the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

Search form

The White House
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the Vice President at the Munich Security Conference

Hotel Bayerischer Hof
Munich, Germany

3:32 P.M. (Local)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I wish I could say those phone calls, I solved all the problems. But I didn't.

Ladies and gentlemen, as the Chairman said earlier today, I did stand here six years ago and in the first major foreign policy address of our administration, I spoke about the “reset.” Today, I’m here to talk about the need to reassert -- not just reset -- to reassert the fundamental bedrock principle of a Europe whole, free -- and free. That's inviolate borders are honored; that there be no spheres of influence; and it’s the sovereign right of every nation to choose its own alliances.

Europe is not just the home of our closest allies. Europe, all of you, are the cornerstone of the United States’ engagement in the rest of the world. Let me say that again, Europe is the cornerstone of U.S. engagement around the world.

You’re America’s partners not of just last resort, but first resort when challenges arise in Europe and other parts of the world.

Since I first attended this conference in 1980, together we have made remarkable strides toward the dream of a Europe whole, free, and at peace -- a unified Germany at the heart of a European Union built on the bold premise that nations need not repeat the conflicts of the past; in Eastern and Central Europe, a journey -— in less than a generation’s time -— from captive nations to free and prosperous democracies.

Together, we made -- we have extended the Euro-Atlantic alliance community from the Baltics to the Black Sea, reaching even more people in an interconnected web of democratic governance, commerce, and trade.

And together, we explored in good faith -- in genuine good faith -- the prospect of including Russia in this community of democratic nations and open societies; or at least establishing -- at the very least -- constructive relations with Russia.

Six years ago at this podium, I said and I quote, “To paraphrase President Obama, it is time to press the reset button and reinvest in the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia.”

That's what everybody remembers. But they don't often repeat what I then said. I said, “We will also not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence.” We will remain -- “it will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their decisions and choose their own alliances.”

I meant it when I said it then, and America means it as I repeat it now.

As the Ambassador said this morning, once we pressed that reset button in 2009, between then and 2012, we achieved a great deal in cooperation with Russia to advance our mutual interests and I would argue the interests of Europe -- the New START Treaty that reduced our strategic nuclear arsenal by one-third; a vital supply route for coalition troops in and out of Afghanistan; at the United Nations Security Council, resolutions that pressured North Korea and Iran and made possible serious nuclear discussions in Tehran, which continue as I speak.

All of us, we all invested in a type of Russia we hoped -— and still hope -— will emerge one day: a Russia integrated into the world economy; more prosperous, more invested in the international order.

It was in that same spirit that we supported the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council and Russian membership in countless other institutions, from the Council of Europe to the WTO. Unfortunately, and I mean it when I say unfortunately, as the Chancellor pointed out this morning, President Putin has chosen a different path.

We have seen, as much as we would not like to see, increased repression at home, including the barbarous practice of using psychiatric institutions to quell dissent, silencing of the mothers of soldiers deployed in Ukraine; contempt for the rights of Russia’s neighbors to choose their own future; disrespect for the sovereign, territorial integrity of Ukraine, but I might add also Georgia and Moldova; disregard for Russia’s own commitments made in Helsinki, Paris, Budapest.

As a result -- as a result of these choices made by Mr. Putin, the world looks differently today than it did when I spoke in Munich not just six years ago, but even two years ago.

America and Europe are being tested. President Putin has to understand that, as he has changed, so has our focus. We have moved from resetting this important relationship to reasserting the fundamental bedrock principles on which European freedom and stability rest. And I’ll say it again: inviolate borders, no spheres of influence, the sovereign right to choose your own alliances. I cannot repeat that often enough.

And again, as the Chancellor said this morning, to protect these important principles, we have to be laser-focused on the greater threats to the project of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

And for a moment I’d like to focus on three of these threats. First, the attempt to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty; second, the use of corruption as an instrument to try to undermine governments; and, third, the use of energy as a tool of coercion.

Most immediately, we need to remain resolute and united in our support of Ukraine, as the Chancellor said this morning. What happens there will resonate well beyond Ukraine. It matters to all -- not just in Europe, but around the world -- all who may be subject to aggression; to all countries who expect Russia to honor the agreements they signed, whether at the United Nations, Budapest Memorandum, or even the Minsk Agreement.

Together, we agreed that countries would never again be able to redraw the map of Europe by force. That's what we said. That's what all of you said. That's what we said. I’ve traveled to Ukraine many times -- three times in the past year. I’ve sat down with the men and women who braved the snipers’ bullets in Maidan, as many of you did. Their courage has given Ukraine a chance to leave behind its history and recent history of corruption and finally build a genuine democracy, which has not existed for as long as memory -- not in name, but in reality; an economy no longer riddled with corruption, oligarchs above the law.

It’s not easy. This is a difficult transition, as many of you in this room know, because some of you made that transition. But as long as Ukrainians keep faith with this project, we have to keep faith with them. We’ve already shown the strength that comes when we stand united.

