The Wheatley Institution

Europe and America: Are We 'Present at the Re-Creation' of the Trans-Atlantic Relationship?

John Hamre
September 27, 2012

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General Jordan, thank you. What General Jordan didn't include was that for many years he was the Chief Operating Officer at CSIS, my think tank. He really made CSIS a success. We wouldn't be anywhere close to our stature or influence had it not been for General Jordan.

I will tell you, I am having a little bit of a dissonance in this trip. A week ago, I was asked to give a lecture at the University of California—Berkeley and UCLA. San Francisco, California is quite a different setting. First, we did not start with prayer at Berkeley. It wasn't there. There were seventeen people who showed up, and that was because there was free wine at the end of the lunch. I have come to realize this is a very different place, here. People are here because they have ideas and they want to learn. That wasn't entirely clear last week. I did anticipate that this would be a more challenging environment, and so I prepared. I didn't prepare last week. You get what you pay for. But I did prepare because you offered me a very interesting topic, something that I really haven't thought a lot about. I thought about it, but I haven't thought about it in a careful way, certainly not in a way to talk about it out loud. So I thought, "I better work on this."

Like many of you, I have been watching Europe stumble all over itself over the last three or four years. The Europeans look down their nose at us all the time, so, in a sense, we are saying, "Okay, you guys aren't so good either." There is a little of that in the backdrop. But I came to realize, the more I thought about it, that we have a lot more to lose if Europe falls apart. So I'd like to explore this a bit with you tonight.

When asked for a topic for this speech, I suggested "Present at the Re-Creation." Now, this topic is really an echo of another very important intellectual work that was done years ago. It's a famous autobiography by Secretary of State Dean Acheson; it was entitled Present at the Creation. So I am saying "Present at the Re-Creation." Acheson was one of the four most important figures in American foreign policy in the last sixty years. In this book, he explains what was happening in those years after World War II. Europe had been shattered by the war, and in a period of about four years we built a new structure that ultimately became the foundation for surviving and winning the Cold War. Now this is ancient history for everybody beyond the first three rows, the greysters. They will remember some of this. But for all of you students, this is ancient history. My guess is that your parents would know some of this. Forgive me; I am going to have to go through a little bit of history for you to appreciate the significance of this.

World War II was astoundingly transformative event. It effectively shattered the international system that had existed for three hundred years. You know, there have really only been three truly international systems in all of human history. Prior to 1648 there was no international system; there were regional systems. But the emergence of a truly international system came with the treaty of Westphalia, and that led to the dominance of the European nation-states that extended their power around the world through a series of empires. It was centered in Europe; it was based on empires. The modality of operation was balance of power—shifting loyalties and commitments based on tactical developments that they felt were dangerous if left unchecked. It was based on these globe-spanning empires, the purpose of which was to bring riches back to Europe to make bigger castles and fancier places for basically the nobility. It did not benefit people like you and me (although their standard of living was dramatically better than the colonies, of course).

This international system lasted for three hundred years. But it was shattered fundamentally by World War II. World War II broke the back of these European empires. The European metropolitan centers were bankrupt. They couldn't afford to sustain the empires any longer. During the ten years that followed World War II, we saw the end of the empires and the emergence of the modern international state system. Over a hundred countries that previously had been colonies became states in this new international order. This first international system ended, and what emerged, of course, was the second international system. That is something we now call the Cold War.

This was an era when the world was divided, not really on mercantalistic goals but on ideological goals. There was a division between two competing visions of how to organize society and man's relationship to government. It was a contest between—I am going to use the shorthand—the East and the West. (That is not a precise division; it is not misleading, but it is too conventional.) The West was, of course, led by the United States. It was an international coalition of countries that believed in a liberal international order based on a rule of law, with the governments responsible to citizens through democratic principles. That was the West. The East was led by the Soviet Union. It was the international communist bloc that had a very different view on how to organize the world, how to organize society. Fundamentally, they didn't trust their own citizens.

But some of our friends that are closer to my age will remember—it wasn't certain that we were going to win the Cold War. It has been twenty years now. It's over, and it seems so anachronistic. The international communism had become intellectually bankrupt by the 70s. But it wasn't clear back in 1946 or 1947 who was going to win. There were a great many people in the world who were convinced that the future really should be a communist future because they looked at how capitalism had destroyed so much during the Great Depression. "Capitalism can't be the answer. Look at what it did. It led to these wars; it led to the rise of National Socialism." There was a great impulse around the world that communism should be the way of the future. This was in 1946, 47, 48.

