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MAIN TOPICS: ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts, Pierce Bush announces bid for suburban Houston congressional seat, NATO Conference Is Canceled After U.S. Ambassador Barred a Trump Critic, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Amazon’s new New York City offices: I told you so, One of the last survivors of the USS Arizona will be interred on the sunken warship
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- ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts – An international exam shows that American 15-year-olds are stagnant in reading and math even though the country has spent billions to close gaps with the rest of the world. By Dana Goldstein | COM | Published Dec. 3, 2019, Updated Dec. 5, 2019
- The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.
- And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.
- The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.
- Over all, American 15-year-olds who took the PISA test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading but below the middle of the pack in math.
- [Readers weigh in on American students’ PISA test scores.]
- Low-performing students have been the focus of decades of bipartisan education overhaul efforts, costing many billions of dollars, that have resulted in a string of national programs — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act — but uneven results.
- There is no consensus on why the performance of struggling students is declining. Education experts argue vociferously about a range of potential causes, including school segregation, limited school choice, funding inequities, family poverty, too much focus on test prep and a dearth of instruction in basic skills like phonics.
- About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.
- Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market. …
- Pierce Bush announces bid for suburban Houston congressional seat – The grandson of the late President George H.W. Bush will enter an already crowded GOP primary for Texas’ 22nd District. by Abby Livingston and Patrick Svitek | ORG | Dec. 8, 2019 Updated: 3 hours ago
- The grandson of the late President George H.W. Bush, nonprofit executive Pierce Bush, announced Monday morning that he is running for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.
- Bush enters a crowded GOP primary to replace U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land), whose seat was a national Democratic target even before Olson announced his retirement earlier this year. Bush made his bid official in a video playing up his experience as the Houston-based CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star.
- “We face a very challenging time in our nation and, on the brink of losing a generation to an idea that socialism and free stuff, are the answers for their future,” Bush said. “But we all know that socialism has failed everywhere and everyone. It’s time for new leaders to stand for conservatism that empowers all Americans, placing individuals above government and ensuring that we all have the freedom to achieve success in life.”…
- … The development is something of a surprise because Bush was once considering running for the neighboring 7th Congressional District [formerly held by John Culberson, now held by Lizzie Fletcher, and is] a seat once held by his grandfather. But after Olson announced his retirement in late July, Bush began being talked about as a potential candidate for that seat instead. He never publicly commented on the race.
- Pierce Bush begins his TX-22 campaign with high name identification, given his grandfather, his cousin — Land Commissioner George P. Bush — and his uncle, former Texas governor and President George W. Bush.
- But it will not be an assured road for him, or any candidate. There are at least 17 other Republicans running. …
- … It is likely that no candidate will avoid a runoff by winning the majority vote needed to secure the nomination on the March 3 primary.
- “Pierce will have a tough primary in March,” Neil Bush wrote in [an] email. “There are candidates who have already announced but not one of them has gained substantial traction, giving Pierce an opportunity to sprint to a victory.”
- The 22nd District is a once-Republican stronghold turned sharply toward Democrats in the last cycle. Olson easily carried the district by 19 points in 2016. Facing a spirited challenge from Democrat Sri Kulkarni last year, Olson’s margined shrank to a mere five points. …
- This Is the mix of headlines at Google News: See Show Post
- NATO Conference Is Canceled After U.S. Ambassador Barred a Trump Critic – The United States ambassador to Denmark barred an American NATO expert critical of President Trump from speaking at an international conference hosted by the American embassy and a Danish think tank, prompting the event’s cancellation, organizers said. By Mariel Padilla | NYTIMES.com | DEC 8, 2019, 16 hrs ago [MIKE: I’M ADDING THE TEXT OF STAN’S SPEECH AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE. I ALSO RED IT INTO THE SHOW.]
- The expert, Stanley R. Sloan, was scheduled to give a keynote speech at the conference, which was celebrating the 70th anniversary of NATO, on Tuesday.
- Sloan, a visiting scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, planned to speak about the future of trans-Atlantic relations.
- One day before he was set to leave for Copenhagen, Mr. Sloan was informed that the United States Embassy in Copenhagen had vetoed his participation because of his previous criticisms of President Trump, Mr. Sloan said on Facebook on Saturday.
