Building the Transatlantic Relationship
University of Bonn, Center for Advanced Security, Strategy and Integration Studies
James D. Bindenagel, Senior Professor at Bonn University, is the author of “Germany From Peace to Power? Can Germany Lead in Europe without dominating?” published by Bonn University Press/Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. He is a former U.S. Ambassador and was the founding Henry Kissinger Professor at Bonn University. His career in German-American relations includes military, diplomatic, and academic assignments in West, East, and United Germany from 1972 to 2020.
This speech was delivered as the Columbus Day Lecture 2014 at the Center for International Security and Governance, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, where Ambassador James D. Bindenagel is the Henry Kissinger Professor.
Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank Professor Sabine Sielke and the North America Program for inviting me to deliver the Columbus Day Lecture. It is an excellent opportunity to present some ideas on the transatlantic relationship and the challenges we face—the invasion of Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea, the terror of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, lagging economic recovery particularly at a critical juncture when we are in the process of negotiating a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I will come back to these themes shortly.
In this Christopher Columbus lecture it is perhaps not surprising—given the importance of transatlantic relations—that even the European discovery of the new world that became America is also challenged.
First, the Washington Post last week reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Muslims had discovered America in 1178, three centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus. As reported in a contemporary journal of Bartolome de las Casas about Columbus’ first voyage, on Monday, October 29, 1492:
Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he gave the name of San Salvador, he describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful . . . one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque.
While President Erdogan seeks to show the important role of Muslims, there have been no archaeological discoveries of Islamic structures predating Columbus’s arrival in the New World.
Second, others, the Vikings, may have landed in America before the end of the first millennium, but they did not write their story.
Or third, the renown Chinese Admiral Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty‘s greatest mariner, who was a Muslim, may have not discovered America, but he is praised as a great explorer before Columbus. His seven voyages from 1405 to 1433 involving hundreds of ships — some exponentially larger than the three captained by Christopher Columbus decades later, in 1492. Zheng He is being invoked by the Chinese as historical proof of the difference between China’s and the West’s roles in the world.
Whoever was sailing around the world, it was the German monk Martin Waldseemüller who established the critical European-American link with his World Map that named America in 1507. The map was created by Martin Waldseemüller, thirteen years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the Western Hemisphere. The naming was based on the letters of Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote about his voyages to the new world. For the first time, this map labels America and shows the continent as a separate land mass. It is often referred to as America’s Birth Certificate
One thing is clear, as John Hebert, of the Library of Congress said: “This is … essentially the beginning or first map of the modern age, and it’s one that everything builds on from that point forward.” The Waldseemüller Map represents a revolutionary shift in the way Europe viewed the world that marked the new era. Transatlantic relations still shape the world today.
The Waldseemüller map itself lay hidden in the Waldburg-Wolfegg castle archives until discovered in 1901. On the occasion of the unification of Germany in 1990, German Embassy Minister Fritjof von Nordenskyoeld in Washington proposed to the German government that the map be given to the United States for its strong support in uniting Germany. After nearly 17 years and an exhaustive effort, the map was presented to the Library of Congress by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Johannes Prince-Waldburg-Wolfegg Waldsee in 2007. It is now on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Speaking of German-American relations, a keystone of transatlantic relations, I have recently returned from Berlin, where Germans—and their friends from around the world—celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the freedom won on the night of November 9, 1989.
On that historic night and in the weeks and months of “Monday-demonstrations” leading up to it, Germans found the secret of freedom—courage to overcome fear. Their courage to storm the Berlin Wall that had imprisoned them for decades—and the determination of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev not to send his soldiers to maintain Soviet control over East Germany—made possible the Peaceful Revolution that led to German and European unity.
These events are historic: The fall of the Berlin Wall is not just for the East Germans, but for all Europeans, what the storming of the Bastille 200 years ago was for the French—the symbolic end of the old order and the end of an era.
The communal Peaceful Revolution festival was a tribute to the courage of ordinary Germans; the celebrations in Berlin were also a vivid reminder of the importance of our partnership: Relations between Germany and the United States were forged in the fires of freedom during the Cold War, creating a shared bond that has served Europeans and Americans well.
That bond was sealed during the Peaceful Revolution and the 2+4 Negotiations for German unity. In 1989-1990, when President George H. W. Bush put his full weight behind the German dream of unification. The American decision to align itself with united Germany substantiated an offer Bush had made to Helmut Kohl earlier that year: that the United States and Germany should work as partners in leadership in building a new, inclusive, and peaceful European order.
