The Importance of a Rules-Based International Order

The Importance of a Rules-Based International Order
14th Berlin Security Conference: Euro-Atlantic Partnership
Firm Anchor in a Turbulent World
Berlin, November 17, 2015
Ambassador John B. Emerson

Vielen Dank, General Scherz, Uwe Proll, Ambassador Šedivý, Excellenzen, Kollegen, meine Damen und Herren,

The theme that has been chosen for the 14th Berlin Security Conference, “Euro-Atlantic Partnership: Firm Anchor in a Turbulent World,” is aptly descriptive of the current state of world affairs.  And there is no better illustration of that firm anchor than the solidarity that the Euro-Atlantic community has expressed with France during these past few days, in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy in Paris.

It is an understatement to say that today we are facing a world of remarkable complexity.  At the advent of the new century, much was written about “interconnectedness” being the dominant characteristic of our time.  Well, in the decade and a half since, the world has become flatter, more connected, and ever more interdependent.   Not a day goes by when we don’t see how challenges in one part of the world impact people’s lives in another, due to shifting strategic, political, and economic relationships, not to mention the transformative effect of technology.

On the one hand, our increasing interconnectedness has helped to fuel economic growth, allowed for the creation of new businesses and even new industries, and sparked social and political change.  Think of the role Twitter played in the Arab Spring or on the Maidan. There is, however, a pervasive unease, a sense that the very forces that have brought our 24/7 world closer together and created enormous opportunities have also unleashed new dangers that threaten to drive us apart: terrorism; the use of technology to radicalize and recruit extremists and to plan attacks; extreme nationalism; conflicts over resources driven by population shifts and climate change; and great disparities in economic and social opportunity, which are made all the more apparent by the pervasiveness of technology.

I often think of  the issues we confront today that were not even on our radar screen when I arrived in Berlin over two years ago: the Russian incursion into Ukraine and annexation of Crimea; the war in Syria, with the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs by a “leader” against his own people; the brutality of ISIL in Syria, Iraq, North Africa, and now Europe itself; and the metastasizing of terrorism into the West in the form of foreign fighters; the return of the Taliban in certain parts of Afghanistan; the opportunity to prevent, through diplomatic means, Iran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons; the threat of Ebola and the need to rebuild the public health infrastructure of West Africa; the impact of the Greek economy on the Eurozone as a whole; the threat to our governments, our economies, and our societies of increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks; the dangers of a changing climate; and of course, the greatest movement of refugees through Europe since the second World War.

So how do we get our arms around all this?  By strengthening our partnership and working together.

During the 70 years since the end of World War II; the 60 years since the western part of a divided Germany entered NATO; and the 25 years since the reunification of Germany, the transatlantic alliance was made strong by a diplomacy that balanced both interests and principles.  It was built on the understanding that a rules- and values-based international order was mutually beneficial for all, and it was made possible because of our shared interests, shared history, and shared sacrifices.  But as I have learned in my discussions with young people here in Germany who came of age after the Fall of the Wall,  iconic events such as the Luftbrücke, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Tear down this Wall,” and even Reunification are ancient history for them.  Their generation is confronted with new challenges; and young people in particular are skeptical of the ability of large institutions to solve them.

Notwithstanding that skepticism, without a doubt, a strong, deep transatlantic relationship is as important today as ever before.  As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written, we are confronting a struggle between the “world of order” and the “world of disorder.”  The challenges I just cited not only threaten the governing principles of international order and a global rules-based system, they are also fundamentally changing the security parameters of our world.

We have spent a lot of time today discussing the threat of terrorism, the crisis in Ukraine, and the war in Syria, but let me give you three aspects of our collective security interests that we must also address.  They are cyber stability, climate control, and trade and investment.

First, consider the need for cyber-stability.  The past two years have seen sophisticated cyber-attacks on the Bundestag and the Chancellory; the State Department and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and the business world, most famously, Sony Pictures Entertainment.  If press accounts are correct, it appears that these attacks came from three separate countries.  And that’s not the least of it.  We live in a world where non-state actors attempt, on a daily basis, to attack and disrupt our financial, air traffic, and energy grid systems.

Ensuring international cyber stability is essential to the functioning of our economy, and to our national security interests; and yet it is still very much a work in progress.  The first step is to create an environment in which all states are able to enjoy the benefits of cyberspace; are incentivized to cooperate and avoid conflict; and are deterred from attacking one another.

Fundamentally, digital policy should fulfill technology’s potential as a vehicle for global stability and sustained economic development; it should enhance the transparency of governments and hold governments and their leaders accountable; it should enable social empowerment through what is possibly the most democratic form of public expression ever invented.  Even in the poorest places on this planet, where running water and electricity are hardly givens, people possess smartphones which give them access to people, to ideas, and to goods and services.  At its best, the Internet is an equal-opportunity platform from which the voice of a student can have as much reach as that of a billionaire; or a chief executive may be able to be learn from an entry-level employee.  The Internet revolution is literally defining and creating opportunities for young people around the world.