Think about it: Russia tried vainly to stop the Ukrainians from having the freest and fairest elections in their history, but they had them. Russia sought to divide Ukraine between east and west, but Ukrainians are more unified as a nation from Lviv to Kharkiv than at any time, I would argue, in the last 25 years, notwithstanding the thugs Russia has supported to foment violence in the Donbas. Russia sought to keep secret its little green men and the multiple tanks that we’ve given them -- that they’ve given them. But we have given all you incontrovertible proof that they exist. You've seen the pictures, as they say.

But we’ve also exposed what they're doing to the entire world. All of this because Russia sought to block Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union. That agreement -– locking in Ukraine’s European future –- was nonetheless signed and ratified by many of you in this room.

And Russia needs to understand that as long as it continues its current course, the United States, and, God willing, all of Europe, and the international community will continue to impose costs on their violation of basic international norms.

Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande have just traveled to Kyiv and then to Moscow to pursue a diplomatic resolution to this conflict. The President and I, we agree, we must spare no effort to save lives and resolve the conflict peacefully. As Chancellor Merkel said today, it’s worth the attempt. It’s very much worth the attempt.

But we must judge the existing agreement -— Minsk -— or any future agreement with Russia by the actions Russia takes on the ground, not by the paper they sign. And given Russia’s recent history, we need to judge it by its deeds, not its words. Don’t tell us. Show us, President Putin.

Too many times President Putin has promised peace, and delivered tanks, troops, and weapons. So we will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance, not to encourage war but to allow Ukraine to defend itself.

Let me be clear: We do not believe there is a military solution in Ukraine. But let me be equally clear: We do not believe Russia has the right to do what they're doing. We believe we should attempt an honorable peace. But we also believe the Ukrainian people have a right to defend themselves. (Applause.)

The essential elements of the Minsk Agreement hold a path to peaceful resolution. I don't know how many hours, scores of hours I’ve spent with President Poroshenko in Kyiv or on the telephone. He has made some fairly courageous decisions that do not still well with all parts of his constituency. He is viewed by some as having given too much. But Minsk has the major pieces: One, full withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine; two, return control over the international border to Ukraine; three, develop a robust international monitoring mission on the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s fully within the power of Moscow to stop the separatists from pursuing the military solution. Don't believe anybody who tells you that that's not true. I assure it is true. Does it mean there will be some separatists who on their own will move off? Probably. But the core, the leadership, the trained fighters, they are directly answerable to Mr. Putin.

And let me state clearly what is our collective objective, or at least what I believe is our objective and should be our collective objectives: to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine; to reassert the principle that the borders are inviolate and nations have the right to choose their own alliances.

And let me state as clearly as I can what is not our objective. It is not the objective of the United States -- I repeat -- it is not the objective of the United States of America to collapse or weaken the Russian economy. That is not our objective.

But President Putin has to make a simple, stark choice: Get out of Ukraine or face continued isolation and growing economic costs at home.

But as the story of Ukraine shows, there are multiple dimensions to European security. Hard military power of NATO, for sure, but also confronting corruption that's being used as a tool to undermine national sovereignty in other parts of Europe.

Corruption is a cancer. Those of you who watch Superman movies and comic books, it is like kryptonite to the functioning of democracy. It siphons away resources. It destroys trust in government. It hollows out military readiness. And it affronts the dignity of your people.

But as President Putin and others engage in the use of corruption as a tool of coercion abroad, then fighting corruption is not just about good governance, it’s self-defense. It’s about sovereignty. Fighting corruption may not be easy,

but it’s not a mystery how you go about doing it. It’s hard, but not a mystery -- transparency, disclosure, independent agencies, vetting police departments and judges, inspector generals in government agencies with the mandate and the freedom to investigate abuses.

Ukraine has taken bold steps toward a new Anti-Corruption Bureau, and it’s passed legislation to reform the Prosecutor General’s office. It has to be implemented now. But it’s a promising start, still more needs to do done. And I’m sure the Prime Minister and the President are tired of hearing me remind them of that a couple times a week.

And of course Ukraine is not the only country dealing with this scourge. Many other countries need to take a good, hard look about how to strengthen their own institutions and combat corruption at home.

I was just speaking to the leader of one of those countries, it’s a part of Europe, who understands it and is asking for help, how to help them do it.

We also need to ensure that no country –- not Russia or any other nation –- can use energy as a weapon of coercion to bully or change the policy of another nation. We’ve known for a long time -- you've known for a long time -- that dependence on a single source of energy is a big problem, a big problem. And now is the time to act.

Europe has made steady progress already. For example, you passed laws with the goal of creating an integrated European energy market. Now is the time to implement those reforms and push for more diversity in fuel types, sources, transit routes; and more investment in the types of infrastructure –- interconnections, storage facilities, LNG terminals —- that will unleash market forces. We the United States want to be as helpful as we possibly can. It’s overwhelmingly in our interest that Europe not be dependent.

But it’s within your power to make energy security the next chapter in the European project of integration and market expansion that began decades ago -- and maybe I’m the only one old enough to remember -- with the European Coal and Steel Community. That's a frightening prospect to think of that.

And if we can finally get it right, there would be -- it would be an enormous contribution to the security and independence of Europe.

