Remarks on the Transatlantic Relationship
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, je suis John Kerry. (Laughter.) Welcome.
Karen, merci, danke schon, dank u wel, and thank you – I’m really delighted to be here in the heart of Europe. I’m delighted to be in this extraordinary library building of great history, and I thank you, all of you, for taking time to come and to listen and to share thoughts and engage in something of a dialogue – a little one-sided for most of it. But it’s special for me to be able to be here in a capital city that even during the violent days of last March showed the world what true unity and courage look like. And I thank you for that, and I salute Belgium and Brussels for that.
Let me just say how pleased I am to be able to be here with our coterie of ambassadors. This is such an international city. We have more ambassadors than I can count. (Laughter.) No, not really. But Tony Gardner, ambassador to the EU, and Denise Bauer, ambassador to Belgium, and Doug Lute, our ambassador to NATO – all of whom are doing an extraordinary job – and visiting, our great ambassador to Afghanistan, Mike McKinley over here, who’s been doing a marvelous job.
So I thank all of our ambassadors, and I thank all of you. I know there are diplomats and parliamentarians and a great mix of diplomatic experience assembled in this room – a lot of hopes and aspirations. So I thank you for taking time to come. And greetings to all those of you who are watching online, and particularly the many young people tuning in. And I say that because I am particularly glad that you could join us, since you have the largest stake in the issues that I will be discussing here today.
And to Karen and the German Marshall Fund – first of all, I had the pleasure of working with her when she was on the national security team in Washington. But thank you so much for organizing and hosting this event. And I can’t think of a better match between an organization and a topic, because nothing signifies transatlantic unity – they’re already applauding and they’re not even in the room. (Laughter.) That’s pretty good. (Laughter.)
I’m sorry. (Laughter.) Transatlantic unity really does signify a lot more than sort of a loose-knit coming together. And there’s nothing that manifests it more than the name George Marshall, the person George Marshall, the man, the plan and, since 1972, the fund that a democratic Germany established as a gift to the United States.
General Marshall was renowned for his intellect, but I want you to know – even a figure as accomplished as he had a learning curve. In 1918, when he first arrived on French soil as a young Army officer, he wanted to improve his French by speaking every opportunity that he had. So he boldly went up to a French colleague and, intending to comment on the beautiful weather, said confidently “je suis tres beau aujourd-hui.” (Laughter.) The officer gave him a look, a very strange look – (laughter) – and it was a long time before George Marshall tried French again. (Laughter.)
My own experience as an American in Europe began when I was very young. And Karen referenced it. After arriving by steamship in Le Havre and hearing a foreign language for the first time – French – I remember these people – everybody was saying “walla walla, walla walla,” and I didn’t know what it meant. Finally I learned about “voila,” and my life was greatly expanded.
But I went to Berlin, where my father was serving as the legal advisor to the high commissioner of Germany, then James Conant. And this was the mid-1950s – well before the Wall went up. So one day I grabbed my bicycle, which I loved to do and still to this day, and using my diplomatic passport, I pedaled through Checkpoint Charlie into the Soviet-controlled sector – at the ripe age of 12. And what struck me very quickly visually was the difference between East and West. It was not just geography for this young kid. It was something palpable. And I could see and feel the contrast to the lively neighborhoods with which I had become familiar. The East was grim, gray, drab, heavily policed, somewhat foreboding, very few cars, very dark clothing, very few people moving around. And I sensed a foreboding, so much so that I returned home very quickly, a little wiser, and as I learned, in deep trouble with my Dad – who immediately grounded me for a few days, informed me I could have caused an international incident, and then very unfairly, I thought, grossly limited the range of my bicycle excursions.
But the world in those days may not have been a better place or a more peaceful place, but I have to tell you, as we gather here in Brussels in 2016, it was definitely simpler. It was bipolar. It was like a boxing match – there was a superpower rival in each of the two opposing corners, preparing to slug it out round after round. And when the G-7 gathered or when the American President visited Moscow or Beijing, the whole world watched. Things stopped. A conversation took place about that. Everyone’s hopes and fears were concentrated in the hands of just a few powerful men. And then, it was men.
Today, the world is less hierarchical and power is more broadly shared. Non-state actors of every description are playing an increasing role on the global stage. At the same time, new technologies have enabled people to become healthier, to become more connected, and generally more prosperous than ever before. But as all of us know, there are also growing signs of a broad kind of dissatisfaction. Citizens everywhere are understandably frustrated by corruption, the fast pace of change, by inequality, and by terrorism on their streets. The ghosts of conflicts past – virulent nationalism, authoritarianism, prejudice, sectarian divide – have reappeared in modern but no less vicious guise. People fear that fierce global competition is going to drive them from the marketplace, drive them from the workplace, and communities are going to be transformed by migrants and refugees.
The churning – and there is a lot of churning – has made the job of shaping world events even more complicated and put pressure on governments to better deliver for their citizens the most basic functions – from the enforcement of the rule of law, to providing security, to enabling citizens to be able to pursue their dreams with hope and optimism, confidence. The truth is there are no easy ways to address these anxieties. But I’ve got to tell you with all the conviction in my being and all of the experience now of so many years of being engaged as an advocate, as a senator for more than 28 years, as a Secretary, as a lieutenant governor, as a lawyer – I can tell you there is a logical place to begin. And that is by remembering who we are, and what we stand for, and who we stand with.
