by Andrew H. Ziegler, Jr.
Significant shifts in U. S.-European relations have occurred in the last five years, according to Kurt D. Volker, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Asian affairs. Volker presented a brief lecture and answered numerous questions at Duke University’s Franklin Center, Durham, N. C., on February 28, 2006.
The key change in transatlantic relations, Volker said, is that “it is no longer about Europe anymore.” Throughout the Cold War the focus was on containing the Soviet Union and defending Western Europe. After the Cold War the issues were on NATO expansion and reintegrating Eastern European nations. Even the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo were European issues. Since 9/11, however, the U. S. focus has shifted away from Europe. The global war on terror, Afghanistan, and Iraq are clearly not about Europe. This shift has contributed to some of the tensions and misunderstandings evident in transatlantic relations.
The Bush administration has recently been making efforts to improve relations with Europe. Volker said the administration in its second term has come to understand the importance of soft power in the global war on terror. The “moral weight of a united democratic front” is important for winning the war, Volker said. In his first press conference after re-election and on several other occasions, President Bush specifically said he wanted to work with Europe in pursuing important common goals.
Volker said there is much Europe and America agree upon. The objective of a free and democratic Iraq has always been shared, and now there is much more agreement and cooperation on the means and policies of achieving that objective. Europe is doing much more in Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Bosnia than is commonly known in the United States. Currently, there are 14,000 European troops in Iraq, and Europe is undertaking a large role in training Iraqi forces. Also, Europe has pledged a half billion dollars to Iraq reconstruction.
One critical challenge facing the America, according to Volker, is projecting an accurate image abroad. Since the war on terror is ultimately a war of ideas, projecting an accurate image is an important part of the effort. People have a right to be free and to live with human dignity. Those who exploit Islam to further their agenda of violence and repression challenge this idea, however.
One questioner asked Volker if he worked with the European Union or with separate European countries. He answered it was necessary to work with both. Even when there is an EU issue in which the United States is interested, Volker said he must deal with individual European countries to try and get the EU result Washington prefers.
Another questioner asked Mr. Volker how effective he thought Karen Hughes was in her position. (Hughes is the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.) Volker said Hughes has a tough problem crafting a message for two very different audiences. Volker said the moral superiority and arrogance of Europe is vastly different from the venomous, highly charged dislike expressed for America in the Mideast. He offered an observation about the first trip Hughes took abroad. On that trip she clearly stated her purpose was to listen, and that is what she did. So, on many occasions she received heavy doses of criticism of America and U. S. policies, to which she did not respond. Media reporting of the trip criticized Hughes for being unable to articulate U. S. values and policies, which in fact was not her intended purpose. Volker thinks Hughes is doing fine.
One question dealt with how the United States should respond to Hamas winning the Palestinian election. Volker discussed how in the past America had preferred some unsavory, authoritarian governments that were favorably disposed. Today, in the war of ideas about the freedom agenda, that path may not be the best. Volker said if the United States really believes that “democracy is a self-correcting system,” and if it wants to project that idea abroad, then it must deal with freely elected governments. But, Volker said, that does not mean we have to give Hamas money or approve of its anti-Israel positions. Volker said Israel has a right to defend itself, and that Israel would continue to receive US support.
One questioner identified himself as a European, and he directed to Volker perhaps the sharpest question of the session. He first listed several international conventions to which the United States has refused to join. These included those pertaining to Kyoto, Land Mines, International Court of Justice, and Dum Dum Bullets. The questioner then said with this record, how could the United States claim to be a partner or a leader in world affairs, and how could it deny being hypocritical.
Volker responded by saying there is a “tendency in Europe to collapse an issue into a process.” That participation in a particular process becomes symbolic evidence for a solution. Volker said the United States is more interested in finding solutions than in participating in a process. While not addressing each issue raised by the questioner, Volker did comment on Kyoto by saying that one objection Washington had was that it did not include China and other developing economies that were expected to be the primary source of greenhouse gases in the future. Volker also said the United States is pursuing a number of initiatives directed at climate change that appear very promising, and that in fact it leads several European nations in the reduction of the increase of greenhouse gases.
Similarly, in regard to the International Court of Justice, Volker said the United States is pursuing bilateral agreements with as many nations as possible to fulfill the intent of an international system of courts and justice.
In his position as second-in-command of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Kurt Volker oversees strategic planning, congressional relations, and post management for the bureau. His attention is focused on working with Europe to address the common challenges our nations face, based on our shared values of freedom, through instruments such as NATO, U.S.-EU relations, the OSCE, and numerous bilateral relationships. Mr. Volker served previously under former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, during which he took primary responsibility for Balkans peacekeeping, defense and nuclear planning, and NATO force and command structure issues.
Duke’s Center for International Studies sponsored the event along with Duke’s Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs and Development, Duke’s Center for European Studies, the Center for European Studies UNC-CH, and the Center for International Studies UNC-CH. Dr. Gilbert W. Merkx, Duke’s vice provost for international affairs and development, hosted the lecture. Ms. Deborah Schwartz, Duke’s diplomat in residence, introduced the speaker.
Dr. Andrew H. Ziegler, Jr., is chair of the department of government studies at Methodist College, Fayetteville, N. C. He is also an adjunct professor of international relations for Webster University on Fort Bragg and Pope AFB. From March 17 until May 25, 2006, he will be serving in a faculty exchange program for Regent’s College, London. He has contributed to American Diplomacy previously.