Return to “Transatlantic Relations in the 21st Century and the UK’s Policy Toward Europe and NATO”





4:00 PM – 5:15 PM,

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

DAMON WILSON: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to welcome you to the Atlantic Council. My name’s Damon Wilson, I’m executive vice president here at the council.

I want to welcome the Right Honorable David Lidington to Washington and to the council itself. We’re delighted to have the minister of state for Europe of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office here for a conversation about the trans-Atlantic relations in the 21st century and the United Kingdom’s policy towards Europe and NATO.

We’re pleased to have this event as it continues a string of recent engagement with senior British officials here at the council. I was mentioning just before this, that we’ve had recently a session here on the British Strategic Defense and Security Revue with John Day. We’ve had a commander series event with General Sir David Richards; and just most recently, a dinner with former NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson.

The minister’s portfolio is of great interest to the Atlantic Council and the community here. Beginning with NATO, a lot of the core work that takes place here at the council in the International Security Program focused on how to bring European voices into the trans-Atlantic security debate here in Washington – as well as on the European Union side. Fran Burwell, our vice president here – is in the back – who is one of the leading voices on European Union affairs and manages our programming here on that set of issues as well.

There are a lot of substantive issues to discuss this afternoon. The minister’s here at the backdrop of what’s happening in North Africa and Libya in particular. European leadership in the Libya crisis has been striking for its demonstration of political will. Yet, at the same time, many are concerned that limited European capabilities and falling defense budgets, they raise the question of whether this is a new moment of European will and the trans-Atlantic relationship; or dramatic last gasp in the ability to Europe to intervene as such.

What is NATO’s leading role in the crisis mean for the European Union in common foreign and security policy?

We’ve also done a tremendous amount of programming here on the NATO summit itself to pick up the agenda in our conversation today on where NATO is headed post-Lisbon – whether in Afghanistan or issues closer to defense and security issues at Europe. This is a government that’s come together – a coalition that government has come together and married to somewhat different views of Europe into a common coherent policy called “Constructive Engagement While Protecting Sovereignty.” I’m also reticulating a posture of support for dynamic outward-looking European Union.

There are a number of serious questions – critical questions for Europe more broadly that we’ll be facing. We’re here to hear the U.K. perspective on how Europe, the European Union, can take steps forward to address the crisis in North Africa, to address issues of stabilizing the eurozone, and managing Europe’s profile in a world of rising powers.

With that, let me introduce the minister: The Right Honorable David Lidington was appointed minister of state at the Foreign Commonwealth Office in May, 2010. His responsibilities include the European Union,

Europe – including the European Eastern partnership countries – as well as Russia, Central Asia, NATO and European security, the OFC, Council of Europe – as well as the FCO’s relations with Parliament.

David Lidington was elected to parliament in 1992. He’s worked for BP prior to this, and spent three years as a special advisor to Douglas Hurd in the home office and foreign office.

I want to thank our strategic advisers group and their sponsors: General Brent Scowcroft, the EADS Airbus for our NATO programming here at the council. And with that I want to turn it over to you.


DAVID LIDINGTON: Well thank you very much indeed

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here at the Atlantic Council on my first visit to the United States as minister for Europe; and indeed, my first trip over here since the coalition government was formed.

And of course, the Atlantic Council has served as an indispensible forum for trans-Atlantic discussion going right back to the creation of the Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1954, shortly after – just a few years after the birth of NATO itself. And this year I’m told, marks the 50th anniversary of the council’s formal establishment. So I want to start by wishing the council many happy returns on reaching that milestone and hope that you continue to prosper for the next half century and well beyond.

And both Europeans and Americans should be profoundly grateful for what the council has done. The positive influence that you have on those making policy on both sides of the Atlantic is significant and is rightly well-known and respected. So it’s an honor to be invited to speak to you this afternoon – especially when I think about the quality of the speakers that you have had addressing the council in the past.

And I should perhaps add that as a lover of classical music and of opera, I’m somewhat envious of those who are going to be here in a few weeks’ time when you give an award to Placido Domingo. And I promise you, I’m not going to try and deliver my speech in song today. And when he – when Domingo arrives, I have to say, I will have some sneaking sympathy for whoever it is who has to go on to the platform after he has finished. (Chuckles.) I think to follow him will not be easy.

And when I thought about the work of the council in preparing this speech, it occurred to me that, in your roster of formal – former council presidents, there’s a fine example of the nature of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. And of course I’m talking about the late Christopher Makins.

And Christopher, like one of his most illustrious predecessors, Winston Churchill himself, was a genuine trans-Atlantic product – a dual U.K. and U.S. national whose career somehow transferred seamlessly from respected British diplomat to eminent American opinion former. And I think his career epitomizes the fluid movement of people and ideas, which we often just take for granted, that provides a solid basis for the relationship between our two countries. And that relationship is maintained at all levels and across many sections of both British and American society.

For the British government, our relationship with the United States is still the most important one we have – what David Cameron calls an unbreakable or indispensible alliance. And I know that within minutes of his arrival in 10 Downing Street last May, the prime minister had a call from President Obama in which the president underlined his continuing strong commitment to that alliance.

