, a major international negotiation along the lines of what happened in Dayton ten years ago, occur this autumn. We think they should be led by a European. We think the Americans should support the Europeans, perhaps at a deputy level. But this is a European project because Kosovo is in the heart of Europe.

Finally, Serbia Montenegro, which is the keystone country of the Balkans. Hereís a country that ripped the Balkans apart over the last ten years. And if they can find General Mladic and transfer him to the Hague and have him put on trial for war crimes, because he ordered the murder of 8,000 men and boys July 11, 1995 at Srebrenica; if they can find Radovan Karadzic and ship him to the Hague, then I think Serbia will have done what we have always asked. That is deal with the past, deal with the huge tragedy that 250,000 people and 2.5 million were made homeless because of its war. And then Serbia can be accepted by the European Union and by NATO as a future member, having dealt in a redemptive way with its horrible past.

Those three issues Ė Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia Ė are at the heart of completing the democratization project in Europe and we canít overlook that and we canít forget it. And if Europe, supported by the United States, can help these three to see their way forward, there will be a united democratic Europe on this continent for the first time in European history. It will be a remarkable achievement of the peoples of Europe and we Americans, as your partners, want to support you in this.

Thatís the first issue on the agenda.

The second is to engage Russia and to continue to engage Russia strategically. This is going to be difficult. I know there are some Russians here who would know far more about this than myself. But we have so much thatís at stake in our relationship with Russia and many, I think, feel so disappointed by the course of the democratic project in Russia. But we have no choice but to keep going forward because Russia remains a fundamental part of the strategic equation for peace in Eastern and Central Europe and our government and, I think, the European governments as well, led by the German and French governments, are dedicated to seeing that we need to continue to work with Russia as best we can.

But that does not mean that we shall be uncritical of Russia when it matters, and you saw when Condoleezza Rice, my boss, was in Moscow last month and then in Vilnius. She did not mince words about the disappointment we feel in major aspects of Russiaís internal policy, Russiaís treatment of some of its neighbors, former republics of the Soviet Union but now independent states. And she made it a point when she was in Vilnius with Javier Solana to meet the Belarusian opposition to say that we support democracy in Belarus.

Youíll continue to see, I think, both American and European leaders speaking out on behalf of democracy in a way that we have not before, because it is under challenge in Russia. But we will seek a continued strategic engagement with Russia at the same time. Those are not mutually exclusive, but theyíre both very important goals of ours.

I mentioned Belarus, and there are Belarusians here. There is no question that we have little to do with Mr. Lukashenko. He has been, needless to say, a huge disappointment since we first met him back in December of 1994 at the Budapest CESE Summit when Dan Fried and I were there together with President Clinton. We admired President Shushkevich. We admired the fact that Shushkevich gave up voluntarily Belarusí nuclear arsenal. We felt that he tried to advance democracy in Belarus. Lukashenko has been the repudiation of everything that every one in this room believes in and we hope that Europe will join the United States in speaking out very clearly about the need to support the opposition in Belarus and to try to create the conditions as best we can to help the Belarusians create the conditions for change in that country. But thatís an important goal as well.

We need to nurture our relationships with Ukraine and with Georgia. Ukraine and Georgia have sought a future in the European Union and NATO, and on February 22nd of this year when President Yuschenko came to NATO, President Bush embraced him and said that our door is open to Ukraineís future membership in NATO because Ukraine is a European democracy. Now they have to walk through that door. We are a performance-based institution . They have to meet the requirements of membership, but Ukraine has to know that it has a future in association with NATO and the European Union.

I think in the EU you will tell me, those of you who are Europeans, that the invitation or the response to Yuschenkoís Orange Revolution has been much less clear. Thatís for Europeans to decide and not for Americans to give advice on. But as we are a leader, one of the leaders of NATO, in our Trans-Atlantic institution we know that NATOís door has to be open to Ukraine and to Georgia. Now that President Saakashvili has made it clear that Georgia seeks a relationship with NATO, weíre going to try to have a good, strategic relationship with Russia, but weíre not going to, in turn, deny the aspirations of those people who want join the great Trans-Atlantic institutions. They have a right to apply, they have a right to know that that is part of their future, and thatís at the heart of American policy in Ukraine and Georgia.

Beyond that, beyond these questions of Europe, I think that Europe should expect over the next couple of years to see and work with an America that is increasingly outwardly directed. Weíre a country, itís obvious to say, with global interests. We have major security responsibilities in East Asia and treaty relationships there. We perceive that the challenges for our foreign policy increasingly will take us to a focus on South Asia, to a new historic relationship with India, to maintaining our relationship with Pakistan, to achieving a long-term security relationship with Afghanistan. President Karzai was in Washington Monday and he and President Bush announced a long-term strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the United States, where the American troops will stay to support that government and to prevent a Taliban, al-Qaida resurgence in Afghanistan itself.

I think if you look at American foreign policy world wide, the greatest change you will see in the next three or four years is a new American focus on South Asia, particularly in establishing a closer strategic partnership with India. The Indian prime minister is coming to Washington on July 18th and I believe at that meeting our two governments are going to demonstrate that our relationship is now at the best point that itís been since the creation of modern India in 1947.

If you look at all the trends Ė population, economic growth, foreign policy trends Ė thereís no question that India is the rising power in the East. India is the worldís largest democracy. India has so much in common with the United States and with Europe in what it wants to achieve in the world and what kind of world it wants to see. I think youíll see this as a major focus of our President and our Secretary of State, and it will be the area of greatest dynamic positive change in American foreign policy.

Looking further east, we obviously have an interest to maintain a peaceful relationship with China, to work out and manage our differences in a constructive way with China, but we also have a competitive relationship, certainly in trade with China, and we also have major grievances concerning human rights with China itself and a lack of democratization in that very great country.

