In this interview, Professor Radon offers a fresh perspective on how the US can restore its standing and leadership in the world. In particular, he suggests that President Biden begin with a trip to Europe once he takes office, not just to meet with European leaders but to remind us all that Europe and the US share common values and heritage. Recommended stops on the journey should include cities which are not household names but are the heart of Europe: Colmar in Alsace, France, the birthplace of the creator of the Statue of Liberty, an inspirational symbol of America as the land of liberty, as well as Odessa, Ukraine, the birthplace of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s father. From an international relations perspective, the trip would do two things: restore trust with America’s traditional friends and allies, and also build trust for the future. Professor Radon discusses how inclusive trade and investment agreements should be negotiated and how they can help institutionalize a working relationship with EU countries, which is an immediate and present objective. For the long-term, he proposes an ambitious educational program—an expanded bi-continental Erasmus program—that will build common and personal ties among youth, which will be the glue that helps the US achieve, together with its friends, its objectives over a lifetime.
Given that the last four years have witnessed an unpredictable US foreign policy, with also a loss of US standing as a world leader, as well as a loss of trust and credibility including among America’s traditional friends and allies, what is needed to restore US standing and leadership in the world? Are there any concrete steps that President-elect Biden should take?
As with any challenge or problem, especially if there are multiple challenges occurring simultaneously, one has to first confront and then answer a standard and simple, but pressing, question: where do we start? I would have President Biden begin with a trip to Europe not just to meet with European leaders, which is obviously necessary, but to remind us all that Europe and the US share common values, and have a common heritage, which are the foundation of successfully working together and building durable bonds.
Europe is the home of many of America’s traditional friends and allies. It is not just the UK with which we share the same language as well as strong cultural bonds, not to mention a similar legal system. Europe is also the home of other nations, all of which sent millions of immigrants to the US. More Americans, for example, have roots in Germany than any other European nation. In order to underscore, and build on, our common historical bonds a united future, I would have Present Biden undertake a trip to Europe which departs from the traditional and well-trodden beaten path. He should visit places which are normally not visited on official Presidential trips. The hearts and minds of ordinary Europeans, not just officials, need to be touched.
The first stop of this we-are-back and off-the beaten track journey should be to Colmar in Alsace, France, a town which has not received the recognition it deserves. I would like to note that Alsace today is a land of what the world can be. It is a land of inspiration as Alsace was fought over by Germany and France for centuries, and it is now the seat of the European Parliament, signaling to Europe and the world that peace and prosperity can be achieved, even by historical foes. Alsace, in particular Colmar, should have a special place in the hearts of all Americans.
Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the inspiration and creator of the Statue of Liberty, which has come to symbolize the United States to all Americans, as well as to people across the entire world. The Statue of Liberty stands as the gift of France and Europe to the US and embodies and represents our common values and our common aspirations. Ever since the founding of the United States, America has stood as a beacon of liberty and freedom for the world. By visiting Colmar, which to my best knowledge no American president has done, it would underscore that we appreciate this spirited gift and that we honor the person who gave to the United States this inspirational symbol of America as the land of liberty, which is still our lodestar during this conflicted time.
By remembering Bartholdi we also underscore our remembrance of our common history, and, moreover, that we cherish the shared values we have with our friends and appreciate the mutual trust and reliability that is the bedrock of our relations. With a visit to Colmar by President Biden, we will be honoring, and showing respect for, the person who saw the United States as the symbol of the enlightenment for the world, as the inspiration for freedom and democracy. Ironically one of my Asian students from China captured this feeling by saying the US is the lighthouse of the world. In short, a trip to Colmar would be giving thanks to the creativity of a Frenchman who was able to capture the true character of the United States.
And during his visit, President Biden should announce the creation of a scholarship fund, in the name of Bartholdi, for Colmar high schools students to study in the US, and for American students to spend a year in Colmar. This would ensure that our youth, our future, know each other and engage with each other for years to come.
Also I would like to add that that the Statue of Liberty has special and personal meaning for me. My first night in the US was spent on a boat docked beneath the Statue of Liberty, and I still remember seeing it when I woke up. When I learned the words inscribed on its pedestal, “e pluribus unum,” I took them to heart and they have motivated and moved me throughout my entire life.
A visit to Colmar would obviously be only the first stop in a trip to Europe. Where else should President Biden’s journey to Europe take him, and why should President Biden make his first overseas trip to Europe?
