Speech - Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship

Restoring the Transatlantic Relationship

| Nov. 30, 2019

Restoring the Transatlantic Relationship
Senat der Wirtschaft
Munich
Ambassador Nicholas Burns
November 30, 2019

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Thank you for the honor of addressing you this evening at the magnificent Maximilianeum Palace, seat of the Bavarian Parliament, here in Munich.

I always enjoy visiting this beautiful capital of Bavaria for the history, art, architecture as well as the beer.

There is another reason why Munich is my favorite city in Germany. 

When I was seventeen in 1973, I had the good fortune to be an exchange student in a little town in Luxembourg on the Saar River right on the German border.  I lived with a family that was a keen supporter of the Bundesliga.

It was that summer when I became a life-long fan of the greatest champion of the Bundesliga, Bayern München and its leader, der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, der Bomber Gerd Müller, Sepp Maier and others.  The core of that Bayern team formed the German national team that won the World Cup in 1974 against Holland.

I remain faithful to Bayern München until today.  And, when the U.S. men’s national team loses in the World Cup, as we unfortunately always have, I transfer my allegiance to Deutschland!

We meet tonight at a time of celebration and a time of hope for a united Germany.  As we all know, it is also surely a time of many challenges for Germany, Europe and the United States.

Let’s start with hope.

It’s been thirty years since 1989 and it is astounding to remember how quickly the change came here in Germany and across the dividing lines of the Cold War. 

My generation of Germans, Europeans and Americans grew up with the certainty of the Cold War, with its cruelty and barbarism, its denial of freedom and denial of hope for East Germans, East Europeans and the peoples of the Soviet Union.

In the first days of November 1989, as I worked in the State Department in Washington, I knew, but much more importantly our great President George H.W. Bush knew, it was a gross injustice for Germany to be divided more than four decades after the Second World War’s end. 

The German people on both sides of the wall demonstrated that the course of a nation can be changed forever and for the better. That justice can be achieved in the re-emergence of a great European country.  That your unification was one of the most inspiring events of modern history. 

For Americans, except perhaps for a certain resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., the united Germany has become one of the most trusted countries in the world once again.

Germany is among the most important global economic powers, one of the great manufacturing societies, a major export nation, a leader of the European Union and the keystone country, geographically, politically and historically, of the NATO Alliance.

Germany’s place in the world was evident to me when Chancellor Angela Merkel visited us at Harvard for our Commencement Exercises this past May.  I had the honor of serving as her Faculty Escort during her two days with us on our campus. 

Chancellor Merkel was greeted enthusiastically by thousands of Americans in Harvard Yard.  She is, in my view, the most respected leader in the world today.  She is someone who, in her life and work, exemplifies Germany’s emergence as a stable and faithful defender of democracy in the world today.

So, I come to München this evening as an admirer of Germany’s role in Europe and for what a united Germany represents for people seeking freedom in an increasingly unfree world.

If anything, and I say this tonight not to lecture but to encourage, the world needs an even stronger Germany to help manage all the challenges that we face together—from climate change to nuclear proliferation to the crisis in the democratic world to our hope for peace here in Europe and the world beyond.

I say this because the two traditional standard bearers of the liberal world order, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, find ourselves locked in existential crises – the crisis of Brexit in the U.K. and the crisis of Donald Trump in America. 

I remain confident that the British and Americans will survive both of these tests and return to our normal selves, hopefully before too long.

Until we do, however, we will need to rely on Germany, its government and its people, to help lead the democratic world forward at a time of challenge to our democratic way of life.

As we look to the future, we can see clearly the many challenges Germany and the United States will face together. 

We are experiencing, after all, the most difficult period for the Transatlantic world in many decades.

