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The Transatlantic Agenda: Addressing Global Challenges Together

Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Remarks to the World Affairs Council
Dallas, TX August 23, 2005

Good Evening.

I want to thank the World Affairs Council for the opportunity to be here. And thanks in particular to Jim Hollifield for such a flattering introduction. It’s always a wonderful thing to give a public speech, just to hear those one or two minutes of uninterrupted compliments.

Never happens in real life – it’s like going to your own funeral. Or your whole family developing amnesia.

Earlier today, I met with about 30 of Jim’s graduate students at SMU, and we had a terrific discussion. The best thing about students is that once they get going, they really say what they think. It’s a little harder with grown up professionals, which is why they invented cocktails. And now that that part of the evening is behind us, I’m hoping for an equally lively and well-lubricated discussion this evening.

This is only my third trip to Texas. When I say that, I know there is one thing all Texans agree on: This boy has a lot to learn.

And, of course, you are right, though I have learned a thing or two already. First is "Don’t Mess with Texas." On my last trip here, they even took me to the Texas Ranger Museum, in Waco, to make sure I remembered. That was on the occasion of Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s visit to President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, and I had the privilege to attend as a notetaker.

The other time I came to Texas it was to Dallas-Fort Worth, where I escorted a delegation of Parliamentarians from Hungary to the F-16 factory floor. We didn’t sell any airplanes on that trip. But we did establish some bonds that still matter: one of the Members of Parliament I escorted on that trip – one who didn’t speak English, so I did the translating – is now the Defense Minister of Hungary, one of our NATO Allies. And now his job – one which he understands better than most because of his trip to Texas – is to figure out what to do with some over-priced Swedish aircraft.

The second thing I learned is about the people of America, and in particular the people of Texas. In preparing to come here, I heard about a group of Congressmen and women who went to Moldova in February to study the problem of sex trafficking and slave labor of women and children. One of the Members of Congress was Fort Worth’s own Kay Granger.

What happens is that organized criminal gangs take advantage of poor, weak countries – often countries like Moldova, which are struggling through a transition from being part of the Soviet Union to becoming an independent democracy in Europe. They promise young women a better life in another country, but end up stealing their passports and placing their victims into forced prostitution or slave labor with nowhere to turn.

Well this Congressional Delegation met a 19-year old woman from Moldova who suffered severe injuries when she fell from a 6th floor window while trying to escape her captors. Moldovan doctors had concluded she would never walk again. But Congresswoman Granger worked with the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital to bring the woman here for treatment. The Texas Back Institute agreed to perform the necessary surgery free of charge. Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio arranged for AirMed of Alabama and MedFlight of Ohio to provide air ambulance service, also at no cost. The State Department, where I work, helped coordinate the transfer with Moldovan authorities, issued a visa to the woman so she could come to the United States, and is now helping to extend her stay for the duration of her treatment. She is in physical therapy, and is able to walk again.

I tell this story for two reasons: first, because of what it says about the people of America, and the people of Texas. These are people who believe in life, believe in opportunity, and go out of their way to help others. They will do what they can to help, because it’s the right thing to do.

This is the America I know and am proud of, and the America I want the rest of the world to see and understand. Far too often, I am confronted with a twisted stereotype of America – as war-mongering, aggressive, callous, selfish, and uniterested in other countries and other people. I want people to know that that is not America. (And as an aside let me say how delighted I am to have another Texan recently join the State Department: Karen Hughes, who is going to help us get out the message about the real America.)

I also want those who stereotype America to understand that to protect our freedom, and to help others share the blessings of freedom, we’ve had to make some tough decisions.

Let’s face it: We’re the leader of the free world. And we all know that when America sits back in isolation, we and the world both suffer for it. So we need to be active. Not everyone will agree with the tough decisions we make. And only history will tell us if they were wise.

I traveled with President Bush to France in 2004, for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Entering World War II was a controversial decision -- until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. And President Reagan standing up to the Soviet Union was equally controversial. But so far, history has proved that those who take tough stands for freedom are usually successful, and always honored.

And that comes to the second reason for telling the story of the woman from Moldova. People from America – Texas, Alabama, Ohio, and others – worked with people from Moldova, the International Organization on Migration in Switzerland, the U.S. State Department, and others, to do good, and to make a difference. That shows what good people can do when they put their minds to it. And it shows what governments are supposed to do when they deal with each other in the world. That is what foreign policy is supposed to be about.

