The United States and Europe

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Warsaw Public Library
Warsaw, Poland
May 5, 2016

Dzien dobry, dziekuje Panstwu serdecznie.

To wszystko po polsku.Thank you very much. Thank you, Michal, for your warm introduction. I’m grateful to the German Marshall Fund and the Warsaw Public Library for your generous hospitality.

I understand that the Library and the Embassy will open an American Corner here later this year.

I cannot imagine a setting more fitting for our two nations to deepen our enduring ties of friendship than here in the company of Czeslaw Milosz and Mark Twain, and Henryk Sienkiewicz and Emily Dickinson—voices of wit, of memory, of conscience in whose lines of poetry and prose we are reminded of all that humanity has in common.

For our own two nations, the heritage we share runs deep into our history, comes alive in our communities, and energizes the principles that unite us. Just two days ago, we celebrated with you as Poland marked the 225thanniversary of Europe’s oldest written constitution—a document that paved the way for democratic movements around the world to stand up for universal human aspirations.

In the centuries since our historic constitutions were first drafted within a few short years of each other, our two peoples have known occasions of great triumph and times of great tragedy—when the demons of humankind overcame its better angels and our actions fell short of our ideals.

The test of our courage as citizens, the mark of our resilience as governments, the measure of our strength as nations is how we face these moments—whether we come together, stand together in the defense of freedom, liberty, democracy, and the rule of law against dangerous winds of turmoil and division.

Two decades ago, at the most American of all places—the baseball diamond at Baltimore’s Camden Yards—Pope John Paul II raised a similar question.

Before 50,000 Americans, Pope John Paul II recalled the words of President Abraham Lincoln and asked whether a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure.”

President Lincoln’s question, Pope John Paul II explained, is no less a question for today.

“Every generation,” the Pope said, “needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

Ever prescient, these words ring with relevance and urgency today—as the challenges confronting Europe and the transatlantic community are felt from nearly every direction.

From the south, we are haunted by the threat of violent extremism—by a campaign of terror that has scarred communities from Paris to Lahore, from Brussels to Ankara. The epicenter of this savagery thrives in the shadows of a civil war that is now in its fifth year—a conflict of unimaginable tragedy that has sent millions of Syrians fleeing to Europe.

Joined by those migrating to escape poverty or crime, this great wave of displacement, the largest since World War II, has affected the political, the economic, and the social fabric of everyday life in Europe. It is changing labor markets, overwhelming local infrastructure, pressuring national borders, affecting our sense of security. Most of all, it is challenging us to live up to our common humanity—to provide the same sanctuary that some of our own ancestors sought in times of trouble, even as we recognize the challenges of integration and the burdens on host communities.

In my own nation, as in many others, we continue to fight with full-hearted conviction against hateful rhetoric that conflates refugees with violent extremists and demonizes those who are fleeing persecution and terrorism.

A few months ago I sat with some Syrian refugees in a community center in Jordan—young men and women 16, 17, 18 years old—not much younger than some of the people here today. I asked them about their vision for the future. It was remarkable. Despite their circumstance, they had a vision: one young woman wanted to be a doctor. Another a fashion designer. One of the young men wanted to go into business. And so on.

As we were talking, I asked them if they had access to computers, and indeed they said that they did. Some had access inside of this community center that was run by UNICEF. Others had someone in their family with a smartphone.

So I pulled out my own smartphone and I asked them if they knew what it was. And they said, “Oh yes, it is an iPhone.”

I asked them if they knew who made the iPhone, and some of them chimed in with Apple.

Then I asked if they knew who founded Apple. They thought about it and then someone said, “Oh, Steve Jobs.”

And then I asked if they knew where Steve Jobs’s father came from. There was silence. He came from Syria.

Every one of those young men and women could be the next Steve Jobs. Our job, in all of our societies, is to give them that chance. That is a challenge for our generation.

So we face these threats and challenges from the south. And from the east, Russian aggression has violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent, democratic nation and imperiled the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Day after day, the conflict in eastern Ukraine persists, and even spikes upward, as people who only recently returned to their homes flee once again. At the same time, Crimea continues to suffer under foreign occupation.

Violence along the line of contact has reached its highest level since September 1, 2015 when the ceasefire was declared.

Last month, the OSCE reported over 30,000 ceasefire violations—with 4,000 violations occurring on one day alone: April 14th. Some 500 of those involved heavy weapons explicitly prohibited under Minsk. And OSCE reporting confirms that the vast majority of ceasefire violations originate in separatist-controlled territory.