- Carla Sands, the United States ambassador to Denmark, did not want Mr. Sloan to participate, and the Danish Atlantic Council “had no other option” than to revoke his invitation to speak, Lars Bangert Struwe, the secretary general of the council, said in a statement.
- Sloan said the decision had left him “stunned and concerned about our country.”
- On Sunday morning, Mr. Struwe canceled the NATO conference
- “After serious consideration, we have decided not to proceed with the conference,” he said on Twitter. “The progress of the process has become too problematic; and therefore, we cannot participate in the conference, let alone ask our speakers to participate.”
- From a Danish point of view, the decision to bar Mr. Sloan would turn the conference’s focus to internal American politics and away from the future of NATO, Mr. Struwe said in an interview on Sunday. There were 12 people scheduled to speak, and about 100 attendees were expected, he said.
- “We have all the time known that Mr. Sloan has a critical approach towards President Donald Trump,” Mr. Struwe said in the statement. “That is no secret, especially when following his Twitter and Facebook profile. We have, however, never doubted that Mr. Sloan at our conference would deliver an unpolitical and objective lecture.”
- In his book, “Defense of the West,” published in 2016, Mr. Sloan discussed the impact that the Trump administration could have on the deterioration of trans-Atlantic relations, given its questionable support for NATO, its relationship with Russia and its response to threats from the Islamic State….
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Amazon’s new New York City offices: I told you so – The company had cancelled plans for a headquarters in Queens 10 months ago, after backlash from residents and politicians, By Kari Paul in San Francisco | COM | Fri 6 Dec 2019 19.24 EST Last modified on Sat 7 Dec 2019 12.24 EST
- New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is “waiting on the haters to apologize” after Amazon announced it would open corporate offices in New York City after all, nearly a year after the internet giant abruptly reversed a decision to build a second headquarters there.
- Amazon said on Friday it will open offices in New York City’s Hudson Yards neighborhood in 2021 to house its consumer and advertising teams, marking its most substantial expansion in the city since the reversal.
- The move comes 10 months after the company cancelled plans for a headquarters in Queens after extensive backlash from residents and politicians, including Ocasio-Cortez. They had objected to the nearly $3bn in financial incentives the city and state had offered Amazon for the construction of the headquarters. …
- One of the last survivors of the USS Arizona will be interred on the sunken warship, By Alaa Elassar, CNN, Updated 3:13 PM ET, Sat December 7, 2019
- A World War II veteran who was the second-to-last man to escape the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor will be interred on the ship’s wreckage on Saturday.
- Lauren Bruner, one of 334 crew members to survive the December 7, 1941 attack, died on September 10, 2019, just months before his 99th birthday. …
- Only the remains of USS Arizona survivors can be interred on the sunken battleship. Pearl Harbor survivors can have their ashes scattered over the harbor. …
- … The last three living survivors of the USS Arizona plan to be laid to rest with their families.
- Want Trump to Go? Take to the Streets – Another moment for public protest has arrived. By David Leonhardt, Opinion Columnist | COM | Oct. 20, 2019
- On Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump’s election, Obamacare looked to be doomed. Millions of Americans, it seemed, were going to lose their health insurance. …
- … Fortunately, some progressives understood that politics isn’t only an inside game. The outside game — of public protest and grass-roots lobbying — matters, too.
- Even before Trump took office, activists began planning a strategy to make repeal as politically painful as possible. On the day after Trump’s inauguration, some four million Americans took to the streets for Women’s Marches (which obviously were about much more than repeal). In the months that followed, groups like Indivisible organized people to attend town halls, visit Capitol Hill and inundate members of Congress with phone calls.
- The efforts transformed the debate. Obamacare repeal was no longer a bloodless legislative matter, in which public opinion was measured merely with poll results and pundit analysis. The story became rawer, more human and much harder for politicians and ordinary citizens to ignore. …
- … Consider what happened last week alone. Trump created a foreign-policy disaster in Turkey and Syria, for no apparent reason, while multiple administration officials testified that he views diplomacy largely as a way to advance his personal interests. His attitude, evidently, is: America, c’est moi. Even more so than a month ago, Trump is a national emergency, flagrantly violating his oath of office and daring the country to stop him.
- Yet the chances of removing him appear as dim as Obamacare’s chances of survival did on Nov. 9, 2016. Trump even has plausible paths to re-election, some of which involve again losing the popular vote.