Europe, as we know, is the home of most of America’s allies, members of our bedrock military, and strategic alliance NATO. We have historically stood united with Europe. Unfortunately, during the last four years America’s credibility as a reliable NATO partner has been severely questioned. Our foreign policy sadly has been described as “America alone.”
Moreover, the size of the European Union’s economy of $15,629 billion at the end of 2019 is smaller, but comparable to, that of the United States which was $19,177 billion. Trans-Atlantic trade accounts for almost half of the world’s total, and over 60% of United States foreign investment, totaling nearly $3.6 trillion, is in Europe. Despite our long-standing ties, during the last four years, we have threatened a trade war with Europe, a game of economic-chicken remnant of past isolationist thinking. Ironically, now we need a German-invented vaccine to help us stop the Covid 19 pandemic in the United States. The partnership between BioNTech, a Germany biotech company, and Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, is just one example of the closeness of the economies of the EU and the US. These economies are effectively and tightly intertwined.
And as noted, Europe was the wellspring of America’s origins. Three of the heroes, generals, of the American Revolution, Marquis de La Fayette, Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben and Tadeusz Kościuszko hailed from Europe. So it is natural to start the rebuilding of America’s world engagement with our longest standing friends and allies. And it is therefore also only natural for President Biden to first visit Europe to restore our credibility and the trust of our allies. If we cannot be united in purpose with our historic allies, with whom can we be? Remembering and building on our common values with our European allies is necessary to restore and strengthen such unity.
From Colmar, I would have President Biden visit the town of Impflingen in Germany, the birthplace of Peter Zenger, the German immigrant whose grit and willingness to endure, speak out and successfully fight a libel action made him the symbol of freedom of the press, a hallmark of our American culture. We should never forget that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that freedom of speech is one of the four core freedoms.
And then President Biden should stop in Frankfurt, not because it is the financial capital of Germany, the European economic powerhouse, but because it is the home of Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church) where German freedom fighters, the famed ‘48ers, started their fight for democracy and held a national assembly. It would not be a stretch to say that the birthplace of German democracy is Paulskirche. President Biden would thereby also be honoring President Kennedy who gave a speech at Paulskirche in 1963. However, while the attempt to establish democracy in Germany was unsuccessful, it did see a number of its leaders take refuge in the US, including Carl Schurz. While his efforts to establish democracy were premature in Germany, his talents were recognized in the US and he was appointed a US Senator and Secretary of Interior. And he left us with inspirational words to remember and live by, words which should resonate today as we have sadly become a divided nation: “my country, right or wrong; if right to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.” These were words that the Germans themselves had to rediscover after WWII when they sought to rebuild their country and atone for the atrocities of the Holocaust.
After Frankfurt, President Biden should continue his journey to Berlin, the capital of Germany, and of course meet with Chancellor Angel Merkel. But he should meet Chancellor Merkel at Humboldt University, named after Wilhelm von Humboldt, who was a person well ahead of his time. He believed already in the early 19th century in educating all, no matter their origins as he valued an educated citizenry. He famously said: “People obviously cannot be good craftworkers, merchants, soldiers or businessmen unless, regardless of their occupation, they are good, upstanding and – according to their condition – well-informed human beings and citizens.” This educational philosophy was the foundation of the German research university which, although not commonly known, became the model and the basis of our own American research university system, as first adopted by John Hopkins University in the late 19th century.
From Humboldt University, President Biden should travel to Lithuania to meet the exiled freedom fighter of Belarus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a courageous woman who took the mantel of leadership after her husband was imprisoned. Tikhanovskaya stands in a proud line of courageous East European women — Angela Merkel of Germany, Marju Lauristin of Estonia (a personal friend), and Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, to name just a few—who have become symbols and upholders of the democratic values we want to live with. President Biden should echo the words of President Reagan who famously told Gorbachev to “tear this [the Berlin] wall down” by declaring that the authoritarianism in Belarus must end. President Biden should promise at the European Humanities University, a liberal arts bastion (temporarily) located in Vilnius, Lithuania and exiled from its home in Belarus, that he will visit the village of Merechevschina in the Brest region of Belarus when freedom reigns in Belarus. This village is the birthplace of the American revolutionary patriot, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish-Lithuanian-Belarusian freedom fighter and champion of liberty and an anti-slavery advocate. President Biden should take the opportunity of his visit to announce the establishment of a scholarship for students from the Brest area to study in the United States, starting in 2021, to commemorate the 275th anniversary of Kosciuszko’s birth.
