U.S. and Europe: Stronger TogetherDaniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Interview with Nuno Rogeiro for "Society of Nations," SIC-TV
July 13, 2007
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, welcome to Portugal. Welcome to the show.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Thank you.
QUESTION: I hope you are not a superstitious man. Today is Friday the 13th.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No. Throw all that away.
QUESTION: The first thing, you are the main man in the State Department for European affairs, am I right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.
QUESTION: How far does your reach go? How far in terms of Europe?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I don't know that it's my reach especially, but --
QUESTION: Your area of responsibility.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: That's Russia, Ukraine, and the South Caucasus into the Caspian.
QUESTION: So we defined already the borders of Europe, which is a task that the European Union cannot do.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Sort of. There's no good way to draw that line, but in fact I think in the end the borders of Europe will be defined by countries either becoming like Europe or not.
QUESTION: Tell me one thing. One typical question in this reference, is there or is there not a transatlantic drift? I've been hearing about the transatlantic drift since I was a small kid.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Then you've answered the question, right? If you've heard about it all your life, then it probably is both a semi-permanent feature but not a critical one.
Now let me stop and say there was a real problem in 2003 and 2004. It's not just that we had a disagreement about Iraq; that I understand. The U.S. and Europe have disagreed before. But some in Europe and unfortunately some in America tried to turn that into a reason for a divorce. A terrible, terrible idea. America in the world needs Europe, and I think Europe is stronger with America. We're both stronger if we're working together and working multilaterally.
QUESTION: In the old days - when I say the old days I'm talking during the Second World War and even before - America declared itself through its President several times as a European power. Do you think that in the sense that it has stakes in Europe, do you think that America still has declared stakes in Europe? Political ones, economic ones?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I would put it this way. Whatever America seeks to accomplish in the world we are better off doing so with Europe than alone; in every case. I cannot think of an instance where we are better off not working with Europe.
QUESTION: But still, a man called Douglas Alexander, is Mr. Gordon Brown's counselor for international development, was in the CCR in Washington yesterday I guess, and he said we need the new alliance based on shared values, that it would be more internationalist, that would advance the cause of women, that would be more multilateral. Is this a criticism against the present state of relations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I don't know --
QUESTION: These are only words?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I don't know exactly what that means. We do have common values. We do have common values. NATO is an alliance rooted in common values. The U.S. strategic alliance, if I can call it that, with the European Union is based on common values. Around the world we're working together in support sometimes of prosperity, in support sometimes of security, in support sometimes of common values and democracy. We support European efforts to promote democracy in Ukraine or when the European Union is active in Cuba. We're working together around the world; we're working in the Middle East.
So I'm not sure what he meant. He certainly believed in strengthening multilateral institutions, and we've got them. We've got NATO. We've got the U.S.-EU dialogue. That's why I'm here, after all, because the European Union political directors meet. Americans are invited to the last day for an afternoon session. We're going to be discussing a lot of global issues.
QUESTION: There was for a while, I recall a famous article in Foreign Affairs, [inaudible], saying okay, the European Union is not going to work, the Euro is not going to work, maybe ends in civil war, and some people said is this Washington's thinking or is this just an opinion of some man?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No. Obviously the Euro has been a success, and we want a strong Europe. A weak and divided Europe does nothing for us. We want a strong Europe as a partner. Not as a counterweight --
QUESTION: When you say we?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: The United States, the Bush administration. President Bush wants a strong Europe. He's said so repeatedly and unequivocally.
Think of it from an American point of view. If you're an American, you're trying to get something done, Kosovo, much on my mind these days, energy security. Are you better off with a weak Europe that's divided or a strong Europe that's a partner? Obviously a strong Europe as a partner.
In Lebanon, do we want to work together in common purpose? Yes. Are we better off with a strong or a weak Europe? It's so obvious.
QUESTION: But in old style power politics will the European united bloc be a rival and a dangerous one to the United States? Or that's nonsense?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I think it's nonsense. I think it's nonsense. I think that talk about rivalry means what? What is this, the 19th Century? Balance of power? The United States and Europe are two great centers of democracy, free market prosperity, and the rule of law.
Obviously in some areas we'll compete. Boeing and Airbus compete. You know what? We all get better planes. Do you think the Boeing Dreamliner would have existed without the competition from the Airbus? I don't. I think the competition makes us better. So that's commercial competition.
QUESTION: Yes, but that's from the scientific point of view. But I think Boeing would feel safer if Airbus wouldn't exist.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, look, we believe in competition. We believe that competition makes companies stronger and better and it serves the people. So I'm delighted to have competition. Maybe Boeing's success with the Dreamliner will make Airbus a better company. But that's Airbus' problem. So as an American, I root for Boeing, and as a European you probably root for Airbus. But you know something? If we stand back, I'm glad they both exist.
QUESTION: So you would say what is good for generally Europe would be good for the United States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I would put it this way. A strong Europe and a strong United States are going to be good for each other and the world. The world needs us to work together.
Let's look back at the 20th Century. The first half of the 20th Century the United States and Europe didn't work well together. We got two world wars out of that. In the second half of the 20th Century we worked together. We didn't have a third world war and we won the Cold War. All right, you choose. Which model works better for humanity - when we work together or when we don't?