- A. Kauffman, a historian of protest movements, has said that effective ones often throw “a monkey wrench into a process that was otherwise going to just unfold smoothly.” That’s the role that an outside game can now play in the impeachment saga.
- It can wake up more Americans to the gravity of the situation. It can mobilize progressives to work as hard as they did during the 2018 midterms. It can confront congressional Republicans with their cowardice.
- “Protests work,” as Kauffman has said — not always, of course, but often “when groups are willing to be bold in their tactics and persistent in their approach within the broad discipline of non-violent action.” As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote last week, public protest “serves as a powerful signal to the rest of society that something extraordinary is happening.” If anything, protest may be more important than in the past, because the elite institutions that helped bring down Richard Nixon, like political parties and the national media, are weaker today.
- So it’s time for a sequel to that first Women’s March — an Americans’ March, in which millions of people peacefully take to the streets to say that President Trump must go. And it’s time for a more intense grass-roots campaign directed at his congressional enablers, one that conjures the respectful intensity of the save-Obamacare campaign. Even if the Senate still acquits Trump, a new protest movement can help galvanize people to defeat him, and his enablers, next year.
- The country is in crisis. Right now, that crisis feels all too normal.
- Air Force spaceplane returns to Earth after 780-day mission, By William Harwood | CBS News | October 27, 2019 / 8:33 AM /
- An unpiloted Air Force X-37B spaceplane, one of two winged orbiters used to carry out classified research, made a surprise landing at the Kennedy Space Center early Sunday to close out a record 780-day mission. It was the fifth flight in the secretive Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program, pushing total time aloft to 2,865 days.
- “This program continues to push the envelope as the (Air Force’s) only reusable space vehicle,” Randy Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. “With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives.”
- Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows, By Denise Lu and Christopher Flavelle | COM |Oct. 29, 2019
- Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.
- The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury. …
- Southern Vietnam could all but disappear. … More than 20 million people in Vietnam, almost one-quarter of the population, live on land that will be inundated. …
- In Shanghai, one of Asia’s most important economic engines, water threatens to consume the heart of the city and many other cities around it. The findings don’t have to spell the end of those areas. The new data shows that 110 million people already live in places that are below the high tide line …
- The new projections suggest that much of Mumbai, India’s financial capital and one of the largest cities in the world, is at risk of being wiped out. Built on what was once a series of islands, the city’s historic downtown core is particularly vulnerable.
- Over all, the research shows that countries should start preparing now for more citizens to relocate internally, according to Dina Ionesco of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group that coordinates action on migrants and development.
- The Federalist Society Says It’s Not an Advocacy Organization. These Documents Show Otherwise. By AMANDA HOLLIS-BRUSKY and CALVIN TERBEEK | com | August 31, 2019 (Amanda Hollis-Brusky is an associate professor of politics at Pomona College and author of Ideas With Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution. Calvin TerBeek is a Ph.D. candidate in political science)
- MIKE NOTE: The Federalist Society – The Federalist Society is a tax–exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Our federal tax identification number is 36-3235550.
- This past March, when the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies held its 37th annual national gathering for conservative law students, the lineup of speakers and panelists included an impressive number of Republican Party and conservative movement stars. …
- Despite what appears to be an obvious political valence, the Federalist Society and its high-profile members have long insisted the nonprofit organization does not endorse any political party “or engage in other forms of political advocacy,” as its website says. The society does not deny an ideology—it calls itself a “group of conservatives and libertarians”—but it maintains that it is simply “about ideas,” not legislation, politicians or policy positions.
- Federalist Society documents that one of us recently unearthed, however, make this position untenable going forward. The documents, made public here for the first time, show that the society not only has held explicit ideological goals since its infancy in the early 1980s, but sought to apply those ideological goals to legal policy and political issues through the group’s roundtables, symposia and conferences.