From Lithuania, President Biden should visit another Baltic state, Estonia, a small dynamo with only 1.3 million people. It invented Skype, has born five digital unicorns, has effective digital voting, and has dared to declare digital access as a freedom and a human right. Its reasoning is simple: such access is necessary for every person’s development, and is the bedrock of modern freedom of the “press.” President Biden should stop at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence established in Tallinn in response to the 2007 Russian cyber-attack. During his visit, he should reconfirm his 2016 reassurance of American commitment of Article 5 of the NATO charter and its continued support for all NATO allies. Moreover, President Biden should declare that America will work together with its allies and do all that it takes to combat modern-day warfare cyber-attacks, which Estonia was the first country in the world to suffer.
From Tallinn, President Biden should head south to Odessa, Ukraine, the birthplace of US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s father. He should confirm the support of the US for the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and thank the people of Odessa for sending America one of the greatest champions of liberal values, especially the empowerment and rights of women. And he should announce the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Liberty Scholarship for Odessa graduates to study in the US.
From Odessa President Biden should head to the American University of Bulgaria (AUBG), on which board this author serves, in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, a city first settled by the Greeks in 300 BC. The university, founded in 1991 with US government support, has already graduated many prominent leaders inspired by its liberal arts curriculum. Unfortunately it has now become the sole bastion of liberal arts education in central Europe, ever since Prime Minister Orban of Hungary put out the educational lights of the renowned Central European University (CEU), which was forced it to decamp to Austria. During his visit President Biden can lay the cornerstone for AUBG’s prospective center for democracy, which will give life to AUBG’s proposed new motto, “an international university educating democratic citizens,” in countries throughout the world. Moreover, President Biden can announce that he will visit Hungary when CEU is welcomed back to its home in Budapest.
From Blagoevgrad, President Biden should travel to Paris and formally and publicly re-sign the Paris Agreement, the climate change convention which America will have already rejoined on January 20, 2020, the date Joseph Biden assumes the office of the President of the United States of America. America’s formal rejoining the Paris Accord will underscore the fact that no country alone can address the problems facing the word and that we can only do so by being united, united in purpose, united in action.
From Paris, President Biden should head to Brussels, the capital of the European Union, the most ambitious and groundbreaking experiment and institution of the 20th century. An institution which has turned historic enemies into friends, the EU has underscored the common values of the people of Europe and has set an example for all by crafting and championing the world we want and should have, a prosperous and peaceful world. In Brussels, President Biden should announce that he wants to renew discussions and negotiations on a trans-Atlantic trade and investment agreement, in short a rejuvenated TTIP, and to ambitiously conclude a TTIP in 2022, notwithstanding that the original negotiations took years and did not result in a signed agreement. This would be a practical, visible and concrete step in confirming that America again wants to be an integral part of and active participant in the international community. Moreover, a trade and investment agreement is a good way of demonstrating America’s commitment to restoring its credibility, confirming its reliability by institutionalizing its commitment, and thereby regaining lost trust. All countries want economic opportunities, and trade and investment agreements are a practical step in advancing such opportunities. The Pfizer- BioNTech partnership should be a symbol of why Europe and US need to work closer together. While we need symbols such as a Presidential trip to Europe to let all know that the United States is back and that we remember our friends, we also need concrete action to reestablish our credibility and reliability, and a binding trade and investment agreement can be a foundational step in that direction.
On the way home President Biden could make a fun stop to Ireland, the land of his ancestors and that of millions of Americans. And in keeping with staying mostly off the beaten track, he should go to Sean's Bar in Athlone, County Westmeath and have some good Irish ale. Sean’s claims to be the oldest bar in Ireland if not Europe, having, as legend says, been established in the 10th century. Irish pubs are simply fun and they are everywhere in the US, in Kentucky, New York and you name it. Irish pubs are as American as apple pie, which, if truth be told, has its origins in England. This stop at Sean’s would certainly cement traditional ties.
Would it not be easier, simpler and more effective to just rekindle NATO commitments as a confirmation of United We Stand, Divided We Fall rather than focusing on a trade agreement, especially as trade and investment agreements take laboriously long to negotiate?