Here in Belgium, you have a motto: “L’Union Fait la Force” – unity makes strength. In the United States, we have our own version: E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. And this afternoon, I cannot emphasize too strongly the twin propositions that unity within Europe, and partnership between the United States and Europe, remain absolutely indispensable to global security and prosperity.
The most indelible connection we share is the miracle of 70 years ago when, from the ashes of global devastation and genocide, the United States and Europe built institutions that would help prevent the repeat catastrophe of another generation of young European men being lost in yet another global conflagration. Those institutions fostered the most sustained period of economic growth in history, the most amazing melding of different people and culture and language. It crafted new principles for governing relations among states; it set out a moral and legal framework for safeguarding the fundamental rights and dignity of all people. And my friends, it has made all the difference over these 70 years.
During that journey, we saw Europe embark on a remarkable enterprise informed by the grim lessons of the past and designed to forge a new and shared identity that, while honoring the unique nature of every individual nation, would rise above the age-old divides and establish the basis for a Europe whole, free, prosperous, and at peace.
More people need to think about and tune into the extraordinary nature of what has been achieved, and to the meaning not just to history, but to a lot of countries in the world that depend on that unity and depend on those values and depend on those interests. I stress this because we all know that there are demagogues out there from the left and from the right who fan the fears of change and who believe that bluster – often tinged with bigotry – can provide a pathway to their own power.
One of the defining virtues of democracy is that every voice has a chance to be heard, yet we also know the words can be ugly: on both sides of the Atlantic we hear calls to ban all immigrants, end free trade, align with autocrats – all at variance with the values on which our alliance had been built. Some even regret that the United Kingdom gave its citizens the right to opine on their future relationship with the EU. As much as some of us may wish the UK vote had gone the other way, the lesson we that we have to take from this democratic choice is not that we need less Europe or less UK; rather, we need more of both – more security, more prosperity, more collaboration among the U.S., the UK, and the EU to address the demands of our citizens and the challenge that our democratic societies face.
Let me underscore: The United States of America will support its friends and its allies on both sides of the channel as you work through the tough issues ahead, but we will not be shy about where our interests lie. We need the strongest possible EU, the strongest possible UK, and a highly integrated, collaborative relationship between them. Our goal, as talks are launched next spring, must be to once again prove the pundits wrong and to put to shame all those who have once again have declared the vision of Europe dead and to reject the new conventional wisdom that the time has come to raise drawbridges to separate countries instead of building bridges to connect countries.
We need to firmly and boldly reject the cynics and the destroyers who think that the many challenges we face are somehow too much to handle. We need to prove that we can and we will maintain our unity. It’s not going to surprise you – the doubters don’t believe that we have what it takes to adapt. I believe they’re wrong. I believe they underestimate the power of the ideals that brought our societies together in the first place. They forget how many times in the past we have faced and overcome similar or far worse trials. They underestimate how seared those experiences are in the collective minds of Europeans. They’ve been listening too closely to the loudest voices, and not paying enough attention to the millions of people in our nations who will not abandon the principles that have defined us in the past – people who are eager to work for even stronger and more effective partnerships and institutions.
So how do we make certain that happens?
Well, obviously, reform within the EU is necessary – but going so far as to break down or even thinking of dissolving the institutions that we’ve worked so hard to establish would be both dangerous and shortsighted. Think about it: In the interconnected world in which we live today, which no politician, no demagogue, nobody can turn back – no one can put the genie of technology and of interconnectedness and of change, of information, back in the bottle. We live in a world today where who could credibly argue that each nation, operating in a vacuum, would somehow be more efficient and effective?
On the other hand, common sense dictates governments must do a better job in addressing the needs of their citizens, nationally and collectively – from migration fears to economic and physical security.
Today, far too many people in far too many countries – for them, real wages have been stagnant. Unemployment, especially among young, is far too high. Workers lacking a good education are finding it harder and harder to keep up all around the world. And many worry that time and technology will cause these trends to become even worse, making it more difficult for their children to fulfill their aspirations.
All of these are real concerns – and they are concerns that therefore drive politics, because all of politics – as a professor of mine once said to me in a lecture, all politics is about felt needs. But none of these things are reasons for pessimism. They’re certainly no excuse for heeding the siren song of isolationism. It’d be a mistake to ignore the intrinsic strength of economies on both sides of the Atlantic; or to disregard the real choices that we can make that will help us adjust to new economic conditions.
Now, President Obama said in Hannover just a few months ago that our shared challenge is to find ways to unleash the next wave of innovation and jobs that will lift our people up. And I might add that even as we do that, we’re going to see more and more people moving into services. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because there are billions of people for whom houses have to be built, education has to be delivered, health care has to be achieved, and leisure and tourism and travel and all kinds of extraordinary sharing can take place. So what all of this means is that we have to demonstrate a laser-like commitment to economic growth – growth that benefits the many, not just the few; growth fostered by early childhood education, lifelong learning, and apprenticeship programs such as those now underway in Germany.
