2014 Munich Security Conference Kickoff

Berlin, January 22, 2014
Ambassador John Emerson

Wolfgang, vielen Dank für die Einladung zu diesem jährlichen Ausblick auf die Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz. Auch dieses Jahr erwarten wir wieder eine hochrangige Delegation aus den Vereinigten Staaten.

For the 50th time, the Munich Security Conference will bring together Europeans and Americans, as well as leaders from beyond the trans-Atlantic community, together to discuss crucial matters of national and international security.  We face enormous challenges today, but consider how much our world has changed since the first Wehrkunde Conference in 1963.  It is more secure, prosperous, stable and free than it was 50 years ago when this conference started – in the shadow of the Cold War, when the threat of a catastrophic global nuclear war hung over the globe.

Here in Berlin, the shadow of the Cold War took the form of a Wall.  Well, that Wall no longer exists.  And with the fall of the Wall, something I think that many of us probably didn’t think would happen in their lifetime, we have some great opportunities before us.  What’s interesting, parenthetically, is that, in my work, I spend a lot of time meeting with young people.  One of the challenges and one reason why we need to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic relationship, is that many who came of age after the fall of the Wall take all these changes for granted.

The advance of freedom that followed this time and has occurred over the past fifty years has improved the lives of tens of millions of people.  It has made our friends, old and new, stronger and more self-reliant.  There is still poverty, but the world is much more prosperous than it was 50 years ago.  The “East-West divide” is slowly dissolving, and the West increasingly looks East.  And instead of an almost permanent “North-South divide” between the developed and the poorer countries, today we talk about emerging markets and developing economies.  The global economy has tripled over the last two decades.  Emerging markets have accounted for almost half of that growth, and this has been good for both the United States, and for Europe, and of course for Germany, as we export goods and services to the developing world.

But all of these developments over the past 50 years beg the following question: What is left for the trans-Atlantic partnership?  The answer: Plenty.

While the Cold War concerns that dominated the second half of the 20thcentury have evaporated, we must work together to confront the challenges – and embrace the opportunities – of globalization.  I am talking about our economic partnership, through which prosperity can be as emblematic of the 21st century as security was of the last.  I am talking about confronting issues such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the challenges posed by the Arab Spring in northern Africa and the Middle East; understanding the changing dynamics in Russia, and the states of the former Soviet Union; and preparing for the inevitable changes in the economies of China and southeast Asia.  And I am talking about global warming and climate change, the need to transform our sources and uses of energy, and the important decisions, many of which Georg has written about recently,  that need to be made about how to respond to the rapid advances in the digital world.

Regarding our economic partnership, we have a great opportunity before us to create the world’s largest free trade zone with an agreement that will also serve as a framework for the codification of Western values such as freedom, rule of law, respect for intellectual property rights, transparency in commercial dealings, and respect for the environment and employees.

But along with the expansion of freedom and global trade and advances in technology over the past 50 years, we have also seen dramatic changes that have profound security implications.  Not since the decade after World War II, have we witnessed such an extreme realignment of interests, influences, and challenges.  Geopolitical centers of gravity are shifting, reflecting an astonishing diffusion of economic power and sweeping demographic change.

Non-state actors play a larger role than ever before.  Destructive technologies and weapons that were once solely the province of nation states are being actively sought by terrorists and criminal networks.  Sophisticated cyber-attacks have the potential of inflicting debilitating damage on national and world economies and critical infrastructures.

New tools of communication have brought people closer together than at any point in human history.  They can help to link people’s aspirations, as well as their grievances, spurring an ‘Arab Spring’ or becoming vehicles for spreading hate.

A word on this topic: It will be years before we know the results of the upheaval that is sweeping the Arab world; but one thing is certain: we have a huge stake in its outcome and we need to remain engaged in the region.  The Syria conference that started today in Geneva, the re-energized talks on Iran, and the efforts to fashion a permanent peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation all require the collaboration of the U.S. and Europe – and will also be important topics for discussion in Munich.

The reality of climate change has the potential to dramatically alter our world by re-shapng the map, and at the same time making it likely that we’ll experience natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes and mass dislocations on an ever increasing basis.

Regarding the digital world in which we live, this is a much bigger issue than the NSA.  We each need to define what we seek to accomplish by regulating digital activity, taking into consideration the nature of business, security, and privacy concerns, while keeping in mind the fundamental characteristic of the Internet: to allow anyone, to communicate with anyone else, at any time.  We also need to be cognizant of the fact that while the digital world opens up great opportunities for personal and economic development, it also has become the vehicle used by those who seek to do us harm, recruit, plan, and attack.  How do engineers, scientists, and other practitioners think this will evolve over the next two or three decades, and how should we respond to those anticipated developments?

There are no short-term solutions to any of these matters.  One thing, however, is certain.  Our thoughtful collaboration today will determine our ability to deal with these challenges tomorrow.  As President Obama often says, Europe is America’s global partner of first resort.  We need each other to be our best.  We are strongest when we share the risk and responsibility of promoting positive change.  And all of these issues, following the model of our global trading system, are best resolved initially through close cooperation within the trans-Atlantic partnership.

Now normally I would close on that note, but given this past weekend and the remarks of the President, and the attention that has been given to the NSA subject and the knowledge this will certainly come up at your conference, I did want to conclude by saying a few words about that.

The recent disclosures regarding the NSA show how difficult it is  — and by the way, the thoughtful commentary that has resulted from those disclosures — to strike the right balance between protecting our security on the one hand and protecting our personal privacy and liberties on the other in this increasingly complex world.  There is no doubt that the trust between trans-Atlantic partners that is so valuable to us – not only to all of us in this room but to the entire world – has been severely shaken.  I can assure you that that is being taken very seriously at the highest levels of our government.

Last Friday, President Obama spoke to the nation and the world, and on Saturday specifically to Germany, regarding the review of U.S. intelligence activities that he ordered as a result of the NSA disclosures.  In ordering the intelligence review, his goal was to ensure that information is collected because it is needed, and not just because technology makes it possible.  Consequently, he announced significant changes that will strengthen the executive branch oversight of intelligence activities; insure that privacy concerns are advocated within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; modify the manner in which metadata is collected, stored and used; insure that we work with our friends and partners in a manner respectful of that relationship; and, in an unprecedented step, committed to extend certain protections that right now only American citizens enjoy in dealing with the American government to people who are not American citizens and to people overseas.

Discussions at senior levels of the U.S. and German intelligence services about how best to coordinate our efforts in a manner that will meet our mutual security needs, but that is respectful of the relationship between our two countries, will continue.  And on Capitol Hill, the Congressional oversight committees that are examining both the legal underpinnings of our intelligence-gathering activities and their own oversight capabilities will also address the policy changes that have been recommended by the President and even those that were contained in the report that he may not have recommended.

Make no mistake, however: the metadata program remains a critical tool for intelligence agencies to prevent terrorist activities.  Our adversaries are very skilled at using technology to accomplish their objectives – and not only within the area of terrorism, but in cyber-attacks against our financial exchanges, air traffic control systems, or even, through massive identity theft, our personal credit cards and bank accounts.  We need to stay ahead of them.  And the reality is that since 9/11, the efforts of our collaborative intelligence gathering efforts have thwarted numerous such attacks, including some on German soil.

Fully re-building trust will require sincere efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.  Good friends disagree; but they also work out their differences.  We will get through this because we must – and I firmly believe that if we work through this together, with mutual respect and understanding, our relationship will become even stronger.  The 50th Munich Security Conference is the perfect forum for us to improve our communication, re-focus our cooperation, and strengthen our resolve, not only on this day or this year, but for decades to come.