Keynote Address at the Croatia Forum
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Thank you for that, Jacques. Hello, dobar dan, everyone. It is so wonderful to be here in Dubrovnik again to talk about the Western Balkans and the transatlantic relationship. This has always been a happy conference for me when I’ve been lucky enough to come. I think the last time I was here it was an all European World Cup final. We’re only half European this time, but anyway, it’s wonderful to be back. This is such a spectacular setting to pause and reflect on the challenging year that we’ve all had and the work ahead on our shared journey for a Europe whole, free, and at peace, and an ever stronger transatlantic bond. Our thanks to Minister Pusic, to the Croatian hosts. Whether in NATO or the EU, in Afghanistan or KFOR, the work we do together on energy security, Balkan security, Ukrainian security, Croatia is an absolutely vital ally and partner of the United States and for all of us.
In a region layered with history, memory, and milestones matter. Even as we mourn the tragedy that took place in Srebrenica 19 years ago today, we can look with pride at the progress achieved in the Western Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe to overcome divisions of the past and to integrate the region into Euro-Atlantic structures. Like many of you in this room, I remember exactly where I was on that horrible day 19 years ago. And as a young diplomat, struggling to understand such carnage in the heart of Europe, our goal then of cementing this region and Eastern Europe into Euro-Atlantic structures seemed unattainable.
And yet today, Croatia and Slovenia are models for their Balkan neighbors. Albania is in NATO and just two weeks ago, it was granted EU candidate status. Kosovo is independent and normalizing relations with Serbia through the EU-led dialogue. Serbia has launched its EU accession talks in January, and Kosovo is on its way to a Stabilization and Association agreement. Montenegro is making steady progress towards both NATO and the EU. And Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine signed historic agreements with the European Union.
All these achievements took hard work by the countries involved, patient support and diplomacy from those of us who are already in the big clubs, and most of all, a continued commitment by every nation represented at this conference to work together for a more democratic, peaceful, prosperous, and united continent. That work has got to continue. No matter how hard it is, how intractable the problems sometimes feel, people from Kosovo to Kyiv are counting on us to stand with them as they seek lasting security, prosperity, and a better future.
And there’s so much more to do, to secure this region and Europe’s East. Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, its continued destabilizing actions in Eastern Ukraine and Gazprom’s June 16th gas delivery cut-off to Ukraine remind us that pressing security threats still exist. Russia’s actions are an affront to our fundamental values and to Helsinki Principles and to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of 46 million Ukrainians and their right to choose, as all of us have, their future with dignity.
And just as we have stood together with those in the Western Balkans who have sought and are still seeking to join the institutions of the Euro-Atlantic community, we must stand with the Ukrainian people in their hour of need. That means supporting the democratically elected president as he works to offer peace, amnesty, broad decentralization and political reform, and pushes through painful economic reforms. That means continuing to insist that President Putin end all, all support for armed separatists and thugs who are fostering unrest in Donetsk and Luhansk. No more weapons, no more money, no more hostages and kidnappings. We need a cease-fire that both sides honor. And we need to see true security on both sides of the Russian and Ukrainian border monitored by the OSCE. All of this is possible with political will in Moscow and pressure on their proxies. And if that is not forthcoming, in days, not weeks, we must all be willing to impose more costs on Russia.
Why? Because Europe will not be at peace until Ukraine is at peace. Every day that the undeclared war goes on, the costs for Ukraine and the costs for all of us go up. A protracted conflict doesn’t just cost Ukrainian blood and treasure, it imperils the investment that all of us have already made in Ukraine’s economic and political stability and it increases the cost of restoring that stability and security and unity. And every day the conflict continues increases the risk of a broader impact on the security, stability and prosperity of the rest of Europe. That’s why words from Russia are not enough. We need action now, and we must be prepared to take more action of our own in coming days, if necessary.