It means making it easier for our entrepreneurs to turn their good ideas into new companies that will pick up the employment slack as older industries phase out. And that means mostly and often getting government out of the way or streamlining decisions, and not driving people nuts with the chase through bureaucracy so you can’t make timely decisions and move with the rapidity that the modern marketplace demands. It means adjusting to the so-called “gig economy,” by taking advantage of its flexibility without allowing it to undercut benefits. It means increasing our investment in basic research and public infrastructure. And it means seizing the incredible opportunity before us to revolutionize the way that we produce and use energy. Energy – the single solution to climate change is energy policy and it is the biggest market ever conceived of by human beings. And we can do that so that green technology becomes both a driver of economic growth and a means of preserving the environmental health of our planet.
Now, just as important, we have to understand that every step that we take to banish corruption and cronyism in the global economy will shed massive amount of deadweight and it will increase public confidence. Few things are more discouraging to any young person than the conviction that no matter how hard they work, the top rungs of the economic ladder are reserved for the unscrupulous or the better connected. And few things are more destructive to relations among states than to see governments outside their borders actively seek to corrupt their citizens through pay-to-play schemes, rigged contracts, and secret offshore bank accounts. Corruption costs the global economy more than a trillion dollars a year and it has to be defeated globally. The power of the Euro-Atlantic community is that, united, it can, together with the United States, show the way, by insisting on financial transparency, demanding best practices from the private sector, using the courts to return stolen assets, and developing and sharing intelligence that will help to put international kleptocrats out of business and behind bars.
Now, again, there are no instant solutions to our economic challenges; no magic wands. But if we look back through history, we will see that adjusting to technology and to the shifts in how people earn a living has been a constant fact of life everywhere. Every era is accompanied by the dire predictions of massive unemployment, food shortages, population bombs, future shock. But each era has also witnessed massive innovation and gigantic leaps in productivity. We humans have proven again and again that we are an amazing, resilient species. I believe we should look forward with confidence, even as we demand from ourselves a steadiness of effort and an unyielding determination to take what we do well today and do it even better tomorrow.
One example of that is the drive, is the – in our commitment to sort of drive to do better is what is actually on display this very week in New York, where U.S. and European negotiators are trying to make as much possible on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. Now, the purpose of these talks is not just to give an additional boost to commerce; even more important is the signal our teams can send to the rest of the world about the need for high labor, environmental, and consumer protection standards. Europe has high standards and nothing in this agreement would lower them one iota. TTIP would, in fact, reduce export costs for millions of small and medium-sized businesses and create a foundation for future growth in Euro-Atlantic trade. And if done correctly, it can provide a powerful rebuttal to those who see trade agreements as the starter’s gun for an economic race to the bottom – and powerful support for those who believe in building on past accomplishments rather than trying to tear them down. Let me make it crystal clear: trade is not the problem. No matter where you live, most of your customers live somewhere else, in another country, so we all need to trade. The challenge is that more people need to share in the benefits of that trade. And that is not a problem that’s solved by getting rid of trade. It’s a problem that will be solved by domestic and political choices in each country – not by ending the trade itself. Tax policy, social policy, health care policy, education policy – sharing more of the benefits of the work with the people who do it.
It’s also critical to remember, in 2016 – and looking to the future – you can’t separate economic challenges from the security threats that we also face. And here, too, the smartest response to common danger is to combine our strengths.
I said a moment ago that we need to remember who we are and what we stand for. The fact is that the many accomplishments of the institutions such as the EU, NATO, OSCE are only partly attributable to the resources that they command. The real source of their strength resides in the democratic ideals and the principles that they were built to defend – principles and values that attract people to them in the first place. That’s why they have received our respect for so long. That’s why people actually want to join them. And that’s why they deserve our continued support today.
Now, consider, for example, that without the transatlantic cooperation, we would never have succeeded in negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement that sees Iran today living by its own commitments to shut down potential pathways to a nuclear weapon. I’m deeply grateful to EU High Representative Mogherini and to her predecessor, Lady Cathy Ashton – and to all of our partners – for their help in that effort, which was done on a multilateral basis. Our responsibility now is to ensure that all sides live up to their obligations, and I can assure you that the United States is doing and will continue to do our part.
In Paris last December – Karen mentioned it in her introduction – the United States and the EU were among the leading advocates of the most inclusive and ambitious global climate change agreement ever negotiated. And we were able to lay the pathway for that by reaching out to China and changing the disaster of Copenhagen’s failure into a success when President Obama and President Xi stood up together in Beijing and announced that we were going to work with China, and together move towards an agreement and bring other countries with us. A couple of weeks ago in New York, as a result, we reaffirmed our mutual support for bringing the pact into force before the end of this year. And this very day, the EU is making good on that pledge. The European Parliament is voting to give its consent to ratify the agreement, and carry us over the required threshold – a truly historic moment. We are allies, as well, in supporting a critical amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will be considered in Kigali next week, where I will be traveling in order to try to help make certain that we get over the line. An ambitious agreement to phase down the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, if achieved, it has the ability to reduce temperature increase – just that measure alone – by a full half degree Celsius. It would give a huge boost to our efforts to slow global warming and thereby avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.
