A. Wess Mitchell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
June 21, 2018
Thank you Tomas for that very warm introduction. And I can tell you that the feelings are entirely mutual. I appreciate the friendship that I’ve developed with Tomas over the years and have great respect for him as an intellectual and former policy maker, and I want to applaud the great work he’s doing here at Carnegie Europe which is a very important institution in the transatlantic relationship. I know he’s brought a lot of energy and vision to this role and I’m really pleased to see the work that Carnegie is doing on the really essential job of strengthening the transatlantic relationship in Brussels, which is what I hope to work on today as well. It’s also good to see many friends in the audience. I appreciate all of you getting together.
Let me start by stepping back in European history. This is a year of many anniversaries so I tried to pick one that would be an appropriate starting point for talking about the transatlantic relationship. And I want to go back seventy years.
Seventy years ago this week, when Joseph Stalin was preparing to blockade West Berlin. In the days that followed Soviet forces cut off access to the city of Berlin by all routes—rail, water, road and air. In response to that, Harry S. Truman ordered what would become the largest airlift in history. Over the course of a year, the U.S. Air Force, together with the air forces of France and the British Commonwealth, would fly more than a million and a half tons of supplies to the people of Berlin. Food, medicine, coal, toys, candy. Everything needed to keep a city alive. And because of that effort, two million German citizens were saved from starvation. But I think more than that, Stalin saw for probably the first time that the United States was serious about strategic competition, about protecting the fragile states of post-war Europe from Soviet aggression.
The Cold War that ensued would be the third and longest global conflict of the Twentieth Century. On two earlier occasions, once in 1917 and once in 1941, the United States had used its massive resources to arm, fund and lead great alliances to free the European continent. These conflicts had cost America a lot in lives and treasure to win. Lives of men like my relative, Carl Hart from Aspermont Texas, who was shot by a German sniper near the Rhine in January 1945. After the war, Americans wanted to bring their sons and daughters home. That’s exactly what we had done after the First World War. But this time was different. This time America did not leave Europe when the shooting stopped. We stayed and rebuilt Europe. We dug Europe’s great cities out of the rubble. We shipped tons of supplies—food, clothing, fuel for winter, heavy equipment— we shipped all of that to Europe to resurrect European civilization. We built permanent military bases. We laid the foundations for NATO. We funded the Marshall Plan—more than $110 billion in today’s terms. And we insisted that Europe’s nations drop trade barriers and coordinate to rebuild one another. We supported the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union.
In making that decision to rebuild Europe, America wanted to ensure that our sons and daughters would not have to intervene in yet another European war. Our aim was to make the West economically and militarily strong to deter a conflict before it could start. We saw in 1948 what we had failed to see in 1918: that strategic competition would continue even though the shooting had stopped. And that we would have to remain committed over the long haul to win that competition and avoid the old cycle of reaction that had cost us so much in previous wars. So better to be in Europe and deter threats than wait until they had metastasized and have to intervene on terms not of our own choosing.
Taking that path was not cheap or easy. We take it for granted today that America would rebuild Europe after World War Two. But it was far from a foregone conclusion at the time. Such a thing was new to American political culture. Americans were tired of war. They wanted to demobilize, cut defense budgets, and return to the business of peace at home. The fact that they did not do those things, that they stayed and rebuilt, has provided the foundation for the world as we know it today. Working together, our grandparents’ generation turned off the old “firetrap” – as George Kennan called it – the firetrap of Europe in the 20th Century. A firetrap that had brought two European wars in a little more than a generation. And from those ashes they built up the modern West, centered on the great nations of the North Atlantic basin, into a place of democratic freedom, enormous wealth, stability, and strength.
Fast forward 70 years. Today the Western Alliance faces new challenges that few of us could have imagined in the days immediately following the end of the Cold War. A reanimated and militarily aggressive Russia. A China that is exerting economic and military influence across Central Asia, into the Caucasus and Central and Eastern Europe. An Iran that has expanded its strategic reach from the Persian Gulf to the borders of Israel and the shores of the Mediterranean. Islamic extremism capable of reaching into the very heart of Europe. Migration on a scale not seen since the population movements at the end of the Second World War.
