Town Hall at Moscow State University

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
October 14, 2009

Date: 10/14/2009 Description: Secretary Clinton answering student question at the Moscow State University. © State Dept Image by Valeriy YevseyevSECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, (inaudible) and let me also thank you for allowing me to enjoy the sounds of the University Academic Choir. Thank you all for being here and (inaudible). I am very pleased to have this opportunity not only to speak, but also to listen. I am delighted to be back here again to this distinguished university where I first visited about 14 years ago with my husband. I return now in 2009, in the 21st century, to exemplify the commitments that the United States and the Obama Administration have to work as closely with not only the Russian Government, but with the people of Russia. As President Obama has said, we want a Russia that is prosperous, peaceful, and strong. And we want to be your partner in helping to address some of the most difficult challenges that the world faces.

Sometimes our messages to one another are lost in translation. But at the core, we believe strongly that the United States and Russia must be partners, not only for the future of our own country and our own people, but indeed, to the world. If you look around our planet today, you see a spectacular array of challenges – from threats to global security to economic crisis to a fragile environment. Amid that landscape, Russia stands out as a country of almost unlimited talents and potential. I believe our world will be a vastly better place if the intellectual energy that resides in both our countries is focused on working together to address these common economy’s challenges.

In some areas that is already happening. Our partnership has helped prevent the spread of nuclear arms. We are committed to reducing our weapons stockpile. We have cooperated in the fight against terrorism. We need to continue to build on what we have done. But what really matters is the spirit of innovation and ingenuity that drives real progress that resides in a place such as this great university.

Innovation demands that we convert ideas into value, that we take what exists and make it better, that we invent new solutions that open up more opportunities for each individual to fulfill his or her own God-given potential. Yesterday, I visited the Boeing Design Center, and I see the director of that center in the audience. Their 1,400 Russian engineers are interconnected with their counterparts in the United States, building the planes that all of us will have the opportunity to use. Russia’s history of pioneering advancements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is well known. Our standard of living rests on the inventions that have come before. The satellite technology that Russia helped to pioneer makes possible for us to enjoy not just what we see (inaudible) that we transmit (inaudible). More recently, a young Moscow native named Sergey Brin helped launch a tiny company in a rented garage in California. In eleven short years, that company, Google, has grown from nothing into one of the world’s most successful technology ventures. And what began as a collection of ideas nurtured and incubated here in Moscow has become a company with $22 billion in annual revenues, 20,000 employees, and a market capitalization of $150 billion, roughly the same as Gazprom.

So when I look at Russia and when I look at the United States relation with Russia, I see a very positive future. Now, of course, there will be disagreements along the way, as there should be. But it is our task, and I believe our responsibility, to continue to work toward greater understanding and a more durable partnership.

The work that must be done that creates greatness in any nation is rarely done by governments. It is done by the entrepreneurs, the innovators. It is done by the scientists and the pioneers. It is done by the academics. And it is the way we create the values that we will live by and transmit to future generations.

I was struck by the recent article that President Medvedev wrote, called Forward Russia. He described a Russia that was powered by human capital, knowledge, new technologies, not just by oil and gas, but by a more permanent asset, the talent and passion of the Russian people. That vision of progress is one that we share. But how do we take these aspirations and make them happen? By unleashing the potential of all people everywhere.

Innovation can’t be forced, but it can be fostered. Government investments in education, health, and infrastructure are all necessary. And so is cultivating core freedoms, free speech, freedom of the press, the freedom to participate in the political process. That creates the atmosphere for the vibrant exchange of ideas, and that competition in the idea market is as important as the competition in the economic market. So yes, citizens must be empowered to help formulate the laws under which they live. They need to know that their investments of time, money, and intellectual property will be safeguarded by the institutions of government.

In an innovative society, people must be free to take unpopular positions, disagree with conventional wisdom, know they are safe to peacefully challenge accepted practice and authority. That’s why attacks on journalists and human rights defenders here in Russia is such a great concern, because it is a threat to progress.

