Atlantik-Brücke Dinner

Frankfurt, September 12, 2013
Ambassador John Emerson


Thank you, Jürgen Fitschen, for your kind words.  I would also like to thank the Deutsche Bank for its hospitality this evening.

My wife Kimberly would have loved to be here but at this moment she is on an airplane to Los Angeles with our oldest daughter who is starting at Stanford this month.  It’s a pleasure to be in Frankfurt and to continue the conversation I started a little over two weeks ago with the Berlin chapter of the Atlantik-Brücke.  That was a very special evening for the whole Emerson family.  Earlier that same day, I presented my credentials to President Gauck at Schloss Bellevue.  But in many respects, the highlight of the day was the warm and energizing reception my family and I received from all who attended the Atlantike-Brücke dinner.

Tonight marks the end of my fourth week in Germany.  People often ask me what has made the greatest impression on me since my arrival.  Without question, it is the warmth, authenticity, and sincerity of everyone I have met.  I am not talking about the kinds of courtesies one would expect to be extended to a new Ambassador; it is much more profound than that.  Beyond a demonstration of the welcoming spirit of the German people, what I have experienced is a genuine expression of hope in the strengthening of the relationship between our two countries.  I find it both personally touching and deeply sobering.  And I thank you.

During this past month, I have had multiple, in-depth conversations with thoughtful people from throughout Germany.  One common thread has run through all of these discussions – namely, that trans-Atlantic cooperation is the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.

And in that respect, organizations like the Atlantik-Brücke play a very special role in the relationship between our two countries.  I would like to thank all of you for your ongoing commitment to the values and goals we share.

The incredible history of the past several decades has without a doubt shaped our two nations.  But, as President Obama said, speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate last June, we must do more than just remember history; we must continue to make history.  Recalling the visit of another President to this country, he reminded us that the quest for “peace with justice,” that JFK and his generation wanted for the world, still applies.

None of the challenges that the world faces – challenges that are admittedly very different from those we faced 50 or even 20 years ago – can be met without the leadership of the trans-Atlantic partnership.  But we can only lead if we continue to look proactively toward the future.

So let’s talk about Syria for a minute.  The international community came together decades ago, and banned the use of chemical weapons – even when used in the midst of an existential war.  Last month, those weapons were used to devastating effect by the Syrian government against its own people.  Unlike the run-up to the Iraq War, this is a fact that has now been acknowledged, based upon shared intelligence, by most of the nations of North America and Western Europe.  Now, the war-weary public of each of these nations is asking why on earth we want to make any part of this conflict our problem.  Well, it is our problem; because, looking toward the future, if we allow this egregious violation of international norms and morality to go without a response and remain un-punished, we are sending a message to the rest of the world that will haunt us throughout the 21stcentury.  So, speaking as an Ambassador of the United States, I can tell you that we are deeply gratified to see so many governments, including Germany, endorse the proposition that we cannot let the use of chemical weapons stand – despite the fact that this was the politically un popular course for many of them to take.

Now, maybe Syria will give up its control of its chemical weapons so that they can be destroyed without the use of force.  That would be a great result, but only if it happens quickly, and completely.  If not, we must take action.

People call the United States the indispensable nation, yet from the new roles that NATO has embraced, to the engagement of trans-Atlantic partners in Afghanistan and Kosovo, to developments in the broader Middle East, to our partnership in humanitarian and development efforts around the world, to our efforts to keep our citizens safe from the very real threats posed by terrorism, to our collective response on Syria, it is the close trans-Atlantic cooperation that is indispensable.

Notwithstanding the security threats we all face, if the postwar era was about our shared security, it is my hope that the 21st century can be about our shared prosperity.  Without a doubt, the evolution of NATO transformed international relations.  We now face another turning point in our common history and that of the globalized world.  With TTIP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, we have an extraordinary opportunity to build, on the foundation of our shared values, a new strategic political and economic framework for this century.  Concluding this agreement is more than just a means of enhancing economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.  TTIP could be the true “peace dividend” that many spoke of after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

By creating the largest allied market in the world, it will strengthen economies on both sides of the Atlantic and create jobs for Americans, for Germans, and for all Europeans; but it will also provide the strategic foundation for a broader, global pronouncement of the common values we share.  Just as the new NATO transcends security issues, TTIP is more than a trade and investment agreement.  It, too, will be a cornerstone of trans-Atlantic relations.  The broad economic cooperation that it represents will put in place a new structure for global peace and prosperity.  It goes without saying that this is in everybody’s best interests.

