Speech by Ambassador Robert F. Pence to the Atlantic Council of Finland

Ambassador Pence at the Atlantic Council of Finland (credit: U.S. State Department)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Secretary General Terhi Suominen and Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari at the Atlantic Council of Finland (credit: U.S. State Department)
Secretary General Terhi Suominen and Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari at the Atlantic Council of Finland (credit: U.S. State Department)

Good morning.  Secretary General Terhi Suominen, Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari.  Members of the Atlantic Council.  Dear guests and friends.

I want to thank the Atlantic Council for inviting me here today to share a few observations about the current relationship between the United States and Finland.  I very much admire the work the Council has done over many years in educating the Finnish public about why the transatlantic relationship matters and what we can do to strengthen it.

On September 2, 1944, Finland began to push the Germans out of Lapland.

On the same day, half way around the world, a fleet of American Avenger bombers took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier San Jacinto as part of a raid on Chichi Jima, a spec of land in the Pacific Ocean about 700 miles south of Tokyo. Intense Japanese anti-aircraft fire brought down many planes. Nine airmen survived being shot down. Eight were captured by the Japanese and were tortured and killed. The one who survived parachuted into the ocean and was rescued by a submarine. The two crewmen of his bomber, Ted White and John Delany, did not survive the shoot-down. The un-captured survivor was a 20 year-old man who had eschewed his father’s advice to attend Yale University upon his graduation from high school. Instead, he joined the Navy on his 18th birthday. His name was George Herbert Walker Bush, the man in whose honor and memory President Donald Trump has decreed today, December 5, 2018, to be a National Day of Mourning.

On the following September 2, Japan surrendered to the Allies. The war in the Pacific was over.  A fundamental transformation of America was underway and the United States and the American military became the mightiest force for good the planet has ever seen.

George H. W. Bush returned home to study at, and graduate from, Yale. Within the compass of his later life, he served in Congress, was the American Ambassador to China and the United Nations, led the Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia is named in his honor), served two terms as Vice-President of the United States, and one term as our President.  In the course of that service, he built enduring partnerships with friends – including, as we learned even more last year at the passing of Finland’s own President Mauno Koivisto – who shared a commitment to the values that underpin our free and open societies; partnerships which ultimately played a central role in successfully navigating the end of the Cold War.

America and Finland have recently experienced one of the most intense periods of engagement between our two nations.  Ever.

Not only did we witness the meeting between President Sauli Niinistö and President Trump in Washington last year, President Niinistö hosted the historic meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki this past summer when the whole world watched this marvelous country in action. We have had a number of high-level Congressional delegations visit Helsinki in recent months.

A large number of other diplomatic and defense officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have visited Finland to engage with their counterparts and have been able to experience Finnish hospitality firsthand.  These visits have examined ways we can work to better serve and protect our citizens, from countering false narratives and protecting our democratic institutions, to working together to promote U.S.-Finnish bilateral relations and EU trade and investment.

These visits reached a peak over the past couple of weeks.  I had the privilege to be in Washington last week to accompany both Prime Minister Juha Sipilä for his meeting with Vice President Pence and, just two weeks earlier, Foreign Minister Timo Soini to his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. These meetings touched on U.S.-Finnish military co-operation, tariffs and trade issues, Russian malign activities including, most prominently, Russian military actions in the Ukraine and Georgia, unfair Chinese trade practices (including the theft of intellectual property), the unstable situation in the Middle East, and the importance of the Arctic in particular and climate change in general.

I returned to Finland with a reinforced sense of the importance of our bilateral relationship.  It was clear in all of these conversations that U.S. leaders are well aware of the contributions Finland makes to regional security and to promoting free, fair, and open reciprocal trade between the United States and the EU.  They place great stock in the insights your leaders shared during those engagements.

This is leading to more than talk. Finland’s contributions to regional security are so highly valued that, over the past couple of years, we have signed two statements of intent on defense cooperation — one bilateral with Finland, and the second trilaterally that includes Sweden. I was honored to have been able to join Secretary Mattis, Defense Minister Niinistö, and their Swedish counterpart at the Pentagon in May for the signing ceremony of the trilateral agreement — let me tell you, it was quite a show, with full military honors. This is very rare and demonstrated the value that Secretary Mattis and all of America place on this partnership.