- The question of whether the Federalist Society is properly characterized as a “society of ideas” or a political organization has significant ramifications. The Code of Conduct for United States Judges, a set of guidelines administered by the federal judiciary’s Judicial Conference, was revised earlier this year to bar sitting federal judges from participating in conferences and seminars sponsored by groups “generally viewed by the public as having adopted a consistent political or ideological point of view equivalent to the type of partisanship often found in political organizations.” (The Code does not “explicitly” apply to Supreme Court justices, though they have looked to it in the past.) One former federal judge argued that under the new ethics opinion, the Federalist Society is now a “no-go zone for federal judges.” The Society’s president, Eugene Meyer, responded, calling the former jurist’s argument an “absurd and ludicrous” interpretation of the rule, adding that the Federalist Society has said “time and again” that it is nonpartisan and does not take official policy positions.
- But the newly unearthed documents—a 1984 grant proposal and cover letter, written by Meyer on the Federalist Society’s behalf and now housed in the late Judge Robert Bork’s papers at the Library of Congress—provide evidence that the Federalist Society, in contravention of what the new Code states, in fact “advocates for specific outcomes on legal or political issues.” This suggests that federal judges, by attending Federalist Society events, are transgressing the Code’s new guidelines. Given the importance of active federal judges to the Federalist Society’s long-term goal of reshaping the law, barring them from the society’s events could hamper its continued ability to exert the political influence it has impressively built over decades. …
- …The Federalist Society’s founders and conservative patrons understood early on that the battle for control of the law would not be won on campuses alone. In the January 1984 grant proposal, Meyer, then the Federalist Society’s executive director, asked the conservative-leaning Smith Richardson Foundation for “seed money” to fund a new entity, a “Lawyers Division.” The central goal, Meyer wrote, was “to build an effective national conservative lawyers organization.” Meyer began the proposal by asserting that an alternative to “an increasingly radicalized bar,” exemplified by the American Bar Association, was now necessary because “lawyers continue to fill key positions in the modern instrumentalities of the welfare state.”
- SHORTER VERSION OF ARTICLE ABOVE- REVEALED: New documents show the Federalist Society has lied about its mission — and could blow up on sitting judges, By Matthew Chapman | COM | Published on August 31, 2019
- On Saturday, political science academics Amanda Hollis-Brusky and Calvin TerBeek wrote an exposé in Politico revealing that the Federalist Society, an association of conservative and libertarian lawyers infamous for forming a semi-official pipeline of right-wing academics into the federal court system, have deliberately misled the public about the purpose of their organization’s existence for years.
- “Despite what appears to be an obvious political valence, the Federalist Society and its high-profile members have long insisted the nonprofit organization does not endorse any political party ‘or engage in other forms of political advocacy,’ as its website says,” they wrote. “The society does not deny an ideology — it calls itself a ‘group of conservatives and libertarians’ — but it maintains that it is simply ‘about ideas,’ not legislation, politicians or policy positions.”
- The hidden hunger affecting billions, By Michael Marshall | BBC.COM | 7-JULY-2019
- Two billion people do not get enough micronutrients in their diets, which can lead to severe health conditions.
- New kinds of crops could help to create better, more nutritious foods to beat these deficiencies.
- When children do not get enough iron in their food, the results are heartbreaking. They are slower to acquire language, struggle with short-term memory, have poor attention spans and ultimately do less well at school.
- “They can never live up to their full physical and mental potential,” says Wolfgang Pfeiffer, director of research and development at HarvestPlus, an organisation that develops nutritionally improved crops in Washington DC. “If they are deficient in their childhood, they learn 20% less as adults.”
- In the poorest parts of India and China, millions of children have their lives stunted through lack of iron. In South Asia, an estimated50% of pregnant women have iron deficiency, and it is also prevalent in South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
- But iron is only one small part of the story. There are several dozen other “micronutrients” – substances that we need to consume, in small quantities but regularly, to remain healthy. They include zinc, copper, vitamins and folates such as folic acid and vitamin B9.
- The traditional solution to micronutrient deficiencies has been to add more micronutrients to common foods, or to supply pills … But these strategies have limits. If people can’t afford pills or don’t have access to a pharmacy, they may still not get enough micronutrients. What’s more, adding micronutrients to food is a constant process: every batch of breakfast cereal has to be artificially dosed with iron and vitamins.
- A much simpler approach would be to go back to the crop plant from which the cereal is made, and ensure that it packs itself full of the micronutrient in the first place.
- This is the thinking behind “biofortification”, the process of creating crops that have unusually high levels of micronutrients like iron. HarvestPlus was founded in 2003 by economist Howarth Bouis, after a decade of lobbying and raising moneyto create biofortified crops and make them available where they are needed. Today HarvestPlus has members in more than 20 countries and has biofortified over a dozen crops, from rice to sweet potatoes.