Ladies and gentlemen, I just ask you to think of where the world would be if the United States and Europe had listened to those who wanted to divide us; if we had been constantly at odds over the years instead of almost always together. We would never have defeated Communism or pulled down the Berlin Wall from both sides. We would never have placed before the world an example in action that has helped to triple the number of democracies over the last quarter century. We wouldn’t be investing now in assisting our friends in Afghanistan to defend their country against violent extremists, send their girls to school, and sustain a viable, representative government. We wouldn’t be cooperating on measures to strengthen legitimate national authorities in Libya.
We wouldn’t have led an effective – led effectively on development, helping to cut in half the number of women who die during childbirth and the number of infants who perish because of malnutrition. We wouldn’t have joined in driving the percentage of people who live in extreme poverty down to below 10 percent for the first time in human history. We wouldn’t have helped our West African partners to defy predictions to save hundreds of thousands of people who were at risk from Ebola. And we wouldn’t have combined forces with the global health community to turn the tide in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Now we can look forward to the first “born free from AIDS” generation in more than three decades.
There’s a lesson in this for everyone. We should never take for granted the good that has been achieved by the unity of Europe. We should never ignore that, which some people seem to do today so quickly and so easily. We shouldn’t turn our backs on Europe’s partnership with the United States and all that it means. We have to persist in fighting for both. The transatlantic partnership is not a trophy from the past that we can put on a shelf and just look at and admire – it’s a living, breathing, multifaceted enterprise. And we have to renew it with each generation and refuel it every day with our energy, our ideas, our resources, and – above all – our collective determination and will.
I say that because it’s true; and I say it because our partnership is central to the security of all of our countries, particularly in the changed threat environment that we face today.
In the United States, we will never forget that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty was triggered for the first time after 9/11. And I can assure you – that whatever you may have read in recent times – the United States of America will never fail to meet its own Article 5 obligations should any NATO member come under attack.
Last July, at the alliance summit in Warsaw, our leaders gave tangible backing to that principle by agreeing to enhance NATO’s presence in the East and to move forward with the most substantial new deployment of allied capability in the region in the past quarter of a century. In addition, President Obama has requested from Congress 3.4 billion in new funding to help our allies improve their defense forces, modernize communications, strengthen command and control, and step up the number and the rigor of our joint exercises. Across the alliance, we welcome the efforts that many members are making to augment their contributions, and we urge all of those members to meet the standards that all agreed to set.
Now, nonetheless, I emphasize – and I want to emphasize this particularly in the wake of the news of the last few days – NATO is a defensive alliance. The Russian people, in particular, should know that despite what their leaders sometimes tell them, our alliance does not seek to weaken, to contain, or to divide their nation or any other nation. We want to work with Russia. We want to work with a Russia that is just as committed to solving common challenges. In fact, I have probably spent as much time with the Russian foreign minister as I have with any other foreign diplomat.
But the willingness of NATO and EU countries to search for common ground with Russia doesn’t relieve us of the obligation to stand our ground on behalf of freedom and international law, which is why we remain steadfast in our support for a stable, united, and democratic Ukraine. And Moscow should have no doubt on this point: we will stand our ground. Blatant aggression is not something that any of us are prepared to accept, and no place in the world should understand it better than Europe. So we have imposed sanctions and we are insisting on a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Donbas and the illegal annexation of Crimea – even as we encourage the government in Ukraine to stay the course and accelerate the pace of reform.
Now, obviously, Russia resents the sanctions, but no one should forget – they were not put in place gratuitously – they are in furtherance of the rule of law and long-established norms of international behavior. They are designed solely to encourage a return to peace, stability, and the recognition of legitimate sovereignty.
Now, we must also push back against attempts by anyone to undermine political, economic, and energy cohesion in the cooperation of the Euro-Atlantic region. The diversification of energy supplies, for example, is a common sense policy designed to shield the continent from undue pressure and we have more work to do. I might add if we move rapidly enough to embrace what we have done in the Paris Agreement and to respond to the crisis of climate change that is coming at us with new and more powerful scientific evidence every day, if we move rapidly enough, the amount of jobs, the extraordinary new enterprises that can be created in that transition to clean energy is staring us in the face. Our priority should be an open and competitive market that doesn’t play favorites and that contributes to the prosperity of all countries and doesn’t use this in some antiquated 18th or 19th century power game between states. We’ve made real strides, I think, in the last four years in creating energy options for Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltic states, Southern Europe; and now we have to continue our work to bring energy independence to the countries in Central Europe that have too few choices in their supply.
Mutual security must also be our watchword in responding to the threat posed to us all – and to civilization itself – by the terrorist group Daesh and by those that affiliate with it – al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, others.
