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Remarks by Samuel Berger to the National Press Club.American Leadership in the 21st Century

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 7, 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 a speech without alluding to the bridge to the next century or evoking the next millennium. Instead, I want to look back with you on some of the things our Administration did in foreign policy back in the 1900's and reflect on challenges of an era that is already upon us.

1999 was a busy, intensive and generally successful year for American foreign policy. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine it all happened in one year: A revitalized Middle East peace process, with the Wye accords being implemented, and genuine engagement on peace between Israel and both Syria and the Palestinians at the same time. The defeat of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, with NATO united, Russia helping us make and keep the peace, and Balkan integration into Europe now high on the international agenda. A WTO agreement with China. Economic recovery in Asia, much aided by strong US economic growth and the President's commitment to keep our markets open. With the democratic transitions in Nigeria and Indonesia, the passage of more people to freedom in 1999 than in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. Independence for East Timor after a quarter century of conflict. The peace process in Northern Ireland moving forward again. Talks resumed on the future of Cyprus. A Caspian pipeline agreement that can help assure our energy security and reinforce the independence of the new nations of central Asia. A historic debt relief initiative for the poorest countries of the developing world.

Imagine the questions you’d be asking me today had we made a different set of choices last year: You’d want to know how we could justify letting a million Kosovars spend the winter despairing in refugee camps. You might be asking how we could have let a regional economic downturn spark a global depression, or whether our failure to reach a WTO agreement with China would make that country more recalcitrant on the world stage, or what happened to the hope for a comprehensive peace in the Holy Land?

We had our share of disappointments last year, too, from CTBT to Seattle. But I am pleased with the progress we have made, and satisfied that an active year in foreign policy has sparked a constructive discussion about America’s role in the world.

One reason we are where we are today is that we -- the Congress and the Administration, led by the President and Secretary Albright – generally have maintained a bipartisan consensus about the need for American leadership, though for five of the last seven years we have had divided government. Without that consensus, we could not have opened NATO to new democracies, or approved aid to dismantle former Soviet weapons, or approved NAFTA, or created the WTO, or ratified START II, or given our armed forces the backing they needed from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf. I think one reason the protests in Seattle seemed so unusual is that we have gotten used to having more consensus about our role in the world in this decade, or at least less contention, than we had over the last three decades of the Cold War.

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

Today, just about everyone believes we need a strong military to protect our interests in a world of continuing, if shifting, dangers; unfortunately, some think that’s about all we need – and undervalue and underfund our efforts to prevent conflicts. All agree we need friends and allies when the going gets tough; some seem to think we can afford to alienate them when they need us to play our part in international institutions and arrangements. That way of looking at the world is reflected in the radical cuts to our foreign affairs budget Congress proposed last fall, in the vote on the Test Ban Treaty that a small group of Senators forced against the wishes of more than 60 of their colleagues, in protectionist sentiments in both political parties. I have called that vision a new isolationism. It’s one part go-it-alone and another part don’t-go-at-all.

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

The duty of internationalists in both parties is not to agree on every matter of policy, but to come together around the basic principle that Americans benefit when nations coalesce to deter aggression, to resolve conflicts, to open markets, to raise living standards, to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons, and to meet other dangers that no nation can meet alone. . . . and that a key to forging such coalitions is American leadership. That’s what the bipartisan, internationalist center believes, and I am gratified that as 1999 ended, it reclaimed center stage. The Administration and the Congress agreed on a budget that restored funding for our global priorities. We agreed to pay our UN dues and arrears, bolstering America's credibility as a global leader.

Having advanced the argument that America should continue to lead, the beginning of a new century should cause us to reflect on the larger purpose of that leadership. For we are experiencing something more than just a changing of the digits on the calendar; this period in history has been a genuine changing of the times – a time of collapsing empires, expanding freedoms, eroding barriers and emerging threats. The success of our foreign policy in this new era is going to depend on our ability to help answer a few fundamental, long-term questions.

One critical question for the next generation and beyond is whether our former 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 engagement with a democratic Russia has produced concrete results -- the dismantlement of 5,000 former Soviet nuclear weapons, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltics, Russia’s role in ending the conflict in Kosovo on acceptable terms, and the cooperation our troops have forged in Bosnia and Kosovo. Russia itself is still struggling with demons that have bedeviled it for years: the legacy of totalitarianism, poverty, corruption, conflict in the Caucasus. But the way President Yeltsin left office last week reflected just how much has changed. For the first time in their thousand year history, the Russian people now know that leaders can voluntarily transfer power, under constitutional rules, instead of holding on till death or being forced from office. Just as important, their new government has promised to uphold basic liberties and Russia’s break with communism, and to hold free and fair presidential elections. The world will be looking with great interest as the Russian government moves forward in meeting this pledge.

Acting President Putin enjoys strong support from the Russian people and a newly elected Duma. That’s no guarantee of progress on the issues that matter most to us, but we certainly intend to seek it, including further reductions in strategic weapons as we work to develop a national missile defense system while preserving the ABM Treaty. Whoever is elected Russia’s next President will also inherits a tough challenge -- to give Russians the sense of stability they crave after years of wrenching change and the hope their sacrifices will be rewarded. The question is whether stability and hope will be based on strengthening or weakening the rule of law? That question applies to Chechnya as well: We’ve made clear that Russia’s fight against terrorism is right, but its use of indiscriminate force is wrong. And it is inviting far more serious problems for itself than it can possibly be solving. But we should not stop supporting those forces in Russia that are trying to strengthen the rule of law and build faith in democratic institutions. Russia is paying a price for its conduct in Chechnya; Russian democracy must not.