- India’s blowout election is a lesson for US Democrats, By Annalisa Merelli | COM/ | May 24, 2019
- Narendra Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, defied expectations when he won his second election in an even bigger landslide than the first one. He did so at the expense of India’s Congress party, which campaigned on a secular and pluralist platform.
- Turns out the nationalist message of Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hugely popular with voters. It was a massive defeat—the second in a row—for India’s more liberal Congress party. It’s a bitter loss that came with many lessons, ones that Democrats in the United States would be wise to heed. …
- … Politics in India have traditionally been about the economy. This time, however, Modi and the BJP’s support of Hindu nationalism took a more prominent position than it had in past campaigns, exploiting tension with Pakistan to redirect the debate toward national security and anti-Muslim sectarianism. As Modi’s message grew stronger, [the once-dominant Congress Party] failed to really fight for India’s long-established secular ideals. …
- … The Congress isn’t known for its ability to learn lessons, but there are some more to note. And given that a left-leaning party promoting pluralism just lost to a right-leaning party promoting nationalism, the Democratic Party in the United States should probably read a long as it prepares for its own election season.
- Don’t make it about the candidate: Modi’s leadership of the BJP is strong, and there is no separating his party or government’s success and work from his own. His party capitalized on this, turning the election into a referendum on him—rather than his government’s record. Polarizing figures like Modi tend to benefit from these kinds of politics. His party understood this. His adversaries did not.
- Turning the campaign into a vote for or against Modi prevented the opposition from asserting its own ideas. Even when the Congress proposed policies that could have appealed to a broad electorate — for instance, guaranteed minimum income … — they received little attention. As George Lakoff explained in his 2004 book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, obsessing over a candidate’s flaws only makes him or her more popular.
- Democrats in the United States made this mistake in the 2016 election, running a campaign against Donald Trump instead of for their own policies.
- Dare to be different: … For many voters, the Congress party is associated with old-school elitist politics, corruption, and a perceived inability to bring change to India. Gandhi’s candidacy didn’t do much to change anyone’s minds.
- Make friends: Congress also failed to make strong alliances with other, smaller political parties…. Progressives seem to make this mistake a lot. While conservatives often stick together (the Republican Party’s support of Trump during the campaign is a textbook example), liberals often fail to find common ground. In the last presidential campaign, the Democratic primaries went on long after Trump was the presumed nominee. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton spent more time tearing each other apart than focusing on the bigger fight. The extremely crowded field of potential democratic candidates suggests the same thing could happen again.
- Focus the narrative: Modi’s narrative of a new, strong, corruption-free India—one with international power, credibility and gravitas—appealed to many voters. It delivered a clear vision of what he was promising, and one that Indians were fast to embrace. Congress never presented a clear vision of its own.
- [The Congress Party] decried the threat to secular values [Modi’s Party] posed, and held itself up as its defender. But rather than communicating how those values could help India succeed, the party focused more on what would happen if protections further deteriorated.
- This is not unlike what happened during the 2016 election in the United States. Just look at the campaign slogans: Trump’s “Make America Great Again” had a clear if suspect mission. Clinton’s “Stronger Together” described a status, not an intention. Democrats could face the same problem they did in 2016—and the same problem India’s Congress party faced this week—unless they forget about the opposition, stop playing defense, and promote their own, clear vision.
Stan Sloan [Mr. Sloan, a visiting scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, planned to speak about the future of trans-Atlantic relations.]
December 7 at 12:08 PM ·
The Danish Atlantic Council has just let me know that, due to my criticisms of President Trump, the American Embassy in Copenhagen under Ambassador Carla Sands has vetoed my participation in the scheduled 10 December celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary. The letter from the council reads, in part, “the Danish Atlantic Council sees no other alternative than to inform you that the Embassy of the United States has decided that your presence at the Conference is not possible, wherefore we with sincere and profound regrets have to inform you that we are not in position where we cannot comply with the instructions given by the Embassy of the United States.” For those who might be interested, the text of the talk I had intended to deliver is pasted below:
10 December 2019
Crisis in transatlantic relations: what future will we choose?
