Volker delivers debut ambassadorial speech
On Sept. 29, Kurt Volker delivered his first public address in Brussels as the United States Ambassador to NATO. In the speech to a GMF-assembled audience of diplomats, scholars, and policymakers, the former United States deputy assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian affairs outlined his organizing principles for a modern NATO.
The unavoidable backdrop for his remarks, however, were the ongoing events in Afghanistan and the recent Russia/Georgia crisis. Europe cannot tolerate "the changing of borders by force," Volker said, indirectly referring to Russia.
Volker urged the audience to consider the United States and Europe a "single transatlantic community" that cannot face international crises separately. Speaking directly on the recent Russian incursion into Georgia, seen by some as an awakening of Russian political and military ambition, Volker cautioned NATO must continue to work with the country, but it must do so without ambiguity. NATO countries must "be clear, and object when trampled" on, he said, when engaging with Russia.
Volker said he is concerned with declining defense spending in Europe, and he hinted that as defense spending has fallen in Europe, so too has the perceived importance of NATO.
The needs of NATO must be "on the agenda of heads of state and government, not just defense ministers," he said.
When asked about the ongoing troubles in Afghanistan, especially the security risks the drug trade poses, Volker noted a modest decrease in the production and harvest of poppy seeds, although he conceded that NATO was "even today...not terribly coherent" in its drug enforcement mandate.
Volker repeatedly pressed his central theme: a changing NATO for a changing world. NATO's original working mandate, going back to the early days of the Cold War, may have been a narrow one, or as NATO'S first secretary general neatly put it, the organization existed to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." Volker urged a thematically expansive Atlantic alliance that focused on the "wider world" and took note of new political actors and global challenges.
"We've gotten better at it, but we have a long way to go," he said.