Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Munich Security Conference
Hotel Bayerischer Hof
11:45 A.M. CEST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Good morning. Thank you, Ambassador Ischinger. And to all of the very extraordinary leaders who are here today, I thank you for the kind introduction and your years of dedicated leadership. And thank you also to Chancellor Scholz for your kind words.
So, it is an honor to join all of these distinguished leaders from around the world this morning.
I am certain we all recognize this year’s gathering is unlike those of the recent past. Not since the end of the Cold War has this forum convened under such dire circumstances.
Today, as we are all well aware, the foundation of European security is under direct threat in Ukraine.
Let us remember: From the wreckage of two world wars, a consensus emerged in Europe and the United States. A consensus in favor of order, not chaos; security, not conflict.
So by forging relationships and bonds, forging organizations and institutions, laws and treaties, we, together, established a set of rules, norms that have governed ever since.
And Europe has enjoyed unprecedented peace, security, and prosperity through a commitment to a set of defining principles. The United States is equally committed to these principles: that people have a right to choose their own form of government; that nations have a right to choose their own alliances; that there are inalienable rights which governments must protect; that the rule of law should be cherished; that sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states must be respected; and that national borders should not be changed by force. (Applause.)
We are here in Munich, together, to reaffirm our commitment to these principles. These principles have brought us peace and security. The backbone of this, of course, is NATO — the greatest military alliance the world has ever seen.
As a defensive alliance, we have deterred acts of aggression against NATO territory for the past 75 years. And today, let me be clear: America’s commitment to Article 5 is ironclad. This commitment is sacrosanct to me, to President Biden, and to our entire nation.
In fact, I am joined here in Munich by a bipartisan delegation from the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. They are Democrats and Republicans. They have a wide range of political views. But they stand together in recognition of the value and the importance of our NATO Alliance.
Now, even in the most difficult times for our transatlantic community and even when our system has been tried and tested, we, the United States and Europe, have come together and demonstrated our strength and our unity, just as we do today — as we stand in this decisive moment, with all eyes on Ukraine.
As we have said all along, there is a playbook of Russian aggression. And this playbook is too familiar to us all.
Russia will plead ignorance and innocence, it will create false pretext for invasion, and it will amass troops and firepower in plain sight.
We now receive reports of what appears to be provocations. And we see Russia spreading disinformation, lies, and propaganda.
Nonetheless, in a deliberate and coordinated effort, we, together, are: one, exposing the truth and, two, speaking with a unified voice.
As President Joe Biden has made clear: The United States, our NATO Allies, and our partners have been and remain open to serious diplomacy. We have put concrete proposals on the table. We have encouraged and engaged Russia through NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations, and bilateral dialogues. We have engaged in good faith.
Russia continues to claim it is ready for talks while, at the same time, it narrows the avenues for diplomacy. Their actions simply do not match their words.
And let me be clear. I can say with absolute certainty: If Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States, together with our Allies and partners, will impose significant and unprecedented economic costs. (Applause.)
We have worked intensively with many of you in this room to ensure we are prepared to move forward with consequences.
We have prepared, together, economic measures that will be swift, severe, and united. We will impose far-reaching financial sanctions and export controls. We will target Russia’s financial institutions and key industries. And we will target those who are complicit and those who aid and abet this unprovoked invasion.
Make no mistake: The imposition of these sweeping and coordinated measures will inflict great damage on those who must be held accountable. And we will not stop with economic measures. We will further reinforce our NATO Allies on the eastern flank.
In fact, together we have already taken steps to strengthen our deterrence and collective defense. We have deployed an additional 6,000 American service members to Romania, Poland, and Germany. We have put another 8,500 service members in the United States on a heightened sense of readiness.
As President Biden has said, our forces will not be deployed to fight inside Ukraine, but they will defend every inch of NATO territory.
Since Russia launched its proxy war against Ukraine nearly eight years ago, the people of Ukraine have suffered immensely: nearly 14,000 people killed, more than a million displaced, and nearly 3 million in need of aid.
The United States has provided significant support to Ukraine: security assistance, humanitarian assistance, and economic assistance. And we will continue to support the people of Ukraine.
I believe it is important for us — all of us — as leaders to never forget the cost of this type of aggression on human lives and livelihoods.
So, the United States, our Allies, and our partners, together, we have achieved remarkable unity. It is evident in our shared acknowledgment of the threats, our united response, and our determination to uphold international rules and norms.