This presented two very large challenges to us. One was in Europe, and one was in the colonial areas, these colonies that had all of a sudden become states. The empires had collapsed, and all of these countries were becoming independent states in the international system. There was a great competition between the East and the West. Where were they going to go? Were these states going to fall under the control of communism? Do you remember these days? They are not that distant ago. They are for the young students here, but that is a very, very vibrant part of our history.

The other problem that was hard to deal with was World War II, when it ended, divided Europe, with the Russians in the East and the United States, the British, and the French in the West. The continent was divided. Very early on, the Soviet Union was starting to install puppet governments in the  East and lead a massive army. It was an army that was clearly designed to intimidate West Europe, and so we needed a strategy. What were we going to do? We had to develop a strategy that was going to deal with both of these threats, and what would that be? Fortunately, at that time we had brilliant leaders, and Acheson was one of them. They designed a strategy that not only got us through a very, very dangerous period but ultimately lead to success during the Cold War.

Now, the centerpiece of this strategy was, Acheson and his colleagues' absolute conviction that American values were the superior to the values of international communism. It started as a value based strategy. It wasn't real politik, cynical politics; it was based and grounded on the conviction that how we organized our government was also valid for the world. We built this country. It is the most revolutionary country in history, and it's because we grounded it on profoundly different ideas. The ideas of freedom and liberty, accountability of government to citizens, accountability of government to a rule of law, the transparency of government activities, the right of the press to publish freely—these are all ideas that sprung out of our Judeo-Christian tradition and were forged and hammered into shape during the European Enlightenment. They became the foundation of our society, and we were convinced that they could also be the values for a new international system. So we put in place a strategy that blended this idealism and realism in American foreign policy.

There has always been a bit of tension in American foreign policy. It came together brilliantly in this era. It was manifested in two things. We had to deal with the problem of the red army in Europe, and we had to create something that was absolutely new for America: we were going to commit to put military forces permanently overseas. We had never done that before. But we knew we had to here. We had to keep Europe free of military intimidation until the values in the West could win the great competition of ideas. And so we did. We committed, and we built an alliance in Europe, which we called NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

I must say, when I started off in this business, I never thought I'd live long enough to see it end. This was at a time that we had four divisions in Europe, with a promise to bring six more over. At the time, the Soviet Union had five thousand tanks and a hundred and twenty-three divisions. This was an ominous time. But we had conviction for the values underlying our system. There was such confidence that we had the basic foundation right and that we would succeed over time, never knowing when that would come.

I can still remember a magic evening when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact started to fall apart. It actually began in Hungary. This was back in the winter of 1988 to the spring of 1989. The Hungarian government announced that they would not prevent Hungarian citizens who got a visa to go to Germany from leaving. Overnight, over eight hundred Hungarians went to the West German embassy in Prague to get a visa. It became a huge political problem, and the Hungarian government decided to let them emigrate. And the German government rented a train, got them all on it, and this train was slowly moving its way to West Germany. I can still remember it on CNN (it was a CNN reporter at the Frankfurt station when the train pulled in). It was probably three in the morning and I was watching it. There was some witless reporter who was trying to interview Hungarians stumbling off. He finds someone and says, "Aren't you tired, aren't you hungry, aren't you worried? Is there anything you want to say?" One of these—it was a young couple, a man and a woman and a little baby—and he said, "Yes, there is something I'd like to say. I'd like to thank America for keeping a place in the world that is free." That's what it was about.

Now, that's our history. It was a brilliant success. It did keep a place in the world that was free, and it gave a pathway for these new countries that emerged on the world stage (that had been colonies before), it gave them a pathway to avoid communism as a governing principle and to adopt the values of the West. It was a brilliant success. The centerpiece of this, honestly, was this long partnership that we had with Europe. This is what I would argue is now at stake. If Europe falls apart, we will suffer greatly.

We don't live in the same era as we did back then. There is no great ideological competition for organizing the world right now. No one is out campaigning to create international communism as the norm for the world. Putin is fooling around a little bit, but that's not going anywhere. China is not a communist country any longer; it's the most ruthless capitalist country in the world. This is like Charles Dickens two hundred years ago. This is awful. They want authoritarian control, but it isn't communist. So there is no ideological competition to the West at this stage, and certainly there is no military competitor to the United States. Our navy puts more ships to sea everyday than the rest of the world combined. We stand in a towering way in the world stage.