It's not a question of prioritizing NATO. It is rather that a silo approach, such as a singular focus or reliance on a strategic or military alliance, lacks breath. Such an approach is not sufficiently expansive or inclusive. It is anachronistic thinking. We need a holistic or synergetic approach to building and strengthening alliances which involves and engages, and, accordingly, synergizes the energies and interests of people with diverse skills and talents. Former Defense Secretary General James Mattis famously said that “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately." However, both military resilience and diplomatic soft power require a solid foundation, which means that an ally is really only an ally if it can also stand tall and stand on its own feet. In turn, allies need to be economically secure to be able to meet their NATO military commitments for example. It is obvious that satisfying military obligations is costly. And trade and investment are generally agreed, and have historically been proven, to be necessary for a country to achieve economic stability as well as growth. Economic isolation has proven to be a failed approach time and time again, notwithstanding that it is resurrected in different guises again and again.
But equally important is that trade and investment have the additional benefit of promoting and furthering personal engagement between people. Business and commerce are traditional ways for people to get to know each other by working on and pursuing common activities. The benefit of people-to-people engagement through commerce is overlooked by scholars and not adequately studied. Our metric and data-addicted world fails to address and analyze this benefit for the simple reason it is not quantifiable and, accordingly, difficult to evaluate. But we all know that personal ties are the foundation of all relationships, including state relations, notwithstanding that theorists are continually seeking to turn state craft into a science, thereby ignoring the contribution that individuals make and can make. It is a basic truism: the more trade, the more individuals get to know each other as people, as individuals, which is the real basis of soft power and is at the heart of Mattis’ message. And history is replete with examples. Pax Romana of ancient times is a prime example and so is the lesser known Hansa League which existed for centuries during the Middle Ages.
The Nordic Hansa League stands an instructive story of successful commercial personal and societal engagement and should be kept in mind. It has been admitted that the League was not perfect, but then again, no structure or organization works perfectly. The League, which stretched across northern Europe from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, helped to bring about economic prosperity for its members and a modicum of peace, although it could not eliminate all conflict. The League was in essence a non-state commercial governance system, or, in modern parlance, an international management system. The learning lesson of the Hansa League story is that rules, procedures and systems, accepted working relations, are important and can make a difference. The League developed trust among its members and its procedures institutionalized it.
The Hansa League teaches us that what is needed to effect peace are many points of contact, and varied types of contact, among people to secure stability. At the core of such engagement through commerce and trade is reliability based on mutual knowledge, mutual respect and mutual trust as well as accepted institutionalized procedures. And, digressing for the moment, this also means that our youth have to come to know each other, especially as they do not have the memories of America’s generous support and engagement with Europe in and post WWII. Specifically, in the case of Europe, we need a modern day Eurail pass for Americans and the equivalent in the US for Europeans so that students can travel freely, and simply hang out, at cafes, taverns and restaurants, and get to know each other as individuals, as people.
So concerning trade and investment, a robust TTIP for the countries of the north Atlantic would be a concrete practical step as it would result in people working even more with each other as well as creating a more unified or integrated economic area, in effect bringing together about a third of the world’s economies. This treaty, by promoting more trade and investment, would increase personal interaction.
As already noted, there are fundamental or basic concepts that should not be ignored or forgotten: businesses, small and large, make the world go round. Businesses provide jobs, opportunity, and knowledge; and, as also noted, work is personal engagement, being the primary form of most people’s daily activities and interactions. But yet, trade and investment for most people are not exciting or pressing topics, certainly not on the macro or even the policy level. Unfortunately people only think about what trade means when they feel they have been negatively impacted by a trade agreement, especially if they feel that they have lost jobs because of it. Trade can be easily used in a blame game. Therefore in order to avoid, to at least minimize such a reaction, it is necessary to remember and apply a well-known idiom, one my mother already taught me: “The devil is in the details.” This means that the provisions, the details, of trade agreements need to be drafted in a way to anticipate, address and resolve possible negative impacts before they become such, which is a topic for a longer and more detailed discussion. But it must be emphasized that trade agreements need to be viewed more expansively, in context, and not as silo or standalone agreements prioritizing commercial or economic factors over other issues such as health or environment. In modern parlance, we need to apply a systems thinking approach to trade agreements.
Can you expand on what you mean on the prioritizing economic factors and how would you rejuvenate a revised TTIP?
