Portugal and the United States: Partners for a Changing World

Muito obrigado, Pedro, for your kind introduction. My heartfelt appreciation as well to the audience who braved Lisbon winter weather to be with us today for this important event. Although, being from Boston, I can tell you, any winter where you can still play golf is not a real winter!

I would like to extend a very special thanks to the President’s Office for sponsoring this unique event today. Specifically, to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for initiating the idea, and to Ambassador José Augusto Duarte and Isabel Pestana for helping us to shape it. I also would like to thank the Luso-American Foundation, FLAD, for partnering with us.

And to our host today, the University of Lisbon’s School for Higher Social and Political Studies. The Institute continues to be an important contributor to the national and international dialogue on security issues, and we count on it to help further the interests of the transatlantic community.

This is the second time I have had the honor of speaking here, having discussed NATO issues last December at one of Professor Heitor Romana’s “Aulas Abertas.” I learned then that the Institute brings together not only great strategic thinkers, but individuals who do not hesitate in challenging assumptions and asking difficult questions. I expect no different today.

Allow me to begin these remarks by acknowledging the elephant in the room – the subject we cannot avoid. That, of course, would be the rise of populism on the Atlantic’s western AND eastern shores.

First there was Brexit. Then came the United States’ presidential election of November 8th and this past weekend’s referendum vote in Italy. Now we look to see whether a continuing anti-establishment wave will wash over the upcoming European elections, particularly in France and Germany.

Angst amongst trans-atlanticist strategic thinkers has been palpable of late, questioning the stability of long-standing commitments: The commitment of the United States to Europe’s defense as threats to the east and south grow; The commitment of European nations to the European Project and an EU under a constant nationalist barrage; And the commitment of the transatlantic community to helping the world’s most vulnerable – its millions of refugees – who seek only safety and a better life for themselves and their children, as my parents did, when they fled Russia for the United States in the last century.

That is the reason we are here today: to ask the hard questions; to examine a changing world dynamic; and to address the durability of our mutual commitments.

One question in these uncertain times is who will be the strong voices for a united Europe?

Let me propose that the man I am honored to share the stage with today, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, can be just such a voice. The President has a brilliant analytic mind, is a deep strategic thinker, and possesses the political and communication skills necessary to galvanize support for his message.

Let me give you a concrete example. In early April I traveled to Brussels for meetings at NATO and the European Union. My trip fell shortly after the horrific bombings at the Brussels airport and a nearby metro station that left 30 dead and 300 wounded. Europe was on edge. Its leaders were calling for walls to keep out the other, whether that person was a potential terrorist, refugee, or simple economic migrant. It was a predictable response in the face of terror, and not that different from what we have experienced in the United States.

Three hundred miles to the southeast, a newcomer to the European political scene was touting a different message. One of hope, and not fear… one of pontes, e não paredes.

Newly-elected President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 13. He gave a soaring speech, recalling Portugal’s history of overcoming crises through personal and national sacrifice, stressing the need for tolerance and political stability Europe-wide, and urging nations to open their hearts, pocketbooks and neighborhoods to the then-burgeoning refugee wave.

Response to the President’s speech quickly reached Commission members and staff. His remarks had constituted the perfect rebuttal to the fear-mongering, saber-rattling populism that was dominating political discourse at that moment.

The President reminded the parliamentarians of the values Europeans stood for, and set out a hopeful vision for strong and united Europe. In tribute, they began referring to him as “Marcelo Luther King.”

It is his vision that brings us here today. In a 60-minute meeting with the President last June, he literally gave me a whirlwind global education – and induced a case of writer’s cramp in my note taker! The President spoke knowledgeably and passionately about policy, politics and personalities from Brazil to Beijing. He proposed this conference because he foresaw there would be a need to re-examine transatlantic relations after the U.S. elections. I will say, as perceptive as the President is, I am not sure he foresaw a Trump victory back then, though!

The conference idea would take flesh after the President’s trip to New York in September for the UN General Assembly. The conference was not just to celebrate the U.S.-Portugal bilateral relationship, but also to identify the transatlantic challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

I think one way to frame these issues is to examine the thesis contained in an article written in January 1957 – sixty years ago. There, then-Senator John F. Kennedy prophetically forecast the transatlantic stressors when he wrote about the “double pull” in international affairs. On one side of the pull, he recognized, is a state’s need for political identity; where nationalism is a search for political freedom, self-determination and self-development. On the other side is a search for unity and cooperation.

The “task,” according to Kennedy, is to “strike a realistic balance between the legitimate appeals to national self-determination and the gravitational pulls toward unity which grow from the technological and economic (and I might add, “security”) interdependence of modern states.”