This potential is truly exciting, but it is crucial that we know how technology is used and carefully consider how its use should be governed.  The danger posed by those with ill intent grows worse each year, threatening government agencies, banks, retailers, journalists, and, potentially, critical mechanical systems in dams, power plants, and aircraft.  As such, digital technology has led us into a whole new frontier which we have to navigate.  Beyond that, it can also be used, as we have seen, to radicalize and recruit extremists; to emulate, inspire, and motivate acts of terrorism; to spread propaganda and distort the dissemination of facts.

One thing is certain: as a first step, the basic rules of international law have to apply in cyberspace.  Acts of aggression cannot be permitted; and countries that are harmed by an attack must have the right to respond in ways that are appropriate, proportional, and minimize harm to innocent parties.

To spell this out, specific rules should include the following:  First, no country should conduct or knowingly support online activity that intentionally damages or impedes the use of another country’s critical infrastructure.  Second, no country should seek either to prevent emergency teams from responding to a cybersecurity incident, or allow its own teams to cause harm.  Third, no country should conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or other confidential business information for commercial gain.  Fourth, every country should mitigate malicious cyber activity emanating from its soil, and they should do so in an accountable and cooperative manner.  And fifth, every country should do what it can to help states that are victimized by a cyberattack.  If those five principles are genuinely and fully adopted and implemented, we can live in a far safer and far more confident cyber-world; and we can turn our collective attention to non-state cyber actors as well.

This is why the United States considers the promotion of an open and secure Internet to be a key component of our foreign policy.  It is why we are working with international partners in order to better understand the choices we face in managing this extraordinary resource, without adopting rules that choke the economic life blood of the digital revolution.

For example, in September, when China’s President Xi visited the White House, President Obama raised serious concerns about growing cyber-threats to American companies and American citizens.  As a result, the two countries reached a common understanding on the way forward: neither government would conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors.  In addition, the two leaders agreed to work together, and with other nations, to promote international rules of the road for appropriate conduct in cyberspace.  The work is not yet done, but progress was made.  And the United States has and will continue to directly raise our concerns regarding cybersecurity with the Chinese and with others.

That same spirit of cooperation is accelerating momentum in the second area I want to stress, namely, the need to create a low-carbon economy.  We are on the cusp of whole new industries and applications in wind and solar power, energy-efficient vehicles, conservation, and bio-fuels.  Scientific cooperation and technology-sharing agreements in these fields have become a major part of our diplomacy.  America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions; and we’ve increased our investments in clean energy.  We will do our part, and avoid the North-South divide that has hampered past climate summits by helping developing nations to do their part.  But the science tells us we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation.

I spoke earlier about addressing the concerns of the generation that was born around the time of the fall of the Wall.  Well, those in that age bracket have never lived with a month – not one month – that was cooler than the average of any identical month in the last century.  Every successive year is announced as the hottest year on record; and we are seeing the results in drought, violent storms, and melting glaciers.

But climate change is not only a threat to the environment; it is also a threat to the stability and security of nations around the world.  The impacts of climate change can intensify resource competition, threaten livelihoods, and increase the risk of instability and conflict, especially in places already suffering from economic, political, and social stress.  And because today’s world is so extraordinarily interconnected, instability anywhere can be a threat to security everywhere.  Moreover, climate change is a ‘threat multiplier,’ making worse the problems that already exist.

For example, in Nigeria, climate change did not lead to the rise of the terrorist group Boko Haram.  But the severe drought that country suffered – and the government’s inability to cope with it – helped create the political and economic volatility that the militants exploited.

A recent study indicated, and I quote, that “the combination of high temperatures and humidity could, within just a century, result in extreme conditions around the Persian Gulf that are intolerable to human beings, if climate change continues unabated.” Scholars suggest that access to air conditioning could well mean the difference between life and death in such hot spots as Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  And the prospect of a hotter, drier climate throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia will place even more strain on the most precious and essential resource of all – fresh water.  We’ve seen wars over oil; we do not want to see wars over water.

Beyond that, the refugee situation we’re facing today will pale in comparison to the mass migrations that intense droughts, sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change are likely to bring about.  In other words, we have to integrate climate considerations into every aspect of our foreign policy – from development and humanitarian aid to peace-building and diplomacy.

In that regard, a year ago in Beijing, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping made an historic Joint Announcement of the intended targets of both countries.  For the first time, China committed to cap carbon emissions and President Obama unveiled a plan for deeper U.S. emissions reductions through 2025.  The world’s two largest economies, energy consumers, and carbon emitters reached across traditional divides to demonstrate their commitment to reducing the emissions warming our planet; and at the same time, urged other world leaders to follow suit by offering strong national targets ahead of the final negotiations in Paris.

The United States is fully engaged, as is Germany, in efforts to deliver a strong agreement in Paris that will launch a major climate effort for decades to come, putting the world on a path to a low-carbon, sustainable, global economy.

