John Kerry – 2016 Speech on the Future of the European Union

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Below is the text of the speech made by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel, Munich in Germany on 13 February 2016.

Thank you, Wolfgang. Thank you very much. Well, Wolfgang, thank you for reminding me that everything I’m doing now is a last. (Laughter.) It’s a little – depending on what I decide to do, so maybe not. (Laughter.) I am really happy to be back in Munich and I’m very happy to share thoughts with this, the 52nd edition of the Security Conference.

And I think if you all think back, 1963, the first year of the Munich Security Conference, this forum has always been about the pursuit of peace. And back then, here in Germany as elsewhere, the Cold War actually felt pretty hot. The wall was a concrete indication of a new reality. Barbed wire was strung across the heart of the country – indeed the heart of Europe. And that was the year that President Kennedy spoke at Rudolph Wilde Platz, and said to all who doubted the courage and resolve of free people: “Let them come to Berlin.”

Many of us here remember the starkness of that period of time very, very well. I was a kid. My dad was the legal advisor to the high commissioner of Germany in Berlin, then James Conant. And I was privileged to be dumped off at a school in Switzerland. I didn’t know where I was at age 11 or 12. And I saw firsthand what Europe was like in those years emerging from the war. Everything you talked about was the war and the remnants of the war. I used to ride my bike down Kurfurstendamm and see the church and the steeple and the burned our Reichstag. So I knew very well what that was about.

And it is clear that today that, while the Cold War is long over, the need for the same qualities that brought people through that – for the courage and the resolve in defending liberty and in pursuing peace is absolutely as vital today as it was half a century ago.

Now, obviously, everyone in this room doesn’t need a Secretary of State or secretary of state of the – of Great Britain or Frank Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany, or anybody else to come in here and do a long list of the litany of the crises we face. It’s pretty obvious that probably never in history have we been dealing with as many hotspots, as many failed or failing states all at one time, not to mention a Kim Jong-un and a nuclear program and other challenges all at the same time. So everybody here understands that. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.

And Daesh’s campaign of terror now extends its reach well beyond Iraq and Syria. And the Syrian civil war, which has now claimed more than 250,000 lives, still rages. We are facing – we, together – the gravest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II, as innocent people – many of whom are just women and children – are either trapped inside a country without access to medicine and food, or they have been forced to flee.

And the flood of desperate migrants has now spread well beyond the Middle East. As we know, 50 percent of the people now knocking on the door of Europe – with a whole industry that’s been created to try to help move them and some very perverse politics in certain places that turns the dial up and down for political purposes – half of them now come from places other than Syria. Think about that – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan. So the burdens of Europe, which is already facing a complex economic, political, and social strain, is now even more intense. And I want to make it clear to all of you: We in the United States aren’t sitting across the pond thinking somehow we’re immune. We’re not sitting there saying this is your problem, not ours – no. This is our problem. The United States of America understands the near existential nature of this threat to the politics and fabric of life in Europe – and that is why we are joining now in enforcing a NATO mission to close off a key access route, and that is why we will join with you in other ways to stem this tide because of the potential of its damage to the fabric of a united Europe. ‎

And the truth is that in every decade since its founding, the EU has been tested by forces –internal and external – that benefited from a house divided. We know many Europeans right now feel overwhelmed by the latest round of challenges, including concerns about the UK’s potential exit from the EU. Here again, however, I want to express the confidence of President Obama and all of us in America that, just as it has so many times before, Europe is going to emerge stronger than ever, provided it stays united and builds common responses to these challenges. Obviously, the United States has a profound interest in your success, as we do in a very strong United Kingdom staying in a strong EU. (Applause.)

Now, let me underscore – let me underscore that those who claim that our transatlantic partnership is unraveling – or in fact, those who hope that it might unravel – could not be more wrong. They forget – or they never understood – why we came together in the first place: not to just to sail along in the best of times – but to have each other’s backs when the times are tough. They forget, as well, that the ties that bind us are not some kind of fragile strings of momentary convenience. They are rugged, time-tested cords of democratic values – liberty, decency, justice, rule of law.

And nowhere is that more clear than in our joint, unwavering support for a democratic Ukraine. Our European partners, you, deserve enormous credit for showing the resolve you have shown and the common purpose you have summoned, in order to stand up to Russia’s repeated aggression. And I am confident that Europe and the United States are going to continue to stand united, both in sustaining sanctions for as long as they are necessary and in providing needed assistance to Ukraine until the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine is protected through the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.

Now, again and again, we have made it clear, and I make it clear again here today: Sanctions are not an end unto themselves. Witness what we succeeded in doing in the context of the Iran nuclear agreement. But we shouldn’t forget why they were imposed in the first place: to stand up for Ukraine’s fundamental rights – rights of international norms that have been accepted ever since World War II, that were part of what that great battle was about. Russia has a simple choice: fully implement Minsk or continue to face economically damaging sanctions. And the path to sanctions relief is clear: withdraw weapons and troops from the Donbas; ensure that all Ukrainian hostages are returned; allow full humanitarian access to occupied territories, which, by the way, is required by international law and by several United Nations resolutions; support free, fair, and internationally-monitored elections in the Donbas under Ukrainian law; and restore Ukraine’s control of its side of the international border, which belongs to it. Put plainly, Russia can prove by its actions that it will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, just as it insists on respect for its own.

