Remarks
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
International Institute for Strategic Studies
Washington, DC
March 1, 2012


Andrew, thanks very much indeed. It really is a pleasure to be back at the IISS, to see so many distinguished colleagues and a lot of old friends in the room as well.

It has actually been 18 years since I set off from Washington to London to join as a Senior Fellow. I would just start by noting that the Institute and the world have both changed an awful lot in that time.

IISS when I was there was already an international institute, to be sure, but in the intervening time it has truly globalized. The fact that we’re speaking now and streaming to places all around the world is indicative of that, as are the conferences that you hold in Singapore and Geneva and Bahrain and elsewhere. I think the Institute’s membership now is up to over 100 countries, again underscoring truly the global nature of this institution. What hasn’t changed is the quality of the Institute’s work, which remains widely read and respected all around the world.

The Euro-Atlantic community itself has changed considerably since my time in London. In 1994, which was when I arrived, NATO if you recall was still agonizing over whether to operate “out of area”. The European Union still only had 12 members. The Balkans were at war. Russia was coping with economic turmoil and the loss of an empire. And at that time Europe’s economic problems seemed to stem not from the existence of a common currency but from the lack thereof.

Today the challenges are very different, but arguably even greater. Indeed, while I think we all need to remind ourselves not to fall victim to the fallacy that the problems we face today are worse than ones previously faced, I do think it is fair to say that in 2009 President Obama inherited a global agenda frankly as daunting as any administration had faced for many decades. He faced major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a growing nuclear challenge from Iran, the ongoing threat of global terrorism, and the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s. It didn’t feel that way at the time, but looking back on those years in the mid-1990s it really was a time of relative peace and prosperity.

Transatlantic unity was also under great strain when President Obama took office. Recall the deep divisions over Iraq, the debate about how to handle the nuclear threat from Iran, the growing European doubts about engagement in Afghanistan, and a U.S. relationship with Russia that was at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War due to tensions over missile defense, NATO enlargement, and especially the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008.

According to the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends survey in 2008, just 19 percent of Europeans approved of the President’s handling of international policies and just 36 percent viewed U.S. leadership in world affairs as desirable.

That was the landscape that the President inherited when he took office in January 2009. And one of the most urgent agenda items he had was to win back the world’s trust, especially the trust of our European partners. His premise was that the current challenges are so great that even America’s unparalleled power could not deal with them alone. The President articulated his vision for transatlantic cooperation during a little speech he gave in Berlin in the summer, saying that “Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.” And he made clear that “America has no better partner than Europe” when it comes to the need for strong allies who can help us deal with a changing world.

Let me say, this administration has invested very deliberately and consciously in strengthening the ties that he was referring to.

Last week Secretary Clinton made her 28th trip in office to Europe. She speaks regularly with her European counterparts, sometimes several times a day. President Obama has so far visited Europe ten times. His first overseas trip was less than three months into his presidency. He attended a G20 summit in London, the NATO summit in Strasbourg-Kehl, the US-EU summit in Prague, and then he went on to Turkey. Two years later when he was speaking in Poland on a trip that included stops in Ireland, the United Kingdom and France as well, he called the transatlantic alliance a “foundation stone for American security”. The reason was because “we share ideals. We share values. And we have taken on consistently leadership on some of the toughest challenges that face the world”.

This administration has not only sought to bring a new tone to the transatlantic relationship in which we respect the positions of others and welcome the chance to talk honestly about our differences. The President has also demanded strong engagement from other countries. As he told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, dealing with global challenges “cannot solely be America’s endeavor”. He warned that “those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone”.

Now I gave you the background to the President’s thinking about the transatlantic relationship and his approach to the transatlantic relationship because I want to talk about how we have delivered on that approach in the first three years of this administration.

Three years into this administration I would assert that the United States and Europe have never been more aligned, both in overall strategic goals as well as the tactics that we use to achieve those goals. While the foreign policy challenges today are no less pressing -- indeed many exist alongside a host of new problems -- we have been able to approach them more effectively because we’ve been doing so together with our European allies. It’s not to say there aren’t differences across the Atlantic as there are within Europe and obviously within the United States for that matter. But the reality is that we have a common transatlantic agenda and we’re putting our forces together to deal with a very challenging world.

Recent opinion polls confirm the positive effects of this collaborative approach. Take the same German Marshall Fund polling that I cited earlier from 2008 and it shows that European support for President Obama’s handling of international affairs was 83 percent in 2009, 78 percent in 2010 and 75 percent last year. I think still a remarkable degree of support for what the United States is trying to do in the world.

Now let me be clear that approval for our policies, support for our leadership, and even working together are not ends in and of themselves. They are means to the end of more effective international engagement to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the United States and around the world. I would just like to ask you to consider some of the ways in which we are doing just that on the major issues of the day.

