On Tuesday, September 23, 2014, German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Xenia Wickett, director of the U.S. program at Chatham House, to discuss the Chatham House study Elite Perceptions of the United States in Europe and Asia. GMF Senior Vice President of Programs Ivan Vejvoda offered commentary, comparing the report’s findings to GMF’s recently released 2014 Transatlantic Trends survey. GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried provided an introduction and moderated the discussion.
The Chatham House study aimed at addressing three primary questions: what are the views of European and Asian elites with regard to the United States; how are these views formed; and what policy conclusions can be drawn from these, if any? The study surveyed participants across various sectors and identified several trends. Among European elites, there was a sense of moral failure in American leadership, emphasizing the desire for soft power. However, they commended the United States for its outstanding success in the business sector, particularly regarding technology. The Asian elites focused on hard power, emphasizing the perceived military failure of the U.S. In Asia, this failure is strongly considered when regarding the decline of the United States, to which the elites in Asia were sensitive. Despite this, there was a general sense across both continents that the United States had failed, as well as a poor understanding of the U.S. government.
In light of these findings, the study put forth the following recommendations: emphasize the corporate sector; increase visitation to the US; avoid the superficial separation of foreign and domestic policy; focus on global policy for Europe and regional for Asia; utilize soft power in relation to Europe and hard power to Asia; explain U.S. tripartite division of government and a clearer explanation by the President of the United States on the direction America is heading.
The conversation then shifted to compare these findings with GMF’s Transatlantic Trends. Both surveys indicated that NATO is increasingly seen as essential, sanctions are preferred in addressing Iran and Syria, and NATO and the EU are seen as democratic bulwarks on both sides of the Atlantic. A point was made during the discussion that the situation in Ukraine has led to an understanding that the post-Cold War world order has been destroyed, and that Putin has essentially re-kindled NATO’s core mission. The desirability of the use of soft power in Europe, especially as it applied to Ukraine, was called into question; however, the use of soft power was an unequivocal priority among both elites and the public across both Trends and Perceptions.
Additional topics were addressed during the session bringing to light the issues of U.S. moral leadership and American values, as well as the visibility of the President in relation to transparency and external comprehension of the U.S. government. The discussion was held according to the Chatham House Rule and attracted a group of representatives from the public, private, think tank, and academic sectors.