By the same token, after two difficult years, Ukrainians still have work to do as well. And President Poroshenko who is here knows that and accepts that. Neither the people of Ukraine nor their partners in the international community believe that enough has happened in Ukraine either. Ukraine has responsibilities with respect to Minsk – and it’s critical that Kyiv upholds its end of the bargain. But Ukraine’s democratic potential is clearly far brighter today than it was when we met here several years ago, far brighter even than it was before the brave protests in the Maidan. And with our transatlantic support, 2016 has all the potential possible – all the groundwork laid through the good work of Germany and France and the Normandy format and though the support of other countries – to be able to make 2016 the year that Ukraine proves reform can triumph over corruption. And we call on all of the country’s elected leaders to demonstrate the unity, the integrity, and the courage that their people are demanding.

Now, in addition to our joint focus on Ukraine, the United States has significantly upgraded our commitment to European security with a planned fourfold increase in our spending on the European Reassurance Initiative, from just under $790 million to $3.4 billion. This will allow us to maintain a division’s worth of equipment in Europe and an additional combat brigade in Central and Eastern Europe, making our support – and NATO’s – more visible and more tangible.

Meanwhile – and I think everybody here knows this – that’s not the only way we have to approach the challenge of what is happening in Europe and in the rest of the world of failed and failing states, of millions of young people in countries where they don’t have hope and they don’t have food and they don’t have a job and they don’t have education and they don’t have a future. And if we leave that unattended to, then we are simply turning our backs on what we know is a responsibility for how we are going to stem the tide of violent extremism.

So we will continue to build on our unparalleled economic partnership. We will support new jobs and spur growth on both sides of the Atlantic. And concluding negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, my friends, this year will strengthen our economies, and let me be absolutely clear: Nothing in TTIP – T-TIP – nothing requires Europe to reduce or undo important regulations or weaken existing standards. That is false. On the contrary, the agreement will underscore our support for the inclusion of high environmental and labor standards in trade agreements, just as we have done in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which encompasses 40 percent of the planet’s GDP. We have encompassed in that agreement, in the four corners of the agreement, the highest labor standards and the highest environment standards enforceable by law.

So T-TIP can showcase the dynamism of our form of democracy, of our marketplace, of free markets, and demonstrate the preeminence in the global conversation about the economic standards and the defense of free trade.

Now, perhaps most urgently, the United States and Europe are at the forefront of facing what has become the defining challenge of our generation: the fight against violent extremism.

The terrible attacks in Paris, Brussels, Ankara, Beirut, the Sinai, San Bernardino, and so many other places have only reinforced our determination to defeat Daesh as soon as possible. And I am absolutely convinced we will do just that. Every day our military is meeting. Every day the coalition is working. Every day we are taking additional steps forward. And the global counter-Daesh coalition that we began some 17 months ago includes every NATO and EU state – and that, my friends, is the very definition of solidarity.

We have known from the very beginning that defeating Daesh is not an overnight proposition. It’s going to take time. But I’ll tell you this, President Obama is determined that it will not take too much time. And he is every day pushing our military and every other sector – and there are many other sectors that are involved in this broad nine lines of effort. He is pushing them to come up with new propositions, new ways to push this fight. We welcome the announcement of countries in Europe that have decided, and other countries, to join this fight.

We are going to defeat Daesh. I have no doubt about it. But even as we do that, there’s a lot of work that we have to do on a measurable – in a measurable manner.

First and foremost, we are going after their fighters. Our coalition has launched more than 10,000 air strikes. We, the United States, and France, a couple of other countries, have put special forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria in order to better enable a number of operations, while also providing increased amounts of training and equipment to our local partners. Together, we have pushed terrorists out of about 40 percent of the territory that they once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria. We’ve liberated Tikrit – 100,000 Sunni have returned to rebuild their homes in Tikrit, an extraordinary story that doesn’t get enough attention or credit. We’ve liberated Sinjar, Ramadi, Hasakah, and Kobani. We’re hammering Daesh’s heavy weapons, its training camps, its supply routes, its infrastructure. And the military campaign to end Daesh’s terrorism is, in fact, expanding by the day.

But it’s not enough just to knock them down militarily, which we are doing. You have to also ensure that they can’t get back up. And that’s why the second line of effort that we’re pursuing is also critical: destroying their economic lifeline. In recent months, we have learned more about Daesh’s sources of income, which has allowed us to be more strategic in targeting and hitting their oil production, their refineries, tanker trucks, cash centers, illicit banking facilities. For Daesh, lower revenues means fewer resources to finance military action, and smaller paychecks to lure and sustain new fighters. Already, we are seeing the results of this. They’ve had to cut their paychecks to their fighters by 50 percent – and in some cases, they’ve had to cut it off entirely. And they don’t have the ability, as a result, to continue this expansion.