But it would be a mistake to see this as something that is just maintained at the level of governments. Parliament and Congress maintain a close dialog, both through formal structures like the British-American Parliamentary Group, but also the continuous shuffle of delegations of legislators, from one shore of the Atlantic to the other. Or if you look at the private sector, we are each other’s single biggest investor.

At nearly half a trillion dollars, the stock of foreign investment here in the United States from British firms is 570 times the amount invested by China, supporting in the region of a million American jobs. And the bond is further strengthened through less tangible, but still important exchanges of information and innovation between universities and through the shared enjoyment of one another’s culture from film, theater, music, TV, literature and art. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that it’s only when it comes to the question of national sports that mutual, incomprehension still prevails, despite the efforts of top ambassadors like David Beckham. (Laughter.)

Now, that bilateral relationship is made stronger by the wider trans-Atlantic alliance within which it is set. It is an alliance that has maintained the security and prosperity of both the United States and Europe for the past century. But it cannot ignore the fact that its continued relevance, is today being challenged. And there are two stereotyped arguments that you can find in some parts of the media to support such a thesis of decline.

In Europe, the argument runs like this: The United States is becoming more isolationist and less interested in a broad, overall – and in particular, turning away from Europe and the Atlantic, to focus upon Asia and the Pacific Rim. In America, the caricature is written the other way around, that Europe has a sclerotic, inexorably declining economy, is riven with internal arguments and won’t accept responsibility for its own security.

Now, I contend that these arguments are false and over-simplified. But what is certainly true is that power, whether you look at the economic weight or political influence, is becoming more diffuse and is shifting globally to the countries of the east and the south.

And why? For one reason, because an ever growing share of the world’s population lives in those quarters of the globe. In 30 years’ time, it is likely that three quarters of the world’s people will be Asian and African. And it’s not only about the raw numbers of people. Within those populations, it’s projected that by 2040, Africa will have over a billion people of working age, likely to be more than the entire population of the United States and Europe combined.

And that translates into economic strength. It’s predicted that by 2050, only two European countries will be among the world’s top 10 economies. In a landscape dominated not just by the Brits, but other emerging economies like Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey.

Now, I’m not going to argue we should somehow try to resist this shift or that we should try to do so. And what’s happening through globalization is bringing in a better life to literally billions of people. The question for us is how we manage this dramatic global change. The challenge for us is to work out we can best serve our national and our shared interests against this changing backdrop. And there lies the kernel of truth in those stereotyped arguments about the decline of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

It is true that the United States is looking to Asia and the Pacific and taking a close interest in engagement with those rising powers. And for that matter, the same could be said of Europe and the priority Europe is increasingly giving to those parts of the world. And it’s also true that Europe needs to rediscover – and rediscover quickly – it’s traditions of enterprise and innovation as a root to economic growth and job creation.

In Britain, we do recognize the urgency of this task. You cannot have a conversation with Prime Minister Cameron without him very soon, latching onto the issue of growth, competitiveness, enterprise, how we can get the British and the broader European economy moving again. And last week, he published a short pamphlet entitled, “Let’s Choose Growth,” which sets out a series of measures at the EU level that we believe are necessary to secure sustainable long-term growth within Europe. We need to upgrade the single market; to cut away barriers to investment and innovation; to curb the complexity and cost of regulation on business and do all we can to free up trade, in particular, by concluding a deal on the Doha Round.

But notwithstanding the need for renewal in both Europe and the United States, there’s no doubt that the Atlantic alliance and the wider trans-Atlantic relationship will remain hugely important. First, on matters of international security: The alliances and partnerships that served the trans-Atlantic community so well in the 20th century still offer the best way to serve the interests of the United States and of Europe in the 21st. And this isn’t based on some sentimental respect for the past, but on a hardheaded and pragmatic calculation that in periods of change you need partners upon who you can defend – you can depend. That is why 25 European countries belong to the world’s most powerful and successful military alliance – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In 2001, it was primarily European allies who together with Canada, initially through NATO, stood shoulder to shoulder with United States over Afghanistan and continue to do so. And very recently in Libya, the U.S., the U.K. and France have been at the forefront militarily with support of NATO allies in defending civilians from Gadhafi’s murderous regime. Now, of course, there’s been a healthy debate among the Atlantic community about taking that action, but it is a serious endeavor and it’s quite right that there should be a considered debate about it.

But I think if you’d asked any of us a year ago – after Afghanistan and after Iraq and in the face of increasing war weariness on the part of our populations – whether we would have been able to get agreement at the United Nations and then unity within NATO for a humanitarian intervention in Libya and in such a short space of time, I think most of us would privately have said that that would not be possible. Yet, it has been achieved.

Now, of course, not everything is perfect. We still have a great deal to do to reform the international architecture, to make it better equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. And already we see new structures like the G-20 emerging in response to the need for better representation for emerging powers. But we must also not forget the need to reform existing institutions too.

Last November, NATO took a lead in setting out a vision for the future at its Lisbon summit. Libya was actually an important affirmation of what the Lisbon declaration meant when it said that NATO rejected the false choice between collective defense and out-of-area activity. But there is more to do. NATO still needs to deliver on the agreement to reform its structures, to deliver that vision. And I hope defense ministers will be able to do that this June.