It is perhaps worthwhile to recall this moment in our shared history at a time when it has once again become more difficult to talk about German-American relations in recent months, even—and perhaps especially—among friends.
Time has passed quickly in the six years since 200,000 Germans gathered at the Victory Column in Berlin to hear presidential hopeful Barack Obama declare: “True partnership and true progress … require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all trust each other.”
The hope for a renaissance of the relationship after the mutual estrangement during the Bush years that many Germans, Europeans, and, indeed, also Americans associated with Obama’s election to the presidency six years ago, however, has since given way to a much bleaker outlook.
In the United States, the electorate has just filed its discontent at the ballot box of the midterm elections. In Germany, the recent GMF Transatlantic Trends Survey reports, support for President Obama has dropped from 92 percent in 2009 to 56 percent in 2014. At the same time, a mere 58 percent hold a positive opinion of the United States in general—down from 68 percent just one year ago. Unsurprisingly, therefore, 57 in 100 Germans (and still half the Europeans) wish for their country to become more independent from the United States.
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall, this latest crisis of trust in the transatlantic relationship comes at a time when the world seems to be unraveling, when the free and peaceful order established after the Cold War seems to be collapsing.
A quarter century ago, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously speculated about the “end of history”—an ultimate victory of the Western model over the totalitarian and authoritarian challenges of the twentieth century. Today, Dr. Fukuyama’s latest book paints a much bleaker picture, leaving his readers with the distinct impression that hopes for the global spread of freedom, democracy, and free markets may have been a mirage. Instead, fears of war and terrorism have once again returned to Europe.
In Russia, President Putin, who once declared the collapse of the Soviet Union “a major geopolitical disaster of the [twentieth] century,” has turned his back on allegedly un-Russian values like democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. A quarter century after the fall of the Wall, President Putin made a judgment call quite different from his predecessor’s. Unlike Gorbachev, he did not embrace peaceful change and the courageous call for freedom expressed by thousands on Maidan square. Instead, he invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, in blatant violation of international law.
In China, where the an authoritarian leadership is forcefully asserting its dream to reclaim the Senkaku Islands, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, aggressive nationalism is also on the rise. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State established an archaic caliphate and launched a catastrophic war, killing thousands and forcing millions to leave their homes. In Iran and North Korea, the regimes of Ayatollah Khamenei and Kim Jong-un pose nuclear threats to peace. In the Middle East, peace is as elusive as ever. And in the background lurks the euro crisis, waiting to re-emerge.
Closer to home, bitter disputes about the NSA surveillance scandal over the course of the past year recall the last major crisis of transatlantic relations surrounding the 2003 Iraq War. Tapping Angela Merkel’s phone and the debate over inviting Edward Snowden to Berlin have severely undermined mutual trust, especially between the United States and Germany.
Even TTIP negotiations feed the mistrust. The Chlorhühnchen [chlorine-washed chicken] has become a symbol of growing opposition to a trade agreement that threatens to undermine the transatlantic relationship’s strategic response to the shifts in global power we are witnessing.
The strategic lesson we can take from these facts is that neither the United States nor the European Union can hope to tackle these—and other—global challenges on their own. Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, it is therefore of critical importance that we renew our partnership and recall the lessons of 1989: That the defense of freedom requires courage, and that Europe and America need to stand together in defense of freedom.
If Russia’s aggressive nationalism is to be effectively confronted, if China’s rise is to occur peacefully within the existing legal and institutional framework, if the terrorists of the Islamic State are to be defeated, if the global economy is to weather the next crisis, if global epidemics like Ebola are to be contained, if security can be found in cyberspace, and if the effects of climate change are to be mitigated, there is no alternative to effective—and strategic—transatlantic cooperation.
Rather than a piecemeal approach to cooperation, all-too frequently undermined by parochial differences, we need to develop a genuinely strategic perspective on the protection and promotion of our shared principles—a strategic partnership that is capable of tackling the challenges of the present and keeping the world safe for democracy.
