US Ambassador: 9/11 is 'time for world to come together'

By Georgi Gotev

When we reflect on September 11th and other terrorist attacks, whether in London or Madrid or Mumbai, we have to recognise that this is a global issue that affects all of us, making the anniversary of 9/11 "an international day of reflection," US Ambassador to the EU William E. Kennard told in an exclusive interview.

Before being assigned to Brussels two years ago, William E. Kennard was managing director of the Carlyle Group, a global private equity firm with over $100 billion on its books.

He previously served as chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in the historic time of the Internet and mobile phone revolution. He is well-known for his advocacy on behalf of people at risk of being stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide.

We are just a few days before the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2011. What has changed in the world? As an American citizen, what are your feelings?

As an American citizen I like to stress that this is not just a day of reflection for Americans. It is an international day of reflection, because the terrible incident that occurred on 9/11 ten years ago affected the entire world in many ways.

Most obviously is the fact that there were people from ninety countries who perished in the World Trade Centre towers alone. Approximately 10% of the 2,500 who lost their lives were not Americans.

So like many terrorist events that have happened even before and since 9/11, whether it was London or Madrid or Mumbai, when we reflect on these events, we have to recognise that this is a global issue that affects all of us.

So we are stressing on this important ten-year anniversary that this is a time for the world to come together and recognise that we've come a long way since 9/11. Much in the world has changed.

But to try to stress the positives of this terrible event, we can focus on the fact that the world community has come together in an important way. Here in Brussels I feel I am privileged to be at the focal point in many ways of our cooperation with Europe to counter the terrorist threat.

I was in government before I had this job. I served in the Clinton administration in the United States. And coming back to government in the Obama administration it's been surprising to me how our governments have changed. A substantial amount of our international cooperation is focused on countering the terrorist threat.

Specific examples: We've worked very, very hard to make travel more secure. Everyone who goes through an airport these days knows that reality. We're working very hard to make the transport of goods more secure, to secure the supply chain for goods and services. And the good news is that we've made tremendous progress.

It has been a monumental global effort. Governments around the world have spent untold billions of dollars to secure our citizens, to keep our citizens safe. The good news of course is we haven't had a catastrophe of the magnitude of 9/11 since then. We've not had a terrorist event in the United States, which is significant.

And if you look around the world we've made, I think, some significant progress, although much needs to be done. I'm very proud as a part of the Obama administration to be able to report that we've made a lot of progress just in the last few years of this administration.

You know when Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office as president in January of 2009, he really had inherited three wars. A lot of people say it was two wars, obviously Afghanistan and Iraq, traditional combat operations, but there's a third war: It was the war against Al-Qaeda.

And if you look at where we have come in that fairly short period of time, we have eliminated Osama Bin Laden, and even more importantly we have succeeded in disrupting and dismantling the leadership of Al-Qaeda.

We are well along to completing the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and that country is enjoying for the first time in its history a growing democracy. And we have a pathway to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan.

And so it is an important time to reflect on those significant achievements. But beyond that President Obama from the very beginning of his presidency recognised that in order to combat the threat of terrorism around the world, this was not just an investment in counter-terrorism tools and the weapons of war, but rather we needed to reach out to the Muslim community.

And he did that in a very significant way. One of the first things of course was to go to Cairo and gave one of the most significant speeches of his presidency, to reach out to the Muslim community to say that the president of the United States understands that we need to reshape our relationship with the Muslim world.

Now since that time we've had the Arab Spring emerge in the Middle East and North Africa. Of course Saddam Hussein is gone. Muammar Gaddafi is on his way out. Dictators throughout the world are watching and the beautiful thing about that is that we're seeing a significant movement in the world to address the fundamental motivation for terrorists, particularly Islamic terrorists, and that is to bring democracy, freedom and ultimately, hopefully, economic development to those parts of the world.
You mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan, but Osama Bin Laden was found in Pakistan. You also didn't mention the Sahel-Northern Africa region, a very broad area. Is it because Europe is becoming more assertive in that area? I'm referring also to the Libya war, where I think the United States took a step back and left France and Britain to lead the way. Is there any such thing?