In his second Inaugural Address, President Bush gave all of us working in his Administration our marching orders. He said, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

In other words, it says to someone like me who is dealing with foreign policy and Europe 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.

And if there is one point I want to emphasize, and hope you take home with you tonight, it is this:

America and Europe form a single civilization, anchored on the values of freedom, democracy, free markets, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and human dignity. And as a single democratic civilization, we face common challenges, which we can overcome only by facing them together. One need only look to the bombings in London last month, or those in Madrid a year ago, to see this painful fact.
When America and Europe are divided, we cast an intellectual and moral fog over our actions, and those of our enemies. When we are united, we give no quarter to the enemies of freedom.

As President Bush said, "All that we seek to achieve in the world requires that America and Europe remain close partners."

Now, this may not sound terribly revolutionary, but as someone who’s been working on foreign policy with Europe for two decades, let me assure you: it is.

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. Working together beyond Europe was simply not the priority.

Today our agenda with Europe today is mainly not about Europe, but about how America and Europe can work together to face challenges beyond Europe. 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 such as we have seen in Darfur.

To be sure, the work of building a Europe whole, free and at peace is not over. But – and I hope I’m not declaring victory prematurely – in many ways, we’re over the hump.

Maybe we should have broadened our agenda long ago. But I think that on both sides of the Atlantic, we got complacent. It took a disaster like September 11 to shake America out of its slumber. For Europe, focused inwardly on building the institutions of European integration, September 11 was far away – not the life-changing event it was for Americans. Because of the IRA, the Red Brigades, and the ETA organization of the Basques, they thought that they knew terrorism. So it has taken longer. But Europe too has focused since September 11 on the new set of challenges we face. The London bombings, though still having an enormous public impact, were perhaps less of a wake-up call there than a stiffening of already growing resolve.

Now I sense I have got some doubters out there. So let me address your question preemptively: Is Europe really helping?

Absolutely. A few examples:

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 Union member states are on track to issue biometric passports in the coming year, helping make all of us safer in overseas travel. Over 80 percent of shipping containers bound for the United States from Europe are now subject to extra, anti-terrorist screening procedures.

Over 17,000 troops from 23 European countries are serving alongside American forces in Iraq, and 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 a quarter billion more.

Over 9500 European military, police and civilian personnel are with us in Afghanistan, not counting NGO’s. NATO runs the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, the UK, and one of our newest Allies, Lithuania, all lead Provincial Reconstruction teams. European financial pledges to Afghanistan over the past few years exceed $4 billion.

We are working together in dozens of other ways, bringing humanitarian aid and transporting African Union troops to Darfur, helping build democratic Palestinian institutions, and working to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Broader Middle East.

And most important of all – and an area where we still have work to do – we are presenting united front, and a united set of democratic values, to counter an ideology of violent extremism that takes aim at the very beliefs we hold dear. The war against terror is a war of ideas – and those who cherish the ideas of freedom must stand together to overcome those who do not.
And all of this builds on the largest economic and trading relationship in the world, worth more than $2.5 trillion per year. Our economies are increasingly interwoven. We in government do not make this relationship happen – the most we can do is facilitate the interaction and keep government from getting in the way. Instead, it is the strength of large and dynamic private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic that make this economic relationship what it is: in a word, the reflection of a shared commitment to freedom and free markets.

And for those who might ask a second question: OK, but is the Bush Administration really serious about working together, rather than acting unilaterally in the world?

Again, absolutely.

It is not an accident that President Bush’s first trip in his second term was to Europe, and the same is true for Secretary of State Rice. In a speech she gave in Paris, Secretary Rice said of America and Europe, "We are strong, but we are strongest when we put our values to work for those whose aspirations of freedom and prosperity have yet to be met."

And that sums up the point I want to leave you with tonight. Our relationship with Europe is not about itself, where we lay down on the couch and ask ourselves, "How is our relationship?" It is about what we can do together in the world. Just like the people of Texas who banded together and formed the first Texas Rangers; or the Congressional Delegation who helped a woman in need from Moldova, it is about what good we can do in the world, based on our shared commitment to the values of freedom. That’s the purpose our transatlantic relationship must serve, and that is the heart of President Bush’s foreign policy.

Thank you, and I’d be pleased to address any questions you might have.

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Updated: December 2005