State Department Open Forum Distinguished Lecture Series
Friday, January 11, 2002

 

Transcript by Federal News Service.
Read the Foreign Policy article by Jessica Mathews

Let me begin by asking you to listen to the argument that I'm going to present, if you can, as though today were September 10th. It's hard to do, I realize, but it's important because we don't really know whether the changes that have come about in international relations since September 11th are permanent or quite transitory. Many things look very different now than they did on September 10th, but many things are going to look very different from today six months or a year hence.

So, if you can, please cast your mind back, and then I will come back at the end and try to evaluate whether September 11th has fundamentally changed the state of affairs I'm going to describe, which has to do with what I think are the most important single set of relations the United States has, that is between ourselves and our European allies.

Periods of poor U.S.-European relations are nothing new by any means, and times of mutual criticism go back to the beginnings of this country. Even times of predictions that the relationship is on the point of fracture are not all that infrequent. But today's version is different because it holds major consequences not for the transatlantic relationship, but for the world as a whole, and if the trend continues, for U.S. ability to pursue our largest national interests.

In recent years, reaching back before this administration, the U.S. and Europe have found themselves on opposite sides of a sobering and rapidly growing number of global issues, which is the huge basket of concerns that affect or require for solution the great majority of countries. Taken together, these issues will determine the rules of the road of the future international system, the distribution of economic wealth within it, and the degree of individual and national security that that international system can provide. As Alan suggested in his introduction, when the U.S. and Europe see eye to eye on one of them, there is very little that they cannot get done in the world, and when they do not agree, there is very little of much importance that can be achieved globally. For that reason, today's differences amount to much more than the familiar recriminations among friends that have cropped up so often in our history. Let me outline the record.

In solid block, the European Union has approved and the U.S. has disapproved creation of the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the ban on anti-personnel land mines, the Biodiversity Treaty, and a verification mechanism for the Biological Weapons Control Treaty. Views are less clear cut, but nonetheless, deeply divided on unilateral U.S. abrogation of the ABM Treaty, U.S. creation of a national missile defense, a non-binding treaty limiting exports of small arms, treatment of the environment in the World Trade Organization, and regulation of genetically modified foods. U.S. and Europe differ also over support for the U.N., the priority that should be given to conflict prevention, and how their very different contributions to global well-being should be measured.

Even taking into account that disputes get attention while cooperation passes largely unnoticed, this is a pretty stark trend between long-standing allies that share deep political convictions and presumably, therefore, the same long-term hopes for the world.

And when the disagreements touch on traditional security issues, as for example, on missile defense or biological weapons verification, Europe still backs down. But the U.S. has several times recently profoundly misjudged the world's new willingness to proceed on the rest of its agenda behind European leadership and over U.S. opposition. Over and over in the last few years, as is obvious from the list I've just read, the U.S. has found itself on the short end of lopsided international judgments. The vote on the land mine ban was 142 to nothing, with 18 abstentions. On the ICC, the Rome Treaty, it was 120 to seven, with 21 abstentions. It was 178 in favor, with only the U.S. opposed, in the 2001 vote on climate. The division on the nuclear test ban was quite similar.

More importantly than the numbers, not a single democracy shared the U.S. view on any of the treaties I mentioned, except Israel and, in one case, India. Rather, our uncomfortable company was Russia, China, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and the like.

While one can argue over the individual merits of this or that position, the pattern is what's important, and it is unmistakably not in the U.S. interests. No country, no matter how strong, is going to remain a legitimate leader for long when it is the odd man out on so many decisions that command the support of such a large majority of the world's countries.

Where does this state of affairs come from? I heard shortly after 9-11 one famous pundit remark that the meaning of that day was that the -- in his words -- the holiday that we had had from international affairs for the past decade was over. That extraordinary statement reflects an obsolete view of the world that cannot see anything of significance in anything except major-power conflict or the relations of the Cold War. Whereas in fact, the strange situation that I've described has emerged from a decade of extraordinary upheaval.

At its outset, the end of the Cold War meant the loss of the automatic deference that's been accorded to the U.S. as the leader in a fight against a common mortal enemy. The absence of an external enemy in turn allowed domestic politics to acquire a much larger role in foreign policy on both sides of the Atlantic. And in the U.S., the end of that long conflict brought with it a much diminished willingness to spend effort and money on providing international public goods, everything from building new regimes and institutions, to providing financial or technological aid.