Russia, under the leadership of its experienced, agile and cynical leader, remains a threat to freedom here in Europe – to Ukraine, to Georgia, to Moldova, to Belarus – and to our NATO allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

China, which thirty years ago, had practically no real political or security influence in Europe, is now an expanding power here – buying up critical infrastructure in the Eastern Mediterranean, buying influence in the Balkans and pushing its high-speed 5G networks that are linked to China’s surveillance state and aggressive intelligence services.

The European Union itself is a miracle and one of the great achievements of modern history.  And, yet, there is work to be done to make it stronger.  A monetary union without a fiscal union is inherently unstable.  An EU that is a global economic superpower, but a political and military lightweight is a problem in need of fixing by your generation and the next generation of Europeans.

Finally, all of us in the West face challenges from within.  We face the challenge of income inequality and those left behind in the seismic economic transformations from the industrial age to the information age and now the digital age.

Inside our societies, we face the cancer of populism on the extreme left and extreme right.

No nation can be strong and vibrant on the global stage if it is not strong, stable and united at home.  That is now the central problem facing the British, the Americans and many of the peoples of Europe – even the Germans. 

We also face the most difficult divisions in our lifetimes across the Atlantic, between America and Europe.

I served as U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Ambassador to Greece and have lived in Luxembourg, France, Greece and Belgium.  My generation of Americans viewed strengthening ties with Europe as a vital and historic necessity for the United States. 

We sometimes had our disagreements – the Euromissile Crisis of the early 1980s and the crisis over the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, in particular.  We always found a way to overcome them because we understood that our values and our common interests in NATO and the EU united us. 

The current crisis across the Atlantic, however, is different and more threatening to the greatest alliance in history – our alliance in NATO.

We Americans surely bear much of the responsibility for this sudden storm that has engulfed the Transatlantic region.

President Donald Trump has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is, at best, ambivalent about NATO.  He has the capacity to do great harm to the Alliance if we and he are not careful.

President Trump is also the only American President in seventy-five years to oppose the European Union and the historic dream of reconciliation between Germany and France that launched it.  He sees the EU as a competitor to the U.S., not as its best regional and global partner.

He has a completely distorted view of Germany itself.  He believes Germany is a threat in trade and automobile exports and in manufacturing rather than our ally and partner as Germany has been for seven decades.

President Trump appears more interested in working with Putin than Merkel and more interested in embracing authoritarian regimes than in standing up for our traditional democratic allies.   

Trump is weakening the very foundations that made the U.S. a great power after World War Two in four distinct ways.

First, he has weakened the Atlantic Alliance and our East Asia Alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia.  These alliances are the great power differential between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and China – neither of whom have any real allies they can depend upon.

Second, he seeks to dismantle the global trade system that helped to achieve the historic prosperity here in Germany, in Europe, in China, in India and in my own country since World War Two.

Third, he has failed to stand up for democracy as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did so eloquently and memorably at the Berlin Wall. 

And, fourth, he has severely limited immigration and the acceptance of refugees in our multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious immigrant nation.

This is a strange, surreal, upside down Alice in Wonderland world in which we Americans are living.

And we are well aware of the reaction in Europe, particularly in France.  President Emmanuel Macron said recently NATO is “brain dead”, that our alliance is “on the edge of a precipice”.  He believes the U.S. has separated permanently from Europe and that you can no longer count on us. 

Macron is certainly correct that President Trump is not providing the kind of leadership at NATO that Europeans expect of an American President.

He is correct that the lack of consultation inside NATO on Russia and Ukraine, on the precipitous withdrawal of American Special Forces from northern Syria, on Climate Change, on Iran and on many other issues is unacceptable.

He is right that Europe itself needs to be stronger, more strategic, more global.

Macron is ringing the village bell in alarm that the Transatlantic world is in crisis.

While Macron is right about the challenges we face in NATO, I don’t believe he is right about the prescription – about what to do to resolve the crisis.

In this sense, it has been reassuring to see Chancellor Merkel, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and so many other German leaders say in recent weeks that abandoning NATO and separating from the U.S. cannot be the right path for Europe or the United States.