But we do have very serious issues facing us. I remember Jim Woolsey, when he was the head of the CIA, said, "In the old days, we use to worry about the bear in the woods. Now we're living in a swamp full of snakes—poisonous snakes." That's the world we are in now. The question is, how do we deal with them? We're living in a time when there has been unprecedented change in the world. It is communication technology. Transportation technology is radically transformed this world. You young folks can't appreciate it; you are Facebook people. But in my generation, if there were an incident at sea between two hostile powers, it would take a couple of days to learn about it. My dad's generation needed a couple of weeks to learn about it. In your generation, somebody is on the boat with a camera taking a picture, and it is on YouTube in minutes before the governments can figure it out. You have no idea how profoundly different this era is. Profoundly different.

Same way with the transportation of goods. Things move around the world in ways that were absolutely impossible when I was a kid. This has created a very, very different environment. Good things and bad things can move around the world very quickly. Whether it is international capital flows (which have virtually bankrupted Spain this summer), new ideas (some good ideas, some threatening ideas), migration of people, pollution (there is no border that pollution observes), international trafficking in women, illicit drugs, terrorism—all of these things now move around the world with great ease compared to the past, to be simplistic about it. The problems in the world are horizontal and all the governments are vertical. How do we solve these problems strictly on a nation-state basis? We don't.

I'll tell you right now, we could not possible keep pressure on Iran if there were not a global consensus that theirs is a threatening regime doing illegitimate things and that we have to discipline it through global cooperation and sanctions. This is now how we deal with problems. How do we keep North Korea from selling weapons to renegade states in the world? This now requires cooperation on an unprecedented scale, beyond our reach. Now, we work with lots of people, but no one is more important to us than Europe, because Europe is willing to shoulder the burden with us to establish the international institutions that establish the norm of the day. If Europe collapses, we will be far the worse for it. It will set back our interests.

Why does it matter? Why would you young people here in Utah have an interest in the health and well-being of the European Union? Because it will directly affect your own well-being over time. Not just in this transactional sense—confronting terrorists and things of this nature. Fundamentally, we still have a need to sustain this global system that's based on Western values: democracy, freedom, responsibility of government, transparency, rule of law—all of these things which are the foundation for the success of our country. The successful international system could be at risk if we lose our most important partner, so I would ask you to focus on this in a serious and real way. We do need Europe to be our partner going forward. The success of the international system, and certainly our well-being, are tied to it directly.

Question and Answer

Question: What do you think the best way is to support Europe?

Dr. Hamre: Well, first of all, I am too limited to give you a comprehensive answer. I am a defense and security guy. In my world, what I am worried about is the not-so-controlled crash landing on the military establishments of twenty-six countries in Europe. They spend about 70% as much as we do on defense, and they are not getting a fraction. All of Europe together could not put into the field the equivalent force that we do with the Marine Corps, yet they spend 70% as much as we do. That is going to have to change. We still need to have Europeans come together coherently as a military entity. This has to be built around Germany, for a combination of reasons we won't get into here. But right now, because Germany is so powerful economically, nobody is trusting the Germans to take over and be the military integrator, either. So I think that we the United States should be actively involved through NATO in helping to engineer the integration of European military establishments. We want a coherent partner to be on the world stage with us.

I'll tell you, the fight we had with Libya last year would not have gone well if the United the States had not been behind every bit of it, even though the Europeans, in theory, were leading. They ran out of bombs, they can't find targets—it is stuff like that. We do need them to be coherent. So I think we should be in this area, we ought to be working fairly actively to try to help truly integrate the European defense establishments.

I am not competent to speak to economic issues. I rather suspect they are in the front end of what is going to be very long, very painful journey. I don't think it helps by having us give them snotty little lectures. They are smart people. They have got to figure it out. They will get there, but it is probably going to be a long, painful time, and we have to be a steady partner with them.

Question: You were speaking a lot about principles and how the principles that we have adhered to in America since the beginning seem to be the drive to win the Cold War, including Europe and the West. This may seem like an obvious answer, but as the young generation I feel it is important to have somebody who has been through that to share with us what you believe are a few of the key principles that we really need to adhere to in order to get us through this challenge right now, because it could go both ways. We don't know which way it is going to go.

