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Transatlantic Security: Addressing Global Challenges Together
Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs University of San Francisco, Center for Public Service and the Common Good
San Francisco, CA
March 28, 2006


[As prepared]

Good afternoon. I want to thank the Center for Public Service and the Common Good for the opportunity to be here. And thanks in particular to Professor Murphy for his introduction and to Les McBee, our diplomat-in-residence at Berkeley, who helped arrange this event at USF.

It is wonderful to be back in California, not least of all because it is so far from Washington. There is no place like Washington for being at the heart of American foreign policy – which means that Washington is the exception, and the rest of the country is a bit more normal.

And it feels good to be out "in the rest of the country." It feels good to refresh my perspective and sense of what our country is all about, rather than just seeing things from inside the Washington pressure-cooker.

And it also gives me a chance to speak publicly about our foreign policy, and how it relates to what we are as a country. I travel a lot, mainly in Europe. I read the local papers. I meet frequently with foreign officials and journalists, and speak with audiences here and abroad.

I am constantly confronted with a distorted and highly critical image of America that bears no resemblance to the country I know – an image of America as war-mongering, aggressive, callous, selfish, an abuser of human rights, and an arrogant nation uninterested in other countries and other people. Look around. This is not who we are as a people. It is not what we are together as a country.

People see images of Abu Ghraib prison, or hear wild stories of detainees held in Guantanamo, and say, "this is America." I take every opportunity I get to talk about the real America, and there’s no better place than here at the University of San Francisco.

As I see it, the real America is people exercising their democratic rights freely. I’m sure there are a wide range of views held by people in this room about U.S. policy, both at home and abroad. But the strength of America is that we are free, and open, and we can express our views peacefully, and choose our leaders democratically through free elections.

Our democracy has made us strong, and prosperous, and innovative. And we want to help others throughout the world to enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy at home. On this, there are no political divisions. We may differ on specific actions, but not on our values and our higher aims.

It is important that people abroad understand this: that America is a nation based on values – on freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, the rule of law. That Americans are just as outraged at the abuses in Abu Ghraib as anyone else. And that they know that in our democracy, abuses are investigated, crimes are punished, and the individuals who did those horrible deeds at Abu Ghraib and appear in those photos have been prosecuted and are in jail.

America stands for freedom, and also for development. Though others exceed us in percentages, in sheer scale we are the largest single national donor of assistance in the world; we are the greatest contributor through private, charitable donations; and under President Bush the United States has substantially increased our foreign assistance through innovative tools such as the Millenium Challenge Account and our massive efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria. We have, for example, doubled our foreign assistance to Latin America during President Bush’s term of office.

This is the America – the America that is anchored on the values of freedom, and that wants to help the rest of the world be as free, and safe and prosperous as we are – this is the America I want the rest of the world to see and understand.

These days it is sometimes very difficult to get this message across. We face major threats and challenges – from terrorism and extremists who try to hijack Islam to justify their violence and repression; from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; from Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons; and from continuing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

And we face a world where too many people live in poverty, without access to education, jobs and health care. Too many people face deadly diseases. Too many people are dislocated by conflict. Too many people lack the basic freedoms and rights that all people cherish.

To face these challenges, it is essential that the democratic community in the world work together – to speak about them in a single voice, rooted in democratic values, and to act together in a common effort to make our world a better and safer place.

A Transformational Foreign Service

Now, Les and I share a dubious distinction: we have both lived in southern France. Les did so as our Consul General in Marseille; I as a student in Aix-en-Provence and a waiter on the Riviera. So we risk giving a distorted impression of what diplomacy is about: good food, good wine, talks in fine salons.

I can’t deny that there is a lot of talk. But the talk is aimed at producing real action that tackles real problems, and helps real people throughout the world. We have Foreign Service colleagues in Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the hinterland of Afghanistan and outlying provinces in Iraq. Some are in Baghdad in contact with the various political parties who are themselves negotiating the formation of a government. Some are in talks with the African Union, or the UN, NATO or EU, about how to end the genocide in Darfur.

Secretary of State Rice has spoken about "transformational diplomacy," and this describes what I’m talking about. It is important to have good relations with nations in the world; but what’s really important is that we put these good relations to work to address the great challenges of our time, together.

Indeed, our own "transformational diplomacy" is matched by an equal transformation in our relationship with Europe. Today I want to give you an update on our work with our European partners in facing global challenges together.

For over 50 years, our agenda with Europe was mainly about Europe: fighting World War II, building democracy out of those ashes, defending freedom against Soviet communism and – starting with the historic decision of the German people to tear down the Berlin Wall in 1989 – helping the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe build strong, free societies, and ending ethnic conflict in the Balkans. Europe was the strategic center of our interests.

While the work of building a Europe whole, free, and at peace is not done, we have come a long, long way. Now, the greatest challenges we face are rooted well beyond Europe.

Let’s be honest: In the first years after September 11, particularly because of the invasion of Iraq, there were divisions – within Europe, and between Europe and America. And we know that when our democratic community is divided, we cast a fog over what is happening in the world, what is right and what is wrong. But when we are united, based on shared democratic values, we provide a moral clarity and offer a compelling way forward in addressing even the most complex challenges.