As for China, a sense of realism cautions us to be prepared for the possibility that this emerging power emerges as a threat. But we should not presuppose that outcome, or make it more likely by acting as if it has already happened. Realism also tells us to see China in all its complexity: as a country that has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens from poverty and expanded personal freedoms, but whose progress is held back by resistance to political reforms vital to its growth and stability. We can protect our security and promote the right kind of change in China by continuing a policy of principled, purposeful engagement with China's leaders and people.

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

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

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

To that end, we have worked hard in the last seven years to help complete the job of building an undivided, democratic, peaceful Europe -- a Europe that embraces new democracies from the Baltics to the Balkans, 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 to clamp down on violence; bolstering the democratic opposition in Serbia; promoting investment in the Balkans; encouraging progress in the Cyprus talks and greater cooperation between Greece and Turkey; helping more new democracies get ready for membership in NATO. Some of this will require 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-Cold War Europe, but a durably post-war Europe where American soldiers are never again called to fight.

We also have a chance now to help the people of the Middle East to end 50 years of conflict that has threatened the peace of the world and isolated their region from the life of the world.

If you are hoping for an up-to-the-minute update on the Israeli-Syrian talks underway again this week in Shepherdstown, I will disappoint you by citing an old adage: When making peace in the Middle East, say nothing at all and you'll get misquoted only half the time. I will say that for the first time in several years, the parties – Israel, Syria and the Palestinians -- have a common goal in sight, and the common sense to see that they have a historic opportunity to achieve it now. The President and Secretary Albright will spare neither time nor effort to help them succeed.

Building peace in the Middle East, in southeast Europe and elsewhere is a long-term challenge. In the meantime, America will sometimes be called upon to decide what to do when brutal and dangerous conflicts break out. And while we cannot and should not respond to every outbreak of violence and injustice around the world, neither can the United States afford never to respond.

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

Over the years, our administration has chosen to act where America's interests and values were at stake. For all the recent discussion of humanitarian intervention, we should remember that America hasn't used force for purely humanitarian ends since the commitment to end famine in Somalia in 1992. From Haiti to Iraq to Bosnia and Kosovo, we have acted both to help others and to protect ourselves from the consequences of unchecked conflict and violence.

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

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

Thankfully, the New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world passed without a terrorist attack. But just because we dodged a bullet doesn't mean there was no bullet to dodge. The last weeks of 1999 saw the largest US counter-terrorism operation in history. Terrorist cells were disrupted in eight countries and attacks were almost certainly prevented thanks to the good work of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But the threat remains real. We’ll need to keep meeting this challenge just as we met it last week: with both vigilance and a refusal to be intimidated.

Part of the challenge will be to make it more difficult for weapons of mass destruction and the missiles that can carry them to fall into the wrong hands. That requires the United States to do many things well at the same time: helping the nations of the former Soviet Union secure weapons and their key components. Continuing to prevent Iraq from threatening its neighbors. Restraining North Korea's missile and nuclear program and Iran's. Aggressively pursuing terrorists and maintaining pressure against those who shelter them, including the Taliban. Strengthening global standards against proliferation. And yes, that means eventually finding the common ground on the Test Ban Treaty that last year's truncated debate in the Senate prevented.

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

A fourth question is the one that came into stark relief in Seattle: How can we shape globalization so that it spurs growth and lifts the poor as well as the rich, improves the dignity of labor and strengthens protection 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 is too powerful, yet argued, in effect, that the WTO should acquire new powers to impose and enforce labor and environmental standards around the world. All expressed solidarity with poor people in the developing world. Yet it is hard to see how the 1.3 billion people around the world living on a dollar a day will ever be able to live in dignity if we deny them the chance to sell the fruits of their labor and creativity beyond their borders. There are practices such as forced labor and child labor that the world should not tolerate. But we must also understand that, for the poorest countries, trade means growth and growth means improved working conditions. We don’t want a race to the bottom in the international economy, but neither do we want to keep the bottom down. It is not right and it is not in our interest. What we want is a steady march to the top that leaves no one behind.

In the years ahead, we will face many other fundamental questions, and challenges we can hardly foresee, whether tragedies or hopeful breakthroughs.

But, as a result of the last several years, we look to that distant horizon from higher and more hopeful ground. We have done much already to help shape the character of the 21st century world, and the terms of debate about America’s involvement in it. Think of it: the world's great powers still disagree on many things, but for the first time they do not see one another as military adversaries. A decade after the Cold War ended, our alliances are not weaker, but stronger, with new, more enduring purpose. Half the world enjoys democratic government, and the democracies that emerged with the end of the Cold War have survived and in many cases thrived. Bitter regional conflicts that once defied resolution are bending to international mediation. There is a growing recognition that war crimes and massive violations of human rights are the world's concern, even if they happen within sovereign borders. The central phenomenon of our time, globalization, plays to America’s greatest strengths – to our creative and entrepreneurial spirit -- and spreads our most cherished ideals of openness and freedom. Trade is more open today than ever before, raising standards of living for many, though not all, and the world's economic architecture is being adapted to a new economy. People are thinking freshly about the relationship between promoting global growth and protecting the global environment. Perhaps most important, eight years after Time Magazine, echoed by countless other commentators, asked “Is the U.S. in an irreversible decline as the world’s premier power?” America has arrived at a moment when our strength and prosperity are unparalleled.

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

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