In the face of Russian aggression, I have been reassured and heartened by the widespread agreement across the transatlantic community that these rules and norms will be defended.
And we should not lose sight of how rare it is in history to have a prolonged period of relative peace and stability. So, let the past few months be a reminder to us all: Defending the rules and norms, upholding our principles — this is the vital work of each generation.
In recent years, some have questioned whether the West is up to the task. Some have wondered whether this system can endure. Some have even done so on this very stage.
Indeed, the theme of this conference two years ago questioned the staying power of the West; whether or not the transatlantic community was losing its cohesion, its influence, its appeal.
So I will answer the skeptics and those seeking to test us: Today, the United States, our Allies, and our partners are closer together. Today, we are clear in our purpose. And today, we are even more confident in our vision.
Our strength must not be underestimated, because, after all, it lies in our unity. And as we have always shown, it takes a lot more strength to build something up than it takes to tear something down.
Thank you all. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Madam Vice President, thank you so much for this great speech, which I think will be commented about and read about quite a bit in coming hours and days and weeks.
Before we start our conversation, let me repeat what I said before you came into the hall. It was in 2009, President Biden who established — having just been elected Vice President at that time — a young tradition, namely that the United States would be represented in Munich by the Vice President.
And he came several times. And I was delighted to see that even the Trump administration followed that example. And we’re now so happy to have you to continue this tradition. And I would be delighted if you can convey to the President that even if he is now no longer the Vice President, he has always a standing invitation here. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, Ambassador, I will. And I will tell you, it is the President’s enthusiasm about the importance of this conference that led to my enthusiasm to be with you this afternoon. So thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Now, on a slightly more serious note: A year ago, when the President appeared on our screen — actually, in this room — I was standing right here in this room when he appeared on screen and he said, and I quote, “America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back.”
Now, that was a message that was extremely well received here, even if we — not all of us knew that we would be threatened in the way that we feel threatened right now, as you just explained.
But as we look forward, there are lots of people here in Germany, in Europe, who asking themselves, “Okay, America is back. That’s great. But is it for good? Is this for good?” Many in Europe are fearful of a time where maybe some kind of a second Trump could be looming in the future.
So here’s my question: What can or should we Europeans do to keep the United States engaged in Europe long term, not just today as we sit here, and even beyond the current administration?
I think that is such an important question, because we have learned over these last weeks and months that without the United States considering herself a European power, we’re actually quite powerless.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think the evidence of the point that I will make is present in this room. You will see there is probably one of the largest delegations from the United States Congress present today — Republicans and Democrats who, as I said earlier, you know, often don’t agree on much, but agree on this.
I would — I think that the heart of your question really does demand the importance of — of the perseverance and enduring nature of institutions and alliances. And I would say that, on that point, we are strong.
There is an unwavering commitment to NATO and to the Alliance, as evidenced, again, by the conversations and the unity that has resulted over the last several months where nations have come together, where the United States, we would like to believe, has been among leaders in playing a leadership role to bring together the Allies around common principles and norms, doing it in a way that has been, at its essence, about the value and the strength of diplomacy, which is about direct engagement.
We have counted — and the Secretary of State is here, Tony Blinken. We’ve counted an excess of at least 200 conversations just in the last couple of months, be it between the President and others, the Secretary of State, myself, and so on.
So I would say to you that the relationship is strong and that the importance of the relationship is something that we take very seriously, which is why in this historic moment, in this defining moment, potentially, the strength of the institution and the Alliance reveals itself, even if there’s been a question about that before.
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Thank you so much.
Now, another key team — key theme of our special edition with President Biden a year ago was this question, and I’d be interested in your response today. The question was: Can democracies prove that they can still deliver better solutions to the world’s major challenges than autocracies?
There are skeptics who would probably not have a hard time finding evidence to the contrary over the past period. What do we need, what do democracies need in order to do better and to convince our people — peoples that we can do it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ambassador, I think this is one of the most challenging issues of our time, which is the relative strength — the question about the relative strength, efficiency, and effectiveness of democracies versus autocracies.
I’m going to always bet on democracies. I think all of us here share that in common. And it is a reflection of, again, the principles that we have that include the importance of being a government that reflects the needs and desires of the people through a process that has integrity, that rejects corruption, and embraces the concepts of equality and freedom.
When we look at the challenge that we face now, in the United States — and you’re right, President Joe Biden talks a lot about this — and we take pride in the fact that the strength of a democra- — democracy, one measure of that strength will be: Does it deliver on the needs of the people?
