The Role of a United Europe

“We need partners. We need allies — and our natural ally is Europe,” former Ambassador Nicholas Burns said to the audience at a European Institute at Columbia University event.

During his speech, part of the Donald and Vera Blinken lecture series, Burns addressed Europe’s critics.”It’s so fashionable to say that Europe is tired,” he said. And in some respects, he conceded, Europe is tired.

Burns, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said that Europe has not been prepared to lead in the 21st century due to a lack of consistent centralized leadership. “Europe needs to begin to speak with a single voice,” he said. And on Nov. 3, with the signature of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Europe began the process of presenting that needed united front, ending the six-month rotating EU presidency that Burns noted as being a downfall of the Union. “This is going to stand out as one of humans’ greatest achievements,” Burns declared. But regardless of the strides Europe has made, he says that he does not expect the continent to return to the dominant role it once had alone.

Burns, who served as ambassador to NATO, noted — with fellow former ambassadors Richard Gardner and Donald Blinken in the audience — that the United States’ allies across the pond have not held up their end of the Article Five bargain when it comes to NATO military capacity on the continent. He believes this to be a great misstep for a united European power that wants to make a comeback on the global stage. “You can’t do that on hopes and wishes, you have to have C-17s,” he said.

Burns went on to say that Europe and the United States need each other in order to match the far-reaching soft power of India and China, and the growing regional influence of nations like Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria. “Power is flattening out,” Burns cautioned.

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