Speaking notes of Stanley R. Sloan, Celebrating NATO’s 70th Anniversary, Danish Atlantic Council
Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be back in Denmark, one of NATO’s most committed allies. I thank the Danish Atlantic Council for inviting me to participate in this celebration, and the US Embassy for its sponsorship.
I want to commend Ambassador Sands for her expression of support for the values on which the alliance is based as well as its strategic importance for both Denmark and the United States.
Over the course of this year of celebrating NATO’s 70th anniversary, I’ve reflected on the somewhat scary fact that I’ve been working on European security issues for 50 of those 70 years. And I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Today, I’ll discuss the internal and external challenges facing the alliance and the West more broadly, including a few historical reflections.
I then will suggest three possible futures for the alliance and its key institutions.
First, I want to make it clear where I’m coming from.
Ø I support liberal democracy as the best, albeit not perfect, political system for our countries.
Ø My outlook on how to defend the West is influenced as much by this ideological bias as it is by the need for governments to defend against physical threats.
Ø Finally, in my years of working on transatlantic relations I’ve analyzed and written about many “crises.”
It’s my judgment that the crisis currently facing the West is the most dangerous of any seen in the past seven decades.
Some earlier crises appeared, at the time, to threaten the future of the transatlantic bargain struck between the United States and its European allies in 1949.
And yet, every time the clock has struck midnight at the end of each crisis, Western democracies have decided that cooperation in a transatlantic framework remained in their best interests.
No ally has left NATO.
Until Brexit, no member state has decided to leave the European Union.
Of course, “the West” is more than the transatlantic alliance
When the term is defined broadly, it certainly includes Eastern democracies such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Ultimately, however, the members of NATO and the European Union represent the heart of what we call “the West.’
The well-being of the transatlantic relationship is the critical key to the survival of the West.
Not all members of this core group have always met the high standards set in the North Atlantic Treaty, or by the guiding principles of the European Union.
But Western nations aspire to and judge themselves against the goal of governing with systems that honor individual liberty, electoral democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Principled American leadership for 70 years has been the main sustenance for the transatlantic relationship.
The current crisis did not start with Donald Trump, even though he certainly has brought it to a head.
From an historical point of view, the crisis has its roots in NATO’s formative years.
The distribution of costs and benefits of the alliance has always been an issue.
Commentators and even politicians sometimes forget that popular support for leaders of democratic states depends on the leaders’ ability to deliver the necessary level of security at a price deemed reasonable by the voters.
Each member of the alliance therefore tries to ensure the level of security desired by its citizens at the lowest possible cost.
The value placed on defense, and willingness to devote scarce resources to it, varies between countries, depending on contemporary threat perceptions, economic conditions, and other factors.
Consequently, the transatlantic alliance will be perpetually plagued by a “burden sharing” problem.
That reality will require constant negotiations and adjustments of the burdens to find a balance of costs and benefits acceptable to all nations that benefit from the system.
But, as President Macron argued to President Trump in London, the alliance is not just about defense spending.
Both presidents, perhaps, should be reminded that Russia remains a threat, not just a military one but also one that is targeting our democracies.
Today, the transatlantic alliance is in crisis not just because of burden sharing, but perhaps more importantly because the value foundation of the alliance is under attack and has been eroding.
Democracies can be slow to adapt to changing realities and to reform themselves.
If a political system – like the democratic ones of the United States and its European allies – is built on a solid constitutional foundation, major changes need to be considered seriously and tested before public opinion.
That said, democracies that do not deal effectively with the concerns of the populace are vulnerable to pressure from fear-based populist appeals.
Such pressures have troubled most of the transatlantic democracies in recent years.
Those pressures have been aided and abetted by politicians seeking to build their power through playing on popular fears and making promises of strong leadership to respond to those fears.
At the same time, states with undemocratic political systems are increasingly taking advantage of the openness of liberal democracies to undermine the democratic systems that they see as threats to their more centralized and controlling regimes.
If I were a European who believes in Western values, I’d be worried – very worried, at least as worried as this American is.
Meanwhile, the American guarantee of European security has, under President Trump, become very uncertain.
Mutual trust among leaders of alliance nations is at an all-time low.
The London meeting did little to reassure us.
And, the threat from Russia has become even more intrusive.
Russia’s Putin is getting a helping hand from our president as well as from radical right populist politicians here in Europe.