On a global level, we need to encourage innovation by fostering financial stability, free trade and the free flows of investment. That is why the United States supports Russia’s bid for entry into the World Trade Organization. And we know that there are many other ways we can cooperate. We just came from dedicating the new statue of Walt Whitman on this campus. It is the counterpart to a statue of Alexander Pushkin on the campus of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. And on the base of the statue that you will be able to visit now that shows Walt Whitman striving forward, you can read what he wrote about how similar he saw Russia and America all those years ago. And despite our differences, we share so much more than that which separates us. I believe that. And I believe that we can begin to work together in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to be here, to look out and see the faces of those who will lead this country in the future, who will make the breakthroughs in science and research that will better lives, that will be the entrepreneurs and the engineers who will build the next Google or the next Boeing airliner, and who will be the citizens who demand accountability from your leaders and work to create a better society.

So let us begin a conversation – one that we very much hope will lead to a sense of partnership and joint commitment. There is no reason for us to doubt that the world needs the United States and Russia joined in common cause and seeking common ground. I hope we will all do our part to translate that idea into a reality that makes a difference for both of our nations. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

And now, I’m looking forward to your questions. And I don’t know, I think the director, the vice director, we have a system to get people called on. And I will turn that back over to you.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Good morning, Mrs. Secretary, and thank you very much for your speech. And (inaudible) to all of us. My name is (inaudible), and I’m a third-year student. And my question is as follows. (Inaudible) President Obama in 2009 Peace Prize, recognizing his efforts (inaudible.) (Inaudible) major world problems, such as, for example, the creation of (inaudible). What is your opinion and (inaudible) of nuclear disarmament? And do you believe that it’s really possible to (inaudible) the world without nuclear weapons, I guess?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you. Now, President Obama said that he was very surprised and very humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and that he would consider it a call to action. And I think that’s exactly right that we all have a stake in working toward the vision of a more peaceful and prosperous world. And clearly, the challenge of nuclear weapons is one that not only President Obama but we all take very seriously and are attempting to address. The President presided over a Security Council meeting just about a week and a half ago, where the Security Council members unanimously adopted a commitment to work toward nuclear disarmament and to make sure we safeguarded the nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands.

The goal of a world without nuclear weapons is a very important goal. Getting there is a very long and hard journey. But you don’t get there by just hoping for it, and you don’t get there by just working on dialogue and resolutions. You get there by doing what the United States and Russia are now doing together. We are in the midst of negotiations to agree to lower our numbers of nuclear weapons, reduce our nuclear stockpiles, to increase greater verification and thereby build greater trust between the two nuclear superpowers. We are working together on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. We are working together to persuade Iran not to seek nuclear weapons. We are working together to prevent terrorists from obtaining access to nuclear weapons.

So we are taking concrete actions to move toward that overarching goal. I don’t think President Obama, or I, or President Medvedev, or any other world leader believes that we’re going to get there anytime soon. But we know how important the commitment must be. And therefore, it is a core goal of the Obama Administration to take those steps to advocate for those actions that will enable us to believe that we’ve moved down toward the ultimate goal. And I hope that we will continue to work closely with Russia, because we both bear a special responsibility as the two greatest nuclear superpowers. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: And your question, please.

QUESTION: Hello, Mrs. Clinton.


QUESTION: Thank you for a wonderful and inspiring lecture. My name is (inaudible). I am a first-year student, and my question is regarding the global economic crisis. Now, some experts say that it could have been predicted and certain measures could have been taken to either protect the economy from its effects of maybe even prevent the whole thing from happening. I think many would like to hear your opinion on this. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, I think, in retrospect, certainly there were steps that could have and should have been taken in our country and elsewhere around the world that were not. And the ripple effect of problems in one place in the world throughout the rest of the world has certainly demonstrated unequivocally how interconnected our global economy is today. I think it’s important as we work to restart the engine of economic growth to learn from the mistakes of the past. That doesn’t mean you’re going to avoid making new mistakes. There’s an up and a down in the economic business cycle, and that seems to be connected to human nature. But at least, we should try to avoid making the same mistakes.

Certainly, in our country, which I can speak of with more information than in other places, we believe strongly in home ownership. We think that enabling people to buy their own home is a part of the American dream. But very honestly, a lot of people were given the opportunity to buy homes that were not financially stable enough to afford the homes they bought. So what seemed like a really good idea, improperly executed, meant that many people were on the brink of financial instability. And the way that the market tried to take that into account was to say, well, we know you don’t have the strongest financial balance sheet, so we’re going to tie your mortgage payments to very low initial payments and then we’re going to increase it over time – did not work very well. And so we had a lot of people in the housing market who just couldn’t afford to stay in their homes, and that then had a ripple effect.