As these changes evolved, Europe was at the same time engaged in nothing less than inventing a new kind of political unit, an historic development that the U.S. has consistently underestimated. American experts have prophesied failure at every step along the way to the common currency and have let themselves be blinded by Europe's failures in the security realm, particularly in Bosnia, to how much was being accomplished in the economic and political spheres.

This has been underlined, I think, by the extraordinary transition last week to the euro. The smoothness of that transition, the sense of excitement and pride that went with it, makes this very clearly an economic event, but one of enormous political significance. And it will be, I think -- the transition to the euro -- an enormous accelerator of political change and integration on the political front.

Europe's integration has a particular consequence for the global agenda because it is, in essence, a gigantic exercise in pooling and even perhaps, in redefining national sovereignty. For the sake of integration, Europeans have altered or parted from cherished national symbols; not just currency, but things as emotional as French cheese, Danish ham, and German beer. While there are plenty of doubts and discomforts, even backlashes, over the process, it continues to roll forward -- sometimes, it is true, barely inching, but nonetheless advancing.

Through it, Europeans are acquiring day-to-day experience and hence a level of comfort with exactly the kind of painful compromise and frustrating negotiation and less-than-perfect outcomes that characterize multilateral problem-solving in larger forums, like the U.N., the WTO, or the secretariats of major global treaties.

Still, in this decade, a broader sort of integration simultaneously around the world in economics, politics, and in information and communications technology has, of course, been under way. We call it globalization.

One of its principal effects -- indeed, probably its core essence -- is to shift activity into transnational space. This can be geographic space, like the oceans or the atmosphere. It can be natural resource space, like climate or fisheries or biodiversity. It can be cyberspace, the launching of money and information, or it can simply be inchoate policy space.

But regardless of which type, the key point is that the major treaties and international institutions that we have do not recognize this existence. All the major ones, except the most recent, assume a 19th century world, in which everything of value lies neatly within some country's borders. So while more and more activity and economic value shifts into this new transnational zone, we are stuck with a system of international rules that ignores it, and precious little institutional capacity to manage what happens in it.

Globalization, therefore, means an ever larger and more demanding international agenda, more engagement by countries in each other's affairs over matters farther and farther behind each other's borders, and inevitably, even among friends, more collisions of interest.

And finally, this busy decade has seen a huge increase in the international role of non-state actors, especially multinational business and NGOs. This proliferation in the number of voices on the international stage democratizes but also greatly complicates international decision-making. It puts greater weight on securing domestic consensus before governments can even begin to negotiate, and it makes that harder to do.

It means that governments don't control even what gets on the international agenda, much less the eventual outcome. The negotiation banning anti-personnel land mines, for instance, began over the united opposition of all five of the major powers -- something that only a few years before would have been an absolute diplomatic impossibility.

Taken together, these four developments -- globalization, the role of non-state actors, the emergence of the EU, and the consequences of the end of the Cold War -- clearly add up to a major historical discontinuity. In that light, the resulting cleavage between nations that nevertheless remain close allies is perhaps not so surprising.

So let's take a look at where the relationship stands today. In the EU, the U.S. faces a relationship utterly different from either its relations with individual European countries or with a U.S.-dominated NATO. Economically, the EU is no longer a junior partner. It has a larger population than the U.S., a larger percentage of world trade, and approximately equal GNP. It pays more of the U.N.'s core budget -- 37 percent to our 23 percent -- and much more of its funds on special program costs -- 50 percent to our 17 percent. On either a per-capita or per-GNP basis, every one of its member countries contributes more to bilateral development assistance than do we.

For Washington, accustomed to receiving or, if necessary, demanding obeisance to its views from its European allies, this change has proven hard to accommodate. Adjusting is all the harder because at the same time as it has gained in economic stature, on the political and security fronts, the EU remains weak, often muddled, and very much a work in progress. Among the many differences that have arisen, two have particularly far-reaching consequences. Let me just say a word, if I can, about those.