At this point, let me reflect on something from NATO’s history.In December 1953, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, threatened his fellow foreign ministers at a NATO meeting in Paris with an “agonizing reappraisal” of the US commitment to European defense.
Dulles brought to Paris the austerity concerns of the Eisenhower administration.
He insisted that the Europeans follow through on their pledge to improve their contributions to transatlantic defense by establishing a European Defense Community (EDC).
This was the first and, until the election of Donald Trump, the last time that an American government threatened to abandon its NATO commitments.
The question now is whether the Trump threat will fundamentally alter transatlantic relationships.
How seriously has trust in US leadership been damaged?
Will future US administrations be able to regain that trust?
Do Europeans still want or need an American partner?
If so, what might they do to ensure continued American contributions to their security?
That’s my summary view of internal threats to the alliance.
Now, I’ll say a few words about the external threats.
In the year of NATO’s 70th anniversary, we find ourselves in a unique threat environment.
Russia, led by former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, for several years now has actively sought to undermine Western unity while pursuing its own geo-strategic goals.
Putin blames the West for the new confrontation, arguing that the enlargement of both NATO and the European Union threatens Russian security.
Some in the West accept this argument.
Putin, however, clearly knows that the consensus-based nature of NATO means it is very unlikely to decide to attack Russia.
What Putin fears most is that the Western model of free, rules-based societies and governments, might take popular root in Russia, threatening his authoritarian rule.
And Russia’s strategy is to play on existing divisions among the NATO allies and to create new ones.
In my judgment, President Putin believes that, if the United States retreats from Europe, Europeans will not choose to replace American power with comparable European power.
Putin has constructed a convincing military threat facing the West; he’s mixed it with energy dependence, and with clandestine as well as overt political manipulation, all wrapped up in the comforting cocoon of a peace campaign.
Putin offers complacent Europeans and Americans peace and stability under the Putin model of society and governance, to replace the Western model based on individual liberty, democracy, human rights, tolerance and the rule of law.
Ironically, another external threat is also aimed at destabilizing the Western system.
The strategic goal of the terrorists committed to the Islamic State, and similar groups, is to undermine faith in Western democracy.
The Islamic State has used its aggressions in the Middle East and North Africa to produce a flow of refugees to Europe seeking safety and a better future.
This, along with terrorist attacks on Western targets, destabilizes the West and disrupts European and transatlantic unity, thus advancing the Islamic State’s objectives.
Now, another new element has come into the frame.
For many years, the United States has focused on the growing challenges posed by a Chinese regime whose growing economic and financial strength are managed in a political system that is the antithesis of the system that defines the West.
It is the system whose imposition the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong have been protesting.
Today, President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative has become a potent vehicle for spreading Chinese power and influence around the globe, including in Denmark’s Arctic backyard.
Perhaps for the first time in recent history, Europeans are looking at China as something more than a trading partner, and increasingly as an expansionist power, relying, at least for now, primarily on its financial and economic strength for its conquests.
The combination of external and internal threats that I have just discussed will not likely disappear any time soon.
They will present continuing challenges to the survival of both liberal democracy and the transatlantic alliance.
Most NATO and EU member states will likely want to protect themselves against such threats.
But whether and how they will do so remains an open question.
Against this backdrop, I suggest that there are three broad possibilities for the future of the transatlantic alliance.
I’ve constructed them simply to stimulate thought, not to predict or advocate.
My basic assumption is that a healthy, functioning transatlantic relationship is “a good thing.”
All three of my scenarios assume that:
- Russia continues to pose political and military challenges while its economy weakens.
- The threat of terrorist attacks will persist;
- There will be growing concern about Chinese power mixed with opportunistic cooperative deals; and
- I don’t like it, but I also assume that the UK will leave the EU.
That said, I have not very creatively called my three broad scenarios:
- Substantial continuity
- Radical positive change
- Radical negative change
First, substantial continuity
In this potential future, very little changes the trend lines that have been laid down by history.
The United States remains committed to participate in the defense of Europe, to deploy substantial numbers of troops in Europe, and to retain military leadership of NATO with a senior American general serving as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.
In this scenario, post-Trump administrations try to repair damage done to US leadership of the alliance, without abandoning US burden sharing concerns.