We also had in the world economy today a lot of innovative financial instruments, derivatives and the like, which were very complex and hard to understand, but which people from New York to New Delhi, from San Francisco to Shanghai, were buying up because it just seemed like everybody was doing it. And very few sort of stood to one side and said, well, at the end of the day, at the end of the financial transaction, what is the real asset? And many of those derivatives and other complex financial instruments were premised on the American housing market. So what happened is all these mortgages were bought into huge combinations and then they were sold over and over again. So someone in Tokyo or someone in Moscow would have this financial investment in houses in Las Vegas that might not have been properly priced in terms of the buyer’s financial ability. It all seemed like a great idea at the time, and it turned out not to be. And there were other factors as well – the rise and fall, which Russia knows a lot about, of commodity prices. There were many things going on.

So I think that the world leaders have taken steps that have stabilized our financial system globally. I think that the effort to put greater regulation on financial instruments that is being pursued certainly in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, is important. But at the end of the day, anyone who knows that there has to be a balance of power, this is one of the key concepts in American government. We have a balance of power; we have been an independent judiciary, a strong executive, a very active legislature. But there also must be a balance of power among government, the market economy, and civil society. And when that gets out of balance, then the other parties have to step in. So certainly, we’re looking at greater regulation of our financial markets, more protection for consumers, more transparency and accountability, which we think will help us to foresee and perhaps prevent future problems like this. But it’s going to be important for the global economy to take some of those same steps as well. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Good morning, Ms. Clinton. My name is (inaudible), and I’m a second-year student. First of all (inaudible) I’m sorry. Let me, first of all, thank you for (inaudible). And I would like to ask you a question regarding the aspects of Russia-American partnership. Which of them, in your opinion, are presently the top priority (inaudible) economic (inaudible) financial crisis or military? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me describe for you what our two presidents have agreed, and I think it’s very significant. We have created a Binational Commission, and we have 16 working groups under that commission. The commission, of course, is chaired by our presidents, and then Foreign Minister Lavrov and I coordinate it. If you look at our 16 working groups, we have economic issues, energy issues, defense and strategic issues. We also have health issues, education issues, sports, and culture issues.

What we are trying to do is to look as comprehensively as possible at the potential for our relationship. And so therefore, the two issues you mentioned, military and economic, are very important. But that’s not the only way we want to define our relationship. I think in the past, it’s been too narrowly defined. And I think that’s been a loss for both of our countries. So for example, on the military and defense side, you know this debate we’ve had about missile defense. And I want to explain this to you as an illustration of how the Obama Administration is approaching this issue differently. Missile defense is an effort to protect people from the real threats that exist in the world. We do not see a threat between the United States and Russia. There are disagreements from time to time, but we do not see a threat. What we do see as a threat are nuclear weapons in the hands of countries or networks of terrorists who feel that they have either nothing to lose or have such a different world view that they might actually trigger a nuclear conflict.

So when President Obama came into office, he ordered a review of what the prior administration had planned in terms of missile defense in Europe. And in our review, here is what we concluded. We concluded a nuclear-armed Iran would cause a threat to greater Europe, to Western Russia as well as to Eastern Europe and Western Europe. We concluded that their threat, however, was not what the prior administration had evaluated in the previous eight years, because they had been worried about Iran developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, longer-range missiles. Iran has not moved as quickly on longer-range missiles as they have on short- and medium-range missiles. So we, therefore, said let’s plan for missile defense to meet the threat that currently exists. So we decided to eliminate the prior administration’s plans, and instead to develop what we call a phased, adaptive approach that is aimed at preventing short- and medium-range missiles. And we shared this with our Russian colleagues, and we did it because we thought it was the right thing to do. But we also hope that missile defense is an area where Russia and the United States can cooperate together.

