Strengthening Transatlantic Relations Under a New Democratic President

Since he has taken office, President Trump has consistently alienated our NATO allies and the EU.  As such, the next President will have a lot of work to do to repair transatlantic relations.  To that end, here are some possible ideas for rapprochement.

Speech in Berlin or Brussels
Once the Democratic nominee is official after the July 2020 convention, they should begin preparing to make a speech in Europe, preferably in Berlin or Brussels.  The speech should not just reiterate the history and importance of transatlantic relations; it should also promote new opportunities for cooperation.

Berlin is an obvious choice because of Germany’s influence in European affairs.  Barack Obama spoke there in July 2008 before he was elected, and in regards to transatlantic relations, said “Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.” Additionally, Germany takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU on July 1, 2020, and will hold it until Dec 31, 2020, and so a speech in Berlin might be a way to talk about the importance of the EU.

Brussels also makes sense since it is home to NATO and the capital of the EU.  Given the prominent role the US plays in NATO, it would be a good place to reassure our allies we stand with them.  As for the EU, the US has a long history of supporting European integration, and it is a crucial partner for the US in terms of trade and investment.

Climate Change
Ursula von der Leyen has made it quite clear that climate change is at the top of the Commission’s agenda.  The goal of the newly established European Green Deal is to make the EU climate neutral by 2050.  Additionally, Europe is home to some of the most sustainable cities and communities, e.g. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsingborg, and Stockholm.  Denmark has even appointed a climate ambassador.  Since both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have pledged to have the US rejoin the Paris Agreement, taking action to protect the climate is an area where the US and Europe can collaborate.

Gender Equality
In addition to the European Green Deal, the Commission has also established a Gender Equality Strategy.  According to the Commission’s website, “The goal is a Union where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are free to pursue their chosen path in life, have equal opportunities to thrive, and can equally participate in and lead our European society” (bold in original).  Sweden also has the world’s first feminist foreign policy.  Finally, the Nordic countries “continually rank high among the best countries to be a woman.”  This is an area where the US could not just collaborate, but also learn from its European partners.

Sustainable Development Goals
According to the Commission’s website for the SDG’s, “The EU has committed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals both in its internal and external policies.”  This was especially evident when I was in Brussels June 2019.  Every meeting we had at an EU body mentioned or discussed at length what they were doing for the SDG’s.  It was almost a matter of pride.  Here in the US, on the other hand, we rarely, if ever, hear about the SDG’s in political discourse.  If the US is going to rejoin the Paris Agreement, then it it makes sense to also work towards the 2030 Agenda.

The EU is a global leader in development aid to countries around the world.  Looking at Official Development Assistance (ODA) alone, the five countries in 2018 that met the target of .7% of GNI towards ODA were all European.  The US, on the other hand, fell quite short of the target.  Foreign aid is important for a number of reasons: it’s the morally right thing to do; helping others helps us; and aid plays a crucial role in lifting people out of poverty and improving healthcare, among other aspects of quality of life.  Additionally, helping other countries become more stable economically helps with their political stability, which can help address issues like conflict, migration, and terrorism.

Trade is one of the pillars upon which transatlantic relations have been built.  According to the US Trade Representative, “The EU countries, together, would rank 1st as an export market for the United States in 2018.”  Under President Obama, the US and EU were in talks regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); however, under President Trump, the US has imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on the EU, while the EU has imposed over $2 billion in tariffs on the US.  Given that the EU has trade agreements with countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, and Mexico, it is time to work on one for the US.  Besides the obvious economic benefits for both sides, an agreement will help in dealing with China.

These are but some of the many areas in which the US can cooperate with our European partners.  In addition to these issues, both sides should work together to address the problems posed by countries such as China and Russia.  Finally, while continuing to work on the two historic pillars of transatlantic relations, trade and security, collaborating on the above issues can usher in a new era of peace, prosperity, and progress.



The Nordics and the US

Back in May 2015, I wrote a post comparing Scandinavia and the US.  Since then, that post has been viewed over 10,000 times, making it the most-read on this site; however, I feel it is time to update it.  A lot has changed since then- the Paris Agreement was signed, the Sustainable Development Goals went into effect, and Donald Trump became President of the United States.

I also want to enlarge the geographical comparison from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) to the Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.)  I’ve kept many of the original indicators and have added some as well.