Let me illustrate what I mean by such a strategic partnership with reference to some of the most urgent crisis confronting the transatlantic community of values today: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ISIS’ advances in Syria and Iraq, and our own troubled negotiations over a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
First, Ukraine. What we are currently witnessing in the eastern part of that country is nothing less than a struggle for the very values on which our Euro-Atlantic community is founded—a struggle between democracy and the rule of law on the one hand and authoritarian, aggressive ethnic nationalism on the other.
Unlike his predecessor in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, who resolved not to intervene militarily in the peaceful revolutions of 1989, President Putin seems determined to violently oppress Ukrainians’ desire for freedom, democracy, and prosperity. The question we now face is whether nationalism and the principle of Might makes Right will displace the rule of law. Wird das Recht des Stärkeren die Stärke des Rechts ersetzen? Yes, time progresses but history can return.
From this perspective alone, the events in eastern Ukraine represent a threat to Europeans and Americans. Putin’s machinations—his interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs, annexation of Crimea, and barely disguised intervention in eastern Ukraine—are, however, not only challenging our values, but also our vital interests. At play are the very principles underpinning the peaceful order of post-Cold War Europe: security, stability, and shared prosperity.
The Ukrainian crisis, therefore, is the shock of returning history, not of the return of the Cold War, but of power politics and nationalism that we may have thought were relegated to the dustbin of history. This crisis is it only about abstract moral principles—a matter for Sunday speeches and the Op-Ed pages. At its core, the crisis in Ukraine is about interests, about power, and about the future of the European order. In such a situation, where the president of a resurgent Russia openly challenges the West and seeks to unravel the norms and institutions that have kept most of Europe at peace for the past twenty-five years, it is of critical importance that the West is resolute and united in their defense.
Yet, when observing the public debate, such resolve seems hard to find. In America, we had hoped after the Cold War that Europe was finally at peace and we could turn our attention elsewhere. Now, after a failed “reset” with Russia at the beginning of Obama’s presidency and two years into the “pivot to Asia” we are pursuing a policy of restraint.
In Europe, and particularly in Germany, we can observe similar restraint—albeit for different reasons. Still haunted by their past and conscious of their complex historical relationship with Russia, Germans are cautious to confront the Kremlin straight-out. Instead, they pose probing questions: Who is truly responsible for the escalation in Ukraine, they ask. Was it not NATO which has reneged on its commitment, allegedly given to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989/90, not to expand NATO eastwards?
Such a commitment, of course, never existed. That is now clear from the historical record, recently declassified documents and the testimony of the key actors involved. Such arguments, therefore, are nothing but an invitation to Putin to continue his neo-imperial pursuits in the near-abroad as a purportedly defensive move against Western expansionism.
To be sure, it was a mistake to offer a NATO Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine in 2008. Although the idea was ultimately killed by Angela Merkel’s opposition, it was perceived as a severe affront in Moscow, which retaliated by invading Georgia in August. And it is here where the West made its second—and arguably decisive—mistake by not standing up to Russian aggression. This restraint on the part of the West encouraged Putin to continue his policy of aggressive ethnic nationalism. The Georgian precedent certainly figured into his calculations when the Russian president weighed the pro’s and con’s of attacking Ukraine six years later.
If history is not to repeat itself, the West will have to take a strong and resolute stance in defense of the very principles on which Russia and the West agreed to build the new European order in the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe. This 1990 narrative counters that of President Putin. We are committed to a “steadfast commitment to democracy based on human rights and fundamental freedoms; prosperity through economic liberty and social justice; and equal security for all our countries.” It is time for us to call for a review conference on the Charter of Paris to present our narrative and re-affirm our vision of a Europe, whole and free. It is a vision once shared with Russia when it signed the Charter of Paris, but is now rejected by Putin.
It is also time to recall the maxim underpinning successful diplomacy of Frederick the Great: “Diplomacy without arms is like an orchestra without instruments.” Military intervention is avoided if diplomacy succeeds and only if Putin can be convinced that the costs of his aggressive, neo-imperial foreign policy of spheres of influence and great power politics are higher for Russia—and for him personally—than those of a return to a cooperative, reform-oriented policy—domestically and internationally—will he be compelled to change course.
At its core, therefore, the Ukrainian crisis is about political will and courage: What price are we willing to pay for the preservation of the order on which our freedom and security depend? So far, the answer given by the Western governments seems encouraging. The successive rounds of sanctions have progressively increased the pressure on Putin as the Russian economy now seems headed towards a prolonged and severe recession. Yet, the Kremlin still seems undeterred.