In full view of social media, Russia continues to arm, to train, to direct, and to fight alongside separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, while conducting unconventional, hybrid tactics of disinformation, deception, and intelligence operations. The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine continues to document advanced Russian military systems—such as the TOS-1 thermobaric multi-launch rocket systems—and electronic warfare or jamming devices in separatist areas that Ukraine does not even have in its arsenal.

Moscow’s actions—from holding a sham referendum and attempting to annex Crimea, to deploying thousands of heavy weapons and troops across the international border, to supporting a reign of violence through the separatists that it controls—these actions have threatened to set a new precedent on European soil whereby basic international principles are up for debate:

That the borders and territorial integrity of a state cannot be changed by force.

That it is the inherent right of citizens in a democracy to make their country’s decisions and determine their country’s future.

That all members of the international community are bound by common rules and should face costs if they do not live up to the solemn commitments that they make.

These principles transcend Ukraine. They transcend Europe. They are the fundamental rules that underpin the international order that together we have sought to build, sustain, and as necessary adapt. In challenging them, Russia seeks to unravel our transatlantic alliance, erode our unity, and pressure democracies into failure.

And, faintly, there is a challenge from within. Our transatlantic community is experiencing convulsions of doubt, a lack of self-confidence, a search for its own identity. In my own nation, we see these concerns reflected and amplified by election-year politics.

In Europe, slow economic growth, polarizing politics, the rise of extremist parties, and challenges of community integration have led some to debate the merit, the utility of the great European project and the alliances that sustain it. Some even question the basic tenets of liberal democracy and whether our model of government can survive these times of crisis.

So why does all this matter?

With so much at stake, it is imperative that we remember the reasons why NATO, the EU, and the international order they represent and helped to shape are so profoundly consequential to the health, strength, and security of each and every one of our countries.

Seventy-one years ago, out of the rubble of war and the pain of unfathomable national loss, our predecessors made one of the wisest decisions in human history.

With the gift of foresight, they resisted the temptation to concentrate power in the hands of victors or wall our nations off to the rest of the world.

Instead, they built an international system of institutions, of rules, of norms dedicated to peace and progress.

Their purpose was to prevent for all times a return to war between and among great powers and to create a safe, stable environment in which countries could grow and develop to the benefit of all their citizens.

Of course this didn’t eliminate all turmoil, all trouble, all conflict, but it got the big picture right. They managed to bind age-old adversaries in Europe together through new common architecture of trade and commerce, and built a political-military alliance committed to peace through security and designed to protect its nations equally—feats that seem almost unremarkable today, but remain herculean in the context of history.

As Poles, Baltic peoples, Czechs, Hungarians, and others changed the map of Europe, the great institutions of the transatlantic world expanded to support and protect the peaceful transition of the newly free nations of Central Europe to democracy.

The construction of this transatlantic project was never easy. Old questions of nationalism had to be confronted. New questions of burden-sharing and sovereignty had to be answered. Free and independent nations had to cut the noose of authoritarianism. And the great specter of nuclear war had to be deterred.

“More than once,” as President Obama said, “skeptics predicted the demise of this great project.”

But the vision that a previous generation had did more than prevail. It flourished—providing a foundation of democracy and stability that has underwritten an unparalleled period of peace and prosperity for Europe, the United States, and much of the world.

This is our inheritance—a legacy that confers upon those of us, all of us, who have shared in its benefits a responsibility to renew and revitalize its founding purpose and governing principles.

There is no better place to take up this responsibility than here in Warsaw, where we came together in 2000 to found the Community of Democracies and where the leaders of all 28—soon to be 29—NATO allies will convene for a summit in July to review our progress and to set our course forward.

The continued strength of NATO, the most effective alliance the world has ever known, is not inevitable. It is not simply a given—to be counted on when it is needed and neglected when it is not. It requires constant upkeep, significant reinvestment in the basis of its enduring power: our unity, our capabilities, and our values.

Against all headwinds, our greatest asset is our unity—our equal footing, shoulder-to-shoulder, on democratic ground in defense of our common principles and all those who share them.

There are no second-class citizens in NATO.

From the first day a country is accepted into the alliance, the United States and our allies undertake an ironclad military commitment to collective defense.

“We stand together,” President Obama said two years ago in Castle Square, “now and forever, for your freedom is ours.”