That’s also why, now more than ever, NATO Allies must remain vigilant in the steps that we are taking to demonstrate on land, sea, and air, that NATO territory is inviolable, that we will defend every piece of it. In the run-up to the September NATO Wales Summit, all NATO members must sustain this demonstration of Alliance solidarity, and we must also work together to reverse the downward slide in defense budgets.
Today, NATO is not just about securing our own space, keeping faith with the people of Afghanistan and Kosovo, and continuing our other missions. We must also look south, across the Med, to Libya, to Iraq, to Syria and to other places where extremism is being fought. And we have to think more creatively about the contribution that NATO can make to training and sustaining those forces working to restore democratic norms and peace across North Africa and the Middle East. As the recent tragic shooting in the heart of Europe, in downtown Brussels, reminds us, violent extremism will come to our streets if we don’t stand against it more effectively at home and abroad. And that means sustaining our defense and security budgets.
There are two other essential elements of our shared security and prosperity that I want to touch on today because they are just as essential to our future: energy and economic security and countering corruption. Now more than ever, we have to work to secure Europe’s energy security by ensuring diversity of supply, building up reverse flow capabilities and storage capacity and creating deeper networks of import terminals and interconnectors throughout the continent. This nation, Croatia, has an essential role to play as an energy security hub for the 21st century.
We also have to work to complete an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that makes all of us more competitive globally, boosts economic and job growth and preserves the high social and environmental standards our citizens expect.
In this region, we see that corruption, democratic drift, protracted conflict, ethnic tensions and violence still threaten many states. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic path remains stuck, because some politicians are more interested in maintaining a dysfunctional status quo than in serving their own citizens. Macedonia hasn’t yet joined the EU and NATO because of a dispute over its name. If we believe in this European dream and in the shared values that undergird it, then we must invest in them every day, and not allow old grievances to become permanent ones.
And as we look to shore up the values at the core of the transatlantic community, the fight against corruption and democratic backsliding must now be an equally frontline concern. Europe can’t be whole when kleptocrats treat states as a bonanza of spoils for themselves and their cronies. And it can’t be free when elections are rigged, independent media is silenced and minorities are vilified. And it can’t be at peace when corrupt officials use political, economic, and judicial intimidation to stifle opposition and rip off their own citizens.
Corruption also threatens national sovereignty because every dirty politician in our midst, every dirty non-transparent contract that we allow, creates another wormhole of vulnerability and an opportunity for mischief by outside forces. From the Balkans to the Baltic to the Black Sea, we must understand, as those on the Maidan did, that corruption is not just a democracy killer, it’s another grey tool in the arsenal of autocrats and kleptocrats who seek to extend their influence, weaken our democracies and enrich themselves at the expense of our citizens.
Every country in the Euro-Atlantic region has struggled with the scourge of corruption and the United States is no exception. Our democracy, like all democracies, is a work in progress. As the United States continues its journey to become a more perfect union, we fight every day to deliver the clean, fair, equitable government of the people, by the people and for the people, that Americans expect. And as we do so, we will also stand with all those across Europe and Eurasia who are fighting to root out corruption wherever it hides, and to strengthen freedom of the press, active civic engagement, transparent and accountable government, and the rule of law.
From Dayton to Donetsk, for more than 20 years, the United States has been proud to stand with the nations represented at this conference in the hard work we have done together to build a Europe whole, free, and at peace. For my nation, this is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a selfish thing to do, because a secure, prosperous, democratic, and peaceful Europe is essential to America’s own prosperity and national security. With that work unfinished and challenges to our security, our economic wellbeing and our values coming from so many directions now, we need to take inspiration from this beautiful place where we are this weekend and the progress our past unity has enabled, and redouble our efforts together. Together, as a transatlantic community, we must continue to set the global gold standard in protecting and advancing freedom, choice and human dignity of our own people and of people everywhere who share our values and aspirations. We know our work is not done, and we know we have to do it together.
Thank you very much.