Two paths ahead
The academic and diplomat, who is Professor of Diplomacy and director of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and former Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the US State Department, said that he believes the EU is the strongest partner of the US on democracy promotion and on the rule of law globally, as well as its strongest trade partner.
Professor Burns said the US presidential election represented two completely different paths ahead, in that Joe Biden has pledged to re-engage with the EU and NATO, and to re-join the WHO.
Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden have said they will not negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK in the event of a hard border, he pointed out.
“I hope it was heard in London and I hope it encourages the British Government to be more practical about their negotiation with the EU.
“We do not want to be an unintended barrier to the progress of the Irish people,” he said.
He added that Trump’s persistent personal insults of EU leaders is disgraceful behaviour and embarrassing to Americans.
Bet on Germany
Professor Burns said that in his view as a practising diplomat, Britain was by far the most globally-oriented of all the EU countries, and Brexit will have a hugely negative effect on the EU, which is struggling to have a common position on 5G and the rise of China.
He said that the US has been arguing quietly for decades on the need for a stronger Germany, but either France or Germany will be the country that accommodates for the loss of the UK.
“We counted on Britain to, in many ways on a practical daily basis, translate the Americans to Brussels… in a future American administration, we’re going to have to make a major bet on Germany, given its power,” he said.
He continued that given the trust towards Dublin, Ireland and the US can develop a bigger relationship.
“There is the English language and it makes a difference, and the fact that Ireland is seen to be an honest broker.
“There’s so much synergy between our corporate sectors.
“We should be working to elevate the US-Irish channel.”
Britain will be weaker outside the EU and it won’t have that guiding voice at critical moments in Brussels, he said.
Eversheds Sutherland partner Deborah Hutton said the peace process tried to understand all points of views, but the lines of division are now drawn so deep that it is similar to being back in the Troubles, in terms of blindness and refusal to see another point of view.
Alan Brady of AIB in New York said the current situation is destabilising and makes it difficult to write three-year business plans.
We don’t know what the law will be in the UK in the period ahead, and that impacts on business decisions, he said.
Kenneth McDonagh, associate professor of international relations at DCU, said Ireland will be forced to make some choices on security and defence, since this country has benefited a lot from UK air defences.
He questioned whether this country’s EU partners would allow Ireland, as a much smaller state, to step into the link role for the UK-US relationship.
“We need to figure out our relationship with partners who were previously quite close but now are on different paths,” he said.
Debate moderator Suzanne Lynch said it will be tricky to balance Ireland’s position as a pro-business country without being seen in the EU as a mouthpiece for US tech companies headquartered in Dublin.
Professor Burns said the time was past when the EU could stand in an equidistant fashion between Beijing and Washington.
“China essentially smothered Hong Kong’s democracy this past summer. It’s gone. They’ve imposed their view of authoritarianism on the people of Hong Kong.”
Europe has to be part of the effort by Japan, India, Australia, and the US to speak truth to China on these issues, and particularly on the security of 5G.
Alan Brady said that Ireland is choosing to ignore the issue of China and is unlikely to change that stance until compelled to do so, perhaps at EU level.
We don’t have the capacity to know if there is malfeasance going on in the areas of cyber-defence and cyber-security, he said.