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Public-Private Initiatives and the Search for Peace

Public-Private Initiatives and the Search for Peace.
Speech Aspen Institute Berlin,
Ambassador John C. Kornblum,
September 2, 1998

Our theme today is Public-Private Partnerships in transatlantic relations. But what are these? And what do they have to do with foreign policy and transatlantic relations? You only have to pick up a newspaper to see how many things in international relations -- including the interests of our people and the goals that we share -- are influenced by the complicated connection between government policies and the private sector.

Before the end of the Cold War, foreign policy was dominated by traditional military and security questions. We were constantly dealing with the East-West confrontation. Since 1989, we have been living in a different world. It is gradually becoming clear that the problems that we face as well as the opportunities at our disposal are increasingly being addressed by a broad mixture of government policy and various kinds of private influences. These problems are less and less the province of governments alone.

The Importance of Empowerment

This may be a particularly American way of looking at things. There are many people in Europe, and in Germany, who might not share this thesis. We are having an interesting debate across the Atlantic about how to guarantee the security and well-being of our societies under these new conditions.
I know this from personal experience. I was involved for many years with the so-called Helsinki Process, now called the OSCE. For the United States, the OSCE is the perfect instrument to create a bond out of political and security goals, as well as morals and values.

But there are voices in Europe calling for just the opposite. They think that the only way to secure peace is by turning the OSCE into an alliance of states -- an alliance with a strict legal character. The tension between formal enforcement of security and stability and a more open security policy is one of the main issues of the post-Cold War period. The United States is convinced that in this new situation, empowerment of peoples and individuals can and must increasingly be the guiding principle of our efforts instead of enforcement of legal treaties and obligations.

Therefore, I would like to underscore tonight how important private initiatives are and how important NGOs -- and the concepts behind them -- are to the security and well-being of our people. That means the free flow of people and ideas. It also means the mixture of governmental and private initiatives. It is a new synthesis offering the only opportunity to cope with the developments of the last 20 years.

The end of the Cold War is not the only important element. Think of the importance of the nearly revolutionary progress in business and technology, the influence of huge transfers of capital, the explosive development of communications and the rapid independence of so many new states and their entry into the international community. We are experiencing the opening of the world.
Naturally, governments have an important role to play. But it is becoming increasingly complicated for governments to control developments or to please everyone. It is even difficult to come up with a vision of a successful future -- a vision which increasingly must be an integrated one. Gone are the days when politicians or diplomats could develop grand concepts. Now many diverse influences have to be taken into account.

Nowhere in the world is this theme more important than here in Berlin. Berlin, and of course Germany, were for decades the prime example of the old type of security policy. But even back then, our military and our security policy rested on the foundation of democracy, freedom and free-market economics. Ultimately it was also the democratic miracle, as seen in the western part of Germany after the second World War, which brought the Cold War to an end.

Berlin has always been a hub for ideas. In a reunited Europe, this will be even more the case. For the United States it will be important to ground a new tradition in Berlin precisely because our countries have such a strong basis in common experiences and common successes in Berlin -- a tradition that is based on people, societies and private initiatives.

Private contacts were always important here. These are not new but they are another foundation for the new type of security policy which I have described. The contribution of private individuals is important. But when private initiatives and NGOs work together, they do two things: They become personally engaged to build something in society. In the process they effectively become engaged in the building of a certain type of society, be it within their countries or between two countries. Second, public-private partnerships spark a feeling of empowerment. They create the feeling that one isn't just an object of security policy or an object of international politics but rather a part of the process of making policy. In terms of the future of Europe, I cannot stress forcefully and frequently enough how important this feeling of empowerment will be.

Recent history supports this view. Spending time in Bosnia, as I did, demonstrated how strong and destructive the feeling of being a victim can be. The feeling of victimization, feeling powerless and unable to determine one's own future, is unfortunately very strong at the moment in certain parts of the world.

If we are trying to build in the future a stable community across the Atlantic and beyond Europe, then we must also be sure that not only America or Germany or England or France have a feeling of responsibility but also people, private individuals in our societies and, most of all, that people in parts of the world such as the Balkans or the Caucasus or Central Asia can develop a similar feeling. My own experience makes it clear to me that NGOs play a much more important role than governments in conveying this feeling of empowerment. For years in Bosnia, for example, NGOs were the only organizations holding up Western ideals. In situations where our official policies ran into trouble coping with the new situation in the Balkans, the NGOs represented Western engagement.

Even here in Germany, the United States is adapting to the new situation. Our Embassy will be restructured. We are modernizing our methods. An institution which played a very important role in the last fifty years -- a role that should not be underestimated -- is the America House. American cultural centers have played a decisive role in the development of post-War Germany. But now, it no longer makes sense for America Houses to be centers radiating American culture. It is obviously no longer necessary to teach a war-torn Germany about modern life and democracy.

What we do need are communications centers in which Germany and the United States can organize encounters to test ideas and to give Germans and Americans the feeling that they are building something together. America Houses are being reorganized into German-American centers. I am not trying to hide the fact that this naturally means that there will be less direct financing from the American government. We will see whether these institutions will find a new role on the basis of private initiatives. So far there have been clear successes in Munich and Hamburg.

An opportunity for these kinds of private initiatives and centers of communications is to encourage governments to work faster on certain issues or to start paying attention to them in the first place. For example, in the WTO, we have negotiated two so-called mutual recognition agreements in the last few years. Their goal is to facilitate trade by agreeing to recognize each other=s standards for quality and safety. The initiative for these agreements came from the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, an important center for leaders in industry from both sides of the Atlantic. Here is an example where leading forces in industry, forces which certainly also compete with each other, have created a forum to shape common goals and policies.