Will it be easy?  Of course not.  We all know how hard it will be, especially as we move from general principles to the details. But we can get it done.

While serving in the Clinton White House, I was responsible for managing our efforts to secure Congressional approval of the Uruguay Round of the GATT, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.  Among the lessons I learned from this experience was the importance of open and honest discussion – and the critical need to start with the vast areas upon which we find agreement, and then build on those throughout the course of negotiations.  The good news is, in the trans-Atlantic context there is much more agreement today on the environmental and labor standards that were so contentious during the GATT negotiations more than twenty years ago.

But we also have some differences: in particular, with regard to standards.  Today, if a product is made in Germany, it goes through various regulatory hurdles to get to the marketplace.  To reach the US market, it has to go through another set of strenuous – and often redundant – hurdles.  Under the TTIP, both sides could agree to mutually recognize the others’ systems.  When it comes to car safety, reducing red tape may be an easy compromise.  But other issues have more challenging histories.  Those include French subsidies for its film industry; differences in regulations that govern investing; concerns about genetically modified foods, and data privacy laws – which I will address in a minute.  At this point in time, we cannot let the negotiations be held hostage by arguments about isolated industry standards.  We need to address these issues, but as a second step in the process.

Another lesson I learned is the importance of mobilizing all our partners from business and academia to educate those in the respective legislative bodies who will ultimately vote on trade legislation about the importance of the agreement to their respective constituencies.  This is an area where we all need to be involved.  I ask everyone in this room to take some responsibility for advocating the successful implementation of TTIP.

I do want to come back to data privacy, which has taken on an ever greater prominence due to the recent and continuing stories about the NSA.  I called this the “elephant in the room” when I spoke to the Atlantik-Brücke in Berlin.  These allegations have engendered vigorous public discussion within the United States, as well as within Germany, about how to achieve the right balance between freedom and privacy, and security.

Let’s not forget that we need to continue to work together to combat terrorism in order to keep our countries and our citizens safe; and we need to do it in a way that reflects our shared respect for the rule of law.

On a personal level, just about every press report on my arrival in Germany has made the observation that my biggest challenge will be to restore the trust that has been lost as a result of these disclosures.  Now, I am not going to get into a point-by-point rebuttal or commentary on every allegation that is made.  But I will address this on three levels.

First, when it comes to our discussions about the right balance between privacy and security, it is important for Americans to understand the perspective of Germans, based on their history. But it is also important for Germans to understand that every American over the age of fifteen has seared in his memory images of planes flying into buildings, shoe bombers, underwear bombers, marathon bombers.  The fact is, two peoples, with the same values but different experiences, may well make different choices.

Second, when it comes to the NSA disclosures, I am asking people to take a step back.  I think we can assume that this pattern of leaks to various news outlets may well continue over time.  Every time this happens, we have a choice: we can either stop in our tracks, wring our collective hands, and put a hold on all the other critical work we are doing together, or we can move steadily forward on all fronts – including this one, simultaneously.  I strongly urge this latter course.  The important point to remember is that our world views are complementary.  We share the same values; we share the same goals; and we are indeed working on policies to achieve those goals together.

Finally, it is important to also engage in a much broader dialogue about the overall concept of privacy.  For you see, the great advances in technology we have enjoyed since the era of computers, smart phones, and the Internet has far outstripped our ability to consider the broader implications of these advances.

Privacy is a hallmark of American society.  You can trace its roots back to the first settlers.  Self-reliance, individualism, a healthy skepticism of government – these are characteristics that shaped America and Americans; and the protection of privacy has been fundamental throughout our history.  It goes all the way back to the Bill of Rights of our Constitution.  And over the years, judicial decisions established a framework for protecting the public interest while preventing government abuses of individual privacy.  This framework has been extended by multiple laws in multiple jurisdictions, including the world of commerce.

In short, privacy is an issue in the United States that is as old as our country and our Constitution.  But it is also as young as the new millennium.  Consider this: Nearly 100 years ago, one of our great jurists, Louis Brandeis, wrote, Louis Brandeis wrote in the Harvard Law Review about his concerns regarding the new technology of “snapshot photography” – a technology that allowed newspapers to publish images of individuals without obtaining their consent.  Of course, today, as we all know, computer networks can assemble, organize, analyze, and disseminate data from disparate sources at a speed and with an accuracy that Louis Brandeis could never have imagined.