As an American, I accept my country’s responsibility to repair the damaged bridges across the Atlantic Ocean.

Europe, however, must also take its responsibilities.  European nations must spend more on defense, to reach the two percent of Gross Domestic Product level in NATO.  This is a particular and important challenge for Germany.  Europe should be wary of tying its long-term energy future to an authoritarian Russia and its crucial digital networks to an authoritarian China.

How would it benefit Europe to divide permanently from the U.S. by building a European Army separate from NATO?  That is not an effective route to security for Germans and other Europeans.

The only sensible way forward is to rebuild and renew NATO as Merkel, AKK and others here in Germany have been arguing.  We must stay together in the Trans-Atlantic community.  The two sides of the Atlantic have been linked symbiotically since the Berlin Crisis of 1948, the creation of NATO in 1949, the construction of the wall in 1961 and its fall in 1989.  We have been linked by our ending of the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.  We are linked by the war in Afghanistan and by the struggle against the Islamic State.

NATO is nowhere near a death spiral.

In just the last five years, NATO has deployed battalions of German, British, Canadian and American troops to the territory of the three Baltic allies and Poland to defend a red line that Putin must not cross.

Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, all the NATO allies have increased defense spending in real terms and purchased more modern equipment.

The U.S. alone has spent billions in recent years in rebuilding the core of our conventional armed strength here in Germany to defend our NATO allies.

The reality is that, without NATO, Europe has no defense from conventional or nuclear attack.

Without NATO, we cannot contain Putin and counter the negative aspects of Chinese power here in Europe.

Without NATO, there is no real transatlantic link between Europe and North America.

In this respect, I bring good news from America to Munich this evening.

Donald Trump’s views about NATO, the EU and Germany are not shared by the great majority of Americans or by our elected representatives in both parties.

In the recent 2019 Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll, 73 percent of Americans say NATO is “still essential to our country’s security”. 

75 percent support the U.S. alliance with Germany.

78 percent say the U.S. should maintain or increase our current commitments to NATO.  

The overwhelming majority of Republican and Democratic Senators strongly supports NATO, the European Union and Germany.  They strongly oppose Russian aggression and Russian attempts to weaken our democracies.

As we look ahead to a new decade and new challenges, it is imperative that we continue to believe in the idea and ideals of the West—of human freedom.  To believe in the alliance that defends the West – NATO.

We face the challenge of authoritarianism in Russia, Turkey, China and many other countries.  While we must continue to trade with them, to work with them when that is possible and to live in peace with them, we will also have to compete with them by defending our values, our system of government and our democratic way of life.

We should be self-confident about our future.  The combined population of Europe, the U.S. and Canada is over 800 million people. 

Together, we have the largest trade relationship in the world. 

Together, we are the largest economic space in the world. 

Together, we are the world’s strongest military power. 

And, together, we are the center of democracy and freedom in the world.

Finally, I hope this audience of Germans will not lose faith in your American friends.

Please don’t believe that America has changed forever or that America cannot redeem itself.

Because there is another America beyond Donald Trump.

It is the America that believes our future depends on NATO.

An America that believes in the promise and future success of the European Union.

An America that has the self-confidence to defend democracy when it is challenged.

An America that rejects isolationism and protectionism and understands that our future is in concert with Germany and others on the global stage.

Last February, here in Munich, I introduced former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Munich Security Conference.  And I interviewed him on stage following his speech.

I am supporting him now for the Presidency and am an advisor on his campaign.

I believe he will defeat Donald Trump in our Presidential election just under a year from now.

Joe Biden said something here in Munich that speaks for many of us in America.  He reassured a hall filled with Germans and Europeans about America by vowing “We’ll be back”! 

I have no doubt that we will indeed be back, in alliance and friendship with Europe, after November 2020.

Thank you to the Senat Der Wirtschaft for the invitation to be with you this evening.

Thank you all for your friendship for America and for America’s everlasting alliance with Germany.

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