Another example is the cooperation between the American Embassy, German industry and the American Chambers of Commerce in Germany. A chamber of commerce is an organization which represents the interests of its members. But for many years, the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany has been basing its work on concrete cooperation. Through a number of working groups, organizations and common initiatives, the Chamber contributes to mutual understanding. Our joint engagement for the economic development of the new Länder is an especially successful example.

The same methods are increasingly being employed in another very important area -- in the discussion of our societal goals and problems. These so-called domestic political questions are developing very quickly into an area of interest in transatlantic relations. The reason: The developments and goals as well as the problems on both sides of the Atlantic are nearly the same. There are different traditions, languages and expectations, but if one begins to look at the basic challenges in our domestic politics, one sees that these challenges on both sides of the Atlantic are astoundingly similar. Indeed, the terms domestic politics and foreign policy have taken on different meanings. It is difficult to determine where or if one ends and the other begins.

How can we evaluate new technologies, such as biotechnology in food? How can we maintain social cohesion in a time of rapid economic and societal change? How can we develop more tolerance and celebrate diversity in our societies? All of these issues are very important in Germany, just as they are in the United States. Increasingly, complex questions such as these are being addressed by private foundations.

An important example is pension reform. In the last year, I have been invited three times to discussions about pension reform. I don't think that any American ambassador has ever addressed this issue so often. Here in Berlin last spring there was a fascinating meeting put on by the Draeger Stiftung in which experts from the United States, Japan and Europe came together. What was interesting was the fact that all of the experts spoke the same language. I am not talking about English or German or Japanese, but rather the same terminology. And they understood each other immediately. They could identify the problem areas and describe the issues -- often much more proficiently than the politicians. Two days of such a conference made clear not only how complicated such a theme is, but the importance of international cooperation is and learning from each other.

An issue like pension reform leads me to another area which, in my opinion, will be of fundamental importance for the shaping of a peaceful and democratic world. That is, the enlargement of the community of values held together by the transatlantic world over the last half-century. This community of values guarantees for our citizens peace, freedom and prosperity. We are all convinced that it can also be a foundation for peace around the world. But these values are not accepted everywhere. They are very often suppressed. For various reasons they are called into question. One must work constantly to ensure the common defense of these values.

The media plays a very important role here. The description of the problems as well as the definition of the goals are both very complicated. It can also have a great deal of significance in terms of the perception of the problems. An example from recent history is Iraq. A crisis developed at the beginning of this year which was very real. Iraq possessed the capability, as has in the meantime been proven, to threaten parts of the Near East as far as Turkey or even Greece with chemical and biological weapons. There was a confrontation, and there was a very heated discussion in the West as to whether so-called diplomatic methods were the only means available or whether a combination of diplomatic and military means should be used.

But even during complex crises such as these -- indeed, especially during complex crises such as these -- it is important for average citizens to be in a position to understand and form opinions. In the long-term perspective, the development of this kind of empowerment is the only way to create what might be termed, in a figurative sense, a democratic constitution for the modern world. Just as we think that it is important to have a strong democracy at home with an informed citizenry, our goal must increasingly be to achieve the same in the world community.

In order to create a strong democratic constitution for the next millennium, we must all have informed citizens. And we have to start at home because even in the most highly developed western countries, the perception of such problems and the understanding of the detail are very limited. The more we face these internal challenges, the more difficult it will be to build interests for so-called foreign policy. One can complain about this. But just as in our societies, where connections are established through political parties and politically-relevant groups, foreign policy, especially security policy, increasingly requires similar connections to reach our goals.

Here I would like to offer high praise to the German media, especially television and radio. In contrast to the American media, German media carries documentaries about such initiatives and one hears on German television and radio about individual German citizens who are active all over the world. This is a very special example of how informed citizens can contribute to an informed foreign policy.

The Significance of Berlin

In conclusion, a few words about Berlin. We have an excellent foundation. We have the chance to construct new traditions which serve precisely the goals that I have described here. And, because of the many contacts and because of the serious challenges, we already have more than a foundation. We have an existing system of NGOs and public-private partnerships.

Here at the Aspen Institute, you know this. For 22 years, Aspen has been a very important element of this tradition. We already have many other organizations and initiatives -- the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, and, if I might add, the Initiative Berlin-USA, of which I am very proud to have helped found 12 years ago. This was one of the first private initiatives to create exactly this feeling of empowerment in Berlin.

There are many other examples, and I am sure that I cannot name all of them. But the point is clear.

Berlin is on the threshold of many changes. It will be the German seat of government. It is evolving into a crossroads between East and West. It is already one of the most exciting cities in Europe. But because of the roots that we have already put down here, Berlin must also remain the most important example of personal, private and non-public contacts between the United States, Europe and Germany. And as you view the developments of the last few years, you also see how dynamic this partnership has become. I hope that you also see how important Germany and America are for the development of this new type of synthesis which is evolving across the Atlantic.

These traditions of Berlin have a special meaning. And I would therefore like to encourage all of you to take part in this vision and to ponder what we have at our fingertips here in Berlin. This new world gives journalists the opportunity and responsibility to arrive at new definitions, to rethink conventional wisdom, and also to contribute to creating an informed citizenry. It gives private citizens and directors of firms and institutions the chance to think about how to participate directly and how to help construct this edifice of informed society. Finally, a call on everyone to support the initiatives, the meeting points and the overall goals which already exist in Berlin so that we can make the next 50 years much better than the last.
Thank you.

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U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany /Public Affairs/ Information Resource Centers 
Updated: August 2001