These statements clearly lay out how the United States and Finland intend to deepen the cooperation, information exchange, and training between our two militaries, all while fully respecting Finland’s current status as a militarily non-aligned nation.

Such actions have been complemented by Finland’s landmark participation in two significant exercises this year – Red Flag in Alaska and Trident Juncture in Norway – in addition to an increased tempo of exchanges, bilateral training, and other exercises. Though not a NATO exercise, we should not forget Aurora 17 – the largest territorial defense exercise in Sweden since the end of the Cold War, in which both the United States and Finland participated.

In the same spirit, the United States is one of the most active backers of the special Enhanced Opportunity Partner status Finland enjoys with NATO – or EOP as we call it. We, and the Alliance as a whole, appreciate Finland’s commitment to ensuring the security of the Baltic Sea region and broader European landscape. We highly value Finland’s pragmatic and consistent voice within the EU for strengthening NATO-EU cooperation, including ensuring interoperability of new military procurements and working to ensure that NATO military equipment can move across European borders without delay or hindrance.

We perceive tangible benefits from the additional training, planning, and pre-crisis political consultations to which Finland and Sweden contribute as EOP members. Your understanding and preparation for all contingencies in the region help to ensure that NATO has a proper perception of developments. We also thank you for greater Finnish participation in NATO operations such as the Kosovo Force – KFOR – and Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, as well as your contributions in Iraq of both military and civilian police trainers.

The United States also continues to fully support NATO’s policy of an open door to Finland’s membership in the Alliance, if the time comes when Finland decides that is the right path for your country. We will ensure that option remains open. But, I must stress, that is a decision that Finland will have to make for itself – no outside power has the right to decide that question for Finland.

Against that backdrop, I also want to share a few thoughts with you today about how the United States views the current geopolitical context, about how the United States and our friends and Allies in Europe must address these emerging threats together, and what that means for U.S.-Finnish relations.

It bears mentioning at the start of any conversation on Europe, but I think particularly in a place like the Atlantic Council, that deep and integrated transatlantic relations really laid the foundation for the world as we know it today.  Obviously, there are fundamental shared values between the United States and Europe as two halves of the democratic West. We have a very long history together, which includes bonds of shared sacrifice.

The transatlantic economic relationship is also really the crux of the global economy.

Of equal importance, the United States and Europe are bound together by very deep geopolitical ties and as well as by geopolitical necessity. Our strategic interests are intensely intertwined.

So, whatever else we may talk about today with regard to differences politically, I think geopolitically there is a very deep bond that will always tie the two sides of the Atlantic together.

It is also important before we get down into the here and now policy to say something about the foundation of the modern U.S.-Europe relationship.

The decision right after World War II that the United States would stay engaged in Europe and Asia has proven pivotal. That was not a foregone conclusion. We had not done that after the First World War, but we decided to stay and put down very deep roots to stabilize the European continent after WW II. I know that, for many reasons, America’s relationship with Finland was not the same as with many other European states.  The fact that the United States was committed to Europe lent stability that benefited all of us.

The United States opened its markets to European allies on a non-reciprocal basis after the war; it is important to keep that historical reality in mind. We did the same thing with regard to Asia. But in Europe’s case it was particularly important for rebuilding a continent that was largely in rubble.

I would add here with great pleasure that the contributions of the Fulbright Foundation in helping to rebuild European educational institutions and capacities were in many ways equally important. I understand that was, and remains, true in Finland.

There were many very good strategic and economic reasons advanced in supporting those decisions. But it was not an easy request of the American people at the time – to allow non-reciprocal access to U.S. markets, or to extending an open-ended security guarantee with the creation of NATO.  It is also important to bear in mind that, in the 1950s, that is not what Americans were asking for. As then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson said, the prevailing mood was to bring the boys home, to not get pushed around abroad, and to not be a giant Santa Claus.