The question for today’s generation is not unlike the one that Americans and Europeans faced in 1948. Strategic competition is heating up. And it is here to stay, for the long-term. Do we have the will and resources to engage in, and win that competition over the long haul? Even when it will require us to make decisions that may not be comfortable or easy for our societies today. As President Trump said in Warsaw, “Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
The United States is doing its part to ensure that we do. That job begins at home where we are working to strengthen America militarily and economically for the years ahead. We are rebuilding our defenses, recapitalizing a neglected nuclear arsenal and reversing years of cuts that had reduced the U.S. Navy to its smallest size since before the First World War. We are rebuilding an economy that for decades has seen U.S. manufacturing, jobs move overseas. Stimulating investment, cutting regulations, restoring growth and fighting to give American companies a fair chance in international markets. Since January of last year, nearly 3 million American jobs have been created, the unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest number in nearly 20 years. Jobless claims have fallen to levels not seen in 44 years and job openings have reached the highest levels ever recorded.
All of that is good for Americans. But it’s also good for our allies and for the world. American strength is the central pillar upon which not only our own U.S. security rests but your security here in Europe rests as well. If that foundation is vulnerable, all that we believe in, all that we ground our strength upon—democracy, markets, deterrence—all of that is vulnerable as well.
Our job today is to preserve the West as the world moves into an era of fiercer geopolitical competition. That cannot happen without Europe participating energetically in the task. America and Europe together are the West and the heart of the Free World. Europe is the backbone of our international alliance system and by far our largest economic partner. But more than that, America and Europe are bound together by bonds of history, heritage and culture, by kinship and shared sacrifice.
Our Interests and Values Align
No two regions on earth share an alignment of values on anything remotely similar to what unites Europe and America. In a century that is shaping up to see intense battles of ideas, we stand for the cause of freedom that since antiquity has been the foremost gift of Western civilization to the world. China, Russia and Iran each in their own way are would-be ideological competitors to the West. China and Russia represent a coherent model—stability founded on authoritarianism and brute force, harnessed to certain aspects of market competition and co-mingled -it’s worth adding- co-mingled with state-run politicization of the economy. Iran and ISIS are also authoritarian, and stand for political Islam in its ugliest form: muscular, repressive and dogmatic.
What all of these have in common is a negation of the individual. A building up of the central authority, whether secular or theocratic, over the liberties of the individual. An eagerness to repress and punish anything that challenges the state. An embrace of kleptocracy and corruption to enrich those who rule the state.
All of these things are antithetical to the political traditions of the West, which above all were built on the idea that the individual is to be protected from abuses of state power. We stand for democracy over autocracy, for the freedom of the individual over the centralizing apparatus of the state, for the rights of the weakest against the arbitrary power of the strong, for law above politics and right above might.
Our interests also are closely aligned. America and Europe share a fundamental interest in seeing the world remain free of the scourge of Great Power war. We share an interest in seeing Europe’s territorial integrity protected. In seeing Russia held accountable for the invasion of Ukraine and not allowing that precedent to be repeated elsewhere. In preventing the use of chemical weapons from becoming the norm. In dealing effectively with China’s currency manipulation, dumping and wholesale theft of intellectual property rights. In seeing our cities secure from terrorist attack and our youth linked by cultural and economic exchange. In seeing the Balkans reformed and on the path to Europe and Europe free of Russian energy blackmail. In keeping the sea lanes open for commerce. And in keeping transatlantic trade, commerce and investment strong.
To see how much unites us, just compare American and European perspectives to China or Russia. China elects its president for life. Russia uses force to redraw borders and supports a Syrian regime that uses chlorine gas against children. Neither protects the individual, respects rule of law, freedom of press, assembly or speech. For both, human rights are an afterthought.
The scale of what unites America and Europe can also be seen in how much we are doing together, at home and all around the world. Every day, Americans and the EU conduct on average $5.2 billion of two-way trade—more than $1.1 trillion a year in goods and services. Every morning, around 15 million Americans and Europeans go to work in jobs created by each other. Every day, 35,000 U.S. troops wake up at bases in Germany, 12,000 in Italy and nearly 5,000 in Poland and Eastern Europe. Every day, U.S. and European soldiers, sailors and airmen march, sail and fly alongside one another on patrols as far-flung as the Baltic, Black Sea, Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan. Every day, something like 74,000 tourists, vacationers and businesspeople board more than 1,000 airplanes to cross the Atlantic for mostly visa-free travel in what is by far the highest volume of travel between any two regions on earth. I think I’ve been on about half of those airplanes in the past week.
