Lasting Ties in Changing Times

Foreign Minister Mr. Espen Barth Eide based his speech on the following points:

Dear friends, dear fellow Transatlanticists,

Let me go straight to my conclusion. The transatlantic bonds remain strong. They should remain strong. It is clearly in our interest to keep them strong. But they are not keeping themselves strong. They require investment on both sides of the Atlantic. It requires re-investment in each other and what we have together. And it requires serious thinking about how to manage the transatlantic relationship in a time where the world is structured in fundamentally different way than before.

A lot has been said about a new world order in the making. Many attempts have been made to describe the trends we are seeing. The rise of China has led some to conclude that we are moving from a unipolar world of one superpower to a world of two dominant powers - the G2. Others claim we are heading towards G-Zero, a world without a clear hegemon. A renewed focus on traditional challenges is accompanied by frequent warnings against asymmetric threats. The terror attack in Algeria was a tragic reminder.

We may not agree on how to describe the current world order, but certain facts are undisputable. Most European countries are reducing their defence budgets in a time when China, India and others are increasing their military spending. The US is both cutting defence spending and increasing its focus on Asia.

Asia in the ascendancy – Europe in austerity.

The crucial question is how we respond to the challenges facing us. If we get our strategies right, we may not see the emergence of a new world order as such, but rather a development where new actors find their place in an existing world order.

If we are to respond in a timely and appropriate way to these challenges, there is one fact that we must take fully into account: we are facing not only emerging economies; but also a real redistribution of power.

I believe we need more NATO in times like these - not less. Transatlantic ties are as important as ever.  

We need a strong and united Europe. We need a Europe that is strong economically, politically, culturally and morally.

A Europe that stands together.

We need a Europe that sticks to its principles – and does not sink into mass unemployment, protectionism, xenophobia, political extremism and crumbling confidence in the political system.

The financial crisis of 2008 caused a downturn which is still affecting Europe. On a global level, however, the crisis accelerated a general trend. China's growth has been around 10 % annually over the last 30 years, and its defense budget is estimated to have grown by 10 % per year over two decades. China is now expected to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy sooner than previously forecast.

Many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America have experienced unprecedented growth. The world’s highest GNP growth in the years to come is expected in Mongolia.

Growth is a good thing – especially in places with high levels of poverty.

But we also have to acknowledge the challenges posed by this development – and adjust our policies and perspectives to the new world map.

I should also mention the fast changing geopolitics of energy. A fundamental change. The shale oil and gas revolution in the US. A whole new situation. A US that is about to become self-dependent on oil and gas. The fast changing geopolitics of energy means that more of the Arab oil and gas in the future will go to the emerging Asian countries. The new and growing demand of energy will come from Asia whereas North America eventually will become net exporter. What does it entail for the US-Middle East relations and politics? How would the increased Asian interest for the Middle East shape international politics? And where does the emerging Arctic energy region fit into this? I see a growing interest among my colleagues in energy issues - due to the security implications of energy.

As we move from the American century to the Asian century, are we also leaving the transatlantic era behind us?

In the aftermath of a devastating war, great statesmen on both shores of the Atlantic designed the multilateral organisations that have been the pillars of our security and prosperity ever since: the United Nations. NATO. The EU.

We are now facing a situation where a majority of allies are cutting their defence spending significantly – some up to 20%. Norway, Poland and Turkey are the exceptions. In a situation where Europe provides just a quarter of NATO members’ military expenses – the overall situation is not being helped by the fact that the US is now reducing its defense budget, too.

China is not just modernising its military forces and replacing old materiel. It is developing capabilities that it did not use to have, with greater focus on offensive rather than defensive capabilities.

However, it is estimated that the Unites States still spends 3-4 times more on defense than China. While the military expenses’ share of GDP in the US is 4, 5 per cent, it is 2 per cent in China. China’s nuclear arsenal of about 150 warheads is dwarfed by both US and Russia.

The so-called US pivot to Asia is logical. It is not only understandable, but also necessary. And it is in European interests. We live in a globalised, deeply intertwined world. Any contribution to stability in the Pacific or in the Indian Ocean is a contribution to stability along our Atlantic shores. We know too well now that conflicts and instability can be exported across continents.

However, it would be a huge exaggeration to say that the US is leaving Europe alone. This is more of a rebalancing than a pivot. While the US is drawing down the number of troops permanently stationed in Europe, American forces will rotate more often in the NATO Response Force (NRF). This leads to a more dynamic US presence in Europe, which is good.