Nordic Flags

UN Human Development Index (Rank out of 187 countries; 2019)
a) Denmark: 11; b) Finland: 12; c) Iceland: 6; d) Norway: 1; e) Sweden: 8; f) USA: 15

Life Expectancy at Birth, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 80.8; b) Finland: 81.7; c) Iceland: 82.9; d) Norway: 82.3; e) Sweden: 82.7; f) USA: 78.9

Government Expenditure on Education, % of GDP (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 7.6; b) Finland: 7.1; c) Iceland: 7.7; d) Norway: 7.6; e) Sweden: 7.6; f) USA: 5.0

Mean Years of Schooling, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 12.6; b) Finland: 12.4; c) Iceland: 12.5; d) Norway: 12.6; e) Sweden: 12.4; f) USA: 13.4

GDP per capita (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: $47,673; b) Finland: $41,899; c) Iceland: $48,606; d) Norway: $65,441; e) Sweden: $47,194; f) USA: $55,681

Income Inequality, Gini Coefficient (100 = Complete Inequality; 2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 28.2; b) Finland: 27.1; c) Iceland: 27.8; d) Norway: 27.5; e) Sweden: 29.2; f) USA: 41.5

Total Unemployment, % of labor force (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.0%; b) Finland: 7.8%; c) Iceland: 2.9%; d) Norway: 3.9%; e) Sweden: 6.4%; f) USA: 3.9%

Carbon Dioxide Emissions per capita, Tonnes (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.9; b) Finland: 8.3; c) Iceland: 6.2; d) Norway: 6.8; e) Sweden: 3.9; f) USA: 15.0

Individual Income Tax Rates, (2019)
a) Denmark: 55.89%; b) Finland: 53.75%; c) Iceland: 46.24%; d) Norway: 38.2%; e) Sweden: 57.19%; f) USA: 37.0%

Public Spending on Family Benefits, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.44%; b) Finland: 3.11%; c) Iceland: 3.40%; d) Norway: 3.38%; e) Sweden: 3.54%; f) USA: 1.12%

Total Paid Leave Available to Mothers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 50; b) Finland: 161; c) Iceland: 26; d) Norway: 91; e) Sweden: 55.7; f) USA: 0

Total Paid Leave Reserved for Fathers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 9; c) Iceland: 13; d) Norway: 10; e) Sweden: 14.3; f) USA: 0

Public Spending on Childcare and Early Education, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.1%; c) Iceland: 1.8%; d) Norway: 1.3%; e) Sweden: 1.6%; f) USA: .3%

Child Relative Income Poverty Rate (2016 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.7%; b) Finland: 3.3%; c) Iceland: 5.8%; d) Norway: 7.7%; e) Sweden: 8.9%; f) USA: 20.9%

Out-of-pocket Childcare Costs for a Two-Earner Couple Family, % of family net income (2015)
a) Denmark: 9.1%; b) Finland: 17.9%; c) Iceland: 4.5%; d) Norway: 5.3%; e) Sweden: 3.9%; f) USA: 22.5%

Best Countries to Raise Kids (rank out of 73 countries, 2020)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 6; c) Iceland: No data; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 18

Environmental Performance Index (rank out of 180 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 3; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 11; d) Norway: 14; e) Sweden: 5; f) USA: 27

Gender Inequality Index (rank out of 189 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 7; c) Iceland: 9; d) Norway: 5; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 42

Gender Gap Index (rank out of 149 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 13; b) Finland: 4; c) Iceland: 1; d) Norway: 2; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 50

Women in Lower or Single House, (% / rank out of 192 countries, as of last elections)
a) Denmark: 39.11% / 23; b) Finland: 47% / 8; c) Iceland: 38.1% / 27; d) Norway: 40.83% / 17; e) Sweden: 47.28% / 7; f) USA: 23.61% / 75

Corruption Perceptions Index (rank out of 180 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 3; c) Iceland: 14; d) Norway: 7; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 22

Freedom in the World, (100 = highest score, 2019)
a) Denmark: 97; b) Finland: 100; c) Iceland: 94; d) Norway: 100; e) Sweden: 100; f) USA: 86

Official Development Assistance, % of GNI (2018)
a) Denmark: .72%; b) Finland: .36%; c) Iceland: .31%; d) Norway: .94%; e) Sweden: 1.04%; f) USA: .17%