That's a terrific example of the way Barack Obama has approached our relations with the rest of the world. President Obama campaigned for president by telling the American people, and really the world, that he wanted to usher in a new era of American leadership that would be defined by multilateral engagement with the world.

He is a multilateralist and these are not just campaign slogans and politics. This is what this man is about. He believes we make the best decisions when we have all the stakeholders at the table.

So I think that the campaign in Libya is really a triumph of that approach. It was a significant campaign that was not led by the United States. Obviously we participated and we were supportive but we didn't lead it.

European countries led that campaign but we also, and this is also a very important point I believe, worked through multilateral institutions. We worked through the UN. We worked through NATO.
No 'coalitions of the willing'?

Exactly. This was a reaffirmation of multilateral institutions.
Which means that your relations with Russia are also better.

Yes indeed, and we feel very good about the work we have done with Russia. From the very beginning of this administration Barack Obama said that he wanted to 'reset' that relationship.

He and all of us have worked very hard to do that and we're seeing results. We had a historic arms treaty and the renegotiation of the START treaty. We're working very hard to help bring Russia into the international trade community by supporting its accession to the WTO.

There are many examples of where we have recognised that there are significant emerging new powers in the world. Economic powers, Russia being one with a very strong economy these days, China, India, Brazil.

And we recognise that for all of us in the world to prosper, we have to bring these countries into the world community. That's why in the depths of the financial crisis President Obama insisted that the important work of the global financial institutions be a broader discussion.

So much of the work in the depths of the financial crisis was done through the G20. It's a recognition that the world has changed and we have to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table.
Perhaps another example of these relations is a recent deal between Exxon-Mobil and the Russian company developing petrol production in the Arctic. How important is that deal?

Someone was going to explore for oil in the Arctic, it was just a question of who was going to do it. I don't know if you can draw too many conclusions from that. I think that perhaps BP took a course of action that they in retrospect may regret and opened an opportunity for ExxonMobil to move in.

But I don't think that that is necessarily the best example of the geopolitical changes brought about by the Obama administration. But obviously that's a significant American company and we're pleased.
Does the United States advise EU member states not to engage in Gazprom-favoured projects, such as South Stream for example?

Specifically we, like many in Europe, including the leaders of the European Commission, are very concerned about ensuring Europe's energy independence, for many, many reasons.

And so we have been quite supportive of efforts by the European Commission to ensure that Gazprom doesn't discriminate against certain countries in the provision of energy supplies.

But that's just fundamental to us. I'm a former regulator. I regulated in the Clinton administration, I ran the telecom regulator. And these issues are not new in the world, where you have a provider of an essential good that tries to leverage its supply in distribution to discriminate against certain customers.

There are regulatory responses to that and we're glad to see the European Commission taking action. Just this week, in fact, the Commission has proposed to take a harder look at arrangements for the purchase of energy by countries in the European Union. We think that's a good development.
How would you describe transatlantic relations today? From the point of view of an external observer, it may look like the United States and Europe are like an old couple who have been together for many, many years, and they're a little bit busy healing their own diseases – I'm thinking of the eurozone crisis and the world crisis in general – and less eager to develop their relationship. Would you accept such a comparison?

Well, I've been married a long time! And I have a very good marriage, and it's a good marriage because I've learned that you should never take your spouse for granted. I think that's an important lesson in international relations too. You can't take each other for granted.

It is harder when you're facing very challenging domestic economic concerns. It's harder to be more outward-looking.

But one of the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis is that the global economy is increasingly interdependent and you can't hope to fix your own economy without paying some attention to what is happening in the rest of the world.

That is so apparent today. That's why we're very focused on the eurozone crisis. We obviously don't have a seat at that table, but we offer advice and support because it affects our economy profoundly.