Managing our relationship with a rising China and continuing to ensure stability and peace in East Asia is a major American preoccupation. Here I think weíve had a very interesting exchange with Europe over the last several months. Rock and I have been at the heart of this from the American side. The European Union announced that it was going to lift its arms ban on China, imposed for human rights reasons just following the massacres at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Weíve had a very vigorous debate between the United States and the EU about that. The core of the American argument has been that Europe needs to understand that not only did America have security commitments here in Europe over the last 60 years, we have the same commitments in Asia. We are the guarantor of stability in Asia. In the Taiwan Straits and in the entire Asia Pacific region, through our treaty relationships with Japan and South Korea, Australia, and our security commitments to the Philippines and Thailand, an American naval and air presence in Asia has been the single greatest factor. That has meant there has been no major regional war in Asia since the 2nd World War. Certainly no conflict that would directly pit the interests of the great powers in Asia itself.

We felt that Europe had to understand how important it was that Europe not unduly affect in a negative way the military balance between China and the United States, particularly concerning the Taiwan Straits as well as the wider responsibilities. Weíre very pleased now that the European Parliament has spoken out so clearly on this arms sales issue. Itís a difficult one. We understand the motivations of the European Union, but we cannot accept that Europe would move forward when we are alliance partners and we have such profound security interests in East Asia itself.

Chris Hill, our new Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia was here in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday and he launched a long-term strategic dialogue with the European Union on Asia so that we can talk more clearly together about our respective interests. Weíd like to see a more outward-looking European Union, a more outward-looking Europe that would work with us in democracy promotion in Asia, but also in trying to ensure stability in Asia. Thatís an important issue itself.

And let me just finish by saying that in Africa we now face a common project in Darfur. Today in Addis Ababa Kofi Annan is chairing a meeting with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO Secretary General, with Javier Solana and with Chairman Konare from Mali, the Chairman of the African Union. The goal here is that Europe and America, the EU and NATO, will respond positively to the request from the African Union for military support so that the African Union can build its peacekeeping force in Darfur from roughly 2,500 people to 7,000 in July and perhaps 12,000 in the autumn. The African Union needs airlift, logistical support, command support, communication support. This can be a great European-American project, where thereís a place for the European Union and a place for NATO to help the African Union -- not to put European and American foot soldiers in Africa, which the Africans do not wish to see, but to give the kind of framework, logistical military support to help a new institution, the African Union, succeed in Africaís worst human right crisis in Darfur. This is a great project. Weíre hoping for positive results from the meeting today. I think if you put aside the natural competitiveness in the security sphere between NATO and the EU, and I was quoted on this in the Herald Tribune today from our meeting in Sweden, there is a place for the European Union and NATO to work together in a positive way on this.

I just wanted to say one more word about the terrible crisis in Central Africa, in the Congo, and to commend Belgium and commend France in particular for the leadership that they have shown. This is the worst human rights crisis probably in the world today. It is certainly the place where weíve seen the greatest loss of human life over the last five years in the fratricidal civil war inside Congo and in the conflict across the borders of the Congo. But there is reason to feel slightly optimistic that President Kabila has now got the country sufficiently unified to move forward to elections in a couple of months, but there will be a continued need not only for humanitarian support but for military assistance to try to help the United Nations keep peace there.

There are so many projects we can undertake together. I havenít mentioned Haiti. I havenít mentioned responding to the populist uprising against Chavez in Venezuela, the continuation of Castro in Cuba, human rights violators, people who donít believe in democratic government, but have a great deal of mass popular appeal in Latin America today. This is another common project that Europe and the United States can work on together.

So thatís our agenda. I think Europeans might expect to see in this Administration, if you read our Presidentís inaugural address, his state of the union speech, and if you followed what he and what Secretary Condi Rice have been saying in their trips to Europe, the focus of our foreign policy in this second term will be democracy promotion. Weíll be using the influence and power of the United States to help those who wish to see their countries become more democratic, or in the case of Belarus, become democratic after so many years of dictatorial rule. And we look forward to partnering in that aspect with the European Union, with the European governments, and with all of you in civil society so that we can see over the long term democracy take root in a greater number of places.

The final thing Iíd say is that Iím continually interested by how many Europeans tell me: "you Americans are hopeless romantic idealists. What makes you think that in the infertile soil of so many countries around the world where dictatorship reigns that democracy can take root?" And it goes back -- you can call us hopeless romantic idealists, if you will -- it goes back to the founding of our country. It goes back to the aspirations of our founding fathers. It goes back to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Thereís really no Democratic and Republican difference in our country. I think weíve always believed that part of the reason that America has to play such a big role in the world is to advance democracy and advance liberty. Sometimes we may do that in imperfect ways, and sometimes we may not be effective, but thatís who we are as a country. Thatís the essence of Americaís view of the world and of our democracy.

In 1946 and í47 there were people advising President Truman that the Japanese could never become democratic because they had no tradition in their long several thousand year history, and a lot of people said the same thing about the Germans after May 8, 1945. They were proven wrong. We believe that Ė there are people in this room who know this far better than I - that the Arab people deserve democracy and liberty just as much as we do in North America and Western Europe, and itís true of people around the world. Thatís what we believe as Americans. That will be the core of American foreign policy. And I think the central connecting point in our relations with Europe for many years to come.

Thank you for listening to me. Thatís a quick, perhaps overly simplistic, tour of the world. Youíll forgive me for that, but I wanted to leave enough time for a good conversation. Iím delighted to be here, delighted to thank Freedom House and the German Marshall Fund and Carl and both NDI and IRI for what they are doing on behalf of our country to promote democracy around the world. Thank you very much.

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Updated: December 2005