T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

National Press Club, January 6, 2000

Help Site Map Text Only

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 6, 2000
As Prepared for Delivery


National Press Club Building
Washington, D.C.

American Leadership in the 21st Century

This is a historic milestone for me - my first chance in years to give aspeech without alluding to the bridge to the next century or evoking thenext millennium. Instead, I want to look back with you on some of thethings our Administration did in foreign policy back in the 1900's andreflect on challenges of an era that is already upon us.

1999 was a busy, intensive and generally successful year for Americanforeign policy. Indeed, it's hard to imagine it all happened in oneyear: A revitalized Middle East peace process, with the Wye accordsbeing implemented, and genuine engagement on peace between Israel andboth Syria and the Palestinians at the same time. The defeat of ethniccleansing in Kosovo, with NATO united, Russia helping us make and keepthe peace, and Balkan integration into Europe now high on theinternational agenda. A WTO agreement with China. Economic recovery inAsia, much aided by strong US economic growth and the President'scommitment to keep our markets open. With the democratic transitions inNigeria and Indonesia, the passage of more people to freedom in 1999than in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. Independence for EastTimor after a quarter century of conflict. The peace process inNorthern Ireland moving forward again. Talks resumed on the future ofCyprus. A Caspian pipeline agreement that can help assure our energysecurity and reinforce the independence of the new nations of centralAsia. A historic debt relief initiative for the poorest countries ofthe developing world.

Imagine the questions you'd be asking me today had we made a differentset of choices last year: You'd want to know how we could justifyletting a million Kosovars spend the winter despairing in refugee camps.You might be asking how we could have let a regional economic downturnspark a global depression, or whether our failure to reach a WTOagreement with China would make that country more recalcitrant on theworld stage, or what happened to the hope for a comprehensive peace inthe Holy Land?

We had our share of disappointments last year, too, from CTBT toSeattle. But I am pleased with the progress we have made, and satisfiedthat an active year in foreign policy has sparked a constructivediscussion about America's role in the world.

One reason we are where we are today is that we -- the Congress and theAdministration, led by the President and Secretary Albright - generallyhave maintained a bipartisan consensus about the need for Americanleadership, though for five of the last seven years we have had dividedgovernment. Without that consensus, we could not have opened NATO tonew democracies, or approved aid to dismantle former Soviet weapons, orapproved NAFTA, or created the WTO, or ratified START II, or given ourarmed forces the backing they needed from the Balkans to the PersianGulf. I think one reason the protests in Seattle seemed so unusual isthat we have gotten used to having more consensus about our role in theworld in this decade, or at least less contention, than we had over thelast three decades of the Cold War.

But that doesn't mean that the consensus isn't threatened, and itdoesn't mean that there aren't competing visions of our role.

Today, just about everyone believes we need a strong military to protectour interests in a world of continuing, if shifting, dangers;unfortunately, some think that's about all we need - and undervalue andunderfund our efforts to prevent conflicts. All agree we need friendsand allies when the going gets tough; some seem to think we can affordto alienate them when they need us to play our part in internationalinstitutions and arrangements. That way of looking at the world isreflected in the radical cuts to our foreign affairs budget Congressproposed last fall, in the vote on the Test Ban Treaty that a smallgroup of Senators forced against the wishes of more than 60 of theircolleagues, in protectionist sentiments in both political parties. Ihave called that vision a new isolationism. It's one part go-it-aloneand another part don't-go-at-all.

Of course, it is possible to agree that America must play an active rolein the world, but still to disagree about how. Every Administration istempted to deny that from time to time. Dean Acheson once sarcasticallyobserved that the only way to run a country was to "say politics stopsat the seaboard -- and anyone who denies that postulate is an SOB and acrook and not a true patriot. Now if people will swallow that," Achesonadded, "you're off to the races."