Take Afghanistan where our European allies have been critical to NATO’s efforts. With nearly 40,000 European troops on the ground fighting alongside our own, we have built and sustained NATO's largest-ever overseas deployment. For a decade now, the Alliance has held firm to the principle of “in together, out together”. That commitment has not faltered during discussions of the transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces in 2014, which will be one of the key topics of the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago.

Despite the current difficulties, let’s also not forget that enormous progress has been made in decimating al-Qaida’s leadership. We remain committed to a partnership with the Afghan people and government as we work to realize our shared goals of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaida as well as building a safer, more secure and prosperous Afghanistan.

On Libya, President Obama demonstrated leadership by leveraging unique American capabilities to create a coalition that shared the burden effectively. He made a deliberate decision to seek a UN Security Council mandate, work through the NATO alliance, and seek support from Arab states and other partners. With UN authorization, the United States used those unique assets to take down Libya’s integrated air defense system in a coalition with European allies. Ten days later we handed command and control of the mission over to NATO, while continuing to provide the bulk of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, in-air refueling, jamming and other critical capabilities. We are continuing to work closely with our partners on the transition in Libya.

On Iran, Iran was moving closer to a nuclear weapons capability in 2009 as was evidenced by the discovery of a covert enrichment facility. The United States and Europe have together offered Iran a way to resolve differences between us through diplomacy. Iran, however, has not yet engaged seriously. And so we have coordinated with our partners in Europe and around the world on a dual track policy to increase pressure to sharpen the choice for the Iranian regime. And I want to stress, we have enjoyed unprecedented unity with the European Union on this approach, including support for UN Security Council Resolution 1929, several IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, and the recent -- and I would even say surprising to many, pleasantly surprising here in Washington -- the decision by the European Union to ban Iranian crude oil imports and to freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank. We are continuing to work extremely closely with the E3+3 to engage Iran in serious discussions without preconditions.

Again, I ask you to contrast this to the divisions that previously plagued us over issues like Iran. When I was in London at the IISS I wrote an Adelphi Paper about differences over the Middle East, and particularly on Iran. It wasn’t hard to fill up the size of the manuscript about those differences. The point being we had gone from that, very significant differences about pressure versus engagement, to what I really think is pursuing the same policy together on Iran.

In Syria, the violence perpetrated by the Assad regime in reaction to what began as a peaceful opposition movement is unacceptable. Once again we have worked closely with our European partners to steadily ratchet up pressure through multiple rounds of sanctions. We have also engaged in active diplomacy in major UN bodies to unite the international community behind the Arab League's call for an immediate halt to violence; a negotiated political solution to enable a democratic transition; and a coordinated response to the growing humanitarian crisis.

Last week Secretary Clinton joined her European counterparts and leaders from over 60 countries in Tunisia to coordinate our approach to these goals and to send a clear signal that despite being blocked in the Security Council, the broader international community will pursue all available measures to secure a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria. And once again, the United States and Europe are united in doing so.

Our cooperation is not just global, as is clear from some of the examples I’ve just given. But it also applies closer to home, or I should say closer to Europe, where the United States has again been working extremely closely with our European partners to address remaining challenges within Europe. I’m pleased to say after months of closely coordinated diplomacy the United States and European Union both welcomed an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo last week in the EU-facilitated dialogue -- which the United States observes and strongly supports -- that will ensure Kosovo’s representation in regional forums and a technical protocol on Integrated Border Management between the two countries. We were pleased that the EU General Affairs Council just this week decided to recommend candidacy status for Serbia and that the EU has also taken steps to strengthen its relationship with Kosovo. We’re encouraged also by recent developments in Bosnia, including agreement on a Council of Ministers and adoption of a state budget, once again something that the United States and Europe have worked closely to achieve.

We have also, together, worked to support the Swiss-mediated agreement between Georgia and Russia that paved the way for Russia’s invitation to the World Trade Organization last December. And we’ve continued our high-level engagement in the Minsk Group to help find a lasting, peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. At the OSCE, an important forum for recognizing the crucial role played by human rights in security, the United States and the European Union continue to coordinate a joint response to the troubling events in Belarus.

And of course we have worked very closely on the challenges of the Eurozone crisis. The President has been speaking very regularly to his counterparts in the Eurozone, and Treasury Secretary Geithner is obviously doing the same. He has traveled recently several times to Europe to engage his counterparts. We remain confident that the EU has the will and the means not only to cut its debt and build the necessary firewalls, but also to create growth and to restore liquidity and market confidence.

We welcome the steps that European leaders have taken to resolve the debt and banking crisis, including the commitment made at the EU Summit on January 30th to introduce fiscal consolidation, the economic reforms agreed to by Prime Minister Papademos in Greece and his European counterparts last month, as well as ongoing efforts -- I should say very impressive efforts -- by Prime Minister Monti in Italy and President Rajoy in Spain to lay the groundwork for developing more dynamic economies and addressing vulnerabilities.