Today, every single NATO ally and every member of the EU is contributing to our campaign to defeat Daesh. Our coalition now includes some 67 members. And together with our partners on the ground, we have already liberated much of the territory once controlled by Daesh. From May of a year ago until now, Daesh has not succeeded in one ground offensive that has taken and held one community anywhere. We have not only taken back territory; we’ve killed many of its leaders, we’ve choked its finances, we’ve disrupted its supply lines, we’ve hammered its oil facilities, and we have reduced its recruitment to a trickle. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s over, because we know that for several years now, people have been returning to various countries who went there to fight and we have seen what that begets in sorrowful and tragic ways.
But I want to be clear: we will prevail in our confrontation with Daesh. And we will do so without changing the nature of our societies, without succumbing to bigotry or fear, and without betraying the very democratic values that terrorists have vowed to destroy.
In saying this, I don’t want to say that there isn’t work to be done. Of course there is. In addition to our military campaign against Daesh, we have to maintain a nonstop effort, spearheaded by those with the credibility to do so, to rebut the lies that in today’s world travel around the world in a nanosecond. We have to rebut the false narrative that tries to lure young people into the abyss of terror. And we also have to coordinate our policies and share information openly and rapidly to stop unrepentant terrorists from returning to their home countries and perpetrating yet more crimes.
I want to highlight this point here today because it provides a real test of how to fight terrorism effectively while also preserving the rights of our citizens. I think we can agree that government data sharing – what we call connecting the dots – is essential at a time when there are groups actively plotting to kill us. That’s why I respectfully urge the European Parliament to ratify the proposed Data Privacy and Protection Agreement which would enable us to make needed progress in sharing data in criminal and terrorism investigations. Now, let me make it clear – I spent 28 years representing one of the states that cherishes liberty and freedom and individuality as much as any state in America – Massachusetts, home to more than 136 colleges and universities. And we value that great, unbelievable gift which is part of being a democracy and part of being American, part of being European. I know that people in Europe – just like Americans – have a healthy skepticism towards any plan by any government to collect personal data of any kind. I get it. But the good news is that in this case, with proper safeguards, there can be a balance between privacy and security; we can protect both. And this agreement protects and provides the best opportunity that we have to respect the rights of our citizens while also doing what is necessary to stop terrorists from communicating with impunity, crossing borders unnoticed, and then taking innocent lives and disrupting the community and the commerce and trade of a nation-state.
Now, finally, we have to persist in our effort to end the conflict in Syria – a battleground that has been a magnet for terrorism and the worst human – humanitarian disaster since World War II. As we know, this tragic war has been made worse by the utter depravity of the regime that doesn’t hesitate to still use gas, chlorine mixed with other ingredients to kill its citizens; that drops barrel bombs on hospitals and children and women; that presents a Syria with a splintered opposition filled with different, complex forces. I sometimes say this is a place where there may be six wars all at the same time – Kurd versus Kurd, Kurd versus Turkey, Shia versus Sunni, people versus Daesh, people versus Assad, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Persian and Arab – I mean, run the confluence and you have about as complex a series of forces as you’ll ever find in a conflict. You also have the irresponsible and profoundly ill-advised decision by Russia to associate its interests and its reputation with that of Assad, a man who has been responsible for torturing more than 10,000 people, photographs of the victims, as well as perpetrating this extraordinary slaughter of his own people.
Now, yesterday, as most of you saw, the United States announced our decision to suspend the bilateral discussion with Russia on the reinstitution of the cessation of the hostilities agreement – a decision that, believe me, does not come lightly.
But I want to be very, very clear to everybody we are not giving up on the Syrian people, we are not abandoning the pursuit of peace, we are not going to leave the multilateral field. We are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war. And we will do everything possible through the International Syria Support Group, through the United Nations, or even through smaller multilateral meetings in order to try to find a way forward. We remain committed to a peaceful, stable, whole, united, nonsectarian Syria, and we’re going to continue to stay active in pursuit of that peace. We have not suspended de-confliction efforts between our military and the Russian military in order to enhance our fight against Daesh. We will continue, as we have before, to pursue a meaningful, sustainable, enforceable cessation of hostilities throughout the country – and that includes the grounding of Syrian and Russian combat aircraft in designated areas. And Russia knows exactly what it needs to do in order to get that cessation implemented in a fair and reasonable way. We stress that all of the parties have a duty to enable the unfettered and secure delivery of humanitarian assistance, and in my conversations with the opposition forces and our conversations with the armed groups on the ground, they have all agreed to allow that humanitarian passage to take place. It still remains for Russia and the regime to permit that and to guarantee it, and that is part of what has been unanimously agreed to in the United Nations resolution passed with Russia’s vote. We remain unalterably opposed to Daesh and al-Nusrah. Al-Nusrah is al-Qaida and they remain an enemy because they are plotting against the United States and against Europe and others, and so that will remain a tenant of our continued pursuit of this effort. And we are continuing to believe that a political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed and preserve the possibility of a united Syria. So we will work to create the conditions that allow for the resumption of talks between the parties. But Russia and the regime know exactly what they need to do to live up to international law and to meet the agreements that they have already, several times, announced publicly they would adhere to.