It's my view that actually the world communities have worked fairly well together in responding to the current financial crisis. The G20 came together and fundamentally agreed on the basic government response to the crisis in terms of more fiscal stimulus in the West, financial regulatory reform, which has been undertaken in the United States and is well underway here in Europe. So I think we have a record of fairly good cooperation.
When you arrived here two years ago, I think it was in the midst of the Lisbon Treaty ratification and so on, so I'm sure you have a precise view on what is possible and what is not possible in the European Union. Do you believe in the chance to achieve 'economic governance' and reassure the markets? It takes so much time for decision-making and the markets seem so busy. So much hurry in the markets…

The markets almost by definition move pretty quickly. When I arrived here Lisbon was just being implemented. And there was a great sense of hope that the Lisbon Treaty changes would usher in a new, more outwardly-focused Europe.

And then we got hit, all of us got hit, by the eurozone crisis, which was somewhat unexpected. And it showed that many of the Lisbon changes which had been in the making for many years, as you know, were inadequate to deal with the most pressing crisis facing the EU. That is the eurozone issue, the lack of fiscal and monetary integration policy.

Markets are always going to move faster than governments, almost by definition. But what we're hoping to see is that the eurozone countries and the EU as a whole put in place measures that are bold and dramatic to at least buy some time and get a little bit ahead of the market.

That is what we have been consistently urging European governments to do: to act as boldly and decisively as possible to bring more confidence to the markets.
What has changed for you as US ambassador and for the United States since the Lisbon Treaty has been in force? It appears we have just one more telephone number in the list.

There is this unfortunate quote that's been falsely attributed to Henry Kissinger, that he wanted "one number" to call in Europe. It's unfortunate because the reality is that when you're dealing with large, complex governments, whether in the United States or Europe, there's never one call to make.

So it's a little unfair to say that was the purpose of Lisbon, to have "one call". The other thing that I've learned, another dose of realism for me, is that the reason they call the EU the "European project" is because it is always in formation. It's an evolution. That's one of the things that make it such a fascinating place.

Even though we are two years into the implementation of Lisbon, I think it's fairly obvious to all that it's going to take some time for those structures to really mature and grow. You don't create an External Action Service overnight. It takes time. It takes effort.The relationship between the Parliament, with its new post-Lisbon powers, and the other institutions continues to evolve.

One of the jobs that I try to perform here on behalf of my government is to understand where things are going and be somewhat of a translator. So I can best advise my government on how we can best influence the outcomes of decisions here that are in our interest.
Who is your main counterpart? Who do you call more often: Mr. Van Rompuy  or Mr. Barroso?

One of the great things about this job is I get to talk to everyone, on a whole variety of issues. And that makes the job very fun and fascinating.
How often do you speak to President Obama?

Not that frequently these days. He's a very busy man. I hopefully will see him toward the end of the year when we have another EU summit and there will be some conversations obviously with the White House in the run-up to that.

We are hopeful that we will continue the positive momentum that we have developed over the past few years with the EU.
Judging from your background, you have devoted a lot of effort to closing the digital divide in the world. I don't think that problem has been solved. What do you think can be done, perhaps also in terms of transatlantic relations, to prevent our world from being divided by the fact that billions of people do not have the same capacities as many of us to use the Internet?

That's a long answer! I think the great news is that we've seen the deployment not only in Europe and the United States, but even more dramatically in developing countries, of handheld data devices. The 'computer in your pocket', if you will, which is really empowering to people. People no longer need a PC in order to access most of the functionality of the Internet. And this is really a dramatic development, because mobile data platforms are the fastest-deploying computer platform in the history of the world and they're becoming increasingly sophisticated with tablets and iPads.

Last year alone 55 million tablets were sold around the world. That's remarkable! So it's creating a very rapid change in the way people access the Internet and process information. That's a great thing.

What we have to focus on going forward is that governments manage their spectrum properly. I've had some very interesting discussions here in Europe with [Digital Agenda Commissioner] Neelie Kroes, [MEP] Gunner Hökmark and others who are really focused on spectrum to make sure that we are managing spectrum resources in a way that allows handheld devices to continue to grow.