In addition to working with our EU partners on all the challenges I have mentioned, I want to particularly underscore the work we have done with and on two other important countries in Europe, which is Turkey and Russia. President Obama and Secretary Clinton maintain very regular and very close contacts with their Turkish counterparts as part of a deliberate investment in that relationship, which we think has paid off. As a NATO member, Turkey has made important contributions to our joint efforts in Afghanistan, including by deploying troops. And on two areas of potential divergence –- Libya and Syria -– Turkey has worked actively with the United States and the international community to promote peaceful solutions. At the same time, we continue to speak honestly with Turkey about our differences, including on Iran and Israel. While we regretted, and made clear that we regretted, Turkey’s efforts to deal with the Iran nuclear program outside the E3+3 format and its decision to vote against Security Council Resolution 1929, we appreciate Turkey’s enforcement of sanctions and efforts to prevent illicit procurement.

As is quite well known I think to this group and others, President Obama has sought to reset relations with Russia. This policy has been guided by the belief that we could cooperate on areas of mutual interest while speaking plainly about our areas of disagreement, maintaining support for our friends, and holding firm to our principles. The development of a more effective working relationship with Russia has led to mutually beneficial foreign policy achievements, including agreement on a New START Treaty, the 123 Agreement on nuclear cooperation, a military transit accord on Afghanistan, and cooperation on Iran sanctions. This year we look forward to welcoming Russia to the World Trade Organization, an agreement that was nearly 20 years in the making and something we believe will benefit Russia, the United States and Europe. We’re working with Congress to terminate the application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to Russia before it formally joins the WTO.

Despite some initial misgivings about the reset, the value of stronger U.S.-Russia relations has been recognized by allies in NATO as well as in Central and Eastern Europe. For example, we welcomed the Polish-Russian “reset” and have worked to improve coordination of issues such as energy security. We have also sought to manage our differences with Russia on Georgia by engaging the two in regular dialogue through the Geneva discussions and seeking to ensure greater stability and transparency on the ground.

Finally, let me say a word about the NATO summit that President Obama will be hosting in Chicago this May. When I was working on NATO issues at the IISS, the Alliance had just 16 members and had never conducted a military operation, anywhere. When in 1996 as the editor of Survival I chose to publish an article advocating NATO’s enlargement to the Baltic States, some people thought I was just being provocative or maybe was a little bit crazy.

Today NATO has 28 members, dozens of partners across the globe, a proven track record of providing stability within Europe and beyond its borders. NATO’s ongoing missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and off the horn of Africa as well as its recent operation in Libya demonstrate its significant contributions to global security. At a time of budgetary austerity across the industrialized world, it is worth remembering that NATO has proven to be the most successful alliance in history and provides the most effective security for its members.

But we also have to recognize the need to find new ways to make our collective defense spending smarter and more efficient. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, who has just been in Washington the last two days for consultations with our government, has put an emphasis on “smart defense”, which includes initiatives such as common Baltic Air Policing and common funding of Alliance Ground Surveillance, which can both help ensure our security while minimizing costs.

The summit’s overarching goal is to build on decisions reached in the Lisbon Summit of 2010. And in particular, the Alliance will define its collective next steps for security transition in Afghanistan; announce the completion of collective capability commitments, including we hope an interim operating capability for ballistic missile defense; and to recognize the crucial role played by partners in NATO operations.

To conclude, the United States and Europe have made considerable progress in recent years toward addressing common challenges, including the transition to a civilian-led mission in Iraq, agreement on steps for drawing down forces in Afghanistan, and the prevention of mass atrocities in Libya. The President’s approach has proven, we think, that we are more effective when working constructively together toward common goals.

The agenda that is still before us, most urgently the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Syria, clearly remains daunting. And of course there are many many other issues that I haven’t had time here to address, from helping North Africa and the Middle East in its democratic transition, the question of China’s emerging power, new leadership in North Korea, climate change, the threat posed by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa and many many others. But I think by talking a little bit about the extensive list of areas where we are cooperating extraordinarily closely, and contrasting it, if you will, to previous periods, and I don’t mean just the previous years but even decades before that, I think it says a lot about the approach that the President brought to this relationship, what we’ve been trying to do over the past three years, and what we intend to do in the future.

On every single one of the issues I mentioned, close transatlantic cooperation is an indispensable starting point. To retain an effective working relationship, countries on both sides of the Atlantic must continue, as we have done, to engage in frank dialogue, smart defense spending, and cooperative policy-making.

Secretary Clinton could not have summed it up more succinctly than she did in a joint appearance with Secretary of Defense Panetta in Munich just last month when she said, “Today's transatlantic community is not just a defining achievement of the century behind us. It is indispensable to the world we hope to build together in the century ahead.”

Thank you very much for your attention, and I look forward to taking your questions and having a discussion.