Trade and investment agreements have traditionally been negotiated and drafted through a singular lens, a purely economic one, and, being stand-alone agreements, have not been integrated with other agreements and treaties.
Moreover, it is common knowledge that the active participants, namely those who have the ear of government trade negotiators, have been corporate interest groups promoting specific, and not infrequently narrow, commercial interests, namely their own. However, there are obviously countless other stakeholders, in particular civil society, labor and SME (small-medium-enterprise) owners, whose voices are not heard, or at least not adequately heard, when these agreements are negotiated, drafted and finalized. These interests are economic but also social, cultural and environmental. Trade agreements are by definition national issues and impact all citizens of every country. Every citizen is therefore in reality a stakeholder as they all will have to live with the results and impacts of trade agreements. It therefore stands to reason that the voices of these stakeholders should be heard and that their interests, their concerns and—critically—their needs also taken into account and addressed. This brings me again to something that should be obvious, the well-known idiom, “The devil is in the details.” This is particularly true in trade and investment agreements. These agreements are always proclaimed with a hype: they will grow an economy by expanding trade and increasing investment. But that is the macro approach, or the helicopter view. However not all sectors of the economy or society will benefit and some will invariably be adversely impacted. So in other words, the concept may be right; but one also needs to ask are the details, the agreement provisions, right. One needs to ask how do the details potentially impact the environment and labor for example?
Let me cite an example from the original TPP, the Transpacific partnership agreement, from which the United States withdrew in 2017. Article 9.16 of the TPP stated that a country can adopt any measure “it considers appropriate to ensure that investment activity in its territory is undertaken in a manner sensitive to environmental, health or other regulatory objectives” as long as it is “otherwise consistent” with the applicable provisions of the TPP. This effectively subjects environmental and health regulations, for example, to endless second guessing by corporate arbitrators, lawyers --- it is a recipe for adversarial interpretations and therefore litigation, although lawyers will appreciate such a provision as its vagueness or impreciseness constitutes a lawyers full employment act. Worries about being second guessed will at a minimum have a chilling effect on a country’s legislature in the adopting what they consider appropriate and needed public interest laws.
To be clear, Article 9.16 does not say that environment and health matters are prioritized over commercial measures. This should be of particular concern nowadays given that we are suffering from a worldwide pandemic. So a rejuvenated TTIP should clearly and unequivocally prioritize regulatory objectives, which are objectives for the common good. Fortunately, the recently concluded EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) can now serve as a guiding example, as it has clearly prioritized public interest rules by being flexible—one can even say dynamic—in its addressing and treatment of regulatory matters. This of course assumes we are willing to learn from not-invented here precedents.
CETA, among other things, permits the EU and Canada to apply its own standards to all goods and services sold in its territory, which means that imported products have to meet the standards of the importing “state.” By way of example, Canadian products sold in the EU have to comply with EU rules, as well as of course Canadian rules. And, interestingly and of note, Canada has agreed in CETA to accept the “precautionary principle” which is enshrined in EU law. This will permit EU governments to nevertheless adopt regulations for the protection of human, animal and plant health, as well as the environment, in order to address a perceived risk, even when scientific (or data) analysis is not conclusive that there is such a risk. In the US the precautionary principle, which, as noted, does not per se rest or rely exclusively on data, is generally not a governing approach, although it has been followed in environment regulation. Moreover the United States Chamber of Commerce in 2010 announced that it “opposes the adoption of the precautionary principle as the basis for regulation.” It holds that only “regulatory actions are justified where there are legitimate, scientifically ascertainable risks to human health, safety, or the environment” which effectively mandates the existence of data. However, it is one thing to oppose the application of the precautionary principle in the US (although, let me add, we should study whether the almost unrestricted use of chemicals, as in the case of perfluorooctane sulfoinate (PFOS) and its adverse irreversible long-term impact on water, could have been prevented by the application of the precautionary principle), and another to oppose it in international agreements and thereby impose (by agreement) an entirely different governance or regulatory system.
In Germany and Europe, the precautionary principle is part of its DNA, as it is a foundational cultural concept, which has not been understood by those advocating against this principle. In fact, the precautionary principle is wisdom my mother, who was from Germany, taught me. My mother always said if we wait for the data, we will already be in heaven, so be cautious. Accordingly, by agreeing and accepting that the EU can continue to apply the precautionary principle within the EU, even in respect of imports from Canada, Canada demonstrated respect for the European approach and for its values. The need to show and evidence respect is too often forgotten in the heat of negotiations, but, as I can attest from extensive negotiations, it is the basis of a win-win result for all negotiating parties.