This leads me to the steps NATO must take in response to the challenges ahead.

First of all, we need to ensure that we have a credible defence.

At the NATO Summit in Chicago last May, we made some important decisions on the implementation of the Strategic Concept adopted in 2010. Smart Defence - doing more together - will enable us to acquire capabilities we could not afford individually. National cuts in defence budgets should be made in a transparent and coordinated manner, so that the Alliance as a whole can adjust and fill the gaps. Less “action” more preparedness and integration.  

We need to maintain and improve our ability to operate in the field together, including the participation of the partner countries that have provided such a valuable contribution to our operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya. This requires increased emphasis on exercises in Europe – involving the US. Norway has taken several initiatives – for example on strengthening the links between national headquarters and NATO’s command structure. Our military cooperation with the Nordic countries is considered a good example of smart defence – and of involvement of partners.

We are bringing NATO home, renewing our focus on core tasks and article 5 – the essence of NATO. At the same time, we must remain prepared for the unexpected also beyond our territory, and for cyber threats, terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Bold decisions need to be followed by firm action. Progress so far may not have been as swift as many of us would have preferred. The acquisition of defence capabilities involves key aspects of national sovereignty and prerogatives. Some member states are wary of giving up national control of important capabilities – or making them available to others. This is understandable. But implementing smart defence requires leaderships, mutual trust and willingness to act – and in NATO we have a long and proud tradition of all three.  

We also have to remember that military acquisitions have a long term perspective – often several decades.

We aim to strengthen the dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which is a valuable supplement to the important bilateral cooperation between Moscow and many of the NATO members.

A strong and credible Alliance, with updated capabilities, will ensure that NATO remains the bedrock of our security. The strength and durability of the transatlantic ties rest with what is really NATO’s gold standard: a political community of solidarity and democratic values that remains historically unique. This is still what makes NATO membership attractive for candidate countries. And this is what makes closer cooperation with the Alliance attractive to our partners in Asia, Africa, Oceania and even Latin America.

NATO's permanently available command structure and effective decision-making structures are unprecedented. It is hard to see how such structures could be recreated or duplicated - in Europe, Asia or elsewhere.

Neither Americans nor Europeans see that their interests would be served by dismantling or reducing this toolbox. The composition of President Obama’s new foreign and security policy team bears witness to this. Both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are infused in Transatlanticism. In our meetings, we receive explicit confirmations of the vital importance Washington attaches to the transatlantic ties. We also hear that the rebalancing to Asia must be seen in the light of the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than as a reduction in Europe.

Europe and North America promote the same goals and values, but often on different arenas, depending on which of us is better suited to take the lead or perform most efficiently in each case. We complement each other.

This division of labour is a vital aspect of the transatlantic ties.

As Vice-President Biden put it in Munich one week ago, “Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the rest of the world and is the catalyst for our global cooperation.”

We will still be looking for American leadership in many areas, not least in the important follow-up to the New Start Treaty and other disarmament initiatives taken after President Obama’s speech in Prague in 2009.

Transatlantic ties are also maintained by member countries. Norway’s relations with the US are better and more comprehensive than ever, characterised by extensive energy and business relations, close defence cooperation and active political talks.

When I sat down with Secretary Clinton at a NATO Meeting in December, Myanmar, Colombia and our global dialogue figured as prominently on the agenda as our bilateral relations.

Which brings us back to Asia - again. In some contexts, the US prefers NATO as a framework for cooperation with Asian partners- rather than taking a bilateral approach. We are also seeing a growing Asian interest in cooperation with NATO. These countries see the Alliance as relevant. They want to learn from NATO’s experiences when developing their own regional security cooperation.

The US is not alone in pivoting towards Asia. It is of fundamental European – and Norwegian – interest to engage with this continent.

Norway has traditionally had strong economic ties to Asia, first and foremost linked to the maritime sector.

Lately, we have also been strengthening our political ties. We increase our contacts with key countries like India, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and South Korea. Our active participation in various peace and reconciliation processes, like our coordination of donor countries in Myanmar, can also be seen in this light.

It is also of strategic interest for us to be present in Asia’s regional decision forums. Last November Norway joined the interregional Asia-Europe Meeting - ASEM. This gives us opportunities for exchanging views and influencing the regional agenda.

We have initiated a dialogue on a broader partnership with ASEAN - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and we have decided to accede to the Treaty of the Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).