The decision to commit American resources to Europe took political will and, I think most importantly, it required American leaders to communicate to our people that it would be a sustained competition with the Soviet Union, and that there was a compelling case for such actions. So began the American commitment to the laying of the foundations of post WWII Europe.

Much later, under the watch of Presidents Bush and Koivisto, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union freed Central and Eastern Europe from the clutches of Russia and led to the unification of East and West Germany.

Fast forward to 2018: the international strategic environment has changed dramatically. We are seeing a new competition for influence in the world. As stated in the updated National Security Strategy the United States released last year, the return of big power competition is the defining geopolitical fact of our time.

Russia and China, each in its own ways, are seeking to create dependencies through military power, economic leverage, and cultural influence.

Russia is not the spent force that some analysts thought it would be after the end of the Cold War. For several years, conventional wisdom held that Putin’s Russia was in terminal decline and that it would no longer be a major factor on the world stage. But I think we have now come face to face with a very different kind of Russia.  A more belligerent one. A less reasonable one. I think that is an increasingly shared view on both sides of the Atlantic.

China is a rising force, not only in Asia but in almost every corner of the world, by systematically abusing the rules of the game in international trade and by seeking increased leverage and dependencies in Europe and elsewhere. In 2008, China invested less than $1 billion in Europe. Just nine years later, in 2017, Chinese foreign direct investment in Europe was $42 billion and total investment was $318 billion. In recent years, China has taken control of 360 European companies and now owns or controls almost a tenth of Europe’s entire port capacity.

As a result, for the first time in history, China has become a major player in Central and Eastern Europe. Beijing uses debt-book diplomacy to accumulate infrastructure and force concessions on smaller nations. These tactics mirror Chinese behavior at the international level, where Beijing engages in unfair trade practices, including forced technology transfers, IP theft, economic espionage, and dumping.

I think it is worth saying in this context that Russia has never been fully reconciled to the post-World War II institutions. It has not been a positive, dependable force in the United Nations. It has not complied with the Helsinki Accords.  Or the Minsk Agreements. Or the INF treaty. The list goes on and on. I think it is also fair to say that China has yet to take seriously the commitments it made when it was brought into the WTO. Both Russia and China have, I would (unfortunately) submit, proven the truth of the fear verbalized by President Ford during the negotiation of the Helsinki Accords: Peace is not a piece of paper.

Let me re-emphasize America’s commitment to Europe’s defense by quoting Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell from a speech he delivered to the Atlantic Council in Washington last month:  “For NATO allies, our message is clear, America’s commitment to Article Five is ironclad. For non-NATO partners, our message is equally clear. We will support your God-given right to national independence.”  U.S. leadership in NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, the adoption of the new Four Thirties initiative we introduced at the July NATO Summit in Brussels (30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less) and our commitment to maintain participation in exercises in the Baltic Sea region are a testament to this fact. They represent a clear message of deterrence.

We must be ready to face not only current challenges, but emerging ones as well.  The systematic preparation for this competition is the central task of U.S. foreign policy, both domestically and with our European Allies and other partners around the world.  At home it means we are ramping up our economic strength through the revitalization of the manufacturing and defense industrial base, reinvesting in national defense, and addressing gaps in the defense industrial supply chain.

In Europe, we have urged Allies to take more responsibility for the costs of defending the West and are working to recalibrate international institutions to be better able to face new strategic realities. The United States does not seek to create dependencies in Europe. Rather, we seek to foster mutually beneficial relations with strong nation-states based on freedom and liberty that can resist the aggressive actions of Russia and China.

The basic mindset is to acknowledge that big power rivals are the greatest threats to U.S. national security.  These powers identify the United States and the West as being unprepared to engage in long-term competition. This message of needing to prepare for long-term competition is reflected across the board in the Trump administration’s economic and foreign policies. This is the context in which you should view comments from Washington about what we are seeking from Europe.