At an October meeting of the Valdai Club in Sochi, in what the Washington Post has labeled “one of the most anti-American” rants in his fifteen years as Russia’s paramount leader, Putin gave no hint of concessions or a change of course in response to Western sanctions. Instead, he has opted for a show of force and repeatedly dispatched his bombers on fighters on missions on the fringes of NATO’s airspace in recent weeks.
The price we will have to pay, therefore, will turn out to be higher than the losses in sales incurred by some German apple farmers. But sanctions are worth the effort. A military intervention has been ruled out by all governments in the West—and rightly so.
We have to take the concerns of our Central and Eastern European NATO partners seriously. They have a long and bitter experience with Russian hegemony and the Baltic countries in particular are understandably worried that Putin’s ambitions to restore the Soviet empire may not end in Ukraine. It is therefore the right course for NATO to strengthen its presence in the region, to conduct exercises in the Black Sea, and to intensify its cooperation with Ukraine. They—and Moscow—need to know that they can rely on NATO’s solidarity and the provisions of Article V as much as Germany could during the Cold War.
The sooner Putin realizes that—this time—the West is united and determined to defend the European order, the better. For we depend on Russia’s influence and cooperation not only in resolving the Ukrainian crisis. At the same time Moscow shares interests to help convince North Korea and Iran to terminate their nuclear programs. Together with the Kremlin we are tackling what may be the biggest security challenge today—the rise of terrorism in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Let me thus turn to this second in my list of challenges confronting the transatlantic partners, ISIS. In talking about this challenge, we must first understand that ISIS is a fundamentally new kind of threat. As an organization, it violently rejects even the few moral principles universally shared by humanity. It denies any notion of human dignity and engages in activities that at the very least border on genocide. If given the opportunity, there can be no doubt that it would commit crimes similar to those we witnessed in Rwanda and Srebrenica during the 1990s.
This is why, secondly, it is significant that IS consciously seeks to establish its own territorial base. While Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were still so-called guests of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, ISIS has created a ‘caliphate’ and placed it under its cruel and inhumane interpretation of Sunni Islamic law.
This combination of its extremist ideology and an independent territorial base turns the Islamic State into an existential threat to its—largely involuntary—inhabitants. Summary executions and forced displacement have particularly affected the Kurdish population, but Shias, Christians, and other so-called infidels are by no means immune. In October, a UN report said that 24,000 Iraqi civilians have been injured or killed by ISIS in the first eight months of 2014 more than a million are fleeing the territories controlled by the jihadist militia.
Like Putin’s machinations in Ukraine, the ambitions and actions of the Islamic State challenge our shared values and principles. Like Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his intervention in eastern Ukraine, however, they also pose a very real threat to our interests and security. As such, they demand an equally decisive response.
And this time, and unlike in Ukraine, the World stands united in opposition to the Islamic State. In August, the Security Council unanimously passed a strongly-worded resolution in which it condemned the “gross, systematic and widespread abuse” of human rights by the Islamic State and called on Member States to take national measures to prevent fighters from travelling from their soil to join the groups … as well as their supply with arms or financial support.
As things stand, however, such measures will not suffice to contain the threat. Indeed, the international condemnation of its actions only seems to have emboldened the IS and its fighters. Increasingly, therefore, Western leaders have grown convinced that it is impossible to negotiate with an actor like the Islamic State, that we will have to back up our words with deeds and, if need be, defend our values and our interests militarily.
Yet, more than ten years into the war on terror and with ISAF’s withdrawal from Afghanistan looming on the horizon, the West has become war-weary. According to a recent study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, more than four in ten Americans believe that their country should henceforth stay out of international entanglements. Consequently, they seem to have taken some comfort in the idea—an idea that was certainly nurtured and promoted by the Obama administration—that the fight against terrorists could henceforth be conducted largely through limited operations of Special Forces and drone strikes.
This perspective dramatically changed over the course of just a few weeks when ISIS brutally beheaded two American journalists—and subsequently also British and French citizens. While 72 percent of Americans opposed an intervention in the conflict last summer, now, 70 percent support such an intervention. President Obama, who could not get himself to order air strikes against the Syrian regime after Bashar al Assad had ordered the use of chemical weapons against his own people last summer, has ordered extensive air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Many European governments have joined the fight—by supplying weapons to the Kurdish Peshmergha or conducting air strikes against IS positions in Iraq. Notably, Germany—traditionally reluctant when it comes to military interventions—was among the first to take such action. In a move that would have seemed unthinkable to most observers just a few months ago, the Federal Government discarded the long-standing policy of not supplying weaponry to war zones and arranged for the delivery of anti-tank missiles and other equipment to the Kurdish Peshmergha.