NATO’s relationships with others are adapting to the changing circumstances as well. In particular, the improvement in atmospherics in the NATO-Russia Council was very welcome. I hope that will enable us to deliver one of the key Lisbon agreements – the establishment of a missile defense system in partnership with Russia. So NATO is adapting.

And yes, Europeans do need to do more to take responsibility for their collective defense. Against a backdrop of declining defense budgets on both sides of the Atlantic, this is going to be hard. But Britain’s partnership with France –formalized in the Defense Cooperation Treaty last year – demonstrated a step in the right direction and showed that we are serious about maintaining our capabilities in tough economic circumstances. We think it provides a model for others to follow both institutionally and nationally.

Second, the significance of the trans-Atlantic trade and investment relationship should not be underestimated. Our economies are more deeply integrated than anywhere else in the world with the United States trading more than twice as much with Europe as with China. In 2009, trans-Atlantic trade added up to $817 billion compared with 319 billion between the United States and China. And the difference is even more pronounced when you look at investment patterns. European investment to the United States at $1.47 trillion compared with $791 million from China.

So in other words, European investment in the United States is close to 2000 times greater than investment on the part of China. And those economic facts are affected across the spectrum of international cooperation. I mean, Europe still has two of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council, five seats in the G-20 and I know that arouses some comment and debate in Washington.

Both Europe and the United States attach importance to development spending and use large sums of our taxpayers’ money to deliver on those policies. In 2009, the EU spent a total of $66 billion on development aid and the United States, $29 billion. And it’s not just altruism and a sense of moral responsibility for the world’s poorest – important though those – those things are. But it’s also central to our efforts to promote political stability and conflict resolution.

Now, we can debate about how to maximize this European potential of economic and political – I frequently make the case in my ministerial role that Brussels could and should do more, but that it needs to work to a limited and defined agenda of priorities. But I think the point I want to stress to you this evening is that we shouldn’t undersell European weight in the world nor Europe’s centrality to the economic health and security of the United States.

So if we look forward, the world is shifting beneath our feet. We have to adapt our alliances and the institutions to meet new challenges. And that’s just pretty much a commonplace to say that we have to adapt to new changes, but what is just as important is to remember the reasons why we worked out this shared unity of purpose and approach in the 20th century and why it is important to sustain that tradition of working closely together to face these new challenges.

I mean, let’s look at security – and I’ve touched briefly on some of the agenda for NATO reform. But if we look ahead, there are new challenges: the new domain of cyber space, the threat from international terrorism, the challenges from failing states, and states in transition – to which we need to give particularly urgent and collective consideration.

NATO has made progress on cybersecurity since the attacks on Estonia in 2007. The Lisbon summit recognized that the protection of our information and communication systems are integral to our defense – and not just those of the alliance itself, but of individual allies as well. Together we’ve worked to shore up our defenses individually and collectively. And in doing so, are coming to common understandings of these threats and of the appropriate responses to them. And at the EU-U.S. summit last November, we jointly committed ourselves to tackle new threats to the global networks upon which the security and prosperity of our free societies increasingly defend – depend.

Likewise, in combating international terrorism, we stand stronger together than we do apart. And it’s about more than political solidarity in the face of extremism, it’s about the mechanics of defense as well. Look at the information on which counterterrorist strategies rely for their success. The more we know and the more we share about who is on our planes or who is using our financial systems, the safer we are going to be. And there’s an important debate about the balance of information sharing and data protection.

We have to strive for the right balance between the rights of individuals to safety and security and the other rights that other people value in democratic, free societies. Not every country wants to draw the line in exactly the same place. There is a pretty vigorous argument going on in Europe about this as we speak. But we have to find a way to achieve that balance if together we are to make the most of the information that we hold collectively.

And last on security, we have to match the complexity of the challenges we face in transitional states like Afghanistan with the sophistication of our own response. The integration of what Secretary Clinton has called the three Ds of defense, diplomacy and development, is as crucial in our national institutions as it is in our capital cities and on the ground. And Europe has to insure is contributing across all three lines of operation. With the EU, for example, doing more than it is to provide technical assistance and capacity building.

Now, of course, as Prime Minister Cameron has said, our national security depends on our economic security and vice versa. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic face a tremendous economic challenge, both in the wake of a financial crisis and structurally. Surging public and private debt, rising commodity prices, aging populations and new competitors have created a sense of crisis. We’re facing the sobering prospect of seeing the next generation grow up possibly poorer than our own.

Now we believe that the worst response to these challenges is for the developed world to turn in on itself. The EU should not measure European unity by the height of the barriers which it imposes against the rest of the world. Nor do I believe will the United States be stronger if it looks inwards rather than outwards. On the contrary, I believe we need to remind ourselves that the sources of our prosperity are trade, innovation and education. And to this end, that we should redouble our efforts to expand trade with one another and with the rest of the world.

We should capitalize on recent efforts to improve the trans-Atlantic Economic Council as a mechanism to address obstacles to trans-Atlantic trade. And together, show leadership on the Doha development agenda and through bilateral free trade agreements. Our citizens are right to demand that we respond to the financial crisis by charting a way forward to renewed growth and prosperity. And the British government believes that we should do so through opening ourselves to more trade and more investment. Those are the hallmarks of self-confidence – self-confident nations.