So a rejuvenated TTIP can readily build on a number of the concepts now set forth in CETA. This should save time in reaching a trade agreement between the US and the EU. Moreover, such an agreement will help to restore frayed US-EU relations, constitute an economic support pillar alongside NATO, and rebuild and restore trust in the US. Of course, a new TTIP will have to be drafted in such a way that its terms are so robust that they cannot simply be ignored or circumvented with the threats of tariffs or extra-territorial sanctions. The acceptance of the precautionary principle and other terms of the CETA will demonstrate that the EU and the US can economically and commercially cooperate and still accept and live with differences.
While CETA can be a model --- and models should be adapted and not simply adopted --- a new TTIP can and should be more expansive by giving robust support to other international obligations that the US and the countries of the EU have made. For example (and only as one example), the TTIP could stipulate that the rights and privileges under the agreement are suspended whenever a country fails to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. TTIP would thereby make such commitments meaningful and indirectly binding. It could be said that this would give teeth to these commitments.
Corporations would, of course, object to inserting conditions, such as on climate change, in a trade agreement that could result in the suspension of the agreement. Their objection would be based on the premise that this would create uncertainty and will therefore hinder and limit business planning and development, especially as such a condition would be out of the capability of any company to control. Such a concern or objection would prima facie be valid. However companies would thereby be incentivized to lobby the government of a country which was not living up to its climate change commitment, to comply with the terms of the Paris Accord in order to avoid the suspension of an agreement. This would have the positive effect of making the companies active and real supporters of the Accord. It should not be forgotten that companies are expert lobbyists as they regularly lobby governments for their own benefit, such as lower taxes. So, in short, companies know how to lobby, and lobby effectively.
Moreover, having a climate change condition in a trade agreement would also inspire American and European youth to take an interest in trade agreements, as they would now have a vested stake in them. With the incorporation of such a condition, we would be letting our youth, who view climate change an existential threat, know that we take their concerns into account and that national climate change commitments are not just empty feel good words, not just empty vessels. It is time that trade agreements are based on values and structured and drafted so that they help create the world we want. There is no reason why trade agreements continue to be silo or stand-alone agreements, divorced from what is going on in the world.
It should be noted that President Emmanuel Macron of France has set the pace in acknowledging that trade agreements should not and do not stand alone. He has demanded that these agreements incorporate values by stipulating and including non-economic conditions. Specifically he has led the fight in refusing French parliamentary ratification of the proposed trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay unless there is also an agreement that Brazil will stop deforestation of the Amazon. President Macron has specifically stated that his country France will not make “any trade agreement with countries that do not respect the Paris [Climate] Agreement.” He is championing a world we want.
And there is no reason why a rejuvenated TTIP does not include Canada and Mexico, which would have the benefit of uniting in purpose most of the countries of the north Atlantic. It needs to be recognized and acknowledged that overlapping trade agreements have caused needless and endless legal, and also political, conflicts and have as a consequence permitted companies to game the system for their benefit through, among other things, the creative establishment and use of overseas affiliates and subsidiaries in tax havens, which is a topic for another day.
An even bolder, or out-of-box thinking, condition in the TTIP would be providing for a country’s suspension from the TTIP if a country fails to meet its NATO or defense commitments. Failure of a country to enforce its anticorruption laws could also be another reason for a country’s suspension, admittedly how to objectively determine that will be a challenge, although companies could be required to certify that they and their affiliates have clean hands. Trade agreements can also be used to promote gender equality, which can be more easily measured and should please those who favor metrics. Simply put, a fresh or new approach to trade agreements is needed. At the minimum, trade agreements need to be integrated with other international agreements and should cease being seen, negotiated and drafted as silo stand-alone agreements.