Military Expenditure, % of GDP (2018)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.4%; c) Iceland: No Data; d) Norway: 1.6%; e) Sweden: 1.0%; f) USA: 3.2%

Good Country Index (rank out of 153 countries, latest available)
a) Denmark: 6; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 36; d) Norway: 8; e) Sweden: 4; f) USA: 40

Overall Happiness (rank out of 156 countries, 2019)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 4; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 7; f) USA: 19

Life Satisfaction (10 = highest score, latest available)
a) Denmark: 9.7; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 9.5; d) Norway: 9.9; e) Sweden: 8.9; f) USA: 7.4

As I mentioned in the 2015 post, “the list of indicators is not exhaustive and does not give a complete picture of life in these countries.”  That said, these do give us a good idea of a government’s priorities and the extent to which a government uses its wealth to take care of its people and the world.  Don’t get me wrong, people living in the US have a pretty good standard of living; however, given its wealth, the American government should do a much better job of providing for the general welfare, protecting the environment, and helping others.  In this sense, I think we can look to the Nordics for examples of how we can improve.

To learn more about the five Nordic countries, start by visiting their embassy websites:

To learn more about the Nordics as a whole, check out Nordic Co-operation.

Thanks for reading.

Restoring America’s Place in the World: A Foreign Policy for the Next Democratic President

For the at least the past decade, pundits have written about the decline of the US as a global power, and it has only increased since 2016 with the election of Donald Trump.  As a proud Progressive/Liberal/Social Democrat (use whatever label you like) and as a globalist, I have been nothing short of dismayed and ashamed of U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.

Now that most of the top-tier Democratic candidates are officially on the campaign trail for 2020, I am looking forward to reading their policy papers, especially those outlining foreign policy.  Since candidates still don’t have those available, however, I thought I would share my vision for restoring America’s place in the world.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list.

Climate Change
The U.S. must re-enter the Paris Agreement.  We must also pledge to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and increase the share of renewable energy in our energy mix.

Source: U.S. EIA

To give us an idea of what our goals should be, let’s look at the EU’s targets for 2030 in these two areas.

  • At least 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990
  • At least 27% of total energy consumption from renewable energy

If the U.S. wants to be a global leader, then we need to lead by example and set the standards for others to emulate.  When it comes to climate change, we need to be especially bold.

Being a global leader means being a good steward of the environment.  

Humanitarian Aid and Development
When it comes to official development assistance (ODA), the US has consistently fallen short of the target of .7% of GNI.  In 2017, the US spent .18% of GNI on ODA, placing it ninth worst among OECD countries; however, it was number one in overall spending with $35.26 billion.  Imagine how much good could have been done had the US met the .7% target.  The irony here is that while President Trump has chastised our NATO allies for not spending 2% of GDP on defense, the US has not met the target for ODA.

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Source: OECD

    To the critics who say, “We’ve got our own problems here, let’s fix those first,” I say, you’re right, we do have problems here, but that does not mean we turn inward and promote an “America First” policy.

Being a global leader means helping those in need- at home and abroad.

Human Rights
We must do more to promote human rights abroad.  Among the many rights we should protect:

  • The right to food (too many people around the world live in hunger and food insecurity)
  • The right to water (too many people around the world live without clean water or proper sanitation)
  • The right to an education (too many people around the world, especially girls, don’t get a proper education)
  • The right to health care (too many people around the world live in countries with high mortality rates, diseases like AIDS and malaria, and a lack of reproductive health care)
  • The right to shelter (too many people around the world live without access to safe, reliable, and affordable housing)

Additionally, we must do more to promote and protect gender equality.  Sweden is a leader in regards to having a feminist foreign policy.  As for international commitments, the U.S. should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Finally, we are the only country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  That must change.

Being a global leader means ensuring the rights of others to live in dignity and fulfill their potential.

Military and Defense
I served eleven years in the Army (two years in the Reserves, four on Active Duty, and five in the National Guard).  In that time, I worked in an office, in a Bradley, and in a Howitzer.  I know how important it is to have the proper equipment.  That said, we need to drastically decrease our military and defense spending.  To give you an idea of how much we spend, here are just three images from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Additionally, according to a recent study from Brown University, the U.S. will have spent an estimated $5.9 trillion on the War on Terror.  We must review our involvement in the Middle East.