But there’s a larger imperative that we have in the Transatlantic Alliance, and that's the need to address what I suspect most of us who have been dealing with NATO, as I have, for the last 41 years in my capacity as a U.S. senator and Vice President; I doubt whether many of us thought we’d be here in 2015 with an extended focus on the need to strengthen NATO’s capacity and capability within Europe, as well as the need to strengthen our economies.

We're also determined to ensure that NATO emerges stronger from this crisis than when we went in. I’ve said it before, let me say it again, the principle of collective defense enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty represents a sacred commitment not just for now, but forever.

With our allies at Wales, we all of us, we recommitted ourselves to the work required to fill capacity gaps and improve our readiness and put in place a genuinely rapid response force, strengthening the capacity of our alliance to respond to emerging and future threats.

But if you forgive me, NATO is not a self-sustaining organization. It doesn't fund itself. Just come with me to my constituencies and ask them whether or not we should primarily fund it. Ask my Senate colleagues and my House colleagues who are here. Every NATO country needs to meet its commitment to devote 2 percent of its GDP to defense. I realize not all can do it now. But it’s a shared security, and shared security requires shared responsibility.

Ultimately our staying power and strength in the world fundamentally rests on the vitality of our economies at home, as we all know. Although the United States economy grew at a rate of 5 percent the last quarter, it’s clear that our people are still contending with the lasting effects, lingering effects of the greatest recession short of a depression in the history of the United States.

We support your efforts to create jobs, boost domestic demand in Europe, especially as you reinforce the institutions of the monetary union.

The good news is, we now know the types of policies that effectively spur economic growth and boost employment --investing in infrastructure and human capital; lowering barriers to trade and investment; making reforms to improve the business climate and level the economic playing field.

That’s why we're such strong supporters, along with many of you, of so-called TTIP, the Transatlantic and Trade Investment [sic]. Now let me make clear what I heard this morning, TTIP is not the stepchild to TPP. We have not taken our focus off of Europe. We have not decided that the future lies in the Pacific Basin. We are a Pacific power. We will assert that power, and we will remain a Pacific power. But we are also an Atlantic power. And the Trans Pacific Partnership we're working on in no way means to imply that there’s greater focus on the concerns of the Pacific. It’s meant to make clear that internationally we need new rules of the road, across the Pacific, as well as across the Atlantic.

Think of what our fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers did at the end of World War II. They set down a new set of rules of the road. They worked well for 50 to 60 years. But as the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said about his Ireland in the poem called Easter Sunday 1916, it better applies -- the line better applies to Europe and a world today than it did Ireland in 1916. He said, “All’s changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty has been born.” All has changed utterly. Globalization is a reality. So we very strongly believe it’s in our mutual interest and the mutual growth possibilities for both sides of the Atlantic if we can reach an agreement on TTIP.

Were time to permit I would point out it’s not just economic benefits that will flow from such an agreement, but the geopolitical benefits that flow from a 21st century set of rules for fair -- and for the fair conduct of trade internationally are real. Finalizing a deal like this one is not easy, and will not be easy, but it’s necessary for our economies and our partnership to help shape the character of the global economy.

We already have a $5 trillion commercial relationship with Europe. Even small improvements that reduce the cost of regulation and promote greater compatibility can create significant new economic opportunities -— including more jobs -— on both sides of the Atlantic.

Just as NATO reinforces the norms of global security, TTIP can strengthen the global trading system and to the benefit of people everywhere, even as it lies -- ties our two continents more closely together.

If we can finalize this trade agreement we’re negotiating in the Pacific, and unite the countries representing two-thirds of the world’s trade into a coalition of free and fair trade, that will drive the standards and rules for 21st century -- a coalition too large for countries to ignore the basic rules that we’ve agreed on.

If we do all these things, we won’t just confront our challenges, we will have a genuine opportunity to fundamentally strengthen the transatlantic community. And that’s a good thing, because we have an awful lot work to do around the world.

America, like many of you, has global responsibilities and far-flung commitments, but the most effective way to address them is to connect with our closest allies.

They include Iran; climate change; the fight against ISIL, or as they say in the region, Daesh; the violent extremism, set against a backdrop of generational upheaval in the Middle East.

As the President’s National Security statement says: “We have an opportunity -— and an obligation -— to lead the way in reinforcing, shaping, and where appropriate, creating the rules, norms, and institutions that will be the foundation for peace, security and prosperity, and the protection of human rights in the 21st century.”

It is that simple. And it is that complicated. It is that straightforward, and it is that important. That's what’s ultimately at stake. All of us in this room are delivered to a moment that only happens every four or five generations. We have to rise to the moment. Then we, like those before us, can lay that new foundation for another 70 years of security and prosperity and peace.

Again if you forgive me, to quote another Irish poet Seamus Heaney, he said:

History teaches us not to hope on this side of the grave, but then once in a lifetime that tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.

We can't guarantee that. But we have a shot. We have a shot. I got elected when I was a 29-year-old kid. I’m more optimistic about the prospects, if we have the courage, of setting the 21st century in a direction that will avoid the carnage of the 20th century, if we work together. So let’s take a shot at making hope and history rhyme.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END
4:00 P.M. (Local)