If Germany is serious about what President Gauck said at this year’s Munich Security Conference and indeed prepared to take on greater international responsibilities, Germans will have to get used to such—and even more far-reaching—measures. While, for good historical reasons, Germans have long been reluctant to play an international leadership role, particularly in the security sphere, their partners have long shed such reluctance. Already in 2011, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said he was less afraid of German tanks than of German inaction.
This, of course, does not mean that the Bundeswehr will—or should—soon be dispatched to any trouble spot around the globe. It does mean, however, that a genuine and strategic partnership with its European and North American allies requires that Germany bears its fair share of the burden.
With its reunification a quarter century ago—and even more so with the recent euro crisis—Germany’s international weight has dramatically increased. With that, however, comes greater international responsibility. If it wants to be taken seriously by its partners and to exercise influence on important strategic decisions taken in Washington and also Brussels, Berlin can no longer afford the “checkbook diplomacy” practiced by Helmut Kohl in the 1990s. Neither can it afford to impose burdensome caveats on the operation of the Bundeswehr that hamper its mission as in Afghanistan. A genuine partnership implies a share of the burden as much as a share in decision-making.
The fight against ISIS, however, will not be decided in Iraq and Syria alone. The horrific shooting at the Canadian Parliament in October illustrates all too vividly that the terrorist threat cannot be contained in the Middle East. The attacks of London and Madrid, which cost the lives of more than 200 people, remind us what may be in store
Thus far, according to a United Nations estimate, more than 13,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 80 countries have joined the ranks of ISIS. Many of these people will return home, heeding the call of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to take the fight to Western shores. As one IS fighter, talking on the phone to a Reuters reporter, warned: “The West are idiots and fools. They think we are waiting for them to give us visas to go and attack them or that we will attack with our beards or even Islamic outfits. … They infiltrated us with those who pretend to be Muslims and we have also penetrated them with those who look like them.”
In confronting the threat posed by the Islamic State, therefore, our intelligence services will have an important role to play. Only they are capable of identifying the discontent Jihad-tourists traveling to the Middle East to fight the ‘infidels’. Only they are capable of tracking them down before they return home in order to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe or America. But they will only be capable of doing this if the European and American services work closely together and share their information. All the more important it is, therefore, to restore the trust that has been lost during the recent NSA scandal.
The services must be accountable to democratically elected institutions and their work must be subjected to tight and transparent rules. The aberrations of the post-9/11 era must be corrected—not only in the United States, by the way, but also in Europe. The reforms initiated by President Obama are a crucial step in this direction, but more needs to be done to restore the trust of the American people and of our partners across the Atlantic, in the work of the intelligence services, on which our shared security depends.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about TTIP, perhaps the most significant strategic undertaking by the transatlantic partners since the founding of NATO in 1949, but also a buzzword which is almost certain to trigger immediate popular—and populist—criticism. Here in Germany, people worry about shale gas and chlorine chicken. What they tend to forget is that European farmers feed their chicken antibiotics, which Americans do not, and that shale gas may not only reduce our dependence on oil and gas imports from abroad but also dramatically reduce CO2 emissions.
On the other hand, the EU has long been pressing for a tax on financial transactions, which the United States opposes. While Americans freak out about lax banking regulations, the German have a wacky desire to pay excessive prices for their books. Also, I know all too well from my personal experience that the subsidies provided by European governments have helped to preserve a cultural scene that is often much more diverse, lively, and critical than Hollywood has been in a long time.
The larger debate, therefore, is not about “poster-issues.” Behind the scenes, the negotiators have now agreed on a set of key principles for an agreement. These include: WTO-consistency, transparency, non-discrimination, essential regulatory equivalence, and the elimination of all transatlantic duties on traded industrial and agricultural products.
An agreement based on these principles will provide clear and tangible benefits for the partners on both sides of the Atlantic: Most immediately, it will create jobs and promote growth by strengthening U.S.-EU economic integration. Perhaps even more significantly, however, it will also meet the strategic objective of promoting an international, rules-based trading system and repositioning the transatlantic relationship.
