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Summers Commission Urges Common Ground

By Stephen M. Marks, Crimson Staff Writer

A task force of 26 American and European leaders and academics, co-chaired by University President Lawrence H. Summers, issued a set of recommendations Friday urging the United States and its European allies to address their strained relationship by seeking common ground on policy issues.

The group said that in order to reinvigorate their frayed relationship, the allies must give top priority to forging mutually agreeable “rules of the road” on the use of force, transforming NATO to face the new foreign policy challenges of the 21st century and working together to promote peace in the Middle East.

Summers, who served as Treasury secretary under former President Bill Clinton, said he thought the report would play an influential role regardless of who wins the presidential election in November.

“I think there will be considerable interest both in this country and in Europe because of the bipartisan nature of the report,” Summers said. “I expect it will be something that will be very carefully considered by the next administration.”

The report, called “Renewing the Atlantic Partnership,” was sponsored by the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The task force was led by Summers and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger ’50.

It marks Summers’ most substantive public policy role since assuming the Harvard presidency in 2001.

The report cites a deterioration of the relationship between the United States and Europe—one that it says was exacerbated, but not caused, by the war in Iraq—as a critical reason to address the issues pushing the allies apart.

“The transatlantic relationship is under greater strain today than at any point in at least a generation,” the report says. “The war in Iraq brought these strains to the point of crisis.”

The current tension between the allies, the report says, dates back to “11/9,” the day the Berlin Wall fell and began the fall of the Soviet Union, the nation which much of Europe and the United States had allied to oppose. The alliance then began to lose a sense of common purpose, thus becoming “a victim of its own success,” according to the report.

And the distance between the countries expanded with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the differing U.S. and European responses, the task force said.

To narrow the gap, the report recommended the countries develop a common approach for dealing with “irresponsible states” and come together on policies to make use of multilateral organizations.

The task force also laid out five principles for the alliance: understanding and supporting countries’ increasing integration into the European Union; formulating common strategies; realizing the alliance does not require equal power from each participating country; fostering cooperation through domestic leadership; and continuing to work together economically to reinforce political ties.

Professor of Government Andrew Moravcsik, who directs the University’s European Union Center, said the report was encouraging because it lays out a moderate, middle path for the allies.

“Realistically, one report can only do so much,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But it does show that moderate U.S. and European policies, balanced between right and left within the U.S. and taking account of distinct U.S. and European priorities and power resources across the Atlantic, can be constructive. It is up to politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to make it happen.”

Task force director Charles A. Kupchan ’80, who leads the CFR’s Europe Studies program, said the report could affect policy-makers and cited its balance as one reason it might be widely accepted.

“It could over time become part of the public debate,” Kupchan said. “It is obviously of importance that the co-chairmen Larry Summers and Henry Kissinger are individuals of considerable visibility and stature.”

Kissinger and Summers also appeared on “The Charlie Rose Show”—a political talk show on PBS—Friday night to discuss the report.

Kupchan said it would be critical to address the attitudes of younger generations to repair the countries’ relationships. In earlier years, he said, people grew up viewing the alliance as indispensable, which is no longer the case.

“That’s not something one can take for granted anymore,” Kupchan said. “We need to invest in the mentalities and attitudes of younger Americans and Europeans.”


The task force, which was formed last April, met four times over the last six months, but also conducted a lot of work more informally through phone calls and e-mails, Kupchan said.

Summers said he and Kissinger, in their capacities as co-chairs, led the meetings.

“We introduced the discussion...and guided the debate,” he said.

After Summers and Kissinger kicked off the group meetings, the committee members would debate the issues, Kupchan said.

“From there on out, it was a group grope,” he said. “My task as the project director was to try to cull from these discussions areas of agreement and to build the document around these areas of agreement and to try to discern what would represent a centrist, bipartisan position.”

Kupchan added that he, Summers and Kissinger took the lead in drafting the report based on the discussions and other correspondence.

Moravcsik said Kissinger and Summers “showed some real diplomacy and statesmanship in dealing with all the conflicting concerns.”

He added that they were right to focus on broad goals for the alliance rather than more specific policy issues.

“From early on, they insisted—as against the initial expectations of the CFR—that the report set forth a balanced vision of the transatlantic relationship, rather than focus on dozens of immediately ‘actionable’ policy recommendations,” he said. “That was very appropriate to a report on the general state of relations with the U.S.’ most important alliance partners.”Kupchan said he was impressed by the willingness of participants to leave politics out of the discussions.

“I found it to be a remarkably nonpartisan enterprise,” he said. “We had a pretty wide range of individuals across the political spectrum, and I think that pretty much everyone checked their political hat in the cloak room and the debate was very much on the substance of the issues and the intellectual debates.”

Moravcsik said the report struck a desirable balance between blaming structure and policy for the current state of trans-Atlantic relations.

“My concern was that the report be balanced between two broad views,” he said. “One stresses deep and inevitable causes for current transatlantic tensions, a position generally (but not always) favored by conservatives on the task force, and the other emphasizes specific policies and decisions adopted by U.S. administrations, particularly the current one, a position generally (but not always) favored by liberals and Europeans on the task force.”

Members were given the option to endorse the report, endorse with additional comment or not endorse the report, according to Kupchan.

Kennedy School of Government Academic Dean and Belfer Professor of International Affairs Stephen M. Walt chose to endorse the report with additional comment, while all other committee members chose simply to endorse the report.

Walt highlighted three points in his “additional view.” He said the report failed to emphasize sufficiently the structural issues facing the Atlantic allies, did not put forth a more concrete proposal to address the Middle Eastern conflict and repeated the “unsupported” assertion of links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

But Walt said that he generally supported the report’s conclusions. He added that he was surprised that no one else opted to include comments.

“It’s clear I’m not dissenting from the content of the report,” he said. “I wanted to make three amplifying points, to either clarify or comment on specific items or omissions in the report, but it was not a principled dissent.”

Summers said he was pleased with the final outcome, adding that it is a “consensus” report, although he said task force members probably differed on some of the smaller details.

“Each of us if we had been writing it ourselves would have done something different,” he said.

Kissinger could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at

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