Now, of course, the financial crisis knocked our confidence almost as much as it hit our pocketbooks. And confronted by continued double-digit growth in China and other emerging economies, many commentators questioned whether the Western model had now had its day. We need to remind ourselves that the United States still spends more on defense than every other nation combined, and its economy will remain larger than China’s for at least another decade. And when you look at GDP per head, the economic dominance of the United States will continue for significantly longer than that.

So I think the narrative of relative decline is overstated, both on the statistics, but also in terms of the values that underpin our societies. The Arab spring is a timely reminder of the appeal of which our values and their institutions have beyond our borders. There are no placards on the streets of Benghazi or Damascus demanding state capitalism or managed democracy or socialism with Arab characteristics – nor are they burning British or American flags. Instead, these people, many of them young, are demanding what we have – what we in fact too often take for granted and which we would like them to have as well: jobs, security, the rule of law, respect for human rights and political choice.

And so this is the third area on which the trans-Atlantic alliance needs to agree a basis for common action – the spread of capitalist democracy. Now, I was fortunate, as the chairman said, to be working in the foreign office – for the then-Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd – when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. And dramatic change swept across Europe in the 12 months which followed. Now as then, we must match the moment with a generous and farsighted offer to the people of the Middle East this time.

I spent a lot of time talking about NATO and I’d like to come on at the end my remarks now to the EU and to the role it can play in responding to the Arab spring.

First, we should be honest about the fact that the foreign policy of the European Union is a matter for intergovernmental debate and agreement. The Henry Kissingers of the future will still need more than one telephone number for Europe – as indeed, in fairness, European political leaders sometimes do when they’re calling the United States. And the EU is not the USA. It is not a country and it has no prospect of becoming a country. There is no European “demos” or European “polis.”

But things are changing institutionally through the high representative of the external action service. And just as important, culturally through more instinctive coordination amongst European foreign ministers. We’ve seen this in the last year over Iran’s sanctions, over Kosovo and Serbia – and most recently, in the case of Libya and North Africa more widely. The coalition government in London wants the institutions of the Lisbon Treaty to be a success and we are urging the EU institutions to focus their efforts on those areas where collective action can add genuine value.

So let me finish by discussing two specific areas in which the EU can make a difference for good: enlargement and Europe’s immediate neighborhood. Enlargement has been one of the European Union’s greatest success stories. It has entrenched the rule of law, democracy, human rights and the free market in parts of Europe where those traditions were crushed for most of the 20th century.

If you look at the history of the decades after 1919 and you contrast how the great hopes of Woodrow Wilson and that generation of trans-Atlantic leaders came to nothing in the face of hyper-inflation, of political instability, military coups, fascism and communism with what has happened in Europe in the last 20 years, the key difference, in my view, is that this time around, the European Union was able to provide an institutional framework for the emerging democracies to help them establish their new, hard-won political and economic freedoms.

And we shouldn’t forget those parts of Europe that remain beyond the full realization of a Europe whole and free. It is the prospect of membership that drives reform in these countries, and in London we disagree fundamentally with those of our partners who suggest that there should be a pause of the accession of Croatia.

If a country is European and it wants to join the EU, and it can meet the rigorous accession criteria for so doing, then it should be able to accede to full membership. And we remain resolute and uncompromising in our support of those aspiring for further EU enlargement.

While that most obviously applies to the countries of the Western Balkans, which are still far from reaching assured political stability, in our view it applies to Turkey. Turkey’s membership holds out tremendous economic and political benefits for existing EU members. And for Europe to turn its back on Turkey, especially at this moment of growing Turkish self-confidence and economic weight would be a catastrophic strategic error.

The EU’s impact on its neighborhood, those countries on the periphery but without any immediate prospect of beginning accession negotiations, has been less marked, and it needs to improve. Europe and the United States have a shared agenda in North Africa and in the Middle East.

The prospects of violent instability, energy shortages and mass migration are particularly acute to those countries on the Mediterranean, and none of those risks will be mitigated without jobs, security and greater political choice.

The youth of these countries, usually a disproportionate part of their populations, no longer will be content with the idea that they should be isolated from the aspirations and achievements of their counterparts in societies elsewhere in the world.

Now, the EU needs to rise to this challenge. We’ve spent billions of euros over the years on the southern neighborhood, to very little political or economic effect. The various southern neighborhood funding instruments add up to about 1.5 billion euros each year. They have brought neither dynamic enterprising economies nor political stability and greater accountability of governments to people.

In the short to medium term, we need to ensure that in future, assistance is tied more clearly to progress. And in the slightly longer term, we should agree a more strategic offer to the Arab world, based on investment and market access too, as a means to encourage and facilitate some of the painful reforms that are going to be necessary in many of these countries if they are to make the kind of transition that Central and Eastern Europe made 20 years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, Britain believes that the trans-Atlantic alliance needs to recognize its strengths and be active in projecting them, shaping the changes we want to see in the global landscape. And I’ve tried today to sketch how we can do this across three fronts: providing security, building prosperity and promoting our values.

If we can deliver progress across these three critically important areas, we will have gone a long distance to ensuring that the trans-Atlantic relationship endures as the starting point for both our nations’ international cooperation.