The duty of internationalists in both parties is not to agree on everymatter of policy, but to come together around the basic principle thatAmericans benefit when nations coalesce to deter aggression, to resolveconflicts, to open markets, to raise living standards, to prevent thespread of dangerous weapons, and to meet other dangers that no nationcan meet alone. . . . and that a key to forging such coalitions isAmerican leadership. That's what the bipartisan, internationalistcenter believes, and I am gratified that as 1999 ended, it reclaimedcenter stage. The Administration and the Congress agreed on a budgetthat restored funding for our global priorities. We agreed to pay ourUN dues and arrears, bolstering America's credibility as a globalleader.

Having advanced the argument that America should continue to lead, thebeginning of a new century should cause us to reflect on the largerpurpose of that leadership. For we are experiencing something more thanjust a changing of the digits on the calendar; this period in historyhas been a genuine changing of the times - a time of collapsing empires,expanding freedoms, eroding barriers and emerging threats. The successof our foreign policy in this new era is going to depend on our abilityto help answer a few fundamental, long-term questions.

One critical question for the next generation and beyond is whether ourformer adversaries Russia and China will emerge as stable, prosperous,democratic partners of the United States.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union nine years ago, our engagementwith a democratic Russia has produced concrete results -- thedismantlement of 5,000 former Soviet nuclear weapons, the withdrawal ofRussian troops from the Baltics, Russia's role in ending the conflict inKosovo on acceptable terms, and the cooperation our troops have forgedin Bosnia and Kosovo. Russia itself is still struggling with demonsthat have bedeviled it for years: the legacy of totalitarianism,poverty, corruption, conflict in the Caucasus. But the way PresidentYeltsin left office last week reflected just how much has changed. Forthe first time in their thousand year history, the Russian people nowknow that leaders can voluntarily transfer power, under constitutionalrules, instead of holding on till death or being forced from office.Just as important, their new government has promised to uphold basicliberties and Russia's break with communism, and to hold free and fairpresidential elections. The world will be looking with great interestas the Russian government moves forward in meeting this pledge.

Acting President Putin enjoys strong support from the Russian people anda newly elected Duma. That's no guarantee of progress on the issuesthat matter most to us, but we certainly intend to seek it, includingfurther reductions in strategic weapons as we work to develop a nationalmissile defense system while preserving the ABM Treaty. Whoever iselected Russia's next President will also inherits a tough challenge --to give Russians the sense of stability they crave after years ofwrenching change and the hope their sacrifices will be rewarded. Thequestion is whether stability and hope will be based on strengthening orweakening the rule of law? That question applies to Chechnya as well:We've made clear that Russia's fight against terrorism is right, but itsuse of indiscriminate force is wrong. And it is inviting far moreserious problems for itself than it can possibly be solving. But weshould not stop supporting those forces in Russia that are trying tostrengthen the rule of law and build faith in democratic institutions.Russia is paying a price for its conduct in Chechnya; Russian democracymust not.

As for China, a sense of realism cautions us to be prepared for thepossibility that this emerging power emerges as a threat. But we shouldnot presuppose that outcome, or make it more likely by acting as if ithas already happened. Realism also tells us to see China in all itscomplexity: as a country that has lifted hundreds of millions of itscitizens from poverty and expanded personal freedoms, but whose progressis held back by resistance to political reforms vital to its growth andstability. We can protect our security and promote the right kind ofchange in China by continuing a policy of principled, purposefulengagement with China's leaders and people.

That is reflected in the deal we reached last fall to bring China intothe WTO. It is a good agreement. Our market already is open to China'sgoods and services. This agreement gains us better access to China'smarket in every sector from agriculture to telecommunications toautomobiles.

But the agreement is in our interest even apart from its economicbenefit. There is simply no better way right now to encourage China tochoose deeper economic reform and respect for the rule of law. Tochoose to play by international rules, instead of defying them. Tochoose integration with the world, instead of self-isolation. The onlypeople who could possibly gain from China remaining outside the WTO arethe most backward-looking, anti-democratic elements in China itself.That's why I am confident that when the debate is over and the votes arecounted, the Congress will support this agreement by establishingPermanent Normal Trade Relations with China.

A second question that will shape the character of the coming century iswhether, as the first non-imperial global power in history, we can useour influence and strength to prevent and if need be to help endregional conflicts that threaten wider war?

