SOCIETY spoke with the new diplomatic representative of the USA to Austria about his main goals and his childhood memories of Austria.
This is your first posting as Ambassador of the United States to Austria. What does it mean to you to officially represent the United States in a foreign country and what are your main goals for your term?
I am thrilled to be the American Ambassador to the Republic of Austria. As some of your readers might know, my grandfather, Wiley T. Buchanan, held this very same position in the mid 1970s. I visited him in Vienna when I was a boy, and it left a lasting impression. I not only have wonderful memories of Austria from that first trip abroad but that visit also began my education in diplomacy and what it means to represent the United States of America in a foreign land.
I love being an Ambassador. Being nominated by President Trump to serve here is like a dream come true. For me and my family, this is a terrific opportunity to live inAustria, get to know its regions, culture, and people. But more than that I am humbled at the chance to bring our two countries closer together, to highlight our common values, and to build bridges between our two peoples while working to solve some of today’s challenges.
As Ambassador, I am working hard to further deepen the U.S.-Austrian partnership above all. It is my job to ensure that relations between our two countries continue to be friendly and productive as well as to contribute to the stability and prosperity of Europe, the United States, and beyond.
Our bilateral trade is growing, and I want it to grow even more as one of my key goals. In 2017, the United States bought more Austrian goods than any other country, aside from Austria’s close neighbor Germany. At the core of our economic relationship is mutually beneficial trade. I am working hard to make sure that today’s efforts to expand our bilateral trade and investment yield tomorrow’s successes.
Our relationship is built on strong people-to-people ties. In addition to our academic and professional exchanges, it is my goal to connect Austrian entrepreneurs with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the United States. Already in the short time I have been in Austria I have met with scores of creative and energetic business people, young entrepreneurs, and students to reinforce the message that not only is the United States open for business but also that the USA has a lot to offer.
Last but not least, it is my hope to increase cooperation in cultural affairs so that we may learn from each other and forge new artistic paths. As an art collector and having served on the board of several art museums, I know not just Austria’s historic role in the arts, but also recognize the outsized role of Austrian artists and designers in defining global trends. But in this, as in the aforementioned areas, the United States and Austria have a lot in common and we do and can continue to share through culture and the arts.
There have been diplomatic relations between the United States and Austria for 180 years and the two countries define themselves as “partners in promoting global security and prosperity.” What is your definition of prosperity? Do you see it as something merely economic?
Prosperity is certainly economic but has also cultural meaning. It is my hope to increase cooperation so that we may learn from each other and forge new artistic paths. Since arriving in Vienna I have met with the leaders of several major Austrian institutions and, together, we have begun to make plans for collaborations down the road. I wish to remind Austrians that Americans are their friends and that I am their friend. In my experience, there is no limit to what friends can achieve when working together.
At your Senate hearing you said that you would like to campaign for closer relations within the IT sector and for cultural exchange. How will you do that and in what way can Austria benefit from this and vice versa?
Austrian tech entrepreneurs are just like their counterparts in Silicon Valley but the ecosystem is unlike the one in Silicon Valley. There are still significant hurdles in Austria that we don’t have in the United States, e.g. with licensing or repercussions in the case of failure. I discuss these issues with government officials and with entrepreneurs. More U.S. investors should invest in Austria; and Austrian start-ups should look globally sooner. I want to connect with Austrian entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I recently hosted a selection of Austrian entrepreneurs and investors at my residence for an exclusive event with former CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer. In addition, the American Embassy funds an exchange program for your entrepreneurs – we call it “Austria to Austin” – that is already in its fourth year. This program sends 20-30 young Austrians to Texas to learn about starting or growing their own business, and introduces them to the dynamic environment of American high tech business.
Coming from the IT sector, how do you evaluate the dangers and chances of the extensive digitalization of almost every area of life? Which chances and challenges are in there for a country?
As a tech entrepreneur and a Californian who grew up right next to Silicon Valley, the tech revolution is very real for me. The tech economy benefits all of us, inmost aspects of our daily lives.
The European Union and Austria have the resources, the talent, and the institutions to drive digital innovation. From world-class universities focusing on tech, engineering, and innovation to companies that are global leaders in manufacturing, e-technology, and mobility, Austria is already a hub of innovation.
I am having regular talks with the Austrian government and officials about efforts to promote digitalization. Working to increase digitalization can reduce bureaucracy, make a government more responsive to the needs of its citizens, and promote innovation.
Austria has the capabilities to become a leader in new technologies such as AI and blockchain. No location has yet cornered the market on AI and blockchain talent. The various uses of these technologies are still being explored, and by focusing on these technologies Austria can become a world leader.
In today’s globalized world, good diplomatic connections to other countries are important – especially in times of disputes. What can “diplomacy” be or do in such conflict situations? How would you define the “power of diplomacy”?
Diplomatic initiatives focus on reducing tensions and fostering better understanding. The power of diplomacy is to strengthen international stability through dialogue. As I learned this from my grandfather, I know how hard our diplomats work to make the world safer and more secure. I heard him talk about the Soviet Union and the Cold War and the threat of nuclear weapons and how the entire Foreign Service labored night and day to keep us all safe, advancing our interests as we slept soundly back at home.
It is no different today. My job is to talk to officials, to opinion leaders, to the media, and to the general public in order to advance U.S. foreign policy interests. But it is also about looking for areas of common interest and ways we can overcome areas of disagreement. It is hard work and requires nonstop engagement in 100 different ways. This is made easier when two countries share essential values, as is the case with the United States and Austria. As a birthplace of modern diplomacy, Vienna remains an ideal location for future international talks and diplomatic initiatives. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.