So, for example, in the United States — again, with thanks and with great attribution to the congressional delegates that are here — we passed a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was one of the first in generations that will deliver on the needs of the people.
So, I would say that the strength of democracies and the way that democracies will prevail, one — one measure of that will be: Does it actually deliver for the people?
But that being said, there is a duality that is always present, I believe, which is that democracy is both — it both has the characters of — characteristics of strength and fragility, meaning that it is incumbent on each of us to understand the strength of democracy to deliver for the people, but also the fragility of democracies, which is that if we are not vigilant, if we don’t fight for the principles, then they can fade.
And so, that, again, brings us to the reason that we are here today: to continuously reaffirm and rededicate ourselves as a community to the strength of democracies and the need for us to not only individually but collectively uphold its principles, its values, and its purpose.
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Thank you very much. Now, I think I have no choice but to return to our overriding theme this weekend, which has been when Secretary Stoltenberg spoke earlier and Chancellor Scholz spoke just before you. Of course, the central theme was — and you talked about it just a few minutes ago — was Ukraine.
So, the Biden administration, the President himself, you — you’ve all stated that you expect that there will be some kind of military action by Russia going forward. Now, I — personally, I’ve no question about your determination to do what you announced to do.
But I think this audience would be interested in how you and the Biden administration judges our readiness. Do you think we, Europeans, are sufficiently prepared for such a kind of worst-case scenario, which would — in my view at least, which would tend to sort of, you know, terminate the search for a durable and peaceful European security architecture? And we’ve been working on that for more than a generation — for two generations.
So, the question is: If you could reflect a bit about how you think about this and what, conceivably, Americans and Europeans — working together — what we could do in the future even better in terms of speaking with Russia, not only about Russia.
You know, one of the things I really regret is that the Russian government decided not to come here. I would have appreciated an opportunity to challenge them on this stage, as has been the case for many years here Munich.
So — but I think you understand my question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said in my speech, I am reassured and heartened by the work that we have collectively done over the last several months. And it is work. Not everyone started out in the same place in terms of a variety of issues that are on the table. How do we define “aggression”? What should be the consequences? Which consequences are appropriate? Which are we willing to pursue? Which aren’t we willing to pursue? So we didn’t all start out in the same place.
But through diplomacy — and again, this speaks to the strength of diplomacy — we came together and are now speaking with a unified voice. And that voice was a function of not only dialogue, but debate, some concessions, but also a practical realization of the moment that we’re in, which is that we are looking at a sovereign nation that may very well be on the verge of being invaded yet again.
And perhaps this is a moment, as life does present us with those moments, that challenge us to ask what is our reason for being. And I think we all know the history of NATO and its reason for being. The spirit behind this term we use, “the transatlantic community.” The word “community,” meaning a collection, not — a collection of individuals who see themselves as a collection than as one. And that’s where we are now.
I don’t disagree with you that it would be nice if we were presented with other circumstances, be it at this conference or in the world, but that’s not where we are.
We remain open to diplomacy. We have said it continuously, and our deeds, our words, and our actions have reflected that priority.
We believe that when you define the strength of any nation — certainly I’ll speak for the United States — we believe it is an expression of our strength to seek, as a first priority, a diplomatic resolution to any conflict. And I believe we’ve been clear about that. But yet, we are presented with this moment today.
And so the question is: If that diplomacy leads to a dead end — we hope it does not; I said that again in my speech today, the President said it last night — we are still open to a diplomatic resolution. But if it does not, we are also clear-eyed that there must be consequences.
And so we have clearly articulated the consequences we have in store, and they will be severe and swift. And they were derived through a process, again, of diplomatic discussions and engagement wherein there has been some consensus around what would be appropriate, given perhaps some predictable scenarios.
I think this moment speaks to, yes, a moment we would like to avoid, if it was avoidable, but it also speaks to our resolve to speak with one voice and a unified voice.
History has challenged us over the years in that regard. But I think history will show that, at this moment, we are standing strong. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR ISCHINGER: Madam Vice President, I can only thank you on behalf of our participants of this audience and of those who are listening from the outside for traveling over — for coming over here in these difficult circumstances with pandemic conditions. You know, under more normal circumstances, there would be like 600 people in this hall. It would be totally overcrowded. So thank you for doing this.
Thank you for doing this for us. For us here in Europe, it’s — it’s an enormously reassuring message.
And I want to invite all of you to offer to the Vice President of the United States a warm round of applause, if you could, please. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 12:14 P.M. CEST