To that end, we have worked hard in the last seven years to helpcomplete the job of building an undivided, democratic, peaceful Europe-- a Europe that embraces new democracies from the Baltics to theBalkans, a Europe that embraces Turkey as well as Greece.

There is a great deal to do to advance this vision for the region:helping Kosovo through its first free elections while continuing toclamp down on violence; bolstering the democratic opposition in Serbia;promoting investment in the Balkans; encouraging progress in the Cyprustalks and greater cooperation between Greece and Turkey; helping morenew democracies get ready for membership in NATO. Some of this willrequire money and the steady support of our Congress over many years.But if we're persistent, the payoff will be huge. Not just a post-ColdWar Europe, but a durably post-war Europe where American soldiers arenever again called to fight.

We also have a chance now to help the people of the Middle East to end50 years of conflict that has threatened the peace of the world andisolated their region from the life of the world.

If you are hoping for an up-to-the-minute update on the Israeli-Syriantalks underway again this week in Shepherdstown, I will disappoint youby citing an old adage: When making peace in the Middle East, saynothing at all and you'll get misquoted only half the time. I will saythat for the first time in several years, the parties - Israel, Syriaand the Palestinians -- have a common goal in sight, and the commonsense to see that they have a historic opportunity to achieve it now.The President and Secretary Albright will spare neither time nor effortto help them succeed.

Building peace in the Middle East, in southeast Europe and elsewhere isa long-term challenge. In the meantime, America will sometimes becalled upon to decide what to do when brutal and dangerous conflictsbreak out. And while we cannot and should not respond to every outbreakof violence and injustice around the world, neither can the UnitedStates afford never to respond.

That is true because, as we have seen so many times in this century, bigwars that harm our interests almost always start as small wars that theworld does not care enough to do something about. It is also truebecause in a globalized world, we see -- almost instantly -- the killingand uprooting of innocent men, women and children thousands of milesaway. In such a world, we cannot choose not to know; we can only choosenot to act.

Over the years, our administration has chosen to act where America'sinterests and values were at stake. For all the recent discussion ofhumanitarian intervention, we should remember that America hasn't usedforce for purely humanitarian ends since the commitment to end famine inSomalia in 1992. From Haiti to Iraq to Bosnia and Kosovo, we have actedboth to help others and to protect ourselves from the consequences ofunchecked conflict and violence.

I expect you will continue to ask hard, appropriate questions of theAdministration about when and how America should use force. But thosewho are examining this issue critically need to ask themselves some hardquestions, too. What precisely would they have done differently aboutKosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Haiti, East Timor, and why do they think thatwould have been more effective? How would they have dealt with theconsequences of not acting?

A third question we will face in the next century is whether terroristsand potentially hostile nations will acquire the means to undermine ourdefenses, and cause us to live in fear once again.

Thankfully, the New Year's Eve celebrations around the world passedwithout a terrorist attack. But just because we dodged a bullet doesn'tmean there was no bullet to dodge. The last weeks of 1999 saw thelargest US counter-terrorism operation in history. Terrorist cells weredisrupted in eight countries and attacks were almost certainly preventedthanks to the good work of our law enforcement and intelligenceagencies. But the threat remains real. We'll need to keep meeting thischallenge just as we met it last week: with both vigilance and a refusalto be intimidated.

Part of the challenge will be to make it more difficult for weapons ofmass destruction and the missiles that can carry them to fall into thewrong hands. That requires the United States to do many things well atthe same time: helping the nations of the former Soviet Union secureweapons and their key components. Continuing to prevent Iraq fromthreatening its neighbors. Restraining North Korea's missile andnuclear program and Iran's. Aggressively pursuing terrorists andmaintaining pressure against those who shelter them, including theTaliban. Strengthening global standards against proliferation. Andyes, that means eventually finding the common ground on the Test BanTreaty that last year's truncated debate in the Senate prevented.