In our negotiations over lowering nuclear weapons and in our negotiations and discussions over missile defense, we are very open to transparency and to cooperation. In fact, when it comes to the START treaty that’s being negotiated, when it comes to missile defense, we have invited your top military experts and scientists to come to our command and control centers to ask every question that they have, and we would like to do the same because we want there to be a common understanding. So in this Binational Commission, that is the approach we are taking.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that we have people in our government, and you have people in your government, who are still living in the past. They do not believe that the United States and Russia can cooperate to this extent. They do not trust each other. And we have to prove them wrong. That is our goal. Our goal is to be as cooperative as we can. And it would be, in my view, a very positive outcome if someday in the future you see the United States and Russia announcing a joint plan on missile defense, that we will have sensors and radars and whatever other technology is needed in a way to protect what we hold dear, which is our homelands and those with whom we have so much in common.

The biggest immediate threat the world faces are nuclear weapons under the control of groups of people who do not value the future, who have a different set of world views, who are on the side of death instead of life, who believe martyrdom or suicide attacks are a positive way to end one’s life. That is not Russia, and that is not the United States. Those aren’t our values. That is not who we are. So I think we have so many reasons to work together to protect what we value, and this is one of the most important areas of the cooperation that we’re looking for in the Binational Commission. (Applause.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Wait, here comes a microphone. Oh, sorry, it’s going that way. Sorry.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Madame Secretary of State (inaudible) and also for the rousing and thought-provoking speech you gave. And I would like to ask the question regarding the issues we still have (inaudible) despite the general improvement of our relations, and more precisely, the Georgia case. What ways of resolving this conflict would you propose? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m glad you asked that because this is an area where we have a disagreement. And we have been very candid in expressing our concerns and listening to the Russian concerns. I think that it’s very important that neither the Georgians nor the South Ossetians nor the Abkhazians do anything provocative. And we have told that to the Georgians, and I am confident that the Russian Government has told that to the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

It is a very difficult set of relationships at work in Georgia. But the first and most important goal must be to make sure there’s no more conflict. If there are problems to be resolved, they should be put within the diplomatic political arena and to avoid any further military action whatsoever. Therefore, we believe that it’s important to have a constant presence of observers and peacekeepers so that there is no basis or no room for something that would lead to further bloodshed to occur. In my meetings with Minister Lavrov, we have discussed how we can perhaps go back to the drawing boards to create a status-neutral approach to create that kind of buffer zone, that kind of observer position through Geneva, through the UN, through the OSCE.

But this is an issue that we see differently, and I think it’s important that we talk through this. When I became Secretary of State, the relationship between NATO and Russia had been broken off. The NATO-Russia Council had stopped meeting because of the very strong feelings that many people had about what happened in Georgia. And my position was you may disagree with – about what happened in Georgia, but we shouldn’t stop talking. We have to keep talking. So we have reinstated the NATO-Russia Council so that we can have a forum so that the United States and Russia will constantly be in communication when something happens that could be a serious challenge to our relationship. So this is something we’re going to have to keep watching and working on. And I hope that we are able to keep it calm and keep everybody focused on the future and figure out how we can try to come to some resolution of what is a very difficult set of circumstances.

But in general, I think that on most issues we are working well together. Just last week in Zurich, Minister Lavrov and I worked to help ensure that Turkey and Armenia signed a protocol to normalize their relationships, and that was a very significant level of cooperation. Now, we’re working to try to help resolve the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

So where we have a disagreement, as we do over Georgia, it should not end everything. We should work together. We should try to see where we could end up, working through that disagreement while we continue to try to solve other problems. And that’s my approach to it, and I think that’s the kind of new attitude that we’re bringing to our relationship. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Ms. Clinton, thank you very much for your brilliant performance. It was (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. That was a great question. Thank you.

We have (inaudible) debate in our country (inaudible) you have here in Russia (inaudible) that there are two kinds of power. There’s hard power, namely military power and (inaudible) deploy in preparation for military power. Or there’s soft power, which is diplomacy and development aid and people-to-people cultural contact. I think that’s a false choice in the 21st century. I think that it is more appropriate to look at the range of threats and challenges we face to recognize that it’s rare (inaudible) either/or (inaudible).

And so several years ago, academics in our country began writing about what they called smart power; in other words, using the tools at their disposal to address whatever problems (inaudible), and of course, trying to err on the side of avoiding the use of hard power wherever possible, using diplomacy and other approaches to try to prevent having to use military force. And when I became Secretary of State, I said that we were going to try to put into action what the academics had described as smart power. Now, first, smart power needs smart people. Smart power (inaudible) people who think out of the box, who can be creative, who aren’t stuck in the past.