Partly, although not solely due to climate, environment is becoming a central and perhaps a defining issue. This is a surprise, I think, even for somebody like me who's spent a great deal of time on this issue over the years. In the past decade, Europe has become steadily greener, with German and Dutch attitudes spreading to the rest of the EU. NGOs have become increasingly influential, more so in EU bodies than in any individual country.

At the same time, a seemingly endless succession of health scares has undermined public confidence in governments and has increased demands for greater precaution in the use of new technology. David Vogel, a professor at Berkeley, has very perceptively pointed out that the 1990s in Europe were very much like the 1970s in the U.S. -- a decade when we had a seemingly endless selection of these sorts of scares. Topping all, it is impossible to overstate the impact of mad cow disease, which one British scholar has revealingly, if not very accurately, described as the biggest failure in UK public policy since the Suez crisis.

Even before the Bush administration's outright rejection of the Kyoto agreement, climate change had aroused furious disagreement across the Atlantic. The U.S.'s high energy consumption -- 6.2 tons of oil equivalent per person per year, as compared to the EU's average of 3.1 tons -- was so objectionable in European eyes that it led the EU to vehemently oppose American proposals for international emissions trading and for other mechanisms that allow maximum reduction of greenhouse gasses at the least cost.

The reason for this otherwise incomprehensible stand was the fear that the reason that the US were so strongly in favor of these mechanisms was not the stated one of economic efficiency, but because they might allow the U.S. to meet its Kyoto commitments without sufficient pain and change in its gluttonous lifestyle. Ironically, the European-brokered agreement that emerged after the U.S. withdrawal included all of these objectionable elements.

For the U.S., the outcome is equally weird. Because the U.S. is now a non-party, American businesses are left with no guidance about how to make investments that will affect their emissions over decades and cannot participate in the economically efficient mechanisms for which the U.S. government fought so hard. Strangest of all, while criticism of the U.S. position on climate has become an automatic applause line for European politicians on every point in the political spectrum, the fact that no European country can meet its Kyoto emission-reduction commitments has completely disappeared behind a cloud of anti-U.S. rhetoric.

The view is nonetheless widespread in Europe that the U.S. decision on Kyoto could become a turning point in transatlantic relations, at least on the global agenda. The disagreement feeds into the conflict over how to treat genetically modified organisms, which is going to grow, and has widened the gap between the U.S. and the EU positions on how environment should be treated in the WTO. That disagreement, in turn, could be decisive in whether enough U.S.- European agreement can be reached to allow the success of the new global trade round that was launched in Doha.

The other split, whose implications are most widely felt is that over the International Criminal Court. Washington's reasons for opposing the ICC were never persuasive to European countries that also regularly send troops abroad on peacekeeping missions. But what rankled most was the contrast between the U.S.' unwillingness to accept the ICC's limited jurisdiction and its simultaneous assertion of highly questionable authority in other settings. In particular, it is wholly at odds with the assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction in unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran, Libya and Cuba. The gap between how the U.S. demands to be treated and how it often treats others does not go unnoticed.

As this global issues agenda crowds in on all countries with the need for alignment of national policies and for new kinds of rules that nibble away at the edges of national sovereignty, the two countries that have found it hardest to adapt are the U.S. and China. Because of our Constitution, because of our past, going back to the very beginnings of our history that counts geographic isolation as a great asset, and because of our recent history as a dominant power that did not need to compromise, the U.S. has always been most protective of its rights and most loathe to see them eroded in any way. But realities have forced us to erode them, and we have done so in some areas, though not in others. And when the resulting conflicts between rhetoric and practice become particularly acute, it can sometimes seem as though what makes the U.S. most exceptional in the world today is less its uniquely beneficent role than the expectation that because of that role, it should be allowed to pick and choose within the body of international law only those commitments it wishes to apply to itself.

For the U.S., the first step in narrowing this dangerous cleavage that has opened between it and Europe is to recognize that in the years ahead, NATO will not be what matters most. Relations will be determined more by the dozens of issues on an agenda that will inevitably lengthen due to globalization. America's European experts today are largely NATO-ists rather than European-ists, and they will have to be replaced by a generation that no longer sees Europe through that narrow lens. At the same time, we will have to undergo the difficult psychological adjustment of recognizing that Europe is no longer the junior partner whose acquiescence to U.S. views can be taken as a given. That is already obvious in the economic realm, but as the years go by, Europe is likely to become more able and more willing to accept heavier international political and security responsibilities as well. That will come at an automatic cost in followership. We will not be able to expect both a Europe that is more willing to step up to the plate and one that will only swing when and how we dictate.