Now, my government is absolutely convinced that we are correct in the pursuit of the goals of Syria that we are pursuing, but we acknowledge in sorrow – and I have to tell you, with a great sense of outrage – that Russia has turned a blind eye to Assad’s deplorable use of these weapons of war that he has chosen: chlorine gas, barrel bombs against his people – and together, the Syrian regime and Russia seem to have rejected diplomacy in furtherance of trying to pursue a military victory over the broken bodies, the bombed-out hospitals, the traumatized children of a long-suffering land. People who are serious about making peace behave differently from the way Russia has chosen to behave. I can’t help but think of the account that Tacitus, Roman historian, relayed 2,000 years ago about the ravages perpetrated in Caledonia by the legions of imperial Rome: “Where they made a desert, they called it peace.”
Ending the war in Syria is imperative for many reasons, including the need to reduce the flow or ease the flow into Europe of migrants and refugees. And to some, formulating the right response to refugees is as easy as putting up a green light or a red one. They just think it’s simple. But in fact, the problem, as you know, has many dimensions related to legal responsibilities, resources, security, safe transit, human trafficking, gender abuse and the special needs of children. Chancellor Merkel and other European leaders should be commended for trying to cope with this crisis in a humane way that is respectful of the lessons of history. Ultimately, however, the only fully satisfactory solution to the refugee dilemma is to stop the wars, stop the conflicts that drive people from their homes in the first place.
And the turmoil that we are seeing explode in the Middle East is regrettably not confined to that region alone, and all of us understand the reasons why, and we all know that we can’t continue in a world where so great a percentage of wealth is concentrated in the hands of so few, and so many others are crying out for opportunity and development. Neither Europe nor the United States can be fully secure unless we turn our attention to this challenge also. You can’t just sit here in Europe and we can’t just sit across the pond in the United States and somehow believe you can wall yourself off from the world. Not in today’s economy, not in today’s world, not in today’s marketplace, and not with today’s security challenges.
Decades – George Marshall had an idea that led to the reconstruction of Europe. Wildly unpopular at the time, might I add. Today we to develop a response of our own – different in context and design but comparable in ambition and ultimately in the results and directed towards the Middle East, Northern Africa, South Central Asia, and other areas of extraordinary underdevelopment. There are hundreds of millions of kids 15 years or younger who aren’t receiving a formal education today. They need to go to school – not in 10 years – they need to go to school now, and in too many places, if their minds are not engaged in true learning, they may instead be indoctrinated by extremist ideology.
And just as the Marshall Plan lifted this part of the world out of the ravages of war and helped to create the Europe we know today, together, we have to invest in developing communities where Daesh and similar groups have thrived – in the schools, in the health care facilities, in the civil society infrastructure, so that we can enable millions of young people to pursue their dreams and contribute to their communities in meaningful and productive ways. Our nations have the expertise to pursue this vision and, yes, believe it or not, we do actually have the resources. We’re a, what, $17 trillion economy in the United States? We put one penny of every dollar we spend into everything that we do abroad and diplomatically. I know that we have institutions that can help with the implementation of this. And like the Marshall Plan, such a project has to be driven not from the outside, but by the beneficiaries themselves and by the choices that they would have to make if they were prepared to work together for peace, security, and shared prosperity. You’ll find people who say this can’t be done, but they said the same thing about the Marshall Plan. I believe it can, but not unless we have the shared ambition to try.
Earlier in my remarks, I made a comparison to a boxing match and it is no secret that, in recent years, we’ve taken some heavy blows. The German Marshall Fund has offices in, among other cities, Washington, Paris, Ankara, and of course, Brussels. And each of those cities has been a witness to horrific terrorist attacks that have led to increased anxieties and to security concerns worldwide. And the consequences of technological change have added to our unease despite the associated benefits that that technology brings. The catastrophe in Syria, the global refugee crisis have raised questions about our collective ability to cope. In many countries, political movements have arisen that advocate – directly or indirectly – not a coming together, but rather a splitting apart, running for cover, thinking they can play the ostrich strategy: put your head in the sand and you won’t see what’s happening, because it isn’t happening. And there are malign forces in the world who eagerly anticipate the demise of the institutions that our predecessors – the generation of Truman, Churchill, Adenauer, and Monnet – put together.
These are serious problems; no one can deny that. But the Euro-Atlantic partnership did not come together to coast along through the best of times; it was forged to address epic challenges that no one nation, no tiny group of nations, could deal with successfully on their own. And make no mistake; the need for our unity is as great as ever – and our resolute spirit must remain just as strong.
When I was an infant, our parents and grandparents joined forces to defeat the greatest evil the world has ever known.
When I was a young man, we stood as one in the defense of freedom against a totalitarian empire that erected walls not to keep their enemies out, but to keep and fence their own citizens in.
Today, in my eighth decade of life, when I look across the Atlantic from either direction, what I still see is a vast community – more than a billion free men and women – advocating and pushing each day on behalf of democracy, equal opportunity, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom to organize, environmental preservation, respect for the fundamental rights and dignity of every human being, and earnestly desiring – for themselves and for all – the blessings of peace. So I am not cynical about the future. I am confident.
I only have a few more months to serve as Secretary of State of the United States and I intend to use every minute and every hour of that time to full advantage. But when those months have passed and I do leave office, there will not be a scintilla of doubt in my mind that the story of Americans and Europeans working together will continue to unfold for generations to come – to the benefit of people on both sides of the Atlantic and happily in every corner of the world.