We see resolution of the competing pulls playing out in the UK’s Brexit vote, in the rise of far-right populism in Europe and in our own recent election in the United States. I submit that the first task of our leaders – new and old – must be to recognize that there is a need for balancing those pulls at a time when the competing forces have never been stronger.

Any talk of new leaders starts with the intense speculation both in the United States and here in Europe on what a Donald Trump presidency will look like. We have a couple of data points that are not necessarily consistent.

First, we have the President-elect’s campaign rhetoric as compared to the more measured statements made during the transition period currently underway. We also should consider the shape of a Trump cabinet that likely will have a heavy reliance on military talent to navigate defense and national security issues. I expect our panels will tackle in some depth the impact of President-elect’s anticipated foreign and security policy priorities.

And closer to home, we just watched former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres win election as the United Nation’s Secretary General.

As someone who knows something about political campaigning, let me say to my Portuguese government colleagues you ran one of the very best, trumpeting Mr. Guterres’ strengths and refusing to tear down his competitors. It is a lesson that needs to be replicated elsewhere. Portugal is truly blessed to have yet another international statesman hailing from its ranks, in addition to the President.

But as the new Secretary-General readily admits, the work of the United Nations – to reduce misery and suffering in the world – cannot succeed without the deep involvement of the United States. Can he help balance the forces to achieve that?

Many argue persuasively that a recommitment to the transatlantic in both Europe and the United States is never more necessary than right now, for the threats confronting us originate in every direction.

From the south, we are haunted by the threat of violent extremism. The epicenter of this savagery thrives in the shadows of a Syrian civil war now in its fifth year, a conflict of unimaginable tragedy that has sent many inhabitants fleeing to Europe. This wave of displacement, the largest since World War II, has affected the political, economic, and social fabric of everyday life in Europe.

From the east, the challenge originates primarily from Russian aggression in Ukraine, which has violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent democratic nation and imperiled the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace that we have labored for many decades now to make real.

With so much at stake, it is vitally important we reaffirm why NATO, the European Union, and the international order they represent and help shape, are so profoundly consequential to our security.

While the challenges facing the transatlantic community are daunting, the opportunities are boundless. The world economy will be driven by technology, which is fertile ground for transatlantic collaboration.

Portugal last month hosted the Web Summit, which was an unparalleled success. The country is enjoying a growing reputation as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the Summit cemented its spot on the map. We were delighted to see such strong participation from U.S. companies, and 5000 American attendees represented over ten percent of the total.

Energy security constitutes another growth area for the transatlantic partnership. This spring the first shipment of Europe-bound liquefied natural gas arrived at the Port of Sines 90 minutes south of Lisbon. Whether that gas is consumed here or transported elsewhere, it is becoming a tradable commodity produced and provided on market principles, which makes the market less susceptible to political pressure and makes Europe more secure.

The U.S.-based speakers we invited today are well-placed to expound on leadership changes occurring currently in the United States and Europe.

Professor James Steinberg joins us today. Now teaching at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Jim served as Deputy National Security Advisor under President Bill Clinton and later as Deputy Secretary of State in President Obama’s first term. Like me, he grew up in Brockton Mass – although I can state without fear of contradiction, he was a far better student than I ever was! Jim is a recognized Asia expert whose writings tackle not only the opportunities arising from that vibrant region but also its threats, such as a nuclear-armed and ever-more aggressive North Korea.

Also speaking today is U. S. Marine Brigadier General Karsten Heckl, currently serving as chief of staff in the Lisbon-based Strike Force NATO. General Heckl’s participation on the New Leaders panel is particularly timely given that his fellow Marine, General James Mattis, whom he served with and knows well, is the nominee for U.S. Defense Secretary. Also, in light of General Heckl’s current position and the significant number of military officers in the Trump inner circle, he should be able to provide significant insight on the future of NATO and U.S. engagement in the Alliance.

Rounding out the U.S. side of that panel is my deputy, U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Herro Mustafa. Herro has worked directly for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the George W. Bush administration and Vice President Biden in the Obama administration. She has been on the National Security Staff and knows the differing approaches to national security issues between Republican and Democratic administrations.

Our speakers are paired with equally accomplished Portuguese leaders.

I welcome my friend Paulo Portas, who served as Portugal’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister during the prior administration.

And I look forward to hearing from former PSD Member of Parliament Monica Ferro. This should be a spirited discussion which will be made even more rewarding by question-and-answer sessions.

So I encourage everyone to listen to what the speakers say, but don’t be afraid to challenge their assumptions and conclusions. That is the freedom we have in a democratic society. Take advantage of it.

Thank you. Muito obrigado.