It is worth noting that unilateral U.S. behavior on matters that command wide international support may in fact be pushing the EU into political coherence faster than it would otherwise achieve it. The European mission to North Korea last spring, when it appeared that the U.S. was rejecting a non-proliferation policy the world strongly supported, the European-brokered deal on climate that we just discussed, and the European leadership role at the Durbin conference on racism after the U.S. walked out are all cases in point.

The question remains how the U.S. should behave when disagreements do arise, as they will continue to do. Based on experience, I would say that it would be a good idea to drop the assumption that broad agreements cannot be reached over our opposition when Europe is in their favor. When the great majority of the world's nations agree, the U.S. should expect to be among their number, not always, but more often than not. Its immediate interests are better served by being a state party that can participate in shaping rules and procedures than in sitting outside the tent. Its longer-term legitimacy and credibility as world leader, and its capacity to mobilize others to its will are also far better served that way.

Though Europe cannot challenge America's political or military supremacy, the hard-to-swallow surprise for the world's single superpower is that that power no longer translates, as it did during the Cold War, into a community of Western democracies ready to adopt its view on all important matters. Recognizing this reality will force us to carry a heavier diplomatic burden, but it will also reduce the number of outcomes from which we are forced in good judgment to walk away. "My way or no way" is no longer a tenable negotiating stance.

An immediate priority is to develop a constructive modus vivendi with the existing regimes of which we are not now a part, notably the ICC and the Kyoto agreement, and to construct an effective verification mechanism for the BW control treaty. Addressing climate change is a necessity. The longer we delay, the higher will be the eventual cost. And that means more than R&D. We can do R&D until the cows come home. But until we do concrete things on the ground, changing what we build and where we build it, the cost will still rise. Public and congressional views suggest that it will, in fact, be possible to find a way back into a sensible international framework.

Let me emphasize that I don't want these remarks to suggest that I think that Europe is always right and the U.S. wrong. For its part, Europe needs to outgrow its habit of knee-jerk criticism of the U.S. (either for doing too much or too little), its schizophrenia about whether it wants U.S. leadership or not, its too-often hypocritical international behavior (as for example, on climate), and its addiction to feel-good international agreements without regard to their content or their capacity to actually solve problems. Not the most loving parents, for example, let alone a national government, could raise children without violating the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, a U.N. treaty the U.S. is frequently excoriated for failing to endorse and which the European democracies have unanimously embraced.

Now I want to return for just a moment to where I began, and to ask whether September 11th changed everything. One might argue that it did, that it showed that all these issues, even all of them together, are secondary or even tertiary concerns, and that what really matters in international affairs is the U.S.'s overwhelming military superiority and its unparalleled capacity to exercise leadership when it wants to.

One could point out that we haven't heard any hand wringing about the transatlantic relationship since September 11th. Indeed, to the contrary, we've heard strong assertions of solidarity, even as we've kept others at arm's length in the military effort. And even the U.S. decision a month ago to reject rather than to fix the BW verification protocol, a decision that most Europeans violently disagreed with, was tamely swallowed and has caused not even a hiccup in the collaboration against terrorism. One could say that events have shown that when the U.S. knows what it wants and is tough and determined about getting it, the rest of the world will fall into line, as it did during the mortal peril of the Cold War. You could make this case, and indeed it may hold for a while, but I think it's on the wrong side of history. It is true that periods of international integration can be turned back, as one was in 1914. It is possible that will happen again, but I think it's unlikely.

The parallel to today's globalization is poor for many reasons, which I don't have time to go in, but above all, because this period of integration is being driven by a technological revolution that is larger and faster even than the industrial revolution. Like its forebear, the information revolution will produce fundamental change in economics, in government -- governance and in society. And its essence is its capacity to blur, to redraw, and indeed, to erase boundaries in time and in space -- thus the movement we've already seen of more and more issues into transnational space and the often very troubling porousness of borders. These things are not accidents; they are not matters of choice; they are inevitable, and they will increase. That means that ultimately we will have to change the way we think about sovereignty; we will have to invent new ways to solve problems that can't be addressed one country at a time.