So thanks again to Karen and the German Marshall Fund, thanks to all of you, and I encourage you all to believe in yourselves as much as we believe in you. Thank you.
MS DONFRIED: So not everyone in this room knows that I’m from Massachusetts and, therefore, I have to say that was a wicked good speech, Secretary Kerry. (Laughter.) I --
SECRETARY KERRY: May I really say, she’s been away from Massachusetts too long. Wicked awesome. (Laughter.)
MS DONFRIED: Oh, okay. Fair enough, that was wicked awesome. I certainly feel inspired, and you during your time of service has – have always heeded the call to action and I hope everyone in this room and everyone on the screen with heed this call to transatlantic action.
And the Secretary has agreed to take a couple of questions, and I want to turn to some of the next generation representatives in this room. And I know someone was waiting with a question, so identify yourselves, and we will come to you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Any generation. (Laughter.)
MS DONFRIED: All right. Please stand up and introduce yourself. The sounds on.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from the Global Relations Forum. Thank you so much for this brilliant speech. There are more and more people, and you stated, that are against the values that you just reminded us – partnership, cooperation, peace, stability, freedom, democracy. And how can we react to them? How can we defeat their ideas? And to be more specific, how can European countries and civilians react to the declarations of Donald Trump last week that transatlantic relationships would be a rip-off? That’s what he said last week. And finally how could – Donald Trump. (Laughter.) But there are also demagogic people here in Europe, and we know them. And finally how can we empower a better civil society and especially woman? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, you asked – the first question is: How do we fight back and what do we do? Look, folks, you beat ideas with better ideas. It’s that simple. I think I laid out a better set of ideas with a foundation that’s real. What is the alternative of the other people? What do they offer? I mean, are they – they’re talking about – they’re playing to every worst fear; they’re tapping into the xenophobia, to the nationalism, to the fear – of the economic fear that exists today. And everybody here knows that you cannot allow demagogues to start building up a unrealistic political platform based on bigotry, xenophobia, fear, nationalism. Bad history – 20th century – on that score, and I think everybody knows that. But I think you can beat it back by just pointing out a better set of ways in which you can provide the jobs, begin to implement some of the reforms that are necessary.
I mean, look, I’m here in Brussels and I want to be completely respectful, but I also want to be honest. I hear my fellow foreign ministers from one country or another talk about, sort of, how difficult it is to sometimes get things through, move fast, get Brussels to make a decision, or they feel imposed upon. I mean, we have this fight in America too. We have 50 states. We’re still developing, somewhat, the relationship between states and federal government. And the Supreme Court frequently comes out with a decision realigning it or adjusting it one way or the other. It’s a living institution. The Constitution that we are living by first wrote slavery into the constitution before it wrote slavery out. I can remember as a young college student being involved in the Mississippi voter registration drive and the fights for civil rights in America, and we passed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. It wasn’t until 1975. We still are struggling with some things at the polls and so forth – in access to voting and other things. So everybody has to continue to fight, but what is – I’ve never heard the better idea from the other side about how they’re going to do things that actually works for everybody.
And so, I think you just have to – there has to be more pushback. I have not heard a robust enough debate, frankly, here in Europe or elsewhere about the virtues that I tried to lay out today, about this alliance and what the EU provides to Europe itself. I mean, think of the wealth created in Europe. Think of how peacefully Europe has been able to live. Think of the advances in the quality of life of Europe. Think of what Europe has accomplished in these 70 years out of the ashes of war. It is one of the greatest stories in the history of human kind and it needs to be treated with that kind of respect and sold that way. And I don’t hear it being sold that way, I think. So we need a counter view. (Applause.)
And look, I’m going crazy right now, because I spent 28 years in the Senate; I ran for President in 2004, came within one state and whatever 60,000 votes from being elected, so my juices get flowing in October. (Laughter.) And I am not allowed by law to be engaged in this campaign, because of the job I have. So I appreciate your question about Donald Trump. I suggest you send it to the Clinton campaign in New York. (Laughter.) They’ll answer it; I’m not allowed to. But I suspect – the one thing I will tell you is I have infinite respect for the judgement of the American people. October always changes things, and I think there will be a period during which – in these next debates and in the ensuing weeks, people will begin to have clarity about where this election is going. (Laughter.) Was that diplomatic? (Laughter and applause.)
MS DONFRIED: One last question. Please.
QUESTION: Yes. Hello, Secretary of State. Thank you very much for speaking. (Inaudible) from Politico. I have a question, additional question, on free trade. You mentioned TTIP is not about lowering standards and then where you mentioned the challenges that national governments have actually to face. Two things we always hear and you also touched a bit about this – TTIP is about setting standards; it’s not for big business on its own. But it’s something people often, I think, don’t understand in a way, so this – especially the setting of standards.
