While Angelenos suffered through a late October heat wave, a delegation of Pacific Council members, bundled in winter-wear, crossed a cobblestone street 5,600 miles away and approached the glass doors of the European Parliament. It was the first day of a weeklong delegation in two important European cities, Brussels and The Hague, where international decision-makers hold the seats of power and determine policies that affect more than 500 million residents.
The past year has been turbulent for Europe, which reeled in post-Brexit shock while wearily eyeing its eastern neighbor, Russia, as it flexed its muscles in the "Zapad 2017" military exercise. Furthermore, during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump questioned the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance that relies on American leadership.
The time was ripe for a Pacific Council delegation to Brussels, headquarters of the European Union and NATO, to explore issues such as Europe-Russia relations, immigration and the refugee crisis, U.S.-NATO relations, and counter-terror efforts. The delegation also visited The Hague, known as the "international city of peace and justice," to meet with the highest ranks of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
This fall’s Pacific Council delegation consisted of professionals across industries including law, finance, entertainment, real estate, and natural resources. The diversity of perspectives contributed to new angles in conversations with speakers, all of whom grasped the importance of the U.S. West Coast in global affairs.
Below are highlights of information gleaned on the trip through discussions with leadership from organizations in Brussels and The Hague (see below for a full list of speakers), plus insights from delegates.
- Europe is a theater in transition. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it was the first time one sovereign state invaded another since World War II. This event changed the world dramatically from the perspective of European military and political powers, who have aligned their strategies to be on guard for an aggressive Russia.
- Russia is creating a strategic destabilization campaign from Europe to Vancouver because Putin believes the existing world order and western democratic model is corrupt and unfair to Russian interests. Russia is pursuing destabilization strategies in totality—not one-off crises. One way it does this is by actively engaging European countries through business relationships (for example, it dominates the energy market in Italy) so it can disrupt systems from within.
- Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the EU has had to shift its thinking on defense. European leaders have taken for granted that if Russia or another country invaded Europe, the United States will help as it has in the past—but leaders no longer feel that is the case under Trump.
Delegate Takeaway: Today there are 29 NATO members with Montenegro being the latest addition. Top concerns are Russian aggression and terrorism. There's an interesting sensitivity to the fact that there are no daily commercial flights from Montenegro to Brussels, yet seven daily flights from Montenegro to Moscow.
Balancing EU, NATO, and U.S. interests
- According to experts at the German Marshall Fund, Europe has reacted to Trump by deciding it's time to stand on its own two feet. It’s now or never for the EU to move itself forward by strengthening the euro and building defense capabilities to complement those of NATO.
- Leadership at the U.S. Mission to the EU rebutted claims that the relationship is weakening; in fact, it remains the most important global relationship that leads to jobs and significant wealth in the world economy.
- NATO leadership is looking to form lines of communication with the U.S. West Coast which it considers an "economic and innovation powerhouse," especially as it expands into a new domain: cyber security.
- According to NATO representatives, U.S. leadership is dire, both generally for world order and for NATO specifically, which is the international defense system against Russia. Any cracks in NATO are exploited by Putin.
Delegate Takeaway: NATO’s members have concerns about Trump’s "America First" priority and what this means for Europe’s status quo. However, early signs indicate a disconnect between populist messaging and policy-as-actually-implemented. In reality, U.S. support for NATO has recently increased as indicated by a larger military presence and greater funding.
International Law and Security
- The current major "threats" facing Europe, according to international security experts, are terrorism (both from homegrown extremists and non-state actors from outside Europe) and the lack of integration of migrants, especially from North Africa. On the latter, a German Marshall Fund representative posed the question: what about a Marshall Plan for North Africa?
- Vital to the survival of the most important international organizations (i.e. NATO and the EU) are cooperation, commitment, and communication. The European Parliament, for example, has a culture of debate, discussion, and compromise. With 28 member states, the EU wouldn’t get anything done without compromise.
- Many Americans are unaware that the United States is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which led to the creation of the ICC in 1998. The Rome Statute was an alliance between civil society (thousands of global NGOs) and like-minded state parties (typically small states, many in Europe). Even though it’s not a signatory, the United States participated in the negotiations.