And that is the central theme and conclusion of my remarks. As much as new friends are exciting and interesting, old and dependable friendships that have proved their value over time should continue to prove their worth in the future as well. As Churchill once said, “There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is to fight without them.”

Thank you very much indeed. (Applause.)

MR. WILSON: That was just terrific. Thank you very much. I think we’re going to take your advice, and for our awards dinner I think we’re going to have Placido Domingo conclude the program – (laughter) – rather than start the program. It’s not fair to put anyone –


MR. WILSON: – even Vice President Biden, in the shoes of following behind him. But thank you. Thank you for that.

You know, I just – before I turn to the audience to – we want to have a moderated conversation here – this was a remarkable – I thought your talk was remarkable, for three reasons. We have a tremendous number of European leaders and officials that come through the council, that come through Washington.

Your talk this evening I thought was remarkable, first because you made a coherent case for the trans-Atlantic partnership, the trans-Atlantic relationship, both the statistics that underpin the strength, the reality of that relationship, but the values that back that up.

So many Europeans that end up passing through Washington come here and speak with a national hat on and a national capacity that it ends up underselling the overall aggregate impact of the value of the relationship the United States has with Europe. So I just want to applaud you for making such a coherent, cogent argument on that.

In a period of dramatic change that we’re going through right now, you said – you reminded us that we need partners that we can depend on. This is a message that I think the council is trying to be consistent on. As Washington has been quite enamored by this idea of emerging and rising powers, that point remains very valid.

Second, your portfolio is quite remarkable in that you coherently bring together NATO and the European Union into one storyline. And, again, this is – unfortunately, the institutional barriers between the two institutions are something quite dispiriting as it dilutes the impact of the trans-Atlantic relationship. But your talk this evening I think reminded us of the combination of security, prosperity, values that the two institutions can bring together.

And, third, your reminder of the self-confidence, both in the United States and the trans-Atlantic relationship. There is a little bit of over-talk, I think, of the narrative of decline, as you said, the power itself as well as the power of our values.

So, I just wanted to point that out and thank you for your cogent defense of the relationship in Europe because it’s become ever-increasingly important here in Washington that we actually not take that for granted, that we make the case, and I thought you made the case quite well. (Coughs.) Excuse me.

I wanted to begin our conversation by picking up on your point about matching the moment, the need for historic response to historic circumstances in the “Arab spring,” if you will. We had, relatively recently, a minister from North Africa, Middle East here. It was in an off-the-record session so I won’t refer to which minister, but he made the case that, as you said, what’s happening right now is a historic moment and it merits a historic response.

And looking at this from the south, looking up to Europe, their concern was, in 1989 you had the ability to put together the offer of institutional memberships. You talked to yourself about the compelling case for supporting continued enlargement in Europe today, and that membership really is an incentive, a driver for many of these difficult reforms.

And the minister made the point that obviously that’s not really the viable course for their countries. And as their dealings with Europe and the European Union in particular, this historic moment was being clouded by processes that actually – if you talk about what you want to go today, it may deliver the results in two years.

And he was bemoaning the challenge of how to get this right, how to get a partnership with Europe right and North Africa and the Middle East that didn’t end up having Europe miss this historic moment.

You began to hit on this in your remarks, but if I could push you a little bit on that, how would you respond to those in the region that are concerned that we’re not able, as a trans-Atlantic community, or as Europe itself – that we’re not responding with a historic response to historic developments, or that we’re responding – we’re putting out the prospect of a response that just doesn’t jibe with the timelines that might be required to help ensure the transition that’s taking place in Egypt and Tunisia today, that they aren’t derailed in nine months from now.

MR. LIDINGTON: I think that there is more going on than your interlocutor perhaps appreciated.

Certainly getting something sorted at EU level can be complicated. It’s complicated, for example, that there are great fears particularly on the part of the Mediterranean EU countries that there will be a wave of mass migration to their shores, and that is preoccupying their political attention at the moment.

But, I mean, the 10 months I’ve been doing this job, what has become very clear to me is that EU common foreign security policy will work if the key member states – and it ends up starting with the big ones – actually get their act together, raise their game, go to Brussels and say, look, this is what we think should be done. We’ve squared countries X and Y that have a particular interest in this dossier as well. Can you run with this? And we talked to the commission about that.

Now, that is happening. I’m not sure if it’s been officially published yet – there is a paper that Barroso and Cathy Ashton have put together on a European response to the “Arab spring” that, easing the right lines, it is pretty ambitious. And there has been a very strong British backing for that, and the Germans, though we’ve had some problems with them over Libya. I mean, they are completely on side with this too.

France is very concerned about the immediate help. And there is a tension between the need to provide immediate support on the one hand, and on the other, the need to ensure that you’re not throwing –

MR. WILSON: Right.

MR. LIDINGTON: – good money after bad.

MR. WILSON: Right.

MR. LIDINGTON: I mean, you just throw money at something and it doesn’t deliver sustainable jobs. It just buys you a little bit of time. You know, there’s a judgment to be made about how long you can go on doing that.

So I think we do need to completely recalibrate the way in which we spend this partnership money, and we need to add on trade and investment carrots to the package. So I’m not as pessimistic as your guys.

