Remarks at the German Marshall Fund

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Berlin, Germany
May 3, 2012

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you very much, Heike. It’s great to be here and to do this with the German Marshall Fund with whom I have a very long relationship and have cooperated for many years. I will also try to follow your guidance of being short and concise so that others have a chance to respond to me. I don’t want to just give a long speech, I want to hear what people have to say and have an exchange of views.

It’s great to be back in Berlin, which I try to visit pretty regularly. I was last here just a few months ago because we work with the German government on such a wide range of issues all around the world.

Maybe what I can most usefully do this morning is say a few things about our global cooperation with Europe, about how we’re cooperating within Europe, and then most specifically on the NATO Summit. You mentioned we billed this as transatlantic security cooperation on the road to the NATO Summit. Obviously that is now less than three weeks away, hosted by President Obama in Chicago. So it’s very much on our minds.

But just to put it in a little bit of a broader context, I began by saying how much we work with Germany and Europe on global issues and I do think that’s the right place to start. More than ever we see Europe as our partner of first resort when it comes to managing a very challenging world. That was the philosophy that we brought with us, we the Obama administration, to office. It’s the philosophy that the then-candidate Obama spelled out not very far from here during the election campaign, and it’s just based on a very simple premise which is that unless you believe the United States alone can manage this very challenging world, you have to look for strong partners that have resources and share your values and interests, and those are more than anywhere to be found in Europe and the European Union.

So we’ve been trying to put that philosophy in place since we’ve been in office and I think from my biased perspective that we’re doing pretty well on that score. When you look at the way we’re working together with Europeans on questions like Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Syria and the Arab Spring and increasingly Asia and other parts of the world, I think you see the results of a deliberate and conscious effort to strengthen our partnership with the Europeans.

Just to be clear, I’m not trying to say that we found all the solutions to every problem, and just because the transatlantic partnership is functioning well that we are easily resolving these challenges. Clearly, there are many difficulties that we face, but we’ve always believed that while transatlantic partnership may not be a sufficient condition for dealing with these challenges, it’s a necessary one. So the starting point is working closely together. I genuinely believe that when it comes to our global partnership on these issues, we are more strategically aligned than ever.

Iran is a great challenge, but we are doing it together as we speak. Our negotiators are meeting to make sure that the E3+3, first and foremost -- Germany, France, the United States and Britain, but then also Russia and China -- are together. And we have had some success. We put significant pressure on the Iranian regime when it comes to the nuclear issue. I think a year ago if you had asked would it be possible for the European Union and the United States to have almost identical financial sanctions and a full oil embargo in Iran, a year ago let alone five years ago, it would have seemed implausible and yet that’s where we are. We’ve coordinated these policies impeccably and they are putting pressure on Iran. It’s not a coincidence that Iran has come back to the table in support of our diplomatic approach to dealing with the nuclear program. So there I think cooperation has been excellent.

Afghanistan I can say more about when it comes to the NATO Summit, but there too I think the story is one in which for all the difficulties that we face we are pursuing the same policy and we’re doing it together and every single member of NATO is contributing and the European Union is playing an important role, and there’s been extensive transatlantic solidarity when it comes to dealing with the great challenge of Afghanistan.

In Libya, just to take another case of “who would have thought,” a crisis emerges on the other side of the Mediterranean and we, the United States’ view ultimately was that it was necessary to use military force, to use NATO in support of UN Security Council Resolutions, and we rallied significant European support and Europeans played a major role even in the military operation. So there too, I think it’s a very positive story of the way we’ve been able to work together with our European partners, and it’s a story, as I say, it’s one not that just sort of came about by accident or a coincidental alignment of interests, but a very deliberate choice on our part, and we can assume on the part of Europeans as well. So I think that, again as a basic point, is absolutely indispensable to our foreign policy and we’re very pleased at the degree to which we’ve been able to do it together.

When I emphasize how we’re cooperating globally, I want to be clear that this does not mean that the United States is no longer interested in Europe itself. Yes, we have a major global agenda but we also remain committed to stability, prosperity and democracy within Europe because that remains central to our own interests and our partnership. There too, though, I think we’ve cooperated very well. Just to start with Russia which is one of the signature foreign policy initiatives of President Obama but one I think is shared very much by our European partners, which is to say that we have an interest in a better relationship with Russia, certainly better than the one that we inherited in 2009 and that we can pursue concrete objectives in our mutual interests, and we’ve done just that. I could give you a long list of the things that we’ve managed to deliver on, whether it’s the New START Treaty or 123 Nuclear Agreement or I think even more surprisingly, cooperation on Iran and Russia voting for Resolution 1929 and working with us in the EU3+3; Afghanistan, where Russia has supported lethal transit to, and hopefully soon from, Afghanistan. And maybe most recently the WTO agreement where for 20 years Russian governments and U.S. governments have been looking to find a way to agree to have Russia come in the WTO, which we think it’s in our interest to bring Russia into a rules-based trading system, and we managed to do that. It included a Russia-Georgia bilateral trade agreement. Now when the Duma ratifies it, Russia will join the WTO which we think is also a major success. So that’s been a positive important aspect of U.S. foreign policy but one in which I think we’re absolutely aligned with our European partners.