That is true for every member of NATO—it is true for Poland, for Estonia, for Latvia, for Lithuania, and for Romania and Bulgaria, where I am traveling later this week.

Commitments come with responsibilities. If we are going to adapt to 21st century threats, then all NATO allies must contribute their full share toward our common security.

That means implementing the pledge that allies made in Wales on defense spending by 2024—which Poland is proudly doing—including shifting new spending towards investments for the future, not just legacy costs like pensions.

It means strengthening our overall deterrence and defense posture to counter these emerging challenges in the east and south. It means ensuring rotational land, sea, and air presence along NATO’s eastern edge. And it means maintaining NATO’s Open Door to nations that meet our high standards.

The United States takes our NATO commitments very seriously.

Through the European Reassurance Initiative, we have rotated a series of aircraft to Poland for training and exercises, including the A-10, F-15, F-16, and C-130. And in June, we will join—as we have in the past—Poland’s flagship exercise that will involve more than 25,000 participants from 24 nations, including more than 12,000 Americans, to train and integrate Polish national command and force structures into an allied, joint, and multinational environment.

We intend to continue our commitment with a fourfold increase in our spending on European security from just under $790 million two years ago to $3.4 billion going forward.

This will allow us to maintain a division’s worth of equipment in Europe and a new rotational Armored Brigade Combat Team to the eastern flank of NATO, which includes over 4,000 soldiers on heel-to-toe rotations furnished with the most modern equipment in the U.S. Army inventory. This will be added to two Brigade Combat Teams already in Europe. Much of that new deployment will be seen here in Poland, every single day.

We also support proposals made by the Supreme Allied Commander to enhance NATO’s forward presence in the east, including the rotational battalions in the Baltic States and Poland.

This is not a strategy designed to target any one nation—but rather to bolster the defense of our allies and give tangible demonstration of our commitment to Article 5, the solemn obligation that all NATO members make to defend one another.

With renewed strength, resources, and capabilities, our Alliance is meeting the full range of regional and global challenges that confront us.

We stand together in our unwavering support for Ukraine—for its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its right as a free and democratic nation to pursue the path set by its own citizens and them alone.

The crisis in Ukraine was manufactured by Russia and must be ended by Russia—by adhering to the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, upon which all sides agreed. Until then, we need to keep the sanctions in place and so keep the pressure on.

We stand together in our resolve to protect the security of Europe’s energy supply from coercion and political pressure. In 2005 and then again in 2009 Europe could only watch as Russia halted its gas flows through Ukraine in the dead of winter. That specter rose again just a couple of years ago in 2014—a stark, cold reminder of what continued dependence on Russia would mean for the aspirations of all of Europe.

We continue to underscore our concern about projects, such as the Nord Stream II pipeline, that would undermine the EU’s efforts to diversify energy supplies and routes. At the same time, we applaud the EU’s focus on the most critical energy projects—including for example the Poland-Lithuania gas interconnector that will link the Baltic natural gas transmission grid directly to the rest of Europe.

Let me be clear: our goal is not to keep Russian oil and gas out of Europe. To the contrary, we must ensure enough diversity in sources, supplies, and routes that no nation can use energy as a political tool of coercion.

We stand together in our determination to defeat Daesh, to eradicate the sanctuaries it uses to launch attacks in Europe, and to stop the recruitment, radicalization, and mobilization of people, especially young people, to engage in terrorist acts. All 28 NATO allies contribute to the Counter ISIL/Counter Daesh Coalition, some providing life-saving humanitarian aid, some striking Daesh targets, some supporting the air campaign that has deprived Daesh of 44 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 16 percent in Syria.

We stand together in our responsibility to shut down criminal networks that are profiting by smuggling of desperate families and children to Europe. The EU is strongest when it implements a common policy of in-take and processing, and by supporting refugees with the same solidarity it has shown in addressing other emergencies—from the financial crisis to the Balkan wars. As a virtue of its history and geography, Poland knows the struggle of refugees and the impact of migration all too well. This crisis transcends race, ethnicity, and gender, and so should the policies of all EU member states.

It is incredibly difficult for countries to absorb migrants, refugees, asylum seekers. We understand the burdens that it places on communities. We struggle ourselves in the United States with our own commitment to resettle.

But I ask you: don’t lose sight. We are looking at people. At mothers. At fathers. At sons. At daughters. Just like us. Our own parents, our own grandparents traveled many of these same roads before, seeking their own refuge from violence.

