Dr. Karen Donfried (Former Executive VP, The German Marshall Fund of the United States)

06.01.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer

Q1.  What do you think is currently the biggest challenge when it comes to U.S.-European relations?  Do you think that cultural diplomacy has a role in helping with this, and if yes, how so?

I think the biggest challenge in U.S.-European relations is how to deal with challenges beyond Europe.  During the Cold War, the focus was very much on challenges on the European continent.  We agreed on a common enemy, the Soviet Union.  With the end of the Cold War and in the post-9/11, post-Obama world, the challenges we face are outside of Europe.  It’s a question of how do we engage rising powers like China and India, and how do you work in the Middle East.  These are things that Americans and Europeans have never actually agreed on, but given that they were not at the core of our relationship, we didn’t sort out mechanisms of how to manage our cooperation on those challenges.  In terms of cultural diplomacy, I do think that cultural diplomacy is an important part of statecraft and foreign policy. There are many tools that states use, from security policy to traditional foreign policy to economic policy and also cultural diplomacy. So I do see cultural diplomacy as a very important instrument for states going forward.

Q2.  What challenges do you think the enlargement of the European Union will pose for the transatlantic relationship, and in the next decades do you think the U.S.-European relationship is well placed to face future challenges in international affairs?

I would argue that the enlargement of the European Union and the enlargement of NATO have been hugely positive developments for the transatlantic relationship.  You could argue that it makes things more complicated because the larger the number of members, the greater the diversity of viewpoints within those organizations. But the fact that prosperity, democracy, and free market economies have been spread across most of the European continent over the past 20 years is a huge success for transatlantic policy.  I think that there are challenges for the transatlantic relationship going forward, but I think that when particular sets of countries look around the world, they will still look to each other to work together because they share core values and ideals.

Q3.  How much of a role does cultural diplomacy play in U.S. foreign policy and U.S. foreign relations?  Do you think that this is sufficient, or do you see areas which need to be improved upon? If you see areas for improvement, what would you specifically like to see happen?

I certainly think that there is room for a greater role for cultural diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy.  I think it ebbs and flows depending on the administration and the particular views and priorities of that administration.  I think we’ve seen, with the election of President Barack Obama, that there is a heightened awareness of the role of soft power, of which cultural diplomacy is a very important tool.

Q4.  What do you think of the Obama Administration as far as cultural diplomacy is concerned?  Do you see a significant difference in its policies and goals in this area, as compared to the Bush administration?

I think that it’s sometimes hard to compare administrations because the context in which they operate is different. When President Bush came into office it seemed that we were in a relatively peaceful period, and then with the attacks of 9/11 you had this very strong security focus with the U.S. engaged in two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. With that being said, the language of Barack Obama is a fundamentally different one.  From the outset, he talked about the importance of allies and multilateralism, and I think the soft power tools appealed to him from the start in a different way perhaps than they had to his predecessor.  So I do think that there was a difference in ideology coming in, but we also shouldn't forget the different contexts that they faced.

Thank you so much for your time.