When is enough, enough? Is our military sufficient to “provide for the common defence”?

Being a global leader means keeping the peace and knowing when to use force for the greater good.

The U.S. must unequivocally reaffirm our commitment to international organizations and treaties.  Global issues require global solutions.  Cooperation, not competition.  An outstretched hand, not a closed fist.  Multilateralism, not unilateralism.

Much of the current order was established at the end of the Second World War, more than seventy years ago.  A lot has changed since then- the end of European imperialism in Africa and Asia, a new wave of globalization (thanks to the internet), and the end of the Cold War.  As such, some international organizations may need reform to catch up to the 21st century.

When the U.S. signs multilateral agreements, e.g. the Paris Agreement or the Iran Deal, we need to stick to them.  Withdrawing is bad diplomacy and makes towards future agreements more difficult.

Finally, the Trump administration has repeatedly alienated our European allies.  It is going to take a lot of work to rebuild transatlantic relations, but it must be done.  We must reassure both NATO and the EU that they have a friend in the U.S.

Being a global leader means being a team player.

I know there are a lot of areas to foreign policy that I didn’t cover (trade, migration, crime, cybersecurity, etc.), but this should be a good start to get us thinking about how we can restore America’s place in the world.  Whomever the new president is in 2020, she/he will have a lot of work to repair the damage done by the Trump administration.

Thanks for reading.

Help Us, Europe- You’re Our Only Hope

Since his inauguration, President Trump has made it clear that American foreign policy will be based on the idea of “America first.”  What that looks like exactly is unclear, given the sometimes contradictory messages from various administration officials.  What we do know, however, is that America’s role as a global leader has now diminished so much that US foreign policy is an example of how NOT to approach global issues.  This is especially evident in a number of areas, including the UN and development assistance, NATO, and climate change.

The UN and Development Assistance
President Trump’s FY2018 budget “proposes that the Department of State examine options to: (a) reduce the levels of international organizations’ budgets, (b) reduce U.S. assessment rates, and/or (c) not pay U.S. assessments in full.” (p. 71 of Major Savings and Reforms: Budget of the U.S. Government“)  This would lead to an overall reduction of $786 million for international organizations contributions.

Additionally, in January 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), introduced H.R. 193- American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which called for the US to withdraw from the UN.  While the bill most likely will not become a law, it does illustrate that some members of Congress are taking the “America first” mentality to a whole new level.

If the US does not fulfill its responsibilities with the UN, then it falls upon Europe to fill the void.  On May 17, 2017, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke at the European Parliament and said that “A strong and united Europe is an absolutely fundamental pillar of a strong and effective United Nations.”  This is especially important given the White House’s current attitude.

When it comes to official development assistance (ODA), the US has consistently fallen short of the target of .7% of GNI.  In 2016, the US spent .18% of GNI on ODA, placing it eighth worst among OECD countries; however, it was number one in overall spending with $33.59 billion.  Imagine how much good could have been done had the US met the .7% target.  Unfortunately, the outlook is not promising, as President Trump’s budget would eliminate $2.5 billion in ODA (p. 67 of Major Savings and Reforms).

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 10.41.18 AM

Even though the US fell short, six of our European allies met or exceeded the .7% target, with Norway leading the way at 1.11%.  For those six countries, the total amount adds up to $54.65 billion, well above the US amount.  The irony here is that while President Trump has chastised our NATO allies for not spending 2% of GDP on defense, the US has not met the target for ODA.

As for NATO, President Trump spoke in Brussels on May 25, 2017, at the unveiling of the Article 5 and Berlin Wall memorials.  In his remarks, the President pretty much scolded our NATO allies:

“The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on NATO’s eastern and southern borders.  These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.

This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.  And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.  Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO countries combined.  If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion for our collective defense and for the financing of additional NATO reserves.

We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats, even 2 percent of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing, readiness, and the size of forces.  We have to make up for the many years lost.  Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats.  If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.” 

The picture below sums up the response by the other NATO leaders in attendance.

NATO Leaders Smirk
Photo from Deutsche Welle.

If that wasn’t enough, Trump also pushed the prime minister of Montengro out of the way during the meeting.