We’ve all had difference experiences with this, but imagine the courage that it takes to uproot your family, to put yourself—to put your children—in the hands of smugglers and human traffickers. To brave the high seas and risk death at any instant. These are extraordinarily courageous people, energetic people, people with drive and determination.

In the United States with successive waves of immigrants and refugees—including so many Polish-Americans now—that is what built and grew and helped our country succeed. And so I hope we can help bring that perspective to what has been an incredibly difficult challenge.

As we stand together in our commitment to translate our collective security and values beyond our borders—we also do so in support of the people of Afghanistan as they build their security forces and push back against violent extremism.

We have important and legitimate debates within NATO, within the EU, among our governments, between our people, about how best to address these complex challenges, including the complex security challenges we face.

But what defines us as an alliance is our willingness to take difficult steps that go beyond our national interests and defend and protect every ally. Our unity is essential in deterring our adversaries, who prey on our differences, who try to exploit our disagreements, and who try to sow discord among us. That is the vulnerability they are seeking.

Yet those who seek to fray the transatlantic bonds underestimate the resolve of our alliance. Like the dictators of the mid-20th century, they mistake our tolerance and commitment to the rule of law as weakness. They misjudge open debates as division, compromise as surrender. And they misunderstand the singular and universal lesson of history: that democracy, liberty, and the rule of law are not sources of vulnerability and insecurity. To the contrary, they constitute our greatest reservoir of strength and stability.

From the founding of our alliance, we recognized that our security rested not only on the might of our military capabilities, but also on the health of our democratic institutions. And we committed to discuss both openly and confidently—to help each other fulfill the promise of our ideals.

NATO’s preamble emphatically states that our collective defense alliance is also a community of values “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”

In the bleakest years of Communist oppression, it was this abiding struggle for human dignity and freedom that inspired Solidarity, which in turn inspired the world, and gave rise to other great democratic movements throughout this region.

The real success of these movements was that they did not stop with elections. They continued on—you continued on—with the back-breaking, painstaking work of building and safeguarding the fundamental institutions of a democracy: a free press, civil society, political parties, accountable police forces, judicial independence, a representative parliament.

No democracy is flawless. No nation always resists the temptation to retreat toward repressive tactics and intimidation in times of crisis or strife. No nation has preserved the balance of powers with perfect equilibrium.

Debate and dialogue are the life-blood of democracy. But history has also taught us that democracies work best and are at their strongest when they embrace separation of powers, checks and balances, and show due respect for judicial independence and judicial review.

In my own country, in the United States, we often find that the results of our efforts do not meet our expectations and the voices that prevail are merely the loudest, not necessarily the wisest.

Our allies never shy from reminding us in the United States when we slip from our pursuit of a more perfect union. And we are better off for it. Indeed, our very own Declaration of Independence demands “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

Because the enduring resilience of democracy comes from its ability to learn from its mistakes—to confront its own imperfections with honesty, openness, and transparency.

We remain confident that Poland, with its extraordinary tradition of democracy, will find a solution to its current Constitutional Tribunal dispute in accordance with its constitution and the highest international standards of rule of law.

At the request of the Polish government, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission outlined several recommendations toward a resolution of this debate—such that Poland can continue to provide the strongest, brightest example for fledgling democracies around the world that seek to follow in its historic footsteps.

And we are grateful to Poland for hosting the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, a partner in our efforts to advance the rights and dignity of all people.

The fierce regional and global challenges that confront our alliance do not look as they once did—but they demand no less unity of effort, no less accountability for our promises, no less commitment to the values that brought us together in the first place so many years ago.

The politics of division, the voices of intolerance, the aggression of bullies have had one clear and unmistakable effect: it has bound our alliance even closer together. Today, NATO is as strong as it has ever been.

Twenty-one years ago, as he was departing America on a flight to Rome—appropriately named Shepherd One—John Paul II turned to the thousands gathered to see him and offered one last tribute to the democratic ideals first articulated in our constitutions more than two centuries ago.

He said, “Democracy needs wisdom, democracy needs virtue, if it is not to turn against everything it is meant to defend and encourage.”

United in purpose and principle, our alliance has stood the test of time and the trials of crisis—and it has always emerged stronger. I am confident the same will long continue, as we rise to meet our generation’s challenges inspired by those whose wisdom and virtue helped light the way.

Thank you so very much.