But it is not just the integration of trade agreements with other international agreements that is of concern. It is also necessary to ensure that the people of a country, in particular the workers of the industries affected by a trade agreement, are, at a minimum, not worse off as a result of the adoption of a trade agreement. This means that these workers need to be protected and their voices heard, which, practically speaking, requires that they have a seat at the table in the creation of these agreements. In Germany, for example, workers indirectly have a seat at that table and participate through co-determination. This is a legal requirement which mandates a 50% worker representation on company boards, the responsible corporate decision-making bodies. The consequence is that companies, when they make their views heard and lobby government trade officials, are effectively also representing the views of the company’s workers, as the company executives had to first listen to and reach agreement with a company’s labor’s representatives. The German system has also had the benefit of lessening inequality and promoting social peace and ensuring that Germany remains a world industrial manufacturing power. It is certainly a system worth studying and understanding, notwithstanding that the German system of codetermination has not received popular reception after its introduction by Senator Elizabeth Warren as part of her draft Accountable Capitalism Act. The success of codetermination in Germany and other countries should not be simply dismissed as an alien concept and should instead provide food-for-thought on how to incorporate worker input and agreement on any decisions concerning possible closure of plants by companies and their relocation overseas.
The TPP, as a consequence of the US withdrawal, lost its significance and cannot be said to be living up to its originally proclaimed objective of setting the rules of trade for the 21st century. Moreover, it is said that the US withdrawal from the TPP has cost the US standing and influence in the Pacific. Will a rejuvenated TTIP be a spur for the US to rejoin the TTP and, if so, on what terms?
As I have noted, the TPP did not break the mold of traditional trade agreements. It continued the pattern of prioritizing commercial and economic matters over health and other public interest objectives. Covid-19 has shown that health is a factor that needs to be prioritized by governments as they have found it necessary to institute lockdowns and take other needed health measures at the expense of conducting business as usual. So now is the right time for a revised TPP to give unequivalent priority to matters of public concern and values, in particular health and environment, and this approach should be the basis for the US participation in a revised TPP. Such an approach would have the added benefit of giving life to what President Obama said was the goal of the TPP, namely that the US and its partners “write the rules of the road for trade in the 21st century.” But the TPP as signed in 2016 did not fulfill his aspiration for the agreement to set the pace. It set forth rules but did not articulate or prioritize principles. In order to secure universal adherence and the so-called social license, clarity in purpose and principle is needed. It has been well documented, including in my own academic and advisory work in Africa, Latin America and Asia, that a failure to secure social acceptance will invariably create opposition, if not outright conflict, in particular whenever human wants, such as a need for clean pollution-free water, collide with such rules.
It is fortunate that Australia and Japan, as well as the other TPP signatories, want the US to rejoin the TPP. This will have the benefit of having the US live up to its own commitments. Rejoining the TPP gives the Biden administration an opportunity to call for the incorporation in a revised TPP meaningful and clear standards that advance the common good. This can include, for example, a requirement that, as in the case of the TTIP, TPP signatories must comply with their Paris Accord commitments. As I noted before, by first concluding a TTIP with America’s traditional partners and allies in Europe, the principles and standards, and the values on which they are built, of the TTIP could then serve as the basis or precedent for the TPP. This would also have the added benefit of avoiding the perpetuation of the creation of an ever-larger maze of conflicting trade rules.
There is an assumption that countries that trade with each other do not engage in war against each other, although there are many examples to the contrary. Still, trade creates relationships, standardizes the processes and procedures for working with others and is a form of soft power which increases a country’s influence. But is a trade agreement, in particular a TTIP, not to mention a TTP, sufficient to restore America’s credibility? Can a TTIP be the glue that restores trust between the countries of the EU and the US? Or is more needed?
The word power is by definition burdened or laden as it presupposes that the objective is to have and maintain power over another. I prefer to view trade as a form of engagement and personal contact. It is the oldest form of human engagement and getting to know others. But as already noted it is a necessary pillar. There is, however, another pillar which is needed, one which is the indispensable foundation for the future and prepares our youth for the future. It is education in the broadest sense.
One of the things that I've heard regularly from my friends in Europe, including my native country, Germany, is that the older generations knew each other for many reasons, including the memories and appreciation of America saving Europe from fascism and totalitarianism, the common bonds of friendship and kinship resulting from the extensive immigration to the US from Europe until the mid-50s, and the solidarity forged in opposing the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. The latter is particularly significant as it was the reason for keeping thousands of US troops stationed in Europe as part of NATO. In fact, many German communities were upset when American troops started to withdraw, as these troops were viewed not just as soldiers but as friends, as members of the communities where they were stationed. There were, among other things, countless weddings between Americans and Germans, and communities in both countries created many sister city relationships. And on-going relationships create friendships, ties that bind. So close military ties buttressed by trade and business ties are mutually supporting pillars for the creation of common ground, common purpose and a common future. But these pillars, while important, are, especially now, no longer sufficient. The ties that connected the older generations of Americans and Europeans, that easily, almost naturally, built mutual trust, now must be re-envisioned and expanded to involve and engage our youth. Our younger generations have to build their own common bonds, their own shared memories, which can only happen if they come to know each other. The question of course is how is this to come about?