And if I think back 20 years – I mean, what I remember, sitting in the Foreign Office in December, 1989, was reading these telegrams from our embassies across Eastern Europe. And there was – you could sense the disbelief in the words of the ambassadors who were reporting back, because I didn’t think any of us 20 years ago expected events to move as quickly and dramatically as happened this time around.

As far as I’m aware, no foreign ministry and no intelligence agency anywhere in the world predicted what was going to happen. We all knew that there were demographic tensions that, for example, when Mubarak went, there would be potential crisis over the succession in Egypt.

I don’t think anybody, you know, actually predicted you’d have this string of Arab countries experiencing significant political upheaval in such as short space of time. And I’m prompted not by economic but essentially by political demands for change.

So I think we’ve just got to – we have got to continue in Europe, and I hope in the United States too, to focus our energies upon getting this right. And I certainly speak for my own government. William Hague is spending 99 percent of his time on this part of the world at the moment.

The prime minister is spending a very great deal of time on the phone, talking to the president but, I mean, talking to people like Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey, to Tikaris (ph), to the Emirates – Arab players who could be involved here.

I mean, David Cameron, you know, was the first Western leader to get into Cairo post-revolution. William Hague was, I think, the first European foreign minister to get into Tunis after the revolution there. So we are trying to take this seriously, and we are working very hard with our partners in Europe, to the same effect.

MR. WILSON: Terrific. I think a common coherent trans-Atlantic response to what’s happening –


MR. WILSON: – it’s going to be a great challenge, but one of the biggest priorities, I think, on our agenda right now.

Let me ask one more question before I turn to the audience. Just catch my eye if you want to weigh in with a question and we’ll have a mic come to you.

Your statement on EU enlargement, it’s quite – it’s just jarring for Americans to hear Europeans that are so strongly behind this concept of European Union enlargement. You said the British position is “resolute and uncompromising” – very strong words. But let me ask, in a NATO context, enlargement is less of an issue on the NATO agenda. It wasn’t really part of the Lisbon summit discussion, and the summit coming up in 2012 it doesn’t look like this will be a major issue.

But how do you see the prospect of future alliance enlargement? Montenegro is vying for candidacy. Macedonia remains sort of stuck but potentially there. We could see a shift up north. Your country has been very active on Nordic issues. Things could look different in the political landscape in Finland in the future. And what about Georgia, Ukraine, a little bit differently? If you could offer a little bit of perspective on enlargement for the alliance.

MR. WILSON: I think that – I mean, our view is that if a country wants to be a NATO member – qualifies to be a NATO member, they should be allowed to join. I mean, Montenegro, whether you’re looking at NATO or the European Union, has got various changes that they need to put in place if they’re going to be effective. There’s an awful lot of large Russian yachts still sort of bumping around off Montenegro.

And to get ready for EU membership, they’re going to have to undergo some drastic economic changes, but they seem serious about wanting this. You know, they’ve got the go-ahead for formal candidacy. I don’t see a reason why they should be excluded from NATO. The same is true, in my view, of Macedonia. The reality is, much to our frustration and I think to Washington’s frustration, the Greek block remains until the main issue is sorted out.

And, you know, we continue to use best endeavors behind the scenes, you know, to encourage both parties to reach an agreement over that, but it’s not something we can impose upon them. It’s something Greece and Macedonia have to agree.

Finland, yep. I mean, I have no problem with Finland.

Ukraine – Ukraine and Georgia, no, the British government takes the view that we don’t recognize this idea of a privileged post-Soviet space. These are independent countries that should be free to make their own decisions, and they have to make the decision.

At the moment, Georgia is not pressing for that. Ukraine – I think Yanukovych has taken a decision that, you know, this is not on his agenda for the time being, at any rate, and he is concentrating upon European Union relationships, although they’ve a long way to go before they’re anywhere near the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, let alone EU membership. But we want to encourage Ukraine and Georgia to move closer to the European family.

MR. WILSON: Terrific. Terrific.

Let me turn to our audience and maybe begin with Harlan and Peter, and one in the back. Please, a microphone to Harlan.

Q: Minister, I’m Harlan Ullman. Thank you for coming to talk to us today. A brief question that may not be answerable about Libya.

Let’s say in a couple of weeks’ time or a couple of months’ time it looks like Gadhafi ain’t going to go. What’s plan B?

MR. LIDINGTON: (Chuckles.) I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to speculate about that. I mean, a lot of diplomatic dances, a lot of diplomatic effort is going on to weaken and to isolate Gadhafi and his inner circle further.

The United Nations Security Council resolution doesn’t say – doesn’t mention, sort of, Gadhafi, and we take the view that it’s the Libyan people to decide who should rule Libya, not for the British government to come in and say who should be president. But we don’t think that it is possible to see a future for Libya in which Libya’s territorial integrity is retained and in which there is genuine reconciliation within Libya if Gadhafi remains as leader.

We are – the way we’re treating Musa Kusa in Britain, we are trying to send a clear signal to other people still involved with the regime that if you quit, that it could be to your advantage to do so. It’s why there is discussion about delisting Musa Kusa from some of the sanctions. He has not been given immunity from any criminal investigation or prosecution if the authorities want to interview him.

