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The Transatlantic Partnership: Continuity and Change

Ambassador Daniel R. Coats
University of Muenster, May 6, 2003



Thank you, Prof. Züchner, for the invitation to speak at the University today.

Thank you, Lord Mayor Tillmann, for the opportunity to visit your historic city. Muenster has a special meaning in the history of diplomacy and relations between countries. It was an honor and a privilege to visit the Hall of Peace earlier today.

I am very happy to be here with you today. It is an opportunity to pause to take stock of the current state and the future course of the transatlantic partnership.

The United States and Germany forged a very special bond out of the ashes of World War II. A bond that was government-to-government and also business-to-business but, most importantly, person-to-person.

Since the end of World War II, more than 13 million American soldiers and their dependants have lived in Germany. They have fond and lasting memories of their time here and the friendships they made. One such young soldier was Secretary of State Colin Powell. At a 50th anniversary celebration of the German-American Fulbright program last fall in Washington, Secretary Powell talked about the special place he has in his heart for Germany based on his experience here as a young Second Lieutenant. Many years later, Secretary Powell returned as Commander of the 5th Corps in Frankfurt. At that time, Joschka Fischer was head of the Green Party and Environmental Minister in Hessen.

Today these two individuals, with far different backgrounds, represent their countries as foreign secretaries and maintain a close working and even personal relationship.

At another level, Germans and Americans continue a post-war tradition of study abroad. Last year, for example, almost 20,000 young Germans studied in American schools and over 5,000 Americans chose Germany as a place to spend a study year abroad. The result has been an ever-growing number of international alumni who have built bridges of cooperation and personal connections. The University of Muenster has a well-placed contact in my office at the Embassy in Berlin. My staff assistant, Dr. Benedict Wolf, joined the United States Foreign Service in 1999. He completed two degrees at the University of Muenster -- in theology in 1987 and economics in 1993. His knowledge of Germany has served me very well -- and his connection to Muenster is what brought me here today.

I will return to a discussion about the importance of these personal connections, but first I would like to discuss a topic that I know is very much on everybody's mind.


The transatlantic relationship has been severely strained in recent months over the issue of Iraq. And although the heated debate -- at the UN, within NATO, between countries -- may sometimes have been more about means than goals, there were indeed fundamental policy differences.

The U.S. remains convinced that the danger posed by the Iraqi regime warranted the use of military force as a last resort, and that ruling out this option would have emboldened Saddam Hussein, and others like him. Despite our differences on the Iraq question, we should all be gratified that the military campaign was quick, decisive and resulted in far fewer negative consequences than predicted by those who opposed the use of force.

It was said, for example, that the Saddam regime would destroy the Iraqi oilfields, causing an environmental catastrophe. That did not happen.

There was a fear that Saddam would send his missiles against Israel escalating the crisis to an Arab-Israeli war and possible nuclear holocaust. That did not happen.

There was a fear that the Saddam regime would use chemical or biological weapons against coalition forces or even against the Iraqi people. That did not happen.

There were fears that a humanitarian crisis would occur; that there would be a massive exodus of refugees; that Turks would clash with Kurds; that tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would die, many in fierce street to street fighting in Baghdad. That did not happen.

It was repeatedly said that the "Arab street" would erupt in flames in protest of coalition action in Iraq. That did not happen, as many Arab nations expressed relief at the demise of a tyrannical dictator whose aims had threatened their countries.

We witnessed a total and quick collapse as the Iraqi military put down their arms, changed to civilian clothing, and simply went home -- abandoning their leader who had claimed that absolute loyalty to him would result in a fight to the death.

Now, we are pressing forward with the critical and difficult work of relief and reconstruction that will put Iraq on the road to self-government.

As new Iraqi leaders emerge, we will work with them. We will not impose a government upon Iraq, but will help that nation build a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people. We are confident that a government will emerge that represents all Iraqi people and honors the history and traditions of Iraq. America will stay only as long as it takes to return Iraq to a nation of self-governance, and we are progressing faster than anticipated.

We welcome a vital role for the UN, NATO, EU and other nations in helping with the reconstruction of Iraq and the development of the democratic institutions important to it's future as a peaceful member in the world community of nations.

As we speak today, 58 nations have pledged support in this effort. Billions of dollars have been offered, and humanitarian aid from both governmental and non-governmental sources is being brought to the Iraqi people.

Challenges & Opportunities

We recognize the fact that many people in Germany had a different point of view over the proper course of action in Iraq. We can discuss these differences, but we cannot afford to let them distract or slow us from addressing the immense responsibilities and challenges of the 21st century.

So many of the opportunities and challenges in the world today go beyond national and regional boundaries. Terrorism, the development and spread of weapons of mass destruction, creating conditions for sustainable development, infectious diseases, promoting democratic and accountable government, to name a few. One cannot say, "That's an American problem or a European problem or an Asian problem or an African problem." These are global problems, and solving them will require coordinated efforts and assistance from the global community.