We are sparing no efforts toward bringing bilateral relations with China back to the previous activity level.

We have a security policy dialogue with several Asian countries, and we see an increasingly keen interest in our Arctic policy. China, South Korea and Japan, and even the tropical city-state Singapore, are “lining up” to join the Arctic Council as permanent observers.

Global affairs and interaction between nations are not a zero-sum game, especially not in a globalised world like ours. Leaders in a majority of countries seem to have understood this. The Americans understood this when they made their crucial contribution to rebuilding Europe and Japan after the Second World War. The money spent on Europe was money well spent. Prosperity here meant growth there.

Asia’s rise is not Europe’s demise. Prosperity in Asia, Africa and Latin America is good for us. In many ways, the Chinese economy was the engine that kept the world economy going in the wake of the financial crisis. This mutual dependency will continue – and leaders in Beijing, Washington, Brussels, Delhi, Brasilia and Pretoria know it well. We are living in a win-win world.

For more than 60 years, the pillars of our security policy have been membership of multilateral structures and a world order based on international law. It is my firm belief that we need to preserve and modernise these structures and principles.

The UN, NATO or EU could hardly be replaced or reconstructed, in case they were to be dismantled. Rome was not built in a day – and NATO, the UN and the EU might not have been created at all, had it not been for the particular circumstances that prevailed after two devastating world wars.

Our multilateral world order has its deficiencies. The UN, the EU and NATO are not defect, but imperfect. Let’s aim to modernize them, rather than to wreck them.

The rise of new powers increase the influence of countries with different values and perspectives than those that dominated world affairs in the second half of the 20th century. We welcome the increased focus on multilateral structures in Asia – and we engage in them.

If the weight of the so-called West is adjusted downwards; let’s make sure that the weight of our universal values is not.

Allow me to return briefly to Europe, where the logic of economic and political integration has replaced war and fierce rivalry with the spirit of cooperation.

EU’s resistance to the reflex of protectionism during the financial crisis was crucial in fighting it. The response was not to pull apart, like in the 1930s, but to deepen the co-operation. Positive sign that the European Council agreed on the new long term budget.

The staggering levels of youth unemployment in Europe must be addressed. Democracy may come under pressure because of corruption, extremism, xenophobia and a loss of confidence in the political system.

The EU’s ability to stick to its values and overcome the crisis is vital to Europe's global relevance. This is also vital to the transatlantic ties.

Let me conclude.

Transatlantic ties will remain strong, but we always have to be aware of potential challenges which may appear.

The current plans for reductions in the US defence budget are not dramatic. But political impasse and the budget ceiling may lead to even further defense cuts in the future. In tough fiscal times, politicians may be more easily forgiven for cuts in defense than in welfare.

It is understandable that European countries need to balance their budgets – but there is a limit to how far you can cut in defense before you compromise security.

We favor NATO’s renewed focus on core tasks and defense of its own territory. But will we be able to maintain NATO's relevance and legitimacy in the taxpayers' eyes without a major, visible operation? Explaining that security cannot be taken for granted, can be difficult in peacetime – and when the threats to our security become more and more complex.

Europeans need to make an effort so that NATO remains important also in the eyes of the Congress and the American public. This means investing in defense and taking responsibility.

Continued relevance requires that NATO remains an important actor in international security matters.

The rise of China has been known as peaceful – as opposed to the rise of many other powers in history. This is vital.

Being a global power is a status which entails corresponding international responsibilities and constructive engagement for peace, stability and rule of law. Territorial disputes must be settled by the parties on the basis of international law. The Law of the Sea represents an extensive legal framework applicable to disputed maritime areas.

Washington and Beijing need to understand each other’s intentions. There are tendencies among Chinese analysts to interpret the Americans’ increased involvement as a wish to stop China’s success and stymie its progress. The Americans should continue to communicate to the Chinese that this is not the case. It is crucial that the two most powerful nations know each other.

Facts are important in global affairs – but so are perceptions.

Let me sum up.

The transatlantic bond will stay strong – but it will not remain strong without investment on both sides of the Atlantic.

Americans and Europeans alike must engage with Asia – multilaterally and as individual countries. We are living in the Asian century.

We must ensure that the world of win-win prevails – zero-sum stagnation benefits nobody.

There was room for Europe in the American Century – I believe there will also be room for Europe in the Asian Century.

*****

 

 

 

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