I have always been impressed with Europe’s Erasmus program, which lets EU students study in other EU countries with no additional cost. This builds friendships, connects people who would otherwise not meet, let alone come to know each other, and more. We need a North American-Europe Erasmus program which will permit any student from the United States to study in Europe and any student from the Europe to study in the US, at the very least for one entire academic year. Relationships and memories which a person creates and experiences as a young person lasts a lifetime and has unquantifiable benefits. And I can confirm that from personal experience.
In the 1960s, as a student, I undertook research around the world, including in Afghanistan. I enjoyed my time there, made friends and learned a lot --- and had fun exploring. Fast forward to 1979-1980, after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, I recalled my experience and became an advocate for Afghan freedom. I helped found the Afghanistan Relief Committee to help counter the Soviet invasion. So the moral of the story is simple: relationships built when we are young endure over a lifetime. And the reason for that is also amazingly simple: when you are young you have time on your hands, time to meet people, time get to know them, whether over dinner, having a cup of coffee or a drink, including at the ubiquitous Irish pub, or playing sports. It is the most casual way of engagement and getting to know people as individuals, discover small towns and villages off the beaten path, and learn firsthand the history of each country visited. So international educations programs are the third necessary pillar for the world we want. They are at the foundation of cultural understanding.
The Biden administration has many challenges facing it and, from an international relations perspective, it needs to do two things: restore trust with our traditional friends and allies, which is an immediate and present objective, and also build trust for the future. So a trade and investment agreement with the EU, and afterwards, with countries of the Pacific, can institutionalize a working relationship with EU countries and help restore trust. We have come to realize that we cannot alone solve challenges which recognize no borders, such as a pandemic or climate change, and accordingly we cannot be secure by acting alone. We can only solve these 21st century problems by being united, united in purpose and action, or we risk failure. But building for the future requires an ambitious educational program, in particular an expanded bi-continental Erasmus program. Such an initiative will build common and personal ties among our youth, which will be the glue that helps us achieve these objectives over a lifetime, in the future. Such a program will also have taught our youth to listen to each other, to learn from each other.
Our youth who will be our future businesspeople, academics, and public officials will only be effective if they have come to have a natural, almost instinctive, knowledge, understanding and appreciation of other countries and their cultures, their viewpoints. They may not necessarily agree, for example, with the precautionary principle as an acceptable form of regulation, but they will at least understand the cultural and philosophical reasoning behind such a norm and not simply view and analyze such a principle only by its potential economic or commercial impact. By studying and traveling abroad, they will understand from their own experience that there can be and are multiple and different ways to achieving democratic regulatory governance and economic prosperity, and that it is a sign of respect to listen to each other and to accept such differences. Their ability to know and appreciate different ways of doing things will see them become the educated citizens Humboldt called for over 200 years ago, a calling underpinning our world-acclaimed American research university system which adapted the Humboldt education philosophy to our liberal arts college tradition with its inquisitive approach.
Any closing remarks?
Our immediate concern and need is to restore trust with our friends and allies, and trade and investment agreements can advance that goal. But I would like to close by focusing on the future, and building for the future, which we too often lose sight of because of pressing day-to-day here-and-now concerns.
Our youth need to create their own memories by discovering what they have in common with the youth of other nations, what they share with them. An Erasmus program with Europe can be a start, but only a start, as it should and needs to include students from across the globe, from Australasia (Asia-Pacific), Africa and Latin America. By the year 2150, one needs to keep in mind that Europe and North America is expected to have about 1.1 billion people, barely more than the 1 billion in the year 2000, and the rest of the world will have over 8.5 billion people, up from about 5 billion in the year 2000. Using an overused phrase, we need to create the hearts and minds, common hearts and minds, of tomorrow. What better investment can there be in the future, in a peaceful and prosperous one, than investing, educating, our, and the world’s, youth? My answer is none.