We have to seize this opportunity.  The deal is there to be done: an agreement that is ambitious, achievable, and enforceable is within our reach.   It is critical that each delegation come to the table, with their most ambitious carbon reduction targets, prepared to find common ground.

Finally, we also need to build momentum when it comes to our ongoing trade negotiations.  The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement represents ideas that were put in practice in the early years after the end of World War II, when leaders in the United States and Europe formed a partnership that was based on the premise that if Europe prospers, America does as well, and vice versa.  That logic of a mutually beneficial partnership continues to make eminent sense – from both an economic, and a collective security standpoint.

Even casual students of economics know that two of the main benefits of trade are as follows:  First, trade encourages states to work together and cooperatively, reinforcing peaceful relations among trading partners.   And second, because of the potential economic consequences of a disruption in trade, partners are deterred from initiating conflict for fear of losing the gains in economic welfare that accompany trade.

On both sides of the Atlantic, it is important that we strengthen our economies by ensuring long-term stability.  T-TIP will provide an economic and strategic framework that can serve as the foundation for shared prosperity well into this century.  It will deepen our cooperation, and thereby keep trade growing and running efficiently.  It is the next step in a strong relationship between equal partners.

When the T-TIP negotiations were launched two years ago, we knew they would present great opportunities – and also a few challenges.  After eleven rounds, we see both.  In my opinion, today, the opportunities are even more obvious.  Yet the public debate over T-TIP, in particular here in Germany, has been dominated by generalized fears about globalization, rather than the realities of free and fair trade.

Well, guess what, folks: globalization is happening.  And it is driven not only by technology, but fundamentally by the aspirations of people around the world for a better life.  Remember what I said earlier about the prevalence of smartphones in the least developed countries of the world?  At literally any moment in time, anywhere on Earth, people can find partners and competitors, allies and adversaries.  Globalization is a reality of our world – and T-TIP is a way to manage the impact of globalization.

We can mitigate globalization’s downside by enacting and implementing standards and regulations that simultaneously protect people against abuse and exploitation, and address their hopes and aspirations.  T-TIP promotes the tenets an open trading system represents: open markets, rule of law, intellectual property right protection, transparency in our commercial dealings, high standards for consumer health and safety, and respect for both the environment and working men and women.

These principles are also the focal point of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership.  In Asia, the rules of the road are in many cases up for grabs.  Under the TPP, for the first time in history, tough, fully-enforceable standards will protect workers’ rights and the environment.  And in terms of high standards, T-TIP will be an agreement between the most highly regulated economies on the planet – whose political leaders have no intention of approving an agreement that would reduce those high standards.

Unfortunately, T-TIP proponents lost the first round of framing the public discussion here in Germany; and not because we lost a battle of ideas – but because we were very late in even showing up.  Now, I often talk about T-TIP; but let’s face it – the American Ambassador, who represents the country on the other side of the negotiating table, is not going to be the most effective advocate for T-TIP in Europe.  Fundamentally, Europeans need to hear from Europeans about how increased trade and investment with the U.S. will positively impact their lives – not just statistically, but tangibly, in their communities.  They need to hear what TTIP is, and even more to the point, what it is not.  They deserve a balanced discussion – not the one-sided fear mongering they have thus far been treated to.

The fact is T-TIP will boost exports, support jobs, and advance a pro-growth agenda in Europe.  And at a time when much of the EU is struggling economically, facing not only stratospheric youth unemployment, but also now a migration crisis of historic dimensions, T-TIP would be a jobs package that is virtually cost-free.

Ironically, this debate is taking place at a time when western values such as rule of law, human rights, and open markets – the backbone of the “world of order” that our citizens cherish – are being challenged on many fronts.  With T-TIP, we have the opportunity to reinforce those values; to be standard-setters rather than standard takers; and to build an economic and strategic framework that can serve as the foundation for shared prosperity – and our shared security – well into the coming century.

One last point: there is an opportunity to conclude T-TIP prior to the end of the Obama presidency, in January of 2017.  But if we do not do that, there are some realities we need to consider.  A new President may or may not support T-TIP; he or she will have to appoint their economic team, get them confirmed by the Senate, and then reach agreement about their economic priorities.  Since in negotiating trade agreements, nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon, they may want to re-open negotiations over certain issues that both sides thought had been settled.  And then politics intercedes – the French elections, the German elections, the EU elections.  President Obama is determined to continue negotiating as long as he is in office, but there is no question that, as stated in the G7 communique, we need to “accelerate” the process.

In closing, by choosing to build on our rules-based international order and strengthen our alliances and partnerships for the 21st century, we can better meet the myriad challenges of our times.  If we lift our eyes beyond our borders, if we think globally and if we act cooperatively, we can shape the course of this century, as our predecessors shaped the era after the second World War.   But in order to successfully address each of the challenges I have described –cyber-security, climate control, and trade and investment – we need the focus, support, and collaboration of the transatlantic partners.    And with that, we can truly be the “firm anchor in a turbulent world.”

Thank you.