Madam President, on behalf of the Atlantic Council and its entire leadership team and board of directors, I would like to thank you for hosting the Dubrovnik Forum and leading the Three Seas Initiative. I applaud the leadership you have shown in organizing this summit in Dubrovnik for the second straight year. Madam President, you have been a privileged and important partner of the Atlantic Council from your time as Croatia’s Ambassador to Washington, later as NATO Assistant Secretary General, and now as President of Croatia. We are grateful for your leadership. I would also like to thank His Excellency President Andrej Duda. Poland’s leadership in the Three Seas Initiative is essential. The Atlantic Council is eager to work with your administration to make the annual Wroclaw Global Forum an important follow on to this summit.

Your excellencies, our discussion today in this beautiful and historic city takes on particular symbolic and strategic significance. While in uniform, I spent a great deal of time in the Balkans during very dark days for this region in the 1990s. Those conflicts drove nations apart, separated communities, and resulted in the tragic loss of life for far too many. It is quite powerful that we meet today in Dubrovnik  – one of many cities in this region to suffer greatly in the 1990s – for a discussion about how to build closer economic, energy, and trade linkages among the countries of this region and wider Europe toward the cause of peace and prosperity. The Dubrovnik Forum comes at a time of great challenge to the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area. It is no exaggeration to say that there are growing concerns in Washington that the European project is at risk of unraveling due to external and internal pressures. It is also no exaggeration to say that countries not entirely friendly to Europe are looking for divisions to exploit to bring about just such an unraveling. These times call for leadership – on both sides of the Atlantic. This forum is an important response.

Your Excellencies if you will allow me, I would like to make three primary points about this forum and the way forward. First, the Three Seas Initiative will strengthen the security and resilience of northern, central, and eastern Europe – and by extension all of Europe and the transatlantic community. The most important lesson I took from my career in national security is that the challenges of the 21st century are substantially different from those of the 20th century – even if some of the characters and their objectives look familiar! The military domain is merely one piece of the broader geopolitical chessboard. Political leaders must develop the appropriate tools and means to defend our shared interests and values in an era of heightened geopolitical competition. Unfortunately, it is a fact that the current Russian government leverages its energy resources and economic power as part of its ‘divide and conquer’ strategy for Europe to advance Russia’s own geopolitical objectives. By linking northern and southern Europe together through greater energy connectivity, the Three Seas Initiative turns the table on Russia and undercuts that dimension of its strategy. You might think of it as a hybrid strategy of your own! Developing the Three Seas Initiative is therefore a critical element of enhancing not only Europe’s prosperity and development, but also its security and resilience.

Second, I believe the Three Seas Initiative should consider developing an even bolder vision to link the European Union to the wider European space, building energy and infrastructure linkages to Ukraine and Georgia; Turkey; and the non-EU member states of the western Balkans. Fostering economic, energy, and ultimately closer political linkages to these countries will enhance the prosperity and security of wider Europe and keep alive the vision of a united Europe, whole, free, and at peace. It would also bolster the resilience and independence of vulnerable states on Europe’s frontier who are sometimes pressured by Moscow but may not be covered by NATO’s Article 5 guarantee. Linking the non-EU states of the western Balkans to the Three Seas Initiative, for example, would weaken Russia’s ability to use energy as a tool to undermine the independence of the countries in the region. Integrating these countries into the Three Seas Initiative would also demonstrate the EU’s political support at a time of great turbulence. Both Ukraine and Turkey have experienced their major shocks in the last weeks. Both are eager for continued signs of support from – and linkages to – the West. Both need greater connectivity with Europe and the greater transatlantic community in the area of energy security. I believe the Three Seas Initiative can offer just such linkages, with mutual benefit to all – particularly in the area of energy security.

Third, I would stress the importance of the participation of the private sector in the Three Seas Initiative and the need for political leaders in the Three Seas Area and the EU to foster business conditions and policy clarity needed to generate private sector investment. I applaud our co-hosts for integrating chambers of commerce from across the region into the forum. This is the right approach. I believe it will be critically important to listen to the needs and concerns of the business community. EU and government funds alone will not be sufficient to turn the Three Seas Initiative into a reality. From conversations I have with leading business executives, I hear growing concern about the business and investment climate in certain central and east European countries. Predictability, transparency, and good, clean governance and judicial systems will be essential for fostering the conditions necessary to bring in outside investors. The business community will need to see signs that the countries of this region and the European Union are in agreement on a shared vision and prioritized projects of common interest. The United States – as allies, friends, and trading partners – is ready and eager to help the EU achieve greater energy security through its exports of natural gas, financing, and technical expertise. But I personally have heard a ‘wait and see’ attitude from US investment funds interested in European infrastructure in the absence of a slimmed down, concise list of Projects of Common Interest announced by the European Union. I would humbly suggest that this summit and its follow on meeting in Wroclaw is the perfect opportunity to form the consensus and commit to the regulatory reforms required to get the investment community off the sidelines and onto the playing field.

The leaders assembled in this room and across the central and eastern Europe have a unique opportunity to give new spirit and purpose to the European project by advancing the Three Seas Initiative. Integrating the Three Seas area around a vision of shared prosperity and economic security would send a powerful signal to European citizens that the European project continues to move forward in meaningful ways, and help turn this region into one of the most dynamic and competitive region in not only Europe, but the world. Your Excellences thank you very much for inviting me to represent the Atlantic Council in this important initiative. We applaud your initiative and look forward to being helpful however we can.