Antony Blinken

Yesterday, the Europe Institute at SIPA, the oldest institution in United States higher learning dedicated to the study of Europe, was re-inaugurated as the “Donald and Vera Blinken Europe Institute.” Amidst the crackers, champagne, and self-congratulations, Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, spoke of the diminishing focus on Europe within America and why Europe, and, presumably the aforementioned Europe Institute, still matters. Trans-Atlantic Adventurer Jed Bush reports.

Though Blinken graduated from Columbia Law, he began by saying that he tried to take classes in SIPA whenever possible – his studies in foreign affairs culminated in a book that he joked was a “once you put it down, you won’t want to pick it up again”-type read.  With that education came a bit of a history lesson for the audience: Blinken explained that since the end of World War II, every decade brought a crisis that threatened a split between Europe and the United States.  The first cracks in the post-War alliance were exposed in the 50s during the Suez Crisis. Then Vietnam sowed the seeds of a rift between the western powers in the 60s and 70s.  The relationship in the 80s was marred by the Siberian Pipeline crisis. And, ironically, the trans-Atlantic relationship met its biggest roadblock yet in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, as, for the first time since 1945, forced interdependence between America and Europe was no longer required.

At a glance, it would seem that the past decade has seen that divide between the two former stalwart allies grow even larger. Experts point to divisions in clashes over values (gun control, GMOs, the death penalty, etc.) in addition to the strategic disagreements (the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol) that have marred the relationship. Blinken doesn’t believe that these disagreements are to blame for faults in the trans-Atlantic relationship, rather at fault is the prevailing attitude of “If the United States and Europe Disagree, it doesn’t matter, because Europe doesn’t matter.” To prove his point, he cited a Richard Haas article in the Washington Post that claimed that “other reigons, not Europe, will define the 21st century,” and argued that developing nations like Brazil, India, China and Russia are the future, and Europe, a continent long past its prime, is decaying. He even joked that the divide had grown to the point that Bush’s 2nd inaugural address made headlines in the European press as “Bush Threatens More Freedom.”

Blinken explained that the conclusion that Europe no longer matters to America isn’t necessarily wrong, but misconstrues the facts at hand.

Where critics have zeroed in on the many small areas that Europe and the United States disagree, they ignore the ways in which the relationship between the two powers has continued to flourish. As the National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, Blinken is acutely aware of the limitations of American power, and understands that when it comes to the pressing conflicts of our day and age—whether that is something as tangible as a loose nuke, or as abstract as the growing socio-economic divide—no singular nation is immune, nor can any one nation hope to solve these conflicts single-handedly.  In Afghanistan, Europe has deployed over 40,000 troops and invested trillions of euros into the war effort.  In Libya, NATO was able to act nimbly and share the burden with other nations.  Diplomatically, America and Europe have been on the same page when it comes to nearly every major conflict over the past decade, from the Arab Spring to the Balkan conflicts, and sanctions against Iran remain stronger than ever before – an example of the United States and European Union’s joint proponency of democracy and unified foreign policy.

So as we move forward in understanding our close ties with Europe, Blinken believes that we must not just accept the historical and present basis for a strong trans-Atlantic relationship, but actively work to find new ways to combat conflicts and solve issues that have evolved over the past decades – the stagnating economy currently undergoing a currency crisis, being one of them.  And while Blinken admits he’s not at complete liberty to discuss the plan both partners have to revitalize the western markets, he does believe that the markets will rally and that this is yet another conflict that can neither be solved by individual nations, nor  contained to a single region.

Above all else, he points out that America and Europe are tied together in a unique economic way, as the two powers have redefined what it means for a nation to be wealthy.  Where past leading economic powers were once defined by land mass, size of population, and the natural resources, today, the United States’ and Europe’s greatest assets lie in their human capital—proudly referencing the western University model which draws students and academics from all over the world.  Therefore, these two powers are bound together in a class of their own, both historically and in the future. He closed saying the we might as well make the most of this relationship, as I’m sure he hopes both the Obama Administration and the Blinken Institute will continue to play large roles in influencing that relationship.

Smiling chap via Washington Post.