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US Vice President Joseph Biden speech to the Munich Security Conference, 7 February 2009

Munich Security Conference: Selected speeches

For a full list of speeches go to www.securityconference.de.

US Vice President Joseph Biden speech to the Munich Security Conference, 7 February 2009

Introduction: This Moment

Chancellor Merkel, Ambassador Ischinger, colleagues:

It is good to be back in Munich. I was honored to attend this conference as a United States Senator. Today, I am especially honored to represent a new American administration and the oldest American tradition: the peaceful, democratic transfer of power. I bring with me the regrets of two great Americans and two close friends - Senators John McCain and John Kerry. They had planned to be here, along with a bi-partisan Congressional delegation, but they were detained in Washington by the debate on our economic recovery plan. I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America's relations around the world. That new tone - rooted in strong partnerships to meet common challenges - is not a luxury. It is a necessity. While every new beginning is a moment of hope, this moment for America and the countries represented in this room - is fraught with concern and peril. In this moment, our obligation to our fellow citizens is to put aside the petty and the political to reject zero sum mentalities and rigid ideologies, to listen to and learn from one another and to work together for our common prosperity and security. That is what this moment demands. That is what the United States is determined to do.

The Challenges We Face

For 45 years, this conference has brought together Americans and Europeans - and, in recent years, leaders from beyond the Trans-Atlantic community - to think through matters of physical security. This year, more than ever before, we know that our physical security and our economic security are indivisible. We are all confronting a serious threat to our economic security that could spread instability and erode the progress we've made in improving the lives of our citizens. In the United States, we are taking aggressive action to stabilize our financial system, jump start our economy and lay a foundation for growth. Working with Congress, we will make strategic investments that create and save over three million jobs and boost our competitiveness in the long-run. Our plan includes doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years - computerizing our citizens' medical records; equipping tens of thousands of schools and colleges with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries; expanding broadband access across America; and investing in science, research and technology to spur innovation. We're also working to stabilize our financial institutions by injecting capital, purchasing some assets, and guaranteeing others. These remedies will have an impact far beyond our shores, just as the measures other nations are taking will be felt beyond their borders, too. Because of that, to the greatest extent possible, we must cooperate, make sure that our actions are complementary, and do our utmost to combat this global crisis. The United States is doing its part and President Obama looks forward to taking this message to the G-20 meeting in London in April. Even as we grapple with an economic crisis, we must contend with a war in Afghanistan now in its eighth year, and a war in Iraq well into its sixth year.

And we must recognize new forces shaping this young century:

The False Choice Between Security and Values

In meeting these challenges, the United States will be guided by this basic principle:

There is no conflict between our security and our ideals. They are mutually reinforcing. The force of arms won our independence, and throughout our history, the force of arms has protected our freedom. That will not change. But the very moment we declared our independence, we laid before the world the values behind our revolution and the conviction that our policies must be informed by a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Our Founders understood then and the United States believes now - that the example of our power must be matched by the power of our example. That is why we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. America will vigorously defend our security and our values, and in doing so we will all be more secure. As hard as we try, I know that we are likely to fall short of our ideals in the future, just as we have in the past. But I commit to you now: we will strive, every day, to honor the values that animate America's democracy … and that bind us to you. That is why, on one of the very first days of his presidency, Barack Obama reaffirmed America's most basic values. He made clear to the world:

America will not torture. We will uphold the rights of those we bring to justice. And we will close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Tough choices lie ahead. As we seek a lasting framework for our common struggle against extremism, we will have to work cooperatively with nations around the world - and we will need your help. For example, we will be asking others to take responsibility for some of those now at Guantanamo. Our security is shared. So, too, is our responsibility to defend it.

What We Will Do - What We Will Ask

That is the basis upon which we want to build a new approach to the challenges of this century.

America will do more, but America will ask for more from our partners. Here is what we will do and what we hope our partners will consider.

First, we will work in partnership whenever we can, alone only when we must.

The threats we face have no respect for borders. No single country, no matter how powerful, can best meet them alone. We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America's power - they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and values. So we will engage. We will listen. We will consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America. But we say to our friends that the alliances, treaties and international organizations we build must be credible and they must be effective. That requires a common commitment not only to live by the rules, but to enforce them.

That is the bargain we seek. Such a bargain can be at the heart of our collective efforts to convince Iran to forego the development of nuclear weapons. The Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its people; its illicit nuclear program is but one manifestation. Our administration is reviewing policy toward Iran, but this much I can say:

We are willing to talk.

We are willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon your illicit nuclear program and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives.

Second, we will strive to act preventively, not preemptively to avoid wherever possible a choice of last resort between the risks of war and the dangers of inaction.

We will draw upon all the elements of our power - military and diplomatic; intelligence and law enforcement; economic and cultural - to stop crises before they start. In short, we will recapture the totality of America's strength, starting with diplomacy. On his second full day in office, President Obama went to our State Department, where he stressed the centrality of diplomacy to our national security. That commitment can be seen in his appointments, starting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It can be seen in the President's decision to name two of America's most tenacious diplomats - Senator George Mitchell and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke - to contend with two of the world's most urgent and vexing challenges:

The need for a secure, just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the imperative of stopping the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan from providing a haven for terrorists. In both of these efforts, America seeks your partnership. Senator Mitchell just completed his first trip to the Middle East. Above all, he went to listen. In the near term, we must consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza by working with Egypt and others to stop smuggling and developing an international relief and reconstruction effort that strengthens the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas.