Every day U.S. and European law enforcement officials coordinate on everything from customs and border security to human trafficking and international narcotics. Our intelligence agencies share information and satellite feeds on scores of threats to keep us safe. Our scientists and researchers collaborate on projects in medicine, engineering and IT.
Every day our diplomats work together to tackle the world’s toughest problems. They coordinate on Ukraine, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Afghanistan; on counter-terrorism, global health problems and nuclear non-proliferation. We coordinate strategy, aid and even trips among our officials with one another in the Western Balkans, on normalization in Serbia-Kosovo and reform in Bosnia. Last week, U.S., EU, German, French and British diplomats coordinated by phone for hours with one another and with Greek and Macedonian officials to reach a deal on the name issue. And last week in Singapore, a historic breakthrough was achieved with North Korea after years of coordination between the United States and Europe culminating in a joint campaign of maximum pressure.
United More than Divided
The scale of what unites us can even be seen in our disagreements. The history of transatlantic relations has been marked by debate and crisis from the earliest days. Roosevelt and Truman disagreed with Churchill about how to handle Stalin (I think Churchill was right). De Gaulle disagreed with five consecutive American Presidents on virtually every major foreign policy issue in transatlantic relations for about twenty years. Eisenhower disagreed with Eden and Coty over Suez. Kennedy disagreed with MacMillan over Skybolt. Reagan and Kohl disagreed over Pershing II. Over the decades, Americans and Europeans have disagreed about everything from Vietnam, and the Iraq War to the Kyoto climate accords and Google. We have had and continue to have scores of disputes with one another at the WTO: on commercial airplanes, poultry, beef, biotech, steel –this is not the first one -bananas, and chemicals.
But at every turn we have found a way to come together, for the simple reason that what unites us—in values, interests, trade and security—is vastly greater than what divides us. We are bound by ties of history, culture and kinship that cannot be broken by even the most passionate disagreement on policy.
That is as true today as it was in past decades.
Consider for example the issue of Iran. The United States recently made a decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. In doing so, we sent a clear message to Tehran’s leaders that we are determined to confront the full scale of Iran’s malign influence across the Middle East. As Secretary Pompeo said recently, “no more cost-free expansion.” While many Europeans disagreed with our decision, we know from months of close dialogue with our allies that they and we are in full agreement on the extent of the Iranian problem and the need to take steps together to deal with it more effectively. Today, we are working with allies from Europe and the Middle East to do exactly that.
We will succeed together in this task.
Or consider the issue of burden sharing. In recent months, the United States has called more urgently than ever for our allies to meet the 2 percent threshold in defense spending. Some allies do not like to hear this message. They remind us that they face political and economic pressure at home to keep defense spending low. So do we. Imagine telling moms and dads from Texas or Kansas that their sons and daughters must defend a Europe that is unwilling to defend itself. It is U.S. security provision, paid for by U.S. tax payers, that for 70 years has allowed Europeans to shift their public outlays from defense to things like free education and health care. We urge our allies to honor the commitments made at Wales and the Brussels Leaders Meeting. We applaud the growing number who have already done so. Since January of last year, every member of NATO but one has increased defense spending. The number that will spend 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024 has more than tripled (from 5 to 18). The number allocating at least 20 percent of GDP to major equipment purchases has more than doubled (from 14 to 26). And the Alliance as a whole has increased defense spending by 5.2 percent (or $14.4 billion) – the largest one-year surge in defense spending in a generation.
We will succeed together in this task.