Also in Europe there’s the question of Ukraine, the question of Belarus which is looming large in my discussions with German counterparts here. Germany is increasingly concerned about the situation in Ukraine with the imprisonment and treatment of former Prime Minister Timoshenko; similarly in Belarus where for all our efforts we have failed to manage to persuade the regime to change its domestic approach when it comes to human rights and democracy, but it’s something that we’re working very much on together and committed to doing so.

I should also mention the Balkans which is an area that, once again, for all our interests in these global challenges which are great, we haven’t lost sight of the importance of continuing to work with our European partners to help stabilize the Balkans. There too, over even the past couple of weeks as we’ve been looking at the situation between Serbia and Kosovo, and the desire to help find a mechanism for organizing elections in Serbia including Serbian citizens in Kosovo, has required tremendous transatlantic cooperation and coordination and incentives and disincentives, and we managed to work out a mechanism so that the OSCE can facilitate those elections. That’s just one example of many of how we’re working together on that project.

Let me end with a few words about NATO specifically which is a key part both of our cooperation within Europe -- obviously NATO plays a key role in the case I just mentioned in the Balkans. Globally as well, given Afghanistan, Libya, and with the Summit looming, it’s very high on our foreign policy agenda. I would just mention three aspects of what we seek to do in Chicago together with our partners.

First and foremost I think is Afghanistan. It’s going to be the primary issue on the minds of our publics. Obviously whenever you’re fighting a war and have troops deployed abroad, that’s going to get the most attention. There too, for all of the challenges and differences, I think the alliance should be proud of the degree to which we have done this together over essentially the past decade.

We agreed at the Lisbon Summit on this notion of “in together, out together.” We agreed on a timetable for 2014 after which the Afghans would take on full responsibility for security, and we were determined to in the meantime increase our force presence to support the strategy, train Afghan National Security Forces, so that when we take our combat troops out by the end of 2014, they are able to provide for their own security and we are on track for that goal, as difficult as it is.

For all of the speculation and talk about so-called rush for the exits and pressure on governments to leave, basically just about every member of the alliance has stuck to that timetable of keeping their combat troops there until the end of 2014. We want to coordinate that and nail it down so to speak in Chicago because there’s more work to be done but we’re nonetheless determined to stay on that timetable. You heard the President’s speech from Afghanistan just earlier this week underscoring and committing to that goal.

We also have to determine in Chicago what role NATO will play after 2014 because none of us believe that we can just tie this up and happily leave and leave Afghan to its own devices. Indeed, on the contrary, we need to make sure that we support the Afghan government and Afghan National Security Forces after we have left, and we have to find commitments to finance Afghan National Security Forces after 2014. That’s a tough challenge and nobody has lots of money sitting around that they happily want to spend on it, but we are trying to remind our allies and ourselves that after all we’ve invested over the past ten years in military operations, it would be penny wise and pound foolish to not do what we need to do which will cost much less than we have been spending, but to make sure that the Afghans can provide for their security.

We’re also going to have to focus on making NATO a more efficient military alliance in Chicago through this initiative that we’ve called smart defense, which is to say we would like to believe that defense spending will stay robust and that’s how we’re going to finance the military capabilities that we need. But we know the economic climate that everybody’s in. Frankly, defense spending trends are not positive, particularly in Europe. We do have to keep an eye on that. But while we do that we have to make sure that we’re doing all we can to be more efficient.

The whole point of having an alliance is you put your means together. So there are a number of projects that we’re pursuing for Chicago under the category of smart defense so that we can take better advantage of pooling and sharing of assets. We want to move forward on missile defense and try to be in a position to declare an interim capability of missile defense to adapt the alliance to the real threats that we face.

We have reached agreement, just to cite another example of what I mean by this pooling and sharing, to extend the operation of Baltic air policing. An example of where certain allies have an asset, others don’t. And instead of expecting all others to procure that asset, Baltic states buying fighter planes, those who have can provide it and those who don’t can make their contributions in other areas. So we want to extend that in the Baltic states.

The alliance commitment to allied ground surveillance, a project to collectively procure drones so that everybody can take advantage of our intelligence resources without everybody having to spend money on infrastructure and drones is another example of what we are trying to do and believe we’ll be successful in doing in Chicago, and we appreciate Germany’s participation in that project. That’s the kind of thing we’ll be looking for. There are other projects out there in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The European Union In-Air Refueling Initiative. It’s the same principle as AWACS. Countries pool, buy a certain number, and everyone can benefit from it. We need to do more of that in Chicago.

Finally, we’re going to emphasize partnerships in Chicago because we’re fully conscious that this NATO alliance is clearly now no longer just about defending Europe. It’s a global partnership and it’s not just about NATO members, but partners -- not just the European partners like Russia or Georgia, but global partners. Sweden played a major role in Libya. The Arab countries played a major role in Libya. Obviously in Afghanistan there’s a wide range of countries from around the world participating. I want to underscore that this alliance serves our interests beyond just Article 5 and the NATO members, as important as that is, to help us protect our security interests all around the globe.

So that, Heike, is maybe a quick summary of some of the things that are on our mind and on our mind for Chicago, and hopefully I have provoked enough questions and comments that you'll be able to respond.