Dr. Hamre: I would be happy to. There are lots of ways governments can structure society. Our form of government isn't universally applicable because of the kind of people we are. I say to my European friends, "We do share a lot in common with Europe, but there is one thing that is very, very different between us. And that is: everybody living in the United States—with the tragic exception of African Americans—everybody here had a choice to come here, to leave their home and come here. Everybody in Europe had a choice to leave, and they decided to stay."

That is the foundation of American unilateralism versus Europe multilateralism. In this society, our attitude is, "Well, if you don't like your situation, get of your dead butt and do something about it. It's up to you. We're not going to do it." Right? Whereas the Europeans, for three hundred years they killed each other. "Well," they said, "I don't want to leave; I don't want to kill. So let's sit down and work this out." This is a fundamental difference, and democracy is going to show up in different ways in these two places for that reason. And it will be different in Japan. It's different, but the wave of history is absolutely towards these values.

What are the core values? First of all, overwhelmingly, rule of law. That there is an independent basis where we decide what the rules will be and everybody is held accountable—not just the poor people, not just the weak people. Rich people are held to it as well. The government is held to rule of law. Rule of law, first of all. Second, an open and a free press. I hated it when I was in government, having to go into the bull pen—the pentagon—and explain a nasty and embarrassing problem, but it was good for us. Nothing gets better when powerful governments can hide what they are doing. Transparency, I think, becomes an awfully important dimension to representational government of some structure.

Now, we have different structures of representation in our government. We don't directly elect the president; we have an electorate college. It's a complete anachronism. We shouldn't hold ourselves up as the one and only model. But representative government is so that the people that are in the capital, their obligation is to represent me. This is probably the great challenge in Europe. They don't know how to transition sovereign representation from the nation-state level to Brussels. They are stuck. This has been the great dilemma for them. But there is nonetheless in Europe a strong representation culture at the nation-state level. I am avoiding a lot of American cultural values because I don't think they are central. I'm talking about fundamental values of how you organize society. I'd put those three as the most important.

Question: In the first question, you stressed the importance of the military functions of NATO. There are some who argue that the NATO alliance is outdated and that it is a mechanism of the Cold War foreign policy. I am wondering if you feel that, while you support NATO, if there are aspects of the NATO alliance or the NATO structure that are outdated and that need reform to contribute to a more robust transatlantic relationship.

Dr. Hamre: Somebody once said that the purpose of NATO was to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down. There was a certainly truth to that. But even though it was the biggest (and, I would argue, the most successful military alliance in history), ultimately NATO is about the political evolution of Europe. We kept a military presence there not to win a war, but to avoid having to fight one. It had to be strong enough so that it was a credible deterrent. But we were never going to win a war against the Soviet Union; we were going to prevail because our ideas were better. We had to have a sufficient military there that would avoid the intimidation. But ultimately, NATO was about the political evolution of Europe.

The strain, it seems to me, is the centrifugal forces in Europe that grow out of an incomplete economic formula for the European community. That seems to me the biggest strain. NATO today serves a very important function—not a military function, but political function—by providing an integration of the security establishments throughout the area. There are no military risks inside NATO. The countries are not going to go to war with each other because of this structure. The goal, however, is a political goal, not a military goal. Will we use NATO militarily? Yes. We are now, obviously, in Afghanistan. But I don't think we should make that the primary test of NATOs importance or its significance. Its primary significance is its role providing for the political evolution and maturity of Europe coming together coherently. I think the most important thing right now that we could do with NATO is to use it as the reassuring factor where America can help European militaries come together and not be afraid of German dominance.

Question: You talked about the fact that if Europe were to economically or politically collapse in some significance sense, the nature of the world order would change fundamentally. I was just wondering if you could expand on that and tell us how you think it would change.

Dr. Hamre: In several ways. First of all, most fundamentally, Europe has been the great champion of sustaining the international system that we have right now. It has been to their benefit, by the way. But they have been the champion of it. The vitality of the international institutions, whether it's the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the International Civil Aviation Organization—the whole structure of international systems, depends on them. The Europeans disproportionally care the burden and the load for sustaining these institutions. I think that comes at risk if, all of a sudden, they can't sustain it.

I think, frankly, if Europe does fall apart, we will see the potential rise of fascist elements and sentiments hiding around the paranoia and fear in Europe that are quite visible right now. We don't want and certainly can't afford to have another competing organizational theory to organize the international system. Communism failed; we had to fight it for sixty years. We have authoritarian impulse in places like China. We certainly don't want to have that reinforced in Europe. It's largely about the way that helps sustain the international systems, and then there is the larger factor of who sustains the Western values. I think we need Europe to be a success in championing Western values, not a failure.

