“Toward a Europe Whole and Free” Conference
Vice President Joseph Biden
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Well, Governor, thank you very, very much. And
what a distinguished crew that I’m about to speak to. And I tell you, I’ve been trying to follow, as much as I can, the — all that’s been going on the last couple days, and I’m delighted to be able to be here to give — and I’ll try to make it as brief as possible, Brent — the — our perspectives, so — because you’ve been going a long time.
To the current and foreign — the current and former foreign ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania — all places that I’ve spent a lot of time — I’m delighted you’re here. And to the defense ministers from Estonia, Georgia, Czech Republic and Montenegro as well, and to the many ambassadors and our close friends, I want to — I want to tell you what an honor it is to be before you. And also, Steve Hadley and Brent Scowcroft and Secretary Albright, it’s an honor to be able to speak before you as well, and to NATO’s future leaders, who we’re relying on a great deal.
We’re here today — we’re here today to celebrate the fruits of two actually very audacious and consequential notions — maybe two of the most consequential and audacious notions of the last hundred years: the idea that after centuries of conflict, culminating in two world wars, Europe could reinvent itself in a single community defined by peace, anchored in political and economic integration, collective self-defense, and a free flow of commerce and people; and no less important, the idea that the door to this transatlantic community would remain fundamentally open to free nations who share the values and commitments we have, and to those who dream from inside the captive nations of the day they too might join a Europe whole and free.
And from those improbable, remarkable roots, from the principle of integration, collective defense and an open door grew the post-Cold War enlargement of NATO and EU that we now commemorate. And today I want to talk about the road traveled to get there and the word ahead to complete this project, because it is not complete, in my view.
All in all, the growth of the Euro-Atlantic community has turned out to be one of the greatest forces in human history for advancing peace, prosperity, security and democracy. And I don’t think that’s hyperbole. I think that is literally the case. And this year we celebrate 15 years since Poland and the Czech Republic have joined — and Hungary have joined NATO, 10 years since seven more nations from the Baltics to the Black Sea expanded NATO’s ranks, and the big bang that grew the EU, and five years since Albania and Croatia became part of NATO. In hindsight, it’s tempting to suggest that this was inevitable, but those of us who lived through it know it was anything but inevitable.
I remain in awe of the determination and moral courage the people and the leaders who willed their country forward through political, economic and social upheaval. And the glory is all theirs — all theirs.
Like so many of you, I was proud to play a very small supporting role. I had the opportunity, ironically with my colleague Bill Roth who was chairman of the Finance Committee at the time, to help bring the Baltics and Central Europe into NATO. It’s easy to forget that this was a hard-fought battle on the floor at the time. There wasn’t unanimity in the United States Senate.
Some of the brightest and most articulate members of the Senate thought that — thought that expansion was happening too soon. Others said it went too far, it would generate a reaction in Russia that was inappropriate. But I was strongly in favor, joined by my fellow Delawarean Senator Bill Roth. We were so passionate about it, Madeline (sp) may remember, that President Clinton joked that NATO must be offering to move the headquarters to Wilmington, Delaware — (laughter) — because — no, I’m serious. (Chuckles.) It was — do you remember that’s what he said at the time of the official vote.
But you know, all these years later, there are some who look at Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and say: Maybe we should not have extended security guarantees to Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states. But I think it shows we had to extend that guarantee, because we reject and continue to reject, have rejected the notion of a sphere of influence built on the backs of the people who deserve freedom — freedom that we always supported and that we believe is as vital today as it was then.
And let’s be clear: The current crisis born in the enlargment of NATO and the EU 15 yeras ago has nothing to do with the enlargement of NATO. It was born in the Kremlin. It was born in Putin’s mind. It has nothing to do with the fact that we expanded NATO.
And here’s another debate we don’t hear much about anymore — and I don’t know how many conferences over 40 years I’ve attended about whither NATO. So no longer is there a debate about is NATO still relevant? I stand before you as a proud Atlanticist like most of you, if not all of you, my entire career, and a firm believer that NATO and the trans-Atlantic relationship have never been more relevant than they are today. In the last three months I’ve had the honor — and I see some of my friends here — to visit or talk with over 28 separate meetings with presidents and prime ministers from the region.
And I’m pleased to announce that in June President Obama will be returning to Europe. He will visit Poland for the 25th anniversary of the democratic elections that took place there for the first time in a long time; Brussels to consult with the G-7 on Ukraine and other issues; and France, where he will celebrate the 70th anniversary of detail — excuse me, of D-Day with our oldest — America’s oldest ally. As President Obama told the people of Strasbourg, quote, “Our shared history gives us hope, but it cannot give us rest. This generation cannot stand still.” He means it. We mean it. I suspect you all share that view. We have a lot of work cut out for us in the very near term, and it starts with focusing on the upcoming summit of NATO in Wales.
As you know, in response to Russian aggression, America’s taking steps to make clear that our allies will honor the solemn commitments under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that; that is an absolute ironclad guarantee.