That is why, in his first press conference two days after being reelected – and many times since – President Bush set out the clear objective of working together with our European Allies and partners in facing the global challenges of the 21st century.

The President’s first foreign trip after re-election – and Secretary of State Rice’s first foreign trip as Secretary of State – was to Europe, to build this renewed transatlantic relationship and put it to work. Just last Monday, a key ally in this effort, the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, met with the President, Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld, and other senior administration officials. In fact, de Hoop Scheffer was the first foreign visitor to meet with President Bush in the Oval Office after his re-election, followed two days later by Tony Blair.

What did the NATO Secretary General discuss in his talks in Washington? Afghanistan. Iraq. Iran. Darfur. Terrorism. Possible NATO partnerships with Australia, or Japan. In short, the full global agenda.

And this underlines the point: a historic change has taken place in transatlantic relations over the past few years. Our agenda with Europe is no longer mostly about Europe itself, but about how America and Europe work together to face challenges well beyond Europe.

These are challenges no less daunting than fighting the Cold War: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failed states, dictatorships, and political and humanitarian disasters.

And this change in transatlantic relations is making a real difference in the world.

If you had asked a year and a half ago about our relationship with Europe, I would have said that we share common objectives on a number of issues. I would have talked about Israeli-Palestinian issues, Iran, Iraq, the Balkans, and so on. Objectives, but not necessarily common strategies and joint actions. We wanted the same thing but we had different strategies for how we were trying to get there.

If I go through that same list of issues today, we not only have some broad common objectives, but much more clearly defined common strategies and common action. Let me give some examples:

In Iraq, the United States and Europe are all supporting the Iraqi people as they seek to build a secure democracy in a unified country. The challenges are great. But we are all contributing in various ways, whether through reconstruction assistance, training of Iraqi police and other security forces, supporting civilian administrators, or providing the military forces that are still necessary for security in that country. The U.S. and EU co-hosted a major international conference on Iraqi reconstruction last June. Alongside the Iraqi forces and continuing large numbers of American forces, there are about 14,000 troops from 22 European countries. All 26 NATO Allies are contributing to the NATO mission to train Iraqi security forces. Twenty-three European nations have together contributed over half-a-billion dollars to help with Iraqi reconstruction, and the European Commission has contributed over $600 million.

We are working together in Afghanistan, where at the London conference in January, nations pledged over $10 billion worth of additional assistance. European financial pledges to Afghanistan over the past few years exceed $4 billion. Alongside Afghans and Americans, there are over 8,000 European military, police and civilian personnel in Afghanistan, not counting NGO’s. NATO leads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which currently includes some 10,000 European troops – and that number is growing as the Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK, together with Canada and Australia, work to expand ISAF in the south of that country. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, the UK, and one of our newest Allies, Lithuania, all lead Provincial Reconstruction teams, and others are planned. Sweden, though not a NATO member, has decided to lead its own PRT. And we anticipate the further expansion of ISAF, throughout the entire country, later this year.

We are working together to strengthen democracy and security in Palestinian territories. The Quartet, which includes the European Union, Russia and the United Nations in addition to the United States, spoke with one voice – both in welcoming a democratic election, and in calling on Hamas give up violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and live up to the existing agreements of the Palestinian authority. American leadership was crucial in bringing success to negotiations to open the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, and European Union border guard assistance has been just as important in helping the border-crossing to function every day.

The United States and France have worked together extremely closely on Lebanon, leading the way for concerted UN action, and resulting in the withdrawal of Syrian forces and a renewal of Lebanese democracy. And we continue to coordinate closely on this with France to this day.

On Iran, the United States is working closely with the UK, France and Germany – the so-called EU-3 – to persuade Tehran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. We have worked together with these partners to broaden the international consensus about Iran – working with Russia, and China, the International Atomic Energy Agency and, now the United Nations Security Council. The challenge posed by Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle, and the extraordinarily irresponsible policies of President Ahmadi-Nejad, has grown. But so too has the unity and resolve of the international community.

The United States and Europe are working together with governments, NGO’s, civil society, business leaders and other reformers to strengthen democratic and economic reform in the Broader Middle East. The United States took the initiative to launch the Forum for the Future at the Sea Island G8 Summit in 2004. Now, it has met twice – in Morocco and Bahrain – and will meet again this year in Jordan, bringing together governments, business, and civil society from the region and from Europe, America and G8 countries Canada and Japan, all to support the development of strong democratic societies in that region.

Americans and Europeans are working to end the genocide in Darfur by supporting the peace process in Abuja, assisting the African Union troops in Darfur, and preparing for a hand off to the United Nations. Together the U.S. and EU provide the overwhelming majority of the assistance to the vulnerable in Sudan, and in accordance with the recent UN Security Council resolution, we are confident NATO will do its share to further assist the African Union and the Union Nations in Darfur in response to a request from the UN Secretary General.

We are working hand-in-hand with the European Union to support democracy advocates in Belarus, where the regime has gone from holding a fraudulent election to orchestrating a violent crackdown on those protesting a now illegitimate government. We commend the courage and resolve of those standing up for democracy in Belarus, and will continue to stand with the Belarusian people in their desire for democracy.