The emphasis on strengthening the manufacturing and defense industrial base of America, of reinvestment in the defense establishment, but particularly procurement and research, and the recapitalization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and emphasis on identifying and addressing gaps in the defense industrial supply chain are all part of this effort. The process is not helped by attempts from some European nations to exclude American companies and their European-based subsidiaries from participating in European awards of military research and development funds.

So where does Europe fit into this framework both as a subject and object of the growing geopolitical connection? Together with the United States, Europe is the seat of Western political and economic strength and leadership. On a daily basis, there is virtually no foreign problem in the world that we are not working on together, in some shape or fashion, either with the EU or some combination of European countries, to solve.

At the same time, Europe is in a state of very profound internal institutional and political turbulence. European states are targets of Russian geopolitical penetration and influence, and energy pressure, and there is growing Chinese strategic penetration, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, and in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and in Southern Europe.

We must also turn our attention to the urgent task of strengthening the West in order to better contest the growing influence of our rivals at Europe’s frontier, in supporting states that are struggling to assure their continued independence. The dangers to Ukraine and Georgia are direct and existential, comprising both military threats to territorial integrity and sovereignty, and efforts to unravel the democratic institutions that their citizens are attempting to build. In Central Europe, the threat is of a degree of political and economic penetration that, if left unchecked, with time could degrade national independence and splinter both NATO and the EU.

The starting point of our integrated strategy for Europe has been to say Europe is once again an arena of major geopolitical competition and needs to be treated as such in terms of how we think about the American role, our resources, and our collaborative efforts with friends and Allies.

U.S. strategy toward these regions today is guided by certain principles. First, as outlined by the National Security Strategy, America will compete for positive Influence abroad. America is a powerful democracy whose example as a beacon of liberty burns bright and continues to draw others to us. Nevertheless, we must not see it as a foregone conclusion that countries will automatically remain friendly to America. We must apply ourselves to the task of preventing their domination by American competitors. We must pool all of our resources and muster all of our collective will in order to achieve the most lasting, and collectively achievable, pathway to peace and prosperity.

To succeed in these endeavors requires active diplomacy. China and Russia are engaged in a diplomatic full-court-press in sensitive regions around the world. The United States must show up or expect to lose. While we will always be clear about the dynamic principles that undergird our democracy, we must be willing to use diplomacy to aggressively advance our national interests, not only by engaging countries with whom we agree, but by engaging countries with whom we have serious differences. Differences that can, and will, be exploited by rivals to increase their own influence.

Winning the competition for influence also requires us to up our game in commercial engagement. For China and Russia, promoting commerce is an integral part of diplomacy. China’s Belt Road Initiative seeks long-term influence by buying infrastructure, often with financial backing from the state. To a much greater extent than in the recent past, the United States must treat the promotion of U.S. business as inextricably linked to the future of our nation’s strength and influence abroad.  This is an area where I see great potential for U.S. and Finnish officials and firms to work together, to foster innovative partnerships that will help to advance our mutual interests.

An overarching theme of our recent engagement with Europe has been that America expects Europe to take strategic competition seriously. In two ways. First, to take more seriously risks to Europe, such as Iran, China, and Russia. And secondly, to take more seriously the need for an equity of burdens and benefits within the West and within the transatlantic community. Let me touch on three aspects of this.

First, rebalancing the transatlantic trade relationship plays a central role in this discussion. I think everyone knows that the main emphasis of what we are trying to accomplish in our current trade discussions with the EU is to address disparities in both tariff and non-tariff barriers. We have a framework in place now as a result of President Trump’s meeting with European Commission President Juncker in July and the creation of an Executive Working Group.

The focus in the short term is creating a series of quick wins, and there is a lot of low hanging fruit on the transatlantic trade agenda. While we are not seeking to restart TTIP, previous efforts on that agreement have laid a lot of the groundwork on which we are now able to build. In the medium term, the focus is on reducing industrial tariffs. In the longer term, the emphasis is on arriving at a place where the United States and Europe can jointly tackle the reform of the WTO. In our conversations with European officials, there is a near consensus on the fundamental challenge and necessity of tackling the problem of China’s passive compliance, or non-compliance, with WTO rules across the board.