Or consider the issue of trade. After World War II, the United States opened up its domestic markets to European allies’ imports on a non-reciprocal basis. We did so to help Europe rebuild itself from the wreckage of war. We continued that policy toward former rivals after the Cold War. It is the root of a trade deficit of $140 billion with Europe and $350 billion with China. Today we sit on systemic imbalances in global trade that make a mockery of the rules-based economic order. After letting China into the WTO, that country has conducted large-scale theft of intellectual property, dumped its products on a grand scale and refused reciprocity in trade and investment. The EU, too, presents an unfair playing field to U.S. companies. The United States recently made the decision to take action against years of Chinese steel dumping. In doing so we have prioritized fair and reciprocal trade. We want to eliminate the inequities and imbalances that have developed in our trade relations over the years. That is necessary to strengthen the transatlantic relationship and ensure that it can continue to be strong and serve both American and European interests. For this reason, President Trump has emphasized his desire to one day see no tariffs, subsidies, and trade barriers among the nations of the West and between the world’s most developed economies. As Secretary Ross has said, we are open to finding a joint way to address steel and aluminum tariffs that allows us to jointly confront the shared problem of Chinese overcapacity. We are ready to work together with our EU partners to improve market access, remove tariff and regulatory barriers to trade, and counteract unfair third country practices.
We will succeed in this task, together.
In all of these areas—Iran, defense spending, trade—we are committed to finding a common way forward. We are committed to acting. We can debate, we can strategize and coordinate, but we must act. We cannot continue to defer action on things that make the West collectively weaker against its rivals. Failing to address Iranian military ingenuity, influence and support for terror will put the West at a disadvantage in the future. Not spending 2 percent on defense; having atrophied European militaries whose submarines cannot swim and airplanes cannot fly: that puts the West at a disadvantage in the future. Building pipelines like Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream that increase Europe’s dependency on gas from Russian energy monopolies: that puts the West at a disadvantage. And failing to address structural trade imbalances and predatory trading practices—that too is something that will weaken the West in the years ahead.
Taking strong positions on these issues may not always lead to immediate agreement. But the long-term costs of neglecting these things far outweigh whatever short-term benefits we get from the appearance of political unity today. In taking strong positions, we are not targeting our allies: we are countering those like Russia, Iran and China that are putting our collective security at risk. In the actions we take, we are hoping to spur a multilateral response to address some of the world’s toughest challenges. We urge our allies to be strategic actors and to take these and other threats to Western security more seriously than they have in the past. And we are ready to work together to find a common way forward.
Europe In All Its Forms
In tackling these and other problems, we are ready to work with Europe in all its forms. Ahead of next month’s NATO Summit, we are preparing one of the most extensive agendas in the Alliance’s recent NATO history. In addition to burden sharing, that agenda will include two other substantive planks: strengthening NATO deterrence and defense, and expanding efforts to fight terrorism and project stability in the south.
At the Summit, we will unveil U.S.-led initiatives to improve force readiness, mobility and decision-making without which the steps pledged at Wales and Warsaw cannot realize their full potential. We will introduce new U.S.-driven command structure adaptation and a U.S. commitment to establish a new headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia on North Atlantic security; as well as new counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and a new mission in Iraq. We will also ensure NATO has the right capabilities to respond effectively to hybrid and cyber challenges. And we will significantly expand the scope of NATO’s responsibilities across its southern frontier. By transforming the activity in Iraq to a mission, we will send a signal of NATO’s long-term commitment to that country, broaden the effort to defeat ISIS, and ensure the Coalition retains its hard-won battlefield gains against this death cult. In tandem, we will expand cooperation with Southern partners to confront terrorism, trafficking of weapons, regional instability, and illegal migration.
America also works closely with the European Union. Altogether, at present, we maintain over 35 ongoing structured dialogues with the EU on everything from security and energy to trade and human rights. The EU stood with us first in imposing and then continuing to renew sanctions on Russia in the period since the start of its aggression in Ukraine. It is also a critical partner in counterterrorism. We work closely with EUROPOL and the EU Counterterrorism Center to staunch the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and improve information sharing on potential threats. We coordinate with the EU on protecting its borders. And we coordinate on energy security, where the EU shares our concerns about Nord Stream 2 and shares our support for projects like the Southern Gas Corridor and the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB).