We also are working to convince Russia that the missile defense systemwe are planning is not designed to undermine their deterrence, nor wouldit be capable of doing so. We must also convince some of our critics athome who say we should preemptively abandon the ABM Treaty and armscontrol and move forward unilaterally. The difference between us isthat we see defense against missile attack as part of a broader nationalsecurity strategy. Some seem to think missile defenses should be thesum total of our strategy. We believe it is a far wiser course to moveforward in a way that takes into account the technical feasibility of amissile defense system, its cost, the nature of the threat, and itsimpact on our overall security, including arms control.

A fourth question is the one that came into stark relief in Seattle: Howcan we shape globalization so that it spurs growth and lifts the poor aswell as the rich, improves the dignity of labor and strengthensprotection of the environment?

In various ways, the protestors in Seattle were raising that question.But they offered a confusing answer. Many complained that the WTO istoo powerful, yet argued, in effect, that the WTO should acquire newpowers to impose and enforce labor and environmental standards aroundthe world. All expressed solidarity with poor people in the developingworld. Yet it is hard to see how the 1.3 billion people around theworld living on a dollar a day will ever be able to live in dignity ifwe deny them the chance to sell the fruits of their labor and creativitybeyond their borders. There are practices such as forced labor andchild labor that the world should not tolerate. But we must alsounderstand that, for the poorest countries, trade means growth andgrowth means improved working conditions. We don't want a race to thebottom in the international economy, but neither do we want to keep thebottom down. It is not right and it is not in our interest. What wewant is a steady march to the top that leaves no one behind.

In the years ahead, we will face many other fundamental questions, andchallenges we can hardly foresee, whether tragedies or hopefulbreakthroughs.

But, as a result of the last several years, we look to that distanthorizon from higher and more hopeful ground. We have done much alreadyto help shape the character of the 21st century world, and the terms ofdebate about America's involvement in it. Think of it: the world'sgreat powers still disagree on many things, but for the first time theydo not see one another as military adversaries. A decade after the ColdWar ended, our alliances are not weaker, but stronger, with new, moreenduring purpose. Half the world enjoys democratic government, and thedemocracies that emerged with the end of the Cold War have survived andin many cases thrived. Bitter regional conflicts that once defiedresolution are bending to international mediation. There is a growingrecognition that war crimes and massive violations of human rights arethe world's concern, even if they happen within sovereign borders. Thecentral phenomenon of our time, globalization, plays to America'sgreatest strengths - to our creative and entrepreneurial spirit -- andspreads our most cherished ideals of openness and freedom. Trade ismore open today than ever before, raising standards of living for many,though not all, and the world's economic architecture is being adaptedto a new economy. People are thinking freshly about the relationshipbetween promoting global growth and protecting the global environment.Perhaps most important, eight years after Time Magazine, echoed bycountless other commentators, asked "Is the U.S. in an irreversibledecline as the world's premier power?" America has arrived at a momentwhen our strength and prosperity are unparalleled.

That is a very good place to begin a new era.

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

NSC Speeches

U.S Institute of Peace

International Non-Proliferation Conference

National Security Advisor at Stanford University

Brookings Africa Forum Luncheon - May 1993

Council on Foreign Relations

10th Anniversary of the Center for Democracy

Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Foreign Policy Agenda for the 2nd Term

Chicago Council of Foreign Relations

Meeting New Security Challenges

The Road Forward in Bosnia

Great Lakes Naval Training Center

Insitute for the Study of Diplomacy

U.S. - Russian Business Council

Bosnia After Dayton

Carnegie Endowment

National Defense University Commencement

Marshall Legacy Symposium

Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith

Remarks Before European Institute

1996 American Jewish Committee

The Wilson Center

Remarks by Samuel R. Berger at The Business Roundtable

U.S. Institute for Peace, September 30, 1999

The Middle East on the Eve of The Millennium, October 20, 1999

Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, October 21, 1999

Address to the Bilderberg Steering Committee, November 11, 1999

National Press Club, February 13, 1998

National Press Club, January 6, 2000

Business Executives for National Security, May 5, 1998

National Press Club, October 30, 1998

Washington Forum of Business Executives

National Press Club, December 23, 1998

Council on Foreign Relations, July 26, 1999

Africare Dinner, September 27, 1999

Remarks to Mayors' Summit on Africa