Secondly, we are seeking to strengthen European burden sharing. And all of you know from the public messaging and debate how much of an emphasis this is for the Trump administration. We have had a coordinated campaign underway across the NATO alliance now for many months to press NATO allies to honor the Wales pledge of two percent spending on defense by 2024. We have made substantial progress since January 2017. We have doubled the number of allies with “Two Percent Plans” and have agreed on plans to make NATO more able to respond to an immediate threat, particularly vis-à-vis Iran and Russia.  I note that Finland, after completing its new aircraft acquisition, will exceed the two percent level.

Getting NATO more squarely into the counterterrorism business, including through an expanded focus on the southern littoral, was a significant achievement from the NATO Summit in Brussels this summer.

Finally, we ought to reduce European dependency on Russia. I think the President is dead right when he says that it is unsupportable for European allies to nurture deep strategic dependencies on the very power that NATO and the United States are being called upon to counter. President Trump is now the third U.S. President to emphasize not only the need to diversify energy resources, but to take the two percent and burden sharing responsibilities more seriously.

Our emphasis has been on urging Germany and other European nations to rethink Nord Stream2. Turk Stream 2 falls into the same category. America has called on Central European allies not to nurture Nord Stream 2 at a moment when they are dependent on the United States for security.

Regarding European energy security, our emphasis has been on increasing diversification, including nuclear, renewables, and LNG.  And on that score I want to say that we welcomed the announcement that the government of Germany will co-finance LNG terminals in Germany, just as we have the construction of the Baltic Connector pipeline between Finland and Estonia, and Finnish investment in LNG terminals.  These are all very welcome and needed steps in the right direction.

In all of these areas there is a central theme – the need to rebalance the transatlantic relationship in order to ensure that the United States continues to see itself as having a stake in European activities, and making sure that the United States has the ability in coming years to guarantee the stability of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East in an era of rising challengers and growing debt.

Some speculate that we seek a return to the “Cold War.”  This is categorically false. The current tensions with Russia and China are due to the actions of those countries, such as meddling in democratic elections or unfair trade practices. They are not the result of U.S. actions. The West ought to judge such players by the application of a tried and true rule: we should view their overt acts as the outward manifestation of their subjective intent. By this standard, Russia and China fail.

I am told that Finland understands the threat from Russia very well; you understand well how Russia has chosen to comply (or not to comply) with its international obligations.

We must band together to strengthen U.S.-European unity. This includes strengthening U.S.-EU-NATO relations. In this area, Finland, when it assumes the EU presidency, can play a seminal role.  We look to Finland as our partner both in being prepared, and in seeking effective dialogue, in particular with Russia, where, when, and if it makes sense.

As far as preparations, I have already mentioned our defense cooperation.  We must bolster the ability of our democratic societies to resist attempts to undermine them. You are aware of Finland’s innovative initiative to establish the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.  This center is a venue for us to work together to shore up our defenses to the variety of tools short of war that adversaries use to try to weaken our institutions and societies, whether that be disinformation, election interference, or a host of other tactics.  While neither a NATO nor an EU center, the Hybrid COE works with both of these institutions to help them exercise and plan how to rebuff the efforts of those who wish us ill.

Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari and Ambassador Pence at the Atlantic Council of Finland (credit: U.S. State Department)
Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari and Ambassador Pence at the Atlantic Council of Finland (credit: U.S. State Department)

We also work productively with Finland in the Arctic Council, a valuable forum to engage with Russia on matters of circumpolar importance.

These are just a few examples, together with the meetings hosted here in Helsinki in July, of how we are convinced that the United States and Finland will more ably address challenges from outside by working closely together.

As you prepare to celebrate the proud history of the Republic of Finland tomorrow, this theme of “Together” rings in my ears.  “Together” – the unforgettable theme of Finland’s celebration of 100 years of independence this past year.  “Together” – an acutely accurate description of how the United States and Finland work every day to solve problems.  “Together” – a timeless description of a lasting relationship between friends that will celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations in 2019. I wish you all a very happy Independence Day, and say “Together” – for at least another 100 years!

Thank you.