Preview of Shaheen Remarks: "For the first time in generations, Europeans look west and do not see a partner"

In Foreign Policy Address This Evening to New Members of Congress, Shaheen to Warn of the Existential Threats to the Transatlantic Alliance, NATO and the EU

February 07, 2017

(Washington, DC)—This evening, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will be a featured speaker to an audience including new Members of Congress. The event will be hosted by the German Marshall Fund whose mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation.

In her remarks, Senator Shaheen will deliver a stark warning about the “existential threats” to the Transatlantic Alliance, NATO and the European Union. “Our friends in Europe face challenges from nearly every direction,” Shaheen’s prepared remarks read. “For the first time in generations, Europeans look west and  do not see a partner solidly committed to their success and to collective efforts to address the shared problems we all face.”

“In recent weeks, we have witnessed the negative impact that a very different President can have on America’s image and our alliances,” her remarks continue. “He has burned bridges to Mexico, Australia, Europe, and seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iraq, a critical ally in our fight against ISIS.” What does this mean for us…? It means we’ve got work to do!”  

Her remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

For more than four decades, the German Marshall Fund has been dedicated to strengthening transatlantic bonds and relationships.  For reasons that I will address in my brief remarks, your good work is more important today than at any time in recent memory. 

Ordinarily, at an event like this, I would shy away from observations that might seem pointed or perhaps partisan.  But these are not ordinary times.  And this is not a moment for platitudes or happy talk.

Let’s be clear:  The Transatlantic Alliance is America’s most important partnership.  NATO is America’s most important military alliance.  The European Union is America’s most important trading partner.  Today, these institutions are not only under stress; they face existential threats.

Our friends in Europe face challenges from nearly every direction.  To the east, Russia has invaded Ukraine and annexed part of its territory, and is now brazenly interfering in the French and German elections.  To the south and southeast, Europe is coping with a vast influx of migrants from war, violence and poverty.  From within, Europe faces not only the threat of terrorism, but of nationalist parties that oppose European unity and integration.  And, to the west?  For the first time in generations, Europeans look west and do not see a partner solidly committed to their success and to collective efforts to address the shared problems we all face.  Instead, they see a leader who applauds Brexit, is openly hostile toward the EU, and has questioned the relevance of NATO as well as the U.S. commitment to its bedrock guarantee of collective defense.  Europeans hear renewed talk of “America First” and see that slogan embodied in a refugee and immigration policy at odds with American ideals and responsibilities.    

Last Wednesday, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, former General David Petraeus issued this warning, and I quote:  “Americans should not take the current world order for granted.  It did not will itself into existence.  We created it.  Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining.  We have sustained it.  If we stop doing so, it will fray and, eventually, collapse.” 

And he continued:  “President Putin understands that, while conventional aggression may occasionally enable Russia to grab a bit of land on its periphery, the real center of gravity is the political will of the major democratic powers to defend the Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the EU.”

Or, as European Council President Donald Tusk said last week: “We should remind our American friends of their own motto: United we stand, divided we fall.”

The German Marshall Fund states that its mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation “in the spirit of the Marshall Plan.”  Let’s recall what that means. In the years between the two world wars, George Marshall and Harry Truman witnessed the tragic consequences of an isolationist, protectionist, America First approach to the world.  After the war, as Secretary of State and President, respectively, they extended generous aid to rebuild Germany and Europe, forged the great NATO alliance, encouraged European cooperation and integration, and stood tall for freedom, human rights and the rule of law. Across seven decades, these policies and ideals have been the foundation for the richest economies and most robust democracies the world has ever seen.  It has allowed the United States – as President Reagan used to put it – to be a “shining city on a hill,” a nation admired, respected and emulated across the globe.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed the negative impact that a very different President can have on America’s image and our alliances.  In addition to ordering the construction of a wall, he has burned bridges to Mexico, Australia, Europe, and seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iraq, a critical ally in our fight against ISIS.

What does this mean for us – members of Congress and other American patriots, our German and other European friends, supporters of the Transatlantic Alliance?  It means we’ve got work to do!

The good news is that the vast majority of Senators and Representatives, on a strongly bipartisan basis, are solid supporters of NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance.  That includes every one of my Republican and Democratic colleagues on the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.  The good news is also that we have wonderful partners on both sides of the Atlantic, including the German Marshall Fund, whose mission, as I said, is more important today than ever. 

In recent weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about something that President Kennedy said in his Inaugural Address.  Speaking in a Cold War context, he said: “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.”

To paraphrase Kennedy for today’s context:  In the long history of the Transatlantic Alliance, it is up to us to defend this great partnership – including a Europe whole, free and at peace – at a time of nearly unprecedented threats.

The stakes are incredibly high.  I am optimistic that, working together, we can and will rise to this challenge. 

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