We are also, you know, more than hinting that – of course, if you stay with Gadhafi, you – if you’re not on a sanctions list, you could find yourself added to it. You could find yourself added to the ICC list if you are complicit in any crimes that Gadhafi is indicted for.

We are also looking at ways in which to tighten the screw of financial and oil sanctions further so that Gadhafi runs out of money. Now, there are reports that he is making overtures to various places to see if he can broker a deal with the opposition. They’re rejecting it so far. There’s some rumors that he may, you know, be looking for an escape route, but I have no information to sort of confirm any of that.

But it’s not for us to say who should run Libya, but we don’t really see a stable situation and reconciliation in Libya while he’s still there.

MR. WILSON: Given your time constraints, let me pick up a couple more questions.


MR. WILSON: Let’s do Peter here in the front row, and then the very back row, the gentleman on the far left.

Q: Thank you, Minister. Peter Flory from the NDU Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.

In your remarks you clearly see narratives that are at odds with each other: an optimistic narrative, which is your government’s narrative, that is also coping with a pessimistic and declining narrative.

And in order to win, you have to convince. You have to convince the declinist narrative, the people who believe in it, to believe that there is actually another narrative. And my question is, how do you plan to do that, given the very challenging objective circumstances?

And as particular case study, I think one issue that you mentioned particularly difficult is the question of Turkey and accession into the EU, which I think is a good example of a place where the optimistic and declinist narratives combine. How do you see that issue going forward? Thank you.

MR. WILSON: Thanks, Peter. And let’s pick up the question in the back, if we may, as well.

Q: Yes, thank you. Also on Libya – I’m Al Pessin from Voice of America – what is the British reaction – and if you feel comfortable saying also the European reaction – to the way President Obama has approached the Libya operation using what he calls the unique capabilities on the front end but then moving very quickly to only a supporting role and basically saying, if you want to arm or train or do anything else in Libya, that’s up to the European allies, not up to us.

MR. LIDINGTON: OK, let’s take Peter’s question first.

I think that you could only win this by demonstrating in practice that the optimistic narrative can be made to work. Whether that is about – it’s putting in place measures to promote enterprise and economic growth, or whether it is getting the sort of diplomatic outcomes I’ve been talking about.

When it comes to Turkey, the Cyprus standoff is just an enormous obstacle, and nothing is going to happen beside the Cypriot and Turkish elections, as I can see. The hope lies beyond that. And a lot of that needs to go into supporting the U.N. efforts to persuade the two sides in Cyprus to come to an agreement.

But, as I said, putting that to one side, one thing that we can and should be doing – and we are seeking to do – is to find ways in which to associate Turkey more closely with European Union work on foreign and security policy. There are various ways in which that could be accomplished.

I mean, at the most simple level, it is by having Erdogan or Davutoglu do particular meetings in which European foreign ministers discuss issues where Turkey has a valuable input to make – actually make Turkey feel that despite the frustrations of the accession, the process, that we still value the relationship with her and want to see her move forward.

On your question about Libya and the president’s views, I mean, we’ve had perfectly, you know, good dealings with the United States on this. If you look at the use of the assets in the initial strikes against the Gadhafi regime, it was predominantly American military assets that were being used.

The United States was always clear that while it was – it just was necessary in the very first instance because the threat to Benghazi was so imminent to go with the – those willing countries, military assets and sort of slightly improvised command and control system there, that they wanted a movement towards a more formal use of NATO structures as soon as possible.

In that sense, NATO has got the command to control. It’s got the bases in Southern Italy. It’s got the operational headquarters. If we had decided to invent that afresh for the coalition of the willing, or for the EU, we would have waited two or three weeks while those things were put together.

So, although it was a formal NATO operation, the use of NATO infrastructure was imminently sensible. And I think it is very important that this endeavor is clearly one in which Arab countries and other countries like Turkey are seen to be playing a central role, that it’s not a question of the United States simply dominating everything and others coming along and playing bit parts.

In terms of maintaining the Arab League or the Nation of Islam at conference, and their members, in support of this, I think that degree of presentation is significant. And the president has made it very clear that if NATO requests no further United States assets – the United States is key partner in NATO. SACEUR is an American officer. You know, the U.S. remains integral to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

MR. WILSON: So you’re not worried that – I think it’s compelling to unify under NATO command, but you’re not worried that because we no longer have, if you will, skin in the game, that if this becomes a more protracted conflict, the United States isn’t as invested in the outcome as maybe France and the U.K. are right now?

MR. LIDINGTON: We are happy with the United States – the United States is working alongside NATO allies and a broader range of allies, not necessarily being the dominant partner –

MR. WILSON: Right.

MR. LIDINGTON: – in this particular exercise. But certainly I know that in terms of planning the first contact group meeting to sort of give the political direction over Libya, that Secretary Clinton has been very closely involved in the conversations about setting that up.

MR. WILSON: Right.

The minister is going to have to catch a train to New York, so let me pull these last two questions here in the very back row, and the gentleman here, if we may – these two questions.

Q: (Off mic) – the Embassy of Montenegro. Thank you very much for this inspiring presentation. I want to share with you really the impression that U.K. is becoming a driving force behind the enlargement of European Union and NATO, and we appreciate that very much. Your resolute to stand on uncompromising European Union enlargement is very encouraging for us.