When President Bush went to the United Nations last September challenging the UN to enforce the resolutions that it passed following the Gulf War in 1991, he opened the door to a cooperative approach, in response to the implications of the age of terrorism.

Our former Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger has written, and I quote, "On September 11, the world entered a new period in which private, non-state organizations proved capable of threatening national and international security by stealth attacks… At bottom is a debate between the traditional notion of sovereignty of the nation-state as set forth in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the adaptation required by both modern technology and the nature of the terrorist threat."

The Westphalian world in which modern diplomacy was born -- here in Muenster -- has changed dramatically. Both state and non-state sponsored terrorist organizations have declared war not only against nation states, but against established societal values, against the world economic order, against innocent men, women and children, through the use of non-traditional tactics including suicide and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction.

Successfully combating these new 21st century threats to our citizens and our societies requires full use of a range of responses, from traditional diplomacy to preventive action. And to be successful, we will need cooperative efforts among nations -- working together to identify and prevent terrorist strikes before they are able to activate their reign of destruction and fear.

For these very reasons, and contrary to what some are saying, the U.S. is not going to turn its back on multilateral institutions such as NATO, the United Nations and the EU.

We have stepped up high-level contacts with our European partners to explore a number of initiatives. President Bush, Secretary Powell and other US officials will have several opportunities over the coming months to discuss these issues with their European counterparts.

This list of challenges includes accelerating the search for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. President Bush's April 28th release of a Middle East "Roadmap", a cooperative U.S., EU, Russian initiative, is an example of our cooperation, one on which we aim to build in the months ahead.

We have unfinished business in Afghanistan, and for the last eighteen months, the EU and the United States have been driving forces behind the global coalition supporting national reconstruction. In August, NATO will take over leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul from the current German-Dutch led operation. Ten years ago, when we were wondering whether there would be a role for NATO, nobody could have anticipated then that NATO would go half way across the world to Asia and perform peacekeeping missions in a place like Afghanistan.

Similar cooperation has been crucial to bringing peace and stability to the Balkans, and again we recognize the German military contribution to this effort.

We are also energizing global trade negotiations and working to improve our cooperation in supporting progress in the developing countries. We will work together, through the Doha Development trade agenda and initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS and famine, to bring hope and opportunity to the people of developing countries.

And of course, the United States and Europe, together with nearly 100 nations, have forged a strong counter-terrorism partnership in the areas of intelligence sharing, law enforcement, finance and transportation.

On all these issues -- the broad immediate goals that we share and support -- there are, and inevitably will be, differences of opinion; but these differences of opinion focus on means and methods, not desired results.


Twenty years ago, one of my predecessors, Ambassador Arthur Burns, described the world of diplomacy as "a world in which perception of facts often obscures the facts themselves." He noted that the realities -- the hard facts -- of history were often forgotten, and that only perceptions remained. He was concerned, for example, that during the Pershing missile debate, young people seemed unable to differentiate between the moral and political order of the West and the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. Soviet rearmament was so threatening that many in Germany, especially the young, concluded that appeasement was the only option. America’s will to counter Soviet tactics was perceived in many circles as an even worse threat.

Ambassador Burns also expressed fears that the common values that bind the Atlantic alliance were little understood or appreciated. As a result, he and his Embassy team started an ambitious new program to engage young people and encourage exchanges.

Now as I travel around Germany, I am reminded of Ambassador Burns' efforts to reach the generation of Germans that succeeded the immediate postwar generation. That first postwar generation felt a very emotional and personal connection to the United States, particularly as a result of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and all the other landmarks of the transatlantic partnership. That relationship was built on "hearts and minds," as we say today. But subsequent generations, I am discovering, are often basing their understanding on what I believe are misperceptions, not the hard facts that Ambassador Burns referenced.

Today's generation, as a result of globalization and technology, often sees a distorted picture of America. As Wall Street Journal editor Frederik Kempe recently noted, "It is telling that perhaps the most popular American in Germany is Michael Moore."

In America, Michael Moore is a satirist. His perspectives are meant to provoke questions, not to be accepted at face value. Moore's popularity here in Germany, as well as what seems to be an increasing emphasis in media reporting on stereotypes, have, I believe, communicated false perceptions of Americans and American values. However provocative or humorous, these accounts reinforce the general sense that the two continents have little in common and are drifting further apart.

Allow me a moment of digression to note that in discussing perceptions about post 9/11 America, it is critically important to understand the impact that September 11 had on Americans and their view of the world.

Just last week, Secretary Powell, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that one of the challenges we face is "understanding" the threat. He said, "Some in Europe see it differently. Some see terrorism as a regrettable but inevitable part of society and want to keep it at arms length and as low key as possible. It is our job to convince them otherwise. This is a threat we share and must combat together, indeed, can only combat together."

The Secretary went on to say, "September 11 burned itself into the mind of every American. To say international terrorism is just another threat is to defy the instinctual reality that every American knows in his or her heart and soul. Every American who watched the World Trade Towers burn, crumble and disintegrate, with thousands of people inside, and who watched the Pentagon in flames, knows what terrorism can bring to our homeland. That reality leads Americans to conclude that terrorism must be eradicated, especially the terrorism that seeks nuclear weapons and other means of mass destruction."