A few days after the meeting, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said, “The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days… That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”

After the trip, Press Secretary Sean Spicer remarked that “the President is acting to strengthen alliances, to form new partnerships, and to rebuild America’s standing in the world.”  The reality, of course, is that threatening to cut funds to the UN and alienating allies weakens alliances and demolishes America’s standing in the world.

Climate Change
President Trump and the White House also have an abysmal record on climate change.  According to the White House website, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”  His budget calls “to eliminate funding in 2018 related to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds (CIFs)” (p. 75 of Major Savings and Reforms).  Furthermore, the budget reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31.4% down to $5.7 billion (p. 42 of Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness).  Additionally, the President has made it clear he is no fan of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate.  As this piece is being written, it is expected Trump will announce the U.S. is withdrawing from the deal.

Across the Atlantic, however, our European allies are committed to fighting climate change.  At a recent UNFCCC conferenceMiguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said, “We came here to Bonn to advance our work on the rules and instruments to implement the Paris Agreement. We leave Bonn with steadfast progress in many areas. And while much work still lies ahead of us, the cooperative talks and the tangible results show once again the unwavering determination of all of us to turn our commitments into real action.”  Quite the opposite from President Trump.  The EU has also adopted a 2020 Climate & Energy Package and a 2030 Climate & Energy Framework.

President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has left a vacuum of global leadership that could potentially be filled by the EU.  This is a perfect opportunity for bodies like the European External Action Service and EuropeAid to step up and show the world what European cooperation and coordination can accomplish.  For the UN to succeed, and for progress to be made on the Sustainable Development Goals (one of which is climate action), Europe is our only hope.

Thanks for reading.

Constitutional Comparison: Germany and the US

As I was going through my RSS feed this morning, I came across this article from Deutsche Welle on Germany’s Basic Law.  As I read through it, the first thing that struck me was the fact that the very first article in Germany’s constitution discusses human dignity.  This led me to take a closer look at the Grundgesetz, and after further reading, I decided to make a lesson out of it for my class on U.S. government and politics.  We had already studied the purposes of constitutions in general and the US Constitution earlier this semester, so I wanted to compare the two constitutions.

Students noticed a number of differences, among them: 1) Germany put basic rights first, whereas the US put them as amendments; 2) Germany’s constitution is much more in depth than than the US’ (Germany has 141 articles, the US has 7); 3) Germany has an article about the flag, the US does not; 4) Germany has “compulsory military and alternative civilian service,” whereas the US military is volunteer.  We also discussed Germany’s electoral system, even though it’s not explicitly described in the Basic Law.  Out of all these ideas, however, we spent the most time discussing Article 1.1 of the Basic Law- “Human dignity shall be inviolable.  To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”  The US constitution has something similar in the Preamble with, “promote the general Welfare.”

We started first by talking about dignity and what that meant.  After that, we looked into the extent to which the governments of both countries fulfilled the idea of human dignity and general welfare.  Since my student charity, VAHSAid, just held an event this weekend to raise awareness of child poverty and food insecurity, we looked for child poverty rates in both countries.  According to the OECD, the latest rate for Germany is 9.8%, and for the US it’s 20.5%.

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Other indicators we looked at (also from the same OECD page):

Key characteristics of parental leave systems (total paid leave available to mothers)- Germany: 58 weeks; US: 0 weeks

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Public spending on family benefits (in per cent of GDP)- Germany: 3.03; US: 1.13

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Public spending on early childhood education and care (in per cent of GDP)- Germany: 0.6; US: 0.3

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Infant mortality (Deaths per 1,000 live births)- Germany: 3.2; US: 6.0

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After all was said and done, a couple of student observations stood out to me: 1) “Germany takes democracy to a whole new level,” 2) “Germany seems much more about community,” and 3) Students felt Germany’s Basic Law was less ambiguous than the US Constitution and wondered if that would lead to less legal battles or political controversy.

While the original purpose of the lesson was to compare the two constitutions, I am pleased that it led to discussions about issues other than the structure of the governments.  This isn’t to say Germany is some sort of utopia*; however, it does illustrate the need for American politicians to begin emphasizing human dignity in our policies.

Thanks for reading.

*Full disclosure: I was stationed in Germany for 2 1/2 years and have a deep appreciation for the German language, food, beer, and soccer (#NurSGE).