A few days ago, I was in Northern Ireland and I was speaking to the (inaudible) assembly in Northern Ireland (inaudible) people who were a few years ago sworn enemies, people who took up arms against each other. And there’s been a peace agreement for a number of years, but there are still a lot of issues that have to be worked out and a massive amount of distrust. Because when you sit across the desk from someone who you think is part of (inaudible) trying to kill you or kill your family, it’s hard to have trust with that kind of feeling.

And I said to them, look, you are in positions of leadership and you have a choice. You can show allegiance to a past you cannot change or commit to a future that you help to shape. Smart power is about bringing the best people (inaudible) to the forefront of making policy, (inaudible) exploring all of the (inaudible), taking nothing for granted. If you are (inaudible) some people in my government and some people in your government, they would say you can’t trust the Russians, you can’t trust the Americans, you can’t work with them. I don’t believe that. So let’s get smart about this and say, look, are we always going to agree? No, we’re not. Are we always going to see the world in the same way? No, we’re not. So let’s be smarter than our past. Let’s try to figure out how we come up with new approaches and can break through some of the stereotypes and the misinformation and the other caricatures that sometimes we have of the other.

So smart power, defense, military force is obviously part of it for both of our countries. But so is diplomacy and so is development. So is linking the people outside of government, the nongovernmental organizations, the experts like you have here at Moscow State University, to be part of the analysis and the recommendations and the strategic assessments that we make.

I’ll give you a little example. You may (inaudible) some of you may have seen in the press that we are making an in-depth review of our policy in Afghanistan. There were some things that we inherited from the prior administration that we are (inaudible). But we are committed. Our goal is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and their extremist allies. But who exactly are (inaudible)? Who is really part of the sort of global jihadist movement, and who may be fighting for some other reason?

So that’s what smart power means – take nothing for granted, ask all the questions you can possibly have, come up with the best answer that’s humanly possible, (inaudible) knowing that (inaudible) may not get 100 percent right, and then make the best decisions you can to implement them. So we are very committed to engaging in this smart power approach and doing everything we can to work with our partners around the world on (inaudible). (Applause.)

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Good morning, Mrs. Clinton. That was very interesting comments and (inaudible), so thank you for that. (Inaudible) from politics and ask you a personal question since I am very interested (inaudible) having so-called (inaudible) changes in personality (inaudible), personal backgrounds (inaudible). So I’m wondering whether you have such (inaudible) and what (inaudible). Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have been influenced by so many books, but I think one (inaudible) particularly appropriate to this occasion, Brothers Karamazov (inaudible). I read it when I was young (inaudible). I, for a combination of reasons, was particularly affected by the (inaudible). And I saw it as an object lesson against (inaudible) and absolute (inaudible). And I have carried that with me for my lifetime. I believe that one of the greatest responsibilities that we have as human beings is to open ourselves up to the possibility that we could be wrong and to learn from the experiences of those who have very different world views, so that you can better understand them, but also understand yourself.

I think that one of the greatest threats we face is some people who believe they’re absolutely certainly right about everything, and that they have the only truth that exists and that it was passed on from God. And I think God has the ultimate truth, I don’t think any one of us is smart enough to figure out all (inaudible). And so for a lot of reasons that was an important part of my thinking and has informed me over the years (inaudible).

I think the final thing that I would leave you with is that we have to be open because we live in such a world today that we have no choice. And the more open Russia can become, the more Russia will contribute. The more active and dynamic a political system you have, the more all of the talents and the opinions of everyone will go into the mix, and out of it will come even better answers to the problems that we all face. And so I hope that, as we forge our relationship, it is not just between our presidents or between our ministers, but increasingly – and beyond anything we’ve done in the past – it is between us. And it becomes not just political, but personal. Because I really do have a strong sense of what the world will look like if we work together and what it will look like if we don’t. And therefore, I choose partnership and I choose to put aside being a child of the Cold War, I choose to move beyond the rhetoric and the propaganda my government and yours. I choose a different future. And that’s a choice everyone has to make every single day, and I look forward to that future with you.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

PRN: 2009/T13-18