In addition to the 9/11 question, there is indeed more and more evidence that Europeans and Americans have become polarized on a number of issues. A recent Allensbach poll showed that Germans and Americans have increasingly negative opinions about each other. Only 11 percent of Germans still considered the United States Germany’s “best friend,” while only 10 percent think well of President Bush. A majority of Germans consider Americans “ruthless, violent, and arrogant.”

A transatlantic relationship as described by such poll results is disturbing. It reflects a major change from the proud partnership that produced some of the most important achievements in American and European history of the last half-century. We shared those achievements and those moments in history in particular with Germany, in perhaps one of the most successful transformations of relationships between two adversaries in the history of nation-state relations.

These achievements were part of our joint efforts to build democracy, security and prosperity -- against the backdrop of an overwhelming military and ideological threat.

Today, a strong case can be made for a transatlantic partnership that shares a global responsibility for building a safer and freer world and promoting that vision of democracy, security and prosperity. But troubling questions have arisen that threaten our ability to maintain such a partnership.

The American journalist Walter Lippmann once said: "We are all captives of the pictures in our head -- our belief that the world we experience is the world that really exists."

The challenge now is to add some context, some depth, a new perspective to those pictures in the minds of a new generation of Germans and Americans at the beginning of this new century. The Internet, 24/7 news programs, pop culture don’t begin to portray the whole of America.

So, what can we do to influence the perceptions so they match the realities of our societies, and help us understand each other better?

In an effort to address the problems, we, at the American Embassy Germany, are developing a number of initiatives to increase the potential for dialogue between Germans and Americans so that we take the relationship at more than face value and foster a better understanding of each other.

The value of exchange programs and direct person-to-person contact is at the heart of our planned initiatives. We are pursuing initiatives to establish a new private-sector funded exchange program for teachers.

Drawing on a variety of sources of German-speaking Americans, such as Foreign Service Officers at the Embassy and Consulates, American university exchange students, Fulbright grantees and others, we will work to provide an American to speak at any German school which would like to have such a speaker. Our consulate in Leipzig has already initiated school visits in the three states they cover. We plan to focus this outreach initiative in the new federal states, and then expand around the country as resources allow. These speakers will primarily address aspects of American life and American society, not current or past American policies.

Just this morning, I enlisted my wife in this effort. She spoke at the Paulinum Gymnasium here in Muenster. Marsha is a former teacher and family counselor and she spoke with teachers and students about, among other things, the differences between German and American schools.

Next month, Marsha and I will also be joining a number of our young Foreign Service officers and their families at a barbeque in Brandenburg to initiate what we hope will be an ongoing informal program between a local after school center and the Embassy. The center runs a number of volunteer outreach initiatives including special programs for at-risk children. Our young Foreign Service officers plan to join a roster of volunteers as well as a group of Berlin Thunder football players we have enlisted. I'm not sure whether the American football players are going to teach Germans how to catch the ball with their hands or the Germans teach the Americans how to kick the ball with their feet, but it's the shared personal interaction that counts.

Next week, the mayor of Magdeburg will be travelling to Nashville to officially inaugurate the newest German-American sister city project. Later in the year, several Nashville delegations are slated to visit Magdeburg, creating many opportunities for Germans to meet and talk with Americans.

Last month the consulate was involved in a visit of military veterans to Weimar and Buchenwald, sites which they had helped to liberate at the end of the second World War. The veterans were welcomed by grateful German citizens. Other veterans groups are planning similar visits.

We will also be looking for opportunities to have more well- known Americans -- government officials and pop stars alike -- take time out of their schedules during visits to this country to meet with Germans, and especially young Germans. We will encourage them to take some time to sit down and talk -- openly, frankly, personally -- about Americans, American values and American society; and to listen to the views of young Germans about German values and German society.

And last, but certainly not least, because the media play such an important role in both shaping and mirroring the public mood, we have already begun to work with German media partners on developing television documentaries, textbooks and educational materials. We will also be working with libraries to provide more American books, multimedia and electronic resources to local public and school libraries, resources that offer American perspectives on a range of tough questions.

I started my remarks today with some examples of German-American friendships. In my mind, these kinds of personal contacts are the ties that bind. Nations today speak to each other on many different levels, but dialogue on a personal level are the most powerful and the most enduring.

As some of you may know, I served for many years in the United States Congress. I am a relative newcomer to the world of diplomacy -- the diplomacy that evolved from the Treaty of Westphalia that was signed here in Muenster in 1648. I arrived in Berlin to serve as the U.S. Ambassador just days before 9/11. I have reaffirmed, however, that just as in politics and public service, personal exchanges and effective communication are the cornerstones of understanding and cooperation -- and that the key to any successful relationship is to engage in honest dialogue, find common ground and move forward together.

Vielen Dank, meine Freunde, vielen Dank.

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U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany/Public Affairs/Information Resource Centers 
Updated: June 2003