- The ICC prosecutes and sanctions individuals who have committed the most egregious crimes against humanity, but the Court also provides reparations to victims affected by such crimes through the Trust Fund for Victims.
- The PCA is housed at the Peace Palace in The Hague. It was established in 1899, with the intention to help states resolve disputes peacefully through a model for international arbitration. There are 126 pending cases before the PCA, which has become more active as a result of globalization and cross-border disputes.
Delegate Takeaway: What stood out and resonated strongly with me is the deep concern felt by the leaders at NATO about the way Russia under Putin is attempting to project power and influence and reshape the post-WWII security order. It was refreshing and somewhat reassuring to hear analysis from thoughtful, experienced, well-informed leaders, who have a stake in maintaining peace and safety around the world.
The Netherlands’ Leadership in Water Management
- As part of the Pacific Council’s Global Water Scarcity Project, the delegation made a special visit to IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. IHE Delft offers independent graduate study to students from around the world, carrying out educational, research, and capacity development activities across water engineering, water management, environment, sanitation, and governance.
- IHE Delft has strong ties with the Dutch water sector, which is a leader in water management and innovation, due to the country’s geography. About a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level, and floods are a common occurrence. Scholars from IHE Delft spoke about the importance of designing governance systems that bring all concerned parties to the table when it comes to water management (whether in scarcity or overabundance), including corporations and the technical sector, government, universities, farmers, and faith communities.
- The Netherlands has developed innovative ways to manage its abundance of water resources, including reusing waste water for biodiesel fuel in cars.
- Currently, 25 percent of the world’s population is affected by stressed water resources. It’s a major cause of instability and a factor in migration patterns. In 20 years, IHE Delft representatives estimated that 55 percent of the world will live in places of water stress due to climate change.
Delegate Takeaway: It is not surprising that the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education is located here in such a hydro-modified coastal environment. The school's alumni are everywhere, with a big concentration in Bangladesh and many other coastal floodplains—in fact, they were in our Mississippi Delta helping with solutions after Hurricane Katrina.
Changing Nature of Diplomacy
- According to diplomacy experts at the Clingendael Academy, traditional state-to-state diplomacy is now blurred into a hybrid model with networked, digital diplomacy. The latter is led by powerful NGOs and other non-state actors who have cultural and digital competency to reach their desired audiences while bypassing the traditional state-to-state model. Furthermore, sending an ambassador abroad is costly, and its value to taxpayers is not immediately apparent.
- A clear trend is emerging in diplomacy: economics and trade are a priority of most diplomats. Some coined this change as "the economization of diplomacy."
- Diversity and inclusion is a priority among leaders at NATO when it comes to military and diplomatic engagements. There is an effort to recruit civilians from diverse backgrounds to embed with military analysts in order to break “groupthink” when it comes to major decisions, typically dominated by white men.
- Brexit was not the beginning of the end of the EU. Since Brexit, polls have revealed an increased popularity of the EU among the remaining 27 member states.
- The United Kingdom is in the middle of negotiations with the EU, which require a final decision by a qualified majority within two years (from 2016-2018). The three deals under negotiation are (1) exit; (2) transition; and (3) the new relationship between the UK and EU.
- A major question of Brexit is who will enforce the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa? The root causes of the Brexit decision still exist, including immigration, and those problems are not soon to be resolved. While fear of another Brexit among EU leaders has ebbed, given recent election outcomes, there is no catalyst for positive reform in the EU.
Select speakers during the delegation to Brussels and The Hague:
Mr. Brooks Daly, Deputy Secretary General, Permanent Court of Arbitration
President Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, President, International Criminal Court
Mr. Jeffrey Franks, Director, IMF Europe Office
Ms. Rose Gottemoeller, Deputy Secretary General, NATO
Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Ambassador to NATO
Dr. Ian Lesser, Executive Director, German Marshall Fund
Mr. Patrick Renault, Spokesman, Royal Palace of Brussels
General Curtis Scaparrotti, Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO
Mr. Adam Shub, Charges d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to EU
Mr. Ron Ton, Director, Clingendael Academy
Read more about the Pacific Council's Country Dialogues.