It is clear that 21st century information technology presents unprecedented new possibilities.  In 1965, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, predicted the exponential growth of the processing power of computers.  His prediction came to be known as Moore’s Law, which basically says that overall processing power would double every two years.  If, one of my daughters were here, she would ask, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”  Well, it’s a fact that entails dizzying consequences.

We all use the Internet daily for the increasingly simple and accessible channels of information and communication that it provides.  But the Internet is also used for terrorism: raw and simple, unanticipated and random, with every single one of us as potential target and victim.

We know that information technology facilitated the 9/11 terrorist attacks – twelve years ago yesterday.  Since then, terrorists and extremists, whose physical networks have been disrupted, set up shop on the Internet, using it to recruit new members, spread propaganda, raise funds across borders, and plan attacks around the world.  Fortunately, however, information sharing tools can also be used to prevent such attacks; and we cannot forget that during the course of our efforts to find the right balance between privacy and security.

On the positive side, data mining, cloud computing, social networking, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and third-party applications all present enormous new opportunities.  These tools can be used to advance democracy and human rights, fight climate change and epidemics, build global support for a world without nuclear weapons, and encourage sustainable economic development that lifts the people at the bottom up.

New technologies are also changing the way individuals interact with each other.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat.  But what does this mean for privacy?  I am sometimes shocked at what people – especially young people – will put out there on the Internet about themselves; the most intimate details about their likes and dislikes, where they’re going, what they’re going to do, what they have done.  I raised this during a discussion with young parliamentarians in Düsseldorf last week; and the point one of them made was that this was a matter of choice, whereas the NSA activities were not.  Really?  It may be a choice that people make to give away their privacy but I doubt it is a fully informed choice, given the viral world in which we live.  Does the person who sends that sensitive email to a friend understand that he is in effect sending it to the whole world?  That friend may share it with someone else who puts it up on Facebook, not out of malice, but because he likes what it says; and then it gets shared by his 812 friends, and on and on.  Does the girl who sends risqué pictures of herself to her boyfriend realize that those pictures are out there forever?  I’m not so sure.

The challenge in all of these areas – ranging from social media to safeguarding personal medical records to intellectual property issues to the fight against terrorism – is to determine how best to protect privacy, enhance our security, and enjoy the commercial and personal advantages of technology.  This is a conversation well worth having – and as awkward as the NSA allegations may be for someone in my position, if they provide an opportunity for us to address these larger issues, it may be well worth it.

Moreover, these are the conversations that we need to be having with our younger generations.  As I said in Berlin, one of my top priorities will be to look for ways to build new bridges between Germans who came of age after the Cold War and their American counterparts.

We can do this by connecting young entrepreneurs and innovators, whether they come from Silicon Beach in my California home or Silicon Allee, in Berlin; whether they are part of the strong business networks that connect our economies and our societies, or are culturally connected through art, film and music.  Technology and globalization have shaped their world.  There is much we can learn from each other by building on the creative energy and the innovation, training and exchanges of our post Cold War generations.

Two weeks ago, I invited the Berlin chapter of the Atlantik-Brücke to brainstorm how we can best engage this generation in our work.  I invite you, the friends and members of the Frankfurt chapter, to be a part of that discussion.  The fact is, our vibrant trans-Atlantic relationship is not an inherited trait; its value needs to be transmitted from one generation to the next.

So this will be my priority: to strengthen and multiply the bridges between our two countries and across the Atlantic through renewed strategic, economic and interpersonal initiatives, based upon our shared values.  Working together with the strong partners in this region and around this country, we can ensure that the ties that bound us during the second half of the 20th century will be transformed in ways that will guarantee the evolution of our indispensible interconnectedness throughout the coming years and decades.

On a personal note, let me say once again how privileged I am to be here.  Like so many Americans, Kimberly and I have deep German roots.  As I told those assembled at the dinner back in Berlin, a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry swore me in to this office on a German family Bible that my grandmother passed down to my 87-year old father, who is a pastor.  And in turn, through our work here, enveloped by the warm embrace of all whom we have met in this extraordinary country, Kimberly and I now have the joy of passing down our German heritage to our three daughters.

Wir freuen uns auf die Zusammenarbeit und darauf, Sie alle besser kennenzulernen.  Vielen Dank.