All current allies remain in the alliance, despite some wavering (Turkey) and others experimenting with forms of democracy that do not conform to liberal democratic values (you can fill in that blank)
With the United Kingdom having abandoned its EU membership, the EU continues, with some modest successes, its attempts to give the Union a more substantial integrated military capacity.
The UK makes some cooperative military arrangements with its former EU partners while seeking a continued “special relationship,” including intelligence sharing, with the United States.
In this potential future, several allies spend around 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024 as was agreed at the 2014 Wales summit, while others fall short.
Second scenario, radical positive change
In this future, the goal of a more balanced transatlantic relationship comes more clearly into view.
The United States remains committed to the alliance while supporting European efforts to take on more burdens and responsibilities in the alliance.
The members of the EU make substantial advances in coordinating and even selectively integrating their defense establishments.
A true European army controlled by a politically united Europe remains out of reach.
But all EU members increasingly sacrifice bits of their national control in a variety of pragmatic cooperative arrangements.
The UK, despite its departure from the EU, commits to thorough defense cooperation with EU members, while remaining fully committed to NATO.
Increased European defense spending is accompanied by the revitalization of a European defense industry, with multinational firms and co-production arrangements setting up a healthy competition across the Atlantic.
At the same time, the US-European competition for sales is moderated by better transatlantic defense industrial cooperation.
The stronger European contribution to defense is acknowledged with alternating European and American Supreme Allied Commanders of NATO as a transition to a possible future in which Europeans routinely hold this post.
The role of Secretary General also alternates between prominent European and North American political leaders.
Finally, radical negative change
This scenario presents a much darker future.
In it, the United States essentially abandons its transatlantic commitments and leadership roles.
The European allies fall into disputes about how to maintain their security and provide new leadership.
Such a scenario could begin with the reelection of Donald Trump.
In this hypothetical scenario, Trump continues the process of abandoning US international leadership and decides to remove all US forces from Europe.
Trump tweets that he and Vladimir Putin have agreed that such a move would promote peace and security in Europe.
In response, European allies discuss creating strong, integrated European defense structures to replace the transatlantic NATO one.
But they find it too challenging politically and financially.
Even the overwhelming cost estimate projected in 2019 by the IISS for the EU members to create a defense system as capable as that of NATO turns out to be overly optimistic.
Several member countries suggest that the EU should follow the US lead and sign a peaceful relations accord with Russia, in which both sides pledge to take no aggressive actions against the other.
Even though some commentators immediately label this “the 21st century Munich,” most European governments decide they have little choice.
In addition, this move toward accommodation with Russia strengthens illiberal pro-Moscow parties throughout Europe.
That leads to the election of several national administrations that lean toward fascist forms of governance and away from liberal democracy.
As I have said, I do not predict any of these outcomes, but present them to help us consider where to go from here.
So, my next question is what can history tell us about the future?
In theory, we pay attention to history in the hope that it will help guide us to the future.
We all remember George Santayana’s words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We do need to learn from history, even if it doesn’t predictably repeat itself.
In the case of transatlantic relations, two global conflicts in the last century led democratic leaders at the end of WWII to agree on some major international steps to try to avoid another repeat.
This set of creative decisions produced successful systems of political, security and economic cooperation among the transatlantic democracies for over seven decades.
With all its imperfections, this system, with its twin institutional pillars of NATO and the EU, makes its own case for preservation.
Those who argue for major changes in this arrangement must bear the burden of proving that they have a better idea.
So, will history return to somewhat more reliable and familiar patterns, as suggested in the continuity model?
Alternatively, will the allies figure out how to improve the system while preserving its core objectives?
Or will the forces of disruption steer the transatlantic democracies in very different and potentially dangerous directions?
The West is still composed, by definition, of democracies, and thus the people and governments of the member nations, will determine its direction.
The ability of the people to decide their future is a fundamental and treasured quality shared by Western democratic governments.
However, there is still the risk that electorates could make choices that will not serve their, or their descendants’, interests well.
The current collision between history and disruptive forces of change poses a huge challenge to the United States, Canada and the European democracies.
We could relax and follow Donald Trump’s observation that “we will see what happens.”
On the other hand, I prefer that those of us who believe in liberal democracy and the transatlantic alliance take the steps necessary to ensure their future.
Thanks for listening. I look forward to your comments and questions.