And it’s amazing to me how welcome the reassurance of that guarantee is in our newly admitted members of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe. We’ve been urgently stepping up our military presence in air and land of the Balkans — excuse me — of the Baltics and Poland and in the waters of the Black Sea, and we’ve asked our NATO allies to make similar contributions, and many have. And we hope by Wales all NATO members will have increased their commitments to NATO, to NATO’s reassurance efforts and to their own defense budgets.
It puts this back in sharp relief once again, because shared security has to be a shared responsibility, and as the — excuse me — as ISAF and the mission in Afghanistan comes to an end, we need to invest in training and maintaining the expertise that we’ve collectively built. We need to continue to build on the security capacity of our partners outside of NATO. And we have to tackle threats together.
Economically, people on both sides of the Atlantic are hungering for greater economic opportunity. That’s why I’m such a strong supporter of the president’s initiative of Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It will be tough, but it is necessary. It is necessary. It will create growth in jobs. It will strengthen the global trading system and make us both stronger at home so we can be strong around the world together.
And when it comes to energy, Russia should not be able to use its resource as a political weapon against its neighbors.
I believe, and some of us in this room have believed this for some time, that it’s time to make energy security the next chapter in the European project of integration and market expansion that began with the European Coal and Steel Community. Its long past time.
And it can be done. It’s time to replace country-by-country strategies with a coherent collective effort focused on diversifying supply, improving efficiency, which badly needs to be done, making investments in market reforms, including greater flexibility for infrastructure to transport natural gas and a good deal more.
I applaud and encourage Europe’s efforts to take a more reasonable approach because a more stable European supply of energy means a more secure world. This would be a game-changer for Europe, in my view, and we’re ready to do everything in our power to help it happen. And through it all, we need to be finishing the business of building a Europe whole, free and at peace.
When I visited Ukraine last week, I saw and heard and felt the people’s aspirations for a better and more dignified future. I know that Senator Kerry spoke at length with you about Ukraine, and so I will be brief on the subject.
Ukraine’s struggle starts with an acute challenge of Russian violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and all the rules of the 21st century taught us that must be upheld, they have been flat violated. What Russia has done violates not just Ukrainian sovereignty but the fundamental principle that European borders cannot, will not be changed through political intimidation or military force.
And we have to be resolute in imposing costs. And I’ll note parenthetically that costs are going to be shared in some cases disproportionately. That’s the reality.
But the community’s work in Ukraine can’t end there, by imposing costs on Russia. It is — it is — quite frankly, it’s equally mission critical that we focus on what Ukrainians are for. For 25 years, it’s been free. For 25 years, it has not met its goals. For 25 years, even including the Orange Revolution, it has not been realized, in significant part because of corruption and as a consequence of institutions that need significant modernization.
This needs to be a government that exists to serve the people, not enrich the powerful. I found when I met with the prime — oh, excuse me, was the prime minister — with the president, with civil society, with three of the leading candidates for president and with the members of all parties in the Rada, there is a common view, East and West, that the government has to begin to deliver, that corruption is incredibly corrosive. It may not be politik to say, but it is a reality. The — they need an economy where there are jobs and what you know matters most to them, where, in fact, Ukrainian — there’s respect for the diversity of people, and there remains a united Ukraine. I think that is all within their grasp. We’re working to provide U.S. civilian experts on the ground who can help realize each of these aspirations and provide specialized knowledge in holding elections that are monitored so no one can question the legitimacy; in building institutions that are transparent, more modern, more effective than those the Ukrainians have had over the last 25 years; in fighting corruption so that time democracy — in time democracy can be delivered to the Ukrainian people.
In my view, it’s the most significant bulwark against Russian aggression, because Ukraine will need all these things to succeed.
And finally, there’s the matter of our relationship with Russia. Since the end of the Cold War, America and NATO allies have reached out to Russia in a hand of partnership and a place in the partnership for peace, the G-8, the WTO, the Council of Europe. We did this because Russia’s integration into the international order remains in everyone’s interest. But Russia — (audio break) — it cannot — and I believe they do know — have it both ways. If Russia wants to benefit from the international order, it has to respect that order and abide by the rules. Otherwise, it’s going to face growing costs and growing isolation.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges we face, I need not tell anyone in this audience, are real, but they’re able to be faced and we’re able to succeed if we face them together. America has stood with Europe and always will, just as Europe has stood with us.
And the progress we have made has been remarkable. When I think of how far we’ve come, it calls to mind the words of the poet Seamus Heaney in his poem “The Cure at Troy.” He wrote: History teaches us not to hope on this side of the grave. When the wall fell, hope and history began to rhyme.
Let’s not rest until they rhyme once again in a Europe that is finally, finally whole, free and at peace. It’s a big order, but it is possible to get it done if we remain joined at the hip, if we remain united and steadfast. Thank you all very much for listening, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you. (Applause.)