Let me just briefly address each of these advantages and start with jobs and growth. What we are aiming to create with TTIP truly is a behemoth of sheer economic weight. The transatlantic market accounts for:
- 60 percent of total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI);
- 50 percent of global output (in dollars);
- 40 percent of the global GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity);
- 40 percent of industrial added value;
- 1/3 of the global trade in goods and services;
- 1 in 3 patent applications in the world;
- 16 percent of added value in the agricultural sector;
- And yet only 12 percent of the global population.
The U.S.-EU market generates some $5.3 trillion in sales annually and employs more than 15 million workers. Johns Hopkins University SAIS studies show that the stock of EU and U.S. investment in each other’s economy was a staggering $3.7 trillion in 2011, and EU affiliates alone employed some 3 million Americans in 2010. On a historic basis the U.S. investment position in Europe was 14 times larger than in the BRICS and nearly four times larger than in all of Asia in 2011. U.S. investment in Ireland alone was more than six times larger than U.S. investment in China.
If critics charge that TTIP offers only modest growth prospects, it does so on a very large economic base that can jump start the recovery and create jobs at a critical time when the United States and the European Union need to achieve two counterbalancing objectives at the same time: to promote economic growth and to fight growing deficits.
According to a widely-quoted study by the German Bertelsmann Foundation, TTIP would lead to a long-term increase in per-capita GDP of more than 13 percent in the United States and 5 percent in the European Union. Unemployment would decline by 0.45 percent across the entire OECD and by up to 0.76 percent in crisis-ridden countries like Portugal. Indeed, therefore, jobs and growth are the driving forces that can help build support for an agreement among Europeans and Americans alike.
Strategically, and that is my second point, TTIP also helps the U.S. and EU to meet the challenges of a globalizing world through a common cause: promoting a rules-based multilateral economic system.
The world is now at a critical historical juncture with the re-emergence of nationalism on the agendas of China and Russia. Asia and other emerging markets have put pressure on industrialized countries’ global competitive advantage that is eroding. We are at a time in which the shape of the future will be determined.
Yet, the multilateral institutions for trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as the Doha Round negotiations are stuck in a prolonged standstill. The transatlantic relationship, notably with German leadership, is needed if TTIP is to preserve and protect its cherished principles of free trade and free enterprise. With the deep business, cultural and education ties that bind the U.S. with Europe, TTIP negotiations bring many of European-American interests together as the strategic project that will help reset key relationships with emerging markets and China.
Already today, China is the world’s biggest trading nation—the Exportweltmeister, as Germans like to say—and in ten years, experts predict, it will also have surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest economy overall. In this situation, TTIP is more than just one among roughly 400 regional trade agreements now in force around the world—it is a strategic necessity, maybe our last best chance to shape the emerging global trading regime according to our principles and values.
Yet, despite these clear advantages, public support for TTIP is hedged at best. Indeed, the constant debates over chlorine chicken and genetically modified organisms have cost us support as the negotiations progressed. While, at the outset, there was strong public support for the agreement and the German Marshall Fund’s ‘Transatlantic Trends reported that 56 percent of EU respondents and 48 percent of Americans believed TTIP would help economic growth, that picture seems to be changing. A recent, and widely discussed poll by the TNS Emnid institute suggests that support for the agreement among Germans has fallen from 55 percent in February to only 48 percent in October. Increasingly, people tend to see TTIP as a “giant corporate power grab” (FT 9/23/13)—a concern I have heard repeatedly whenever I give this talk.
While this may be an emotional reaction, it must be taken seriously, because it costs votes and thus jeopardized the ratification of the final agreement by national parliaments. Despite industry lobbying and NGO campaigning, neither businesses nor civil society feel they have fully penetrated the fog surrounding the talks enough to win legislative support. With transparency still lacking, a more robust TTIP Stakeholders Outreach Program is needed.
The question that needs to be put in front of the voters is a simple one: Strategically, we must decide whether we want to live in a world where the Chinese dictate labor standards? Where the Russians control the global energy markets? Where the financial markets are dominated by the petro-dollars from the Gulf monarchies? The only answer can be that there is no credible alternative to ever-closer transatlantic cooperation.