Neither of these goals can be accomplished without close collaboration among the United States, Europe and our Arab partners. Then, we must lay the foundation for broader peacemaking efforts. It is past time for a secure and just Two State solution. We will work to achieve it, and to defeat the extremists who would perpetuate the conflict. And, building on the positive elements of the Arab Peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia, we will work toward a broader regional peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

As we responsibly draw down our forces in Iraq, the United States will continue to work for a stable Afghanistan that is not a haven for terrorists. We look forward to sharing that commitment with the government and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and with our allies and partners because a deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat to all of us, not just the United States. President Obama has ordered a strategic review of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make sure that our goals are clear and achievable.

As we undertake that review, we seek ideas and input from you, our partners. The result must be a comprehensive strategy for which we all take responsibility that brings together our civilian and military resources that prevents a terrorist safe have and that helps Afghans develop the capacity to secure their own future.

No strategy for Afghanistan can succeed without Pakistan. We must all strengthen our cooperation with the people and government of Pakistan, help them stabilize the Tribal Areas and promote economic development and opportunity throughout the country.

Third, America will extend a hand to those who unclench their fists.

We do not believe in a clash of civilizations. We do see a shared struggle against extremism - and we will do everything in our collective power to help the forces of tolerance prevail. In the Muslim world, a small number of violent extremists are beyond the call of reason. We will defeat them. But hundreds of millions of hearts and minds share the values we hold dear. We will reach them. President Obama has made clear that we will seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect. It was not by accident that he gave his very first interview as President to Al-Arabiya.

To meet the challenges of this new century, defense and diplomacy are necessary - but not sufficient. We also need to wield development and democracy - two of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal. Poor societies and dysfunctional states can become breeding grounds for extremism, conflict and disease. Non-democratic nations frustrate the rightful aspirations of their citizens and fuel resentment.

Our administration has set ambitious goals to increase foreign assistance - To cut extreme poverty in half by 2015;

We also are determined to build a sustainable future for our planet - and we are prepared to lead by example. America will act aggressively against climate change and in pursuit of energy security with like-minded nations. Our administration's economic stimulus includes long-term investments in renewable energy.

The President has directed our environmental protection agency to review how we regulate emissions, started a process to raise fuel efficiency and appointed a climate envoy - all in his first week in office. As America renews our emphasis on diplomacy, development, democracy and preserving our planet, we will ask our allies to rethink some of their own approaches - including their willingness to the use force when all else fails.

When it comes to radical groups that use terror as a tool, radical states that harbor extremists, undermine peace and seek or spread weapons of mass destruction and regimes that systematically kill or ethnically cleanse their own people - we must stand united and use every means at our disposal to end the threat they pose.

None of us can deny - or escape - the new threats of the 21st century. Nor can we escape the responsibility to meet them.

Renewing Our Alliance

Two months from now, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather for our Alliance's 60th anniversary. This Alliance has been the cornerstone of our common security since the end of World War II. It has anchored the United States in Europe and helped forge a Europe whole and free. Together, we made a pact to safeguard the freedom of our peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. We made a commitment to cooperate, to consult - and to act with resolve when the principles we defend are challenged.

There is much to celebrate. But we must do more. We must recommit to our shared security and renew NATO, so that its success in the 20th century is matched in the 21st. NATO's core purpose remains the collective defense of its members. But faced with new threats, we need a new resolve to meet them, and the capabilities to succeed. Our Alliance must be better equipped to help stop the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons, to tackle terrorism and cyber-security, to expand its writ to energy security and to act in and out of area effectively.

We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective.

We will do so in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia. As we embark on this renewal project, the United States, like other Allies, would warmly welcome a decision by France to fully participate in NATO structures. In a recent discussion with President Sarkozy, President Obama underscored his strong support for France's full participation in NATO, should France wish it. France is a founding member of NATO and a major contributor to its operations. We would expect France's new responsibilities to reflect the significance of its contributions throughout NATO's history and strengthen the European role within the Alliance.

We also support the further strengthening of European defense, an increased role for the European Union in preserving peace and security, a fundamentally stronger NATO-EU partnership and deeper cooperation with countries outside the Alliance who share our common goals and principles.

The United States rejects the notion that NATO's gain is Russia's loss, or that Russia's strength is NATO's weakness. The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our Alliance.

It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together. Our Russian colleagues long ago warned about the rising threat from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, NATO and Russia can and should cooperate to defeat this common enemy.

We can and should cooperate to secure loose nuclear weapons and materials and prevent their spread, to renew the verification procedures in the START treaty and then go beyond existing treaties to negotiate deeper cuts in our arsenals. The United States and Russia have a special obligation to lead the international effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.

We will not agree with Russia on everything. For example, the United States will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not recognize a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.

But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide.


This conference started in the shadow of the Cold War. Now it takes place in a new century with new threats. As a great poet once wrote, our world has changed utterly - a terrible beauty has been born. We must change too, while remaining true to the principles upon which our alliance was founded.

And we must have the courage and commitment of those who came before us to work together to build together - and to stand together. In sharing ideals and searching for partners in a more complex world, Americans and Europeans still look to one another before they look to anyone else.

Our partnership benefits us all. This is the time to renew it.

Source: Munich Security Conference, www.securityconference.de.

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