The U.S. and Europe are assisting Georgia as well as Ukraine, where the focus in those recent elections is where it should be: on the results of vote and on subsequent political negotiations to form a government. Though it is still early and we need to look at the entire election process, the contrast with Belarus could not be more striking. International and domestic observers alike report a peaceful campaign, free and vibrant press, active civil society, and overhauled voter lists. Importantly, there are no reports of systematic abuse of administrative resources to influence the vote.

In the Balkans, the United States and Europe have renewed our efforts to help make 2006 a year when we bring the Balkan region much closer to integration into the European mainstream, whether through negotiations in a final status for Kosovo, constitutional reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or continuing the work toward eventual NATO and EU membership for states in that region.

We are working closely with Europe in keeping our societies safe from terrorism. Europe has taken steps to freeze terrorist assets, like those of the Taliban and al Qaida. Our intelligence and law enforcement officials are working together more closely than ever to prevent terrorist attacks, and bring to justice those responsible for plotting or executing them. All European members of the Visa Waiver Program are on track to issue biometric passports in the coming year, helping make travel safer. The vast majority of shipping containers bound for the United States from Europe are now subject to some form of extra, anti-terrorist screening procedures.
The saying goes that all politics is local. Well, in the 21st century, all security is global. Today and in the future, we face a complex set of challenges, and it is critical that the transatlantic democratic community forge a strong strategic consensus, and that we act together in support of our shared values and common security.

We are working together bilaterally with key European Allies – whether the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, or many others. We are working together with the European Union on the full range of global challenges. We strongly support the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in building democracy in Europe and Eurasia.

And central to our work together with Europe is NATO. Many people think of NATO as a relic of the Cold War. Let me assure you that that NATO – the NATO of static defense of territory in Europe that had never conducted a military operation – that NATO is gone.

Today, we have a NATO that is successful and active around the world. It is a place where the transatlantic democracies gather, consult, forge a strategic consensus, and take decisions collectively on joint action. Whether leading peacekeeping in Afghanistan, training Iraqi military leaders, patrolling the Mediterranean, helping transport African Union troops in Darfur, or delivering humanitarian aid to Pakistan and Louisiana, NATO is where our political leaders turn when they want to get something done.

We strongly support the strengthening of European security and defense capabilities, and the EU is now leading operations in Bosnia. Yet we also share the perspective that Chancellor Merkel laid our in Munich in early February – that NATO should be our primary forum for strategic dialogue with Europe. And when Europe and America act together on security and defense, we should act through NATO.

Finally, let me stress a point I made at the beginning – that underneath all of our common actions in facing all these global challenges is a simple and powerful idea: the idea that people have a right to live in freedom. They have a right to have their human rights and human dignity respected, and to be protected by laws; to choose their leaders; to pursue their own prosperity; to do the best they can to support their families and their nations.

These are the ideas on which our nation was founded. And they are ideas that came to America from Europe, and which we share with Europe today. They are ideas that unite us in the world full of challenges that we face today.

Sometimes, there seems to be a popular sense that with sheer good will, the idea of freedom will continue to make inexorable progress in the world. And maybe that’s true. Despite the horrors of the 20th century – fascism, communism, two world wars – we have at the same time seen a remarkable growth of freedom throughout the world.

But it is not that simple. The reality is that throughout the 20th century, the community of democracies had to take stands against the enemies of freedom. Together this democratic community, led by visionary people like Roosevelt, Churchill, Truman and Marshall, fought and defeated freedom’s adversaries, in order to build a free, prosperous and secure world for their citizens.

But that work is never complete, and we face a similar challenge today. There are very aggressive adversaries out in the world who do not support democracy, or open societies, or the opportunity for people to pursue productive, free lives. And they are trying to impose their political views – not religion, but political limitations – on their own societies and those of others. They have attacked our country because of what we stand for. They have attacked our European and Asian friends. They target innocent civilians. And they seek to do it again.

The front line for this conflict lies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why United States is making such an effort to try to help the people of these countries build secure democratic societies for themselves.

But we must never lose sight that defeating a violent adversary is only the means to a higher end: of preserving and advancing freedom, prosperity and security. There is a role for military force, for "hard power." But there is also a vital role for the "soft power" of building societies.

There is a popular notion that the U.S. is a reckless practitioner of "hard power" in the world. But, as I noted earlier, I would suggest that the United States is also the largest and most ambitious practitioner of "soft power" in the world. Indeed, the two serve the same purpose, the advance of freedom as the basis of strong societies and of good for humanity.

As President Bush said in his second Inaugural Address, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." To someone like me, who deals our European policy, he was saying that my job is to find ways for America and Europe to work together to advance freedom and address common challenges, in order to make the world a better and safer place.

I have tried to give you a snapshot today of how we are doing in concrete actions aimed at meeting that challenge. But in the long run, we can only measure our success in how well the idea of freedom fares in the world

That is why it is so critical that the United States and Europe – the heart of the transatlantic community where the idea of freedom flourishes – work together in facing the challenges of our world today.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions and comments.


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Updated: April 2006