Question: You stated that Europe was the most important partner or relation that we had right now. Not to be detrimental to our focus, but what about our other partners such as in the Middle East and Canada that give oil? And the oriental world that produces and manufactures a very large percentage of our products? To help increase my understanding of that belief and statement, help me put on a scale those different resources and how they all help us. It is hard to believe, without that understanding, that the fall of Europe would be the biggest harm to us when we are a global economy.

Dr. Hamre: That's a very good point. Certainly Europe is still the largest investor in the United States, and our largest destination for our direct investments is Europe. So there are economic interactions which are still quite important. I was trying to speak more in terms of the way ideas shape long term trajectories of human history and wanting to have them as our partner, sustaining the impulse for liberal international democratic structures over time. That was really more my point. Would we still be able to get oil from the Middle East or Canada? Yes, we could do that. But the great, great sweep of history made possible by this revolutionary country called America is really toward democratic structures, representative structures, and liberal, international, responsible government—rule of law. Europe has been the partner with us. That is what I think is at risk. We will get oil, and oil is important, but I live in a world of ideas. In the long run, that is what is going to be the treasure, if we can sustain it.

Question: You mentioned how you expect that Europe will not fall, but you expect that it would be a long process to get through the current crises. What I was interested in knowing is if, when in crisis, Europe may become more introverted, less able to help us internationally with our other goals and with other crises that may happen outside. Who else can we turn to, and what other nations in the next ten to twenty years do you think may be able to step up and become stronger allies with the United States if Europe fails?

Dr. Hamre: Again, failure here is not going to be like a bridge that just collapses—a wreck. It is the momentum over time. In this sense, Europe is unusually important. The three most interesting countries in the world right now for me to study are South Korea, Turkey, and Indonesia. I think these three countries have disproportionate potential impact on creating regional geopolitical systems that could be very, very important to us. All of them have had their own tortured histories, but they are all heading exactly in the same direction towards more representative government; liberal, accountable structures; and transparency of governments. It's very interesting; kind of exciting, actually. Outside of Europe, it would be those three that I would put at the top. Watch them; study them. It will be worth your time.

Question: With the crisis chain reaction in Europe, some developing countries start increasing their attention on the opportunities they could have in Europe for their benefit. You said it is semi critical for the U.S. to keep a partnership with Europe. In case some of these developing countries start helping Europe and forming stronger partnerships there (those countries that are not against U.S. but that are not 100% supportive of U.S. government and politics), how do you think that will impact U.S. progression as the politic and economic role model internationally?

Dr. Hamre: First of all, I think America could easily retain its position as the global superpower for the next fifty years if we get our domestic house in order. If we don't get our domestic house in order, we are going to be a diminished power very rapidly. There is no way that America can be a global superpower if it has to borrow three billion dollars a day from the rest of the world to sustain an inflated lifestyle that we are not prepared to pay for ourselves. We have got to get our house in order. If we do that, I think America will be the towering super power probably for the rest of this century. But it depends on us.

I also think, honestly, America would do better not telling the world how special and wonderful we are but just being what we are. Let's stop giving the world lectures about how great we are. What is really inspiring to the world is not the lectures we give them, but how we behave, how we treat people, and the opportunities that you have here. Hands down, fewer would go to Tahrir Square saying, "Down with America" if we said, "Would you like to immigrate?" It isn't because of what we say. It's about what we are. We are still a country that gives opportunity to people. We are still a country where rich and powerful people can't crush poor and weak people without some process of fairness. That's the motivating impulse in the world. I think that America could sustain this for a long time if we get back to our original foundation.

Now, it doesn't mean that everybody is going to always like us. But I am a big advocate for having as many foreigners come to school in this country as possible. They may not go home liking us, but they are going to go home treasuring the values and trying to make them work in their country. If we can get our act together, I'm not worried about anything. I'm worried about getting our act together, getting our poop in a group. It isn't working very well right now. Our politics are not working because we have two parties that have exactly the same strategy for this election: make your own base so angry that they go out and vote against the other guy. But that is not the foundation for building America. America is about positive dreams; it's not about anger and hatred. We have to get over this. I'm sorry I'm getting off the topic, but I can't resist. We've got to get off of this pathetic path we're on in Washington with hateful politics and recover America's optimism and confidence about itself. If we can do that, the American century will go into the twenty-second century.

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