A Discussion with Dirk Wouters, Belgian Ambassador to the United States
Belgian Ambassador to the U.S., Dirk Wouters, joined the World Affairs Council on October 25, 2017 to discuss current and future relations between the United States and Europe. The conversation took place at K&L Gates LLP and was moderated by World Affairs Council CEO Jacqueline Miller.
Ambassador Wouters discussed topics ranging from the current U.S.administration’s “America First” policies to the dynamics of different ethnic groups within Belgium. In both cases, Ambassador Wouters stressed the same approach: cooperation.
From a military standpoint, the ambassador noted that despite the initial lack of President Trump’s explicit statement of support for NATO’s Article 5, concerning collective defense, NATO member states are confident that the United States will remain committed to protecting the alliance. Article 5 states that collective defense means that an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies. The article has only been evoked once symbolically after terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2011. The declarations of commitment to Article 5 from the administration have been sufficient to reassure allies that the United States will continue to engage in collective defense.
In the current atmosphere of uncertainty regarding United State’s role in international trade, Ambassador Wouters maintained that the protectionist ideology of “America First” could potentially mean a withdrawal of the United States from multilateral responsibilities, despite the efforts of cabinet members to emphasize that “America First” doesn’t mean America alone. Ambassador Wouters cited the Marshall Plan, an American initiative to provide financial aid Western Europe after World War II, as representative of the importance of continued American engagement with European countries and the European Union. Examples of strong foreign policy like the Marshall Plan cannot be sustained amidst withdrawal from global affairs.
While the United State’s engagement, or lack there of, in trade with Europe poses potential problems for the European Union, the continent faces its own internal struggles as well. With populism on the rise in various European countries including France, Germany, Austria and others, many Europeans and outsiders alike share a concern for extremist politics. However, Ambassador Wouters reassured the audience that these uprisings have been resisted in Germany, the Netherlands and France. He also attested to the potential for young people to resist any major shifts toward populism.
Looking to the future, Ambassador Wouters noted the inevitability of increased globalism. The European Union itself was created to collective efforts of European nations to respond to this globalism. Multilateral cooperation from not only European countries, but also the United States is necessary to address the novel challenges and needs that arise in an ever changing world.