And the country where I come, in Germany, there’s a big fear that this regulatory cooperation, in a way, will undermine our democracy. It will be again the big companies through these committees – yeah, undermining the rule of law. So from your perspective, especially your – on a global scale, you are trying to seal another trade agreement with many other states. Maybe you can give a convincing answer, actually, what setting standards is about. Also, whether importance really for the transatlantic partnership is here and if Europe could actually lose out if this is done or not. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: I very much appreciate the question. And I have wanted to be able to talk about a lot. I know, right now, there are a lot of other issues on the table. But let me just say this: I went to the Senate in 1985; I was elected in ’84. Ronald Reagan was president. Ronald Reagan won the presidency the year I won in the Senate. And trade was on the agenda, and I wound up voting, I think, for every single trade agreement in the next 29 years. I was at 29 – eight-plus years I was there. And I took some grief from some people for it, particularly on NAFTA, but I think I was right.
I always heard doom and gloom arguments about how it was going to slow the growth of our country or diminish our capacity to protect the people and to have our standards rise rather than lower. And I think the unfortunate – there was a mistake in NAFTA, and after – it created an agreement in which the labor standards and environment standards were side agreements to the fundamental agreement itself, and I regret to say they were not adequately enforced. But it’s the learning from that lesson that has produced the TPP today, which is unlike any past trade agreement we’ve ever done. Within the four corners of this trade agreement are labor standards that are increased. Within the four corners are environment standards, which some of these countries have never fundamentally lived by, but they have to live by it under this multilateral arrangement of the TPP.
And it raises the standards in a country like Vietnam. I mean, I fought in Vietnam. I went there, supposedly, in 1968 to prevent communism from taking over Vietnam. And everybody knows the tragic history of that war, which I opposed when I came home and worked to change. And then John McCain and I joined together to try to open up Vietnam and get rid of the embargo and normalize relations. I was just back there a few weeks ago with the President of the United States announcing the opening of a Fulbright University, which is completely academically free and will educate a next generation of Vietnam leaders in a country that is raging capitalist today – not communist. Communist is an economic theory, and you can’t find a breath of communism in Vietnam. You find authoritarianism, you find a one-party government, and we don’t – and that’s, obviously, that’s not our choice. But change is taking place. And so the benefit of these trade agreements is they actually provide not a race to the bottom, if they are properly written and drafted, but a race to the top.
And so, in the TPP we happen to be dealing with a set of countries that already have a remarkably high set of standards. And I’m telling you today, those standards will not go down. If anything, they can go up. But there is no reduction in the standards and there is a complete ability to be able to provide what we call a regulatory structure freedom, where you are not subject to the regulations of the United States or Belgium be subject to the regulations of Denmark or something. Regulations are capable of being managed in a way that, again, you have the independence of your own regulations, but you can adopt anything that’s a higher standard, you can’t go lower.
So this is just mythology that has taken hold. And I regret the mythology because it’s created a dynamic and, obviously, politicians everywhere in the world are sort of pointing the finger at trade. This is why I said so pointedly in my comments a moment ago, trade, per se, is not the culprit. The culprit is a – look at what we’re reading in America about the tax system. Trade is not the culprit; it’s a system that allows people at the top to use all kinds of gimmicks that aren’t available to the average person that infuriates them. And those average people have now, many of them, been made to believe, oh that problem is trade when the problem is not trade. The problem is their parliament or their congress or whatever their legislative body is that is induced by very important interests to write tax laws that benefit those interests and not them. I used to rail about this in the Senate. I mean, our tax code is thousands of pages. We have corporations that have their own pages. I used to go to people and say, “Do you have your own page?” The average person doesn’t have their own page, and so that’s what drives people nutty.
And so I am convinced that with respect to TTIP we can even work out – because we – look, we have great respect for geographical location, geographic identified and produced goods. So whether it is champagne or camembert or brie or whatever it is here in Belgium – we – there are ways to protect appropriate identification of legitimate products in ways that doesn’t diminish. But I’ve got to tell you, this trade agreement will mean people will have the ability to sell a lot more of what they produce in a lot more places. And quality goods that are identified by their geographic location will remain quality goods that people will always want to seek, because of the – what they represent.
So I urge you to look at this very, very carefully, because within the four corners of this agreement, the standards are raised. And at this particular moment, with Brexit and the growth needs of Europe, I mean, you have – I don’t have to tell you, but countries with 50 percent youth unemployment, you need some kickers to the economy. And to open up the markets and begin to be more competitive on a global basis is far better than shutting your market down. Why? Because, as I said, 95 percent of the customers of the United States of America live in other countries; if we shut down and try to just sell to ourselves, I’ve got news for you: we’re not going to grow. So you really need to get some folks who are ready to go out and represent facts to the American people.
We had a president of the United States, John Adams, who famously talked about facts being very stubborn things. And I had a colleague in the United States Senates called Daniel Patrick Moynihan who used to come to the floor of the Senate and remind people, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. Think about that as you think about TTIP. And I think the debate can actually become a much more substantive and important debate, which is what Europe deserves.
Thank you all. Appreciate it. I’ve got to go. (Applause.)
MS DONFRIED: I’m just – I’m going to ask you all to stay in your seats to allow the Secretary to leave, but do join me in thanking this wicked awesome U.S. Secretary of State. (Applause.)