In short, European integration, though still in its infant stage, I think is more aligned to the path history is going to take than is the U.S., whose geography, history and Constitution all incline it towards acting alone. So the trend that was so clear before September 11th I think has not gone away and isn't going to.

Closing the widening gap between Europe and the U.S. that threatens our ability to achieve our international aims and greatly reduces the likelihood that global challenges can be met, means that leaders on both sides of the Atlantic will have to adapt. Politically, it won't be easy. Americans have come to expect dominance, and Congress especially often has little patience for playing on international teams of which the U.S. is not captain. On the other hand, the American public overwhelmingly supports multilateral burden-sharing and a U.S. leadership role that is considerably broader than its military one. According to both liberal and conservative Democratic and Republican polls, it also supports working through the U.N. and other international institutions considerably more than do leadership elites. So while the change won't be easy, it is quite feasible and, as a last word, I think it is necessary, because the long-term cost of allowing the present trend to continue will be a price we won't want to pay.

Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: Ms. Mathews, on behalf of the Open Forum, I'd like to thank you so much for that insightful and timely presentation. At this time, I'd like to open the floor to your comments and questions. As a courtesy to Ms. Mathews, please identify yourself and state your organizational affiliation before posing your question.

Q Yes, I'm Tom Rectford (sp) with the World Affairs Council. When I was in France about seven months ago, everybody seemed to be talking about the death penalty and that this was a major issue that was dividing Europeans and Americans socially, and even a human rights issue. And I understand that the most recent American ambassadors to France have spent a phenomenal amount of time on this issue, much more than they ever imagined. Do you see this in other European countries as well, and is this likely to endure as long as our policies remain so fundamentally different?

MS. MATHEWS: It is a big issue, and a big issue beyond France. I think it will persist. I also think, though, that -- and I think it also suggests that globalization doesn't mean that important cultural differences disappear. My other feeling, however, is that the relationship is big enough to accommodate that difference. But it is an -- I think, for most Americans, an astonishingly big tick under the saddle.

Q My name is Mohammed Wahby. I'm the bureau chief of the Cairo-based Al Mussawar magazine. It's the oldest weekly in the Arab world. My question is, you have mentioned quite a number of differences between the United States and Europe, and as far as peace is concerned, I think you have not mentioned their differences, deep differences, over the Arab-Israeli conflict. Can you say something about this?

MS. MATHEWS: Well, that too is an important difference, and one where I think our -- probably our biggest challenge in the immediate future is going to be over U.S. policy towards Iraq. It's a difference that has been part of the relationship for many, many years. I was not -- I was trying very clearly, you know, not to suggest that there haven't been important differences in policy between the U.S. and Europe for a very long time. There always have been, there always will be, and that's fine. What I was trying only to point out was a new trend among a basket of issues that bear a strong resemblance among them. I do think that it will be very important for the U.S. to think hard and to take on board European views on Iraq as we make our decisions about policy in the months ahead.

Q This one? Okay. Thank you. My name is Vera Laltoska (sp), and I'm with the Women's Foreign Policy Group. And to hear you speak -- it was a pleasure. It was a very, very eloquent lecture. And to hear you speak -- I'm very proud to be European. You know, I think we're -- (laughs) -- up here, getting very powerful. However, I'm from that naughty little part of Europe called the Balkans, and I was wondering if you could tell me what you think about the Balkan issue, related with your opinion about U.S. and European relations. Is that the one issue that perhaps is, in a way, something left over from -- something that the United States can cling on as a superpower in the world? Because that part of Europe always seems to be -- in the eyes of other people, always seems to be destabling Europe and therefore enabling the U.S. to remain as the single superpower, in a way. What is your view on that issue? Because there are divided opinions over there and here...

MS. MATHEWS: I'm not an expert on the Balkans. I would only say two things. I think the events of last week, the introduction of the euro, shows the direction in which things were moving, in fact will help to bring the Balkans closer into the European fold, because the euro, I think, will -- it will be a powerful force in that direction. You know, what happened in the Balkans and Europe's inability to act without U.S. leadership in the Balkan conflict was evidence, as I suggested, of the fact that integration on the political and security fronts i