QUESTION: One thing, you mentioned, let's go into current affairs. You mentioned Kosovo. There is one conspiracy theory, and I stress conspiracy theory, that says Kosovo will declare unilateral independence and the United States will be the first country to recognize it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I hope none of that happens. I think the Kosovars have shown patience and they have been responsible. The Kosovars accepted the Ahtisaari Plan when the international community, Europe and America, asked them to do so. They have not issued a unilateral declaration of independence. I was in Pristina and I urged the Kosovars to trust us to work with Europe and the United States. They're nervous; I understand why. They're impatient, and I understand why. But I think they will work with us as long as they have confidence that we will do our share.
QUESTION: One thing, international relations is not only about power, it's also about ideas.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.
QUESTION: Some would say ideologies, whatever it is. Do you think that the United States is losing the idea war in the present day war?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: That's a fair question. I think we're being challenged on two fronts. One, I think there's an unfortunate assumption in Europe that the United States has lost its commitment to the rule of law. That's wrong. I think what has happened is the United States is trying to find the best way to confront a problem of terrorism. We're working through the implications of that.
Have we made mistakes? We probably have, yeah. But we're trying to look at this issue --
QUESTION: Do you remember one mistake?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Let's put it this way. In the struggle against terrorism the current international legal framework - the current international legal framework was designed for other kinds of struggles. The Geneva Conventions were designed in a different era. We need to conduct our war on terror, the struggle against terrorism in a way that is firmly rooted in international law, but we also need to recognize that it presents challenges to us. The British have talked about this; the Germans have talked about this. This isn't just an American deal. We need to figure out the best way to do this, and it's hard.
QUESTION: I understand, but I don't understand where is the mistake? The mistake you say is in the system, not in American attitudes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Look, we have tried different things and they're controversial. Guantanamo is obviously controversial and President Bush has said we look forward to being able to close it, to end it. And we want to find ways to send back as many detainees as possible, either to their original countries or to other countries that will receive them in ways that don't make our people less safe.
My point is, it's a real problem. Sometimes Europeans say to us, for God's sakes, close Guantanamo and we say privately to them, okay, how many detainees are you willing to take? They go oh, my God, we can't do that. You say to them, well what? Help us close this and deal with the problem.
But my point is that we have a challenge in the world and America is not a perfect country. We make mistakes. The point of a democracy is that we try to correct them and work with our friends to correct them.
I said there was another challenge, and that other challenge, ideologically since you mentioned it, is a challenge against democracy. There's an issue which people are debating as to whether democracy is potentially universal in its application? Does it apply to all people? Or is it only the product of West European civilization? That's a serious debate; it's a profound one. And in our view, the American view, democracy is potentially universal because it's really --
QUESTION: Potentially is --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Potentially means democracy will not triumph in all countries at all times equally. That's what potentially means. It means that in some countries democracy will not succeed. But potentially means it can succeed, potentially, in all countries.
For example, here's my evidence. Democracies exist on every continent in every culture. Remember in the 1980s there was a debate about whether Asians were suitable for democracy because they had this Confucian tradition?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I was very suspicious of that argument because it sounded to me like a rationalization by a dictator. My people aren't ready for democracy. Well that's what you say, buddy.
Now Asia is filled with modern rule-of-law states and democracies. South America, Africa, India; democracies have taken root and are working in all continents, in all cultures. That doesn't mean it's every country every time, but it means it can be.
QUESTION: You know certain countries that claim they are democracies are not considered democracies by other countries that claim that they know what democracy is. For some countries, democracy is rule of law. For others, it's the triumph of the majority. For others it's guarantees of minorities.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Democracy is going to be all of these things. One thing democracy isn't is simply a plebiscite dictatorship, meaning majority rules and after that there are no rules.
QUESTION: But there is not yet a scientific, universally accepted definition of democracy that could be entrusted into a UN Convention for instance.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No, and I shudder at the thought of a bunch of bureaucrats trying to define democracy. But look, --
QUESTION: You are talking about the lawyers. [Laughter].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Did I say that? I said bureaucrats. I'm a bureaucrat myself.
Look, democracy is not just free elections. It combines the rule of law; it combines freedom of conscience and freedom of speech; it combines individual liberties, and elections. Now it will look different in different countries.
When you're in Italy you know you're in Italy. It's got its own system. Poland has its own system. They're both democracies. American democracy is quite different. Our politics is different, but we're all democracies.
QUESTION: Do you think the values are the same between American democracy and so-called European democracies?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I think our fundamental values are the same.
QUESTION: What about the death penalty?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Americans debate the death penalty, and frankly, so do Europeans.
QUESTION: But we expelled it from our tradition --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: You know, this is something we debate. But underneath, I think that there is a commonality of values. Do you come out with exactly the same solutions in all cases? Probably not. America is a more religious country than many European countries, but we believe in freedom of conscience, freedom to be religious, freedom not to be religious. We have all religions in the United States freely practiced.
Okay, is this a cultural difference between the United States and Europe? Yeah, probably. Is it a difference of fundamental values? No. No.
QUESTION: That's the last one. They are telling me we are overdoing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I don't know, I'm happy to continue.
QUESTION: Look at what happened in France with Sarkozy. Everyone says okay, he is much more pro-American than the previous administration. Gordon Brown says well, maybe he's less pro-American than Tony Blair was. Spain, Zapateros. Certainly less pro-American than Aznar. So you win some, you lose some?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, democracy, elections, free elections are surprises. You never know who's going to win a free election unless it's not a free election.
Politics is not as important as an underlying strategic commonality. Sometimes we'll have differences with some European governments. The important thing is not whether there's one political difference or another. The question is, is the United States and Europe working together in the world on a common agenda? That's what we need to do.
QUESTION: So we return to your first words.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well there we are.