This, as I hope has become clear from this brief survey of current challenges confronting us, holds true not only for TTIP, but for the entire array of issues that are dominating the international agenda. Neither the United States nor the European Union can hope to successfully tackle them alone. If we want to shape the global future in line with our principles and values, there is no alternative to close transatlantic cooperation and a strategic renewal of our partnership.
It was, to recall another anniversary we commemorate this year, almost a hundred years ago, when urging a joint session of Congress to declare war against Germany President Wilson admonished his country to make the world safe for democracy. A century later, this goal has become no less important, and perhaps more difficult to achieve. This time, however, the United States and Germany stand united in its pursuit, drawn together by a shared set of interests and values that are much stronger than the differences that may occasionally set us apart. That are much stronger, moreover, than whatever interests we may share with our Chinese creditors and Russian energy suppliers.
If we are to promote the values we share and protect the free and peaceful order that generations of Europeans and Americans—from Woodrow Wilson to Helmut Kohl—have worked so hard to establish, preserve, and advance over the course of the past century, we need to recognize that we can no longer afford to tackle issues individually or deal with them in isolation: Only together, through an integrated and cohesive—that is, a genuinely strategic—approach can Europe and America muster the necessary soft and hard power resources to ensure that the emerging world order of the twenty-first century continues to conform to our fundamental values and thus preserve freedom, democracy, and prosperity for future generations.
In practice, this will involve close cooperation not only in the security field—the traditional core of the transatlantic relationship. In an interdependent world, we will also have to integrate our activities in the political, diplomatic, and economic fields more closely. This is why TTIP is of such strategic significance.
Of course, as TTIP illustrates, there will be—as in any good relationship—differences on specific issues or the appropriate means to pursue certain goals. If only for our different geographic location, history, and political culture, we will, at times, assess new threats and challenges differently. But it has always been one element of the strength of our community of values that—as mature democracies—we are able to discuss these differences openly and find solutions and approaches that are acceptable to all partners and compromise neither our shared interests nor our common values.
While never easy, this task has certainly become more difficult in light of the results of last week’s midterm elections in the United States. With both houses of Congress now firmly controlled by the Republicans and the American political system perhaps more polarized than ever after the most expensive midterm campaign in history, it has become even more difficult for Barack Obama to pursue his presidential agenda. Determined to re-take control of the White House in 2016, the GOP will likely try to block most of his initiatives and prevent him from portraying himself as an effective leader capable of getting things done.
Particularly in the field of foreign affairs, where Republicans traditionally consider themselves to have an edge over Democrats, they will almost certainly force President Obama to adjust his cautious stance on issues like Ukraine and ISIS and assume a much tougher stance vis-à-vis strategic competitors like Russia and China. This expectable readjustment in U.S. policy will not go down easily with Europeans, and particularly Germans, who habitually pursue a course of moderation on all of these issues.
At the same time, there is some hope that the Republicans’ taking control of Congress may aid the TTIP negotiations. Traditionally advocates of free trade and open markets, they may indeed devise their course on substance, not on politics. While it remains doubtful whether they will indeed grant President Obama the Trade Promotion Authority he seeks in order to push for a swift ratification of a final agreement, the TTIP agreement now certainly has some new and powerful friends in the U.S. Congress. Despite the differences on other issues, this is an opportunity that the European advocates of such an accord, including the new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker, must seize.
If, as most observers predict, the American political system will become even more dysfunctional in the coming two years than it has been in the past, this is not a cause for Europeans to rejoice—as some of them like to do in response to frequent American criticism of the inefficiencies of European politics. Only if both political systems, on both sides of the proverbial pond, are capable of delivering results is there a real prospect for a renewal of the transatlantic community with a genuinely strategic outlook.
Mutual trust and understanding is therefore of the essence. Insistence on maximalist positions will not help, neither domestically nor internationally. At the same time, a perfect harmony of interests and objectives can never be achieved. Indeed, Americans and Europeans have always been most successful when they have trusted each other sufficiently to give each side the necessary leeway to apply its specific strengths and skills in pursuit of a common goal—and these goals we continue to share, be it with regard to Ukraine, ISIS, Russia, or China.
From the naming of America to unifying Germany, challenges have confronted us in the transatlantic relationship. Today, despite all the bickering over details, the values that unite us are still much stronger than the petty differences dividing us.
From a global vantage point, Obama’s words from 2008 still ring true: “America has no better partner than Europe.” And, I would like to add: Europa has no better partner than America.