We support the EU effort to improve European defense capabilities. But NATO is the chief guarantor of European security and, as such, any EU defense efforts must strengthen rather than weaken NATO. PESCO can help ensure and enhance European security only if it is coordinated with and reinforces NATO. Otherwise, it duplicates capabilities at a moment when the overwhelming task before us is to build capabilities that in many European countries do not exist at all. We therefore support NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg’s three principles—that nations not have two separate sets of capability requirements; that capabilities developed under PESCO be available to NATO; and that non-EU NATO Allies be involved in PESCO.
In addition to NATO and the EU, America works closely with European nations. Europe is home to many great nations, which are fonts of history, language and culture. Nations have the first and most basic claim on our natural affections. They are the seat of sovereignty and popular democracy and the foundation of law and civic patriotism. Some of Europe’s nations are small, some are large, some are new democracies, some are old democracies, some are in the EU, some not, some are in NATO, some not. All are part of the West. The United States maintains thriving bilateral relationships with all.
There is for example our relationship with France, America’s oldest ally, a military partner of inestimable value and from the time of De Gaulle a world nuclear power that contributes tangibly to the deterrents that makes up the deepest foundation of security for the Western world. Today Washington and Paris cooperate in a range of fields where French national power is indispensable to Western security: Syria and Lebanon, where France brings a wealth of unique experience and relationships from long history; the Sahel and North Africa, where France has shown leadership in dealing proactively with long-incubating but under-addressed threats.
There is our special relationship with the United Kingdom, a great nation linked more than any other in the world by history and kinship to the United States. We will maintain that special relationship long after Brexit has run its course. We view Brexit as a sovereign democratic decision of the British people. We do not seek to influence the content of the Brexit negotiations. But we do join other allies around the world in urging the EU and the United Kingdom to move this process forward swiftly, without unnecessary acrimony, with maximum care for Northern Ireland—where we underscore our support for continued peace—with an eye to retaining the UK’s place at the heart of transatlantic decision-making, and with a view to reinforcing the long-term stability of the U.S.-European economic relationship.
There is our close friendship with Germany, one of America’s most powerful trading partners and a linchpin of Europe’s economic and political stability. There is Italy, a country with deep cultural, economic and military ties to the United States, who more than any other European state has borne the brunt of the economic and humanitarian disaster that is the Mediterranean migrant crisis. There is the Netherlands, who aided America in our own revolution and is among our closest trading and security partners. There are Poland and the Baltic states, who more than any other have borne the brunt of European security against Russia. There are the Nordic states, close security partners whose diplomats work in quiet, skillful tandem with the United States to confront some of the world’s hardest challenges. There are Spain and Portugal, two of America’s most effective maritime allies. There is Romania, Europe’s sentinel on the Black Sea and a state that has made historic progress in the fight against corruption. There is Greece, which sits on a rapidly expanding strategic frontier and is emerging as both a source of stability and leader in the Balkan Peninsula. And there is Turkey, which occupies NATO’s southernmost frontier and is a linchpin of our efforts to defeat ISIS and impede the flow of irregular migration to Europe’s southern shores.
In working with each of these nations – as we do in a variety of ways with all other European nations, we embrace the political and geopolitical plurality that is and has always been Europe. Like previous generations of Atlanticists, we must work with Europe in all its forms to strengthen the West as a whole. It is in the West’s collective interest, as we head into an era of intensified geopolitical competition to see Europe itself also embrace this plurality—of political traditions threat assessments, national legal approaches—and to find strength in them.
Now Rather than Later
In all of these areas, our task is to ensure that the West as a whole is stronger for geopolitical competition that will be more intense than we could have foreseen at the end of the Cold War. Stronger externally, in our defense policies, proactive handling of frontier threats and protection of national borders. Stronger internally, in our economies, energy policies and above all, in our will and confidence as a political civilization.
Strengthening the West means making hard decisions today even when we initially disagree rather than continuing to accept the appearance of transatlantic unity for the sake of avoiding disagreement. Our job today is one of strategic renovation: Doing the hard work of shoring up and strengthening the West now so that we don’t have to do so later on terms that are less favorable. As at the time of the Berlin Airlift, we must take responsibility for, and show resourcefulness in preparing for, the long-term competition that lies ahead of us.
Together, we will succeed in this task.