Let me just correct the misperception about Russian yachts in Montenegro. (Laughter.) Yes – you know, they are regular, including Abramovich, who owns Chelsea social club.

MR. LIDINGTON: Absolutely. (Laughter.) That’s a little –

MR. WILSON: They’re flying in from London, though.

Q: What is your priority – what is your agenda in Brussels behind this resolute, uncompromised stand on European Union and NATO enlargement? And how do you see you next steps in really driving Brussels to become closer to new political investments incorporating Western Balkans?

And what are the lessons learned from North African experience as far as European Union is concerned? Thank you.

MR. WILSON: Thank you. And the gentleman here, please. Take a mic over here, please.

Q: Hello, I’m Reggie Dale of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One observation that’s sometimes made in Washington about the trans-Atlantic alliance at the moment is that President Obama has no really particularly close personal relationships with any European leader, no buddies.

It’s also true that his first initial steps with the U.K. got off to rather a rocky start with gifts and non-working DVDs and a bust of Churchill returned to the government and so on. But you mentioned that he was, within a few minutes of David Cameron’s elevation to the prime ministership, Obama was on the line congratulating him.

So I’m wondering if Obama could be – if David Cameron could be that buddy of Obama’s in Europe, if you could characterize the chemistry between the two, whether we’ve got a new Kennedy-MacMillan or Bush-Blair relationship brewing there. Thank you.

MR. WILSON: Terrific, thank you.

Given the counsel of your staff –


MR. WILSON: – I’m going to allow those to be the last two questions so you can –

(Cross talk.)

MR. LIDINGTON: I mean, we could have a half-day seminar at least on the Western Balkans alone. And we are working very closely with Stefan Fule, the enlargement commissioner, to support the work he’s doing to keep enlargement going.

I think there is a serious risk that a number of countries in the Western Balkans – look at Bosnia-Herzegovina, you look at Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania – they could slip backwards, not move forwards, and Bosnia in particular is looking very dicey at the moment.

And we need to inject new energy into the accession process. What worries me about this talk of policies is that people – the Balkans give up: Europe has lost interest; let’s not press ahead with these reforms because many of these reforms will bring short-term unpopularity; economic reforms certainly will.

And, actually, the accession process is essentially to get the human rights, rule of law, anti-corruption measures moving forward as they need to be moved forward.

So, we’ve got to get the commission folks seeing on this. We have to just keep – it’s boring stuff. When you get to council conclusions, making sure that the language in council conclusions gives the right signal to give enlargement another push forward instead of putting it on the back – on the back burner, saying, as I frequently do, to my French colleagues, you know, we’re not going to give up on this.

You know, just keep – you know, we’re going to keep plugging away, because a lot of what – the Eastern European countries and the Central European countries, you know, have very fresh memories of their own experience, and they are still very strongly in favor of a greater priority for enlargement and continuing to put the energy in there.

But the message on Montenegro and the other countries too is there are not shortcuts here. I’m not arguing that the bar should be lowered artificially. And, in fact, that would undermine support for enlargement as a principle if special favors were being done to countries for political reasons where they had not actually done the homework that they needed in order to qualify. So it’s vigorous in support for accession enlargement but rigorous in seeing the criteria met.

Cameron-Obama, I mean, you’re asking me a question that’s rather above my pay grade. (Laughter.) I mean, they have – as far as I’m aware, they have a friendly relationship. I don’t see – I don’t think – I’m not sure either man would characterize it as buddies yet, but you’d better ask them.

I mean, the president is coming over for a state visit shortly after the royal wedding. He does – I mean, what – he did have, when he came over before – I mean, he did, as far as one could tell, strike up a really good rapport with the queen. And I think that, you know, is a good augury for the future.

But certainly, whenever I’ve heard David Cameron talk about the president, he has done so, you know, in warm words, and he’s – I’ve not heard him betray a hint of exasperation. I have heard him, you know, use a slightly different note in describing some other international leaders with whom he’s had dealings. My lips are sealed on who – (laughter) – but, you know, not with Obama, at any rate.

And certainly he – always he would talk quite properly. He would talk to the United States president with a degree of respect, but also in terms of a man with whom, you know, he does feel able to share confidences, you know, whose partnership and friendship he can trust.

MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, thank you very much. If we can get you to name names on the last – on the last question – (laugher).

I do want to thank you. I want to thank you for including the Atlantic Council as a stop in your program. I think in a backdrop – against a backdrop in Washington of the question of the value of our relationship with Europe, the focus on emerging powers, it’s almost striking to me that there is even a questioning the relevance of NATO when NATO is the instrument we had to turn to immediately, and Libya today.

But I do think you’ve made the best, most cogent case for our partnership with Europe that I’ve heard in a long time in this town, and I appreciate you for doing that and doing that here. I think we value the intellectual leadership that London is providing, both within NATO and the European Union. And I think your remarks today underscore that point. So thank you very much for joining us.

MR. LIDINGTON: Thank you very much indeed. (Applause.)

MR. WILSON: Best of luck to – (inaudible).

MR. LIDINGTON: Thank you.


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