This also gives a boost to our third line of attack, which is to reduce the number of terrorist recruits. And because of tighter airport and border security, fewer terrorists are now getting into Syria and Iraq. And in fact, because of lower pay and constant danger, we know that more are, in fact, trying to get out.

Meanwhile, with Arab states in the lead, we are doing more every day to minimize the impact of terrorist propaganda; to fight back against Daesh’s apocalyptic distortion of Islam and its rhetoric; to prevent the incitement of so-called lone-wolf attacks. In the United States, we recently opened the Global Engagement Center at the State Department, to help dispel extremist groups’ hateful lies in all forms of media, to take the people who were once the captives and exploited by Daesh and put them in the media to tell the stories to deter others from joining. We have a center opened up in Abu Dhabi. We have a new center that the Saudis – they will be starting and we will be working with them. And the Malaysians are following so that those who really can talk with authority about what Islam means in the languages and in the – each individual nation where it makes the difference, will have the opportunity to speak to people in ways that they haven’t yet.

The global coalition has also reinforced our commitment with respect to the fifth effort: providing humanitarian relief to the millions who have suffered at the hands of Daesh as a result of the larger conflict in Syria.

Now, the region, entire region, is responding to this challenge, my friends. And that is essential, because the needs are absolutely staggering. I see the prime minister of Norway here, others who were London the other day – extraordinary contributions by countries around the world to put $10 billion on the table. Tukey has taken in more than 2.5 million men, women, and children since the war began, and Lebanon and Jordan are giving refuge to a million people each.

In Europe, you know better than anybody how the staggering humanitarian crisis is affecting the life, the daily life, of politics and of the social fabric of Europe – unprecedented challenges. And with characteristic resilience, I’m proud to say and grateful for the fact that Europe is stepping up to meet these challenges. Chancellor Merkel and other leaders have demonstrated remarkable courage – I know it’s difficult. Last night at dinner, I heard people telling me how it has cost her; we all understand. That’s the nature of political courage – in helping so many who need help. And across this continent, communities are taking in those who are fleeing violence, and saying “no” to the voices of intolerance and racism within societies. Now, I know how difficult it is to live our values. It is hard. But we do try. It’s one of the things that binds us together. It’s one of the great things that brings us here to Munich, is our common commitment to those values which in the end make the difference in defining what life is really all about. (Applause.)

In the United States, we recognize that, while this crisis is not as real on our shores on a daily basis, we have a moral obligation to stand with our partners and to do more to assist in the relief effort. And that is why I was able to announce in London that we will contribute an additional $925 million to the already $4.5 billion we have contributed to Syrian refugees, making us, I think, the largest donor specifically to this plight of Syrian refugees – providing emergency care, education, and job help.

And I think everybody understands, and this is perhaps the most important point, and this is what motivated us to go to Vienna twice with the great help of all the partners sitting here – the EU, Federica, others – everybody came together in commonality with the recognition that writing checks is not going to solve the problem. We can’t just endlessly be writing checks. We can’t be endlessly fighting about whether Schengen is alive or dead or what’s going to happen. We have to end this war. And the only way to do that is somehow to bring about the quickest possible political settlement, because almost everybody has agreed that if all one side does is escalate, the other side will to. And we could have an endless escalation between Iran, between Shia, between Sunni, between Saudi Arabia or Turkey or Qatar or – any country of interest has the ability to blow this apart – one country. It takes every country coming together in order to hold it together.

So the war in Syria has now lasted for more than five years. And right now I have to tell you, even with the success we had the other day at the table, it doesn’t yet show the signs we want of burning out. And that is why we are so focused on this political track. If the international community and the Syrians themselves miss the opportunity now before us to achieve that political resolution to the conflict, the violence, the bloodshed, the torture, the images of children – women, children, the bombing, the anguish is going to continue. And all the talk that will take place here and has taken place to date will mean nothing except an increase in the cynicism of people of the world who look to their leaders to deliver. The tragedy is that if this flounders, the call to jihad will increase.

And that is why the diplomatic initiative we launched in Vienna last year is so important. The 20-plus member ISSG includes every major country with a direct stake in Syria. Parties as diverse as Iran and Saudi Arabia sat at that table constructively trying to move forward. And they have agreed on a list of principles, unanimously reflected in the UN Security Council, and these principles reflect the way toward a stable, sovereign, inclusive, united, nonsectarian Syria that we all seek, but which the vast majority of people believe can never be achieved with President Assad at its helm. You cannot stop the war that way.

Yesterday we made progress advancing two of the major components of the UN Security Council resolution: the burning need for humanitarian access not in months, not in weeks – now, immediately. And the trucks are lined up and the permissions are being granted and they should flow today or tomorrow.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, we agreed that the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid will begin this weekend, first to the areas where it is most urgently needed, and then to all the people in need throughout the country, particularly in the besieged or hard-to-reach areas. And the UN has now said that the trucks are loaded, ready to go. And we also established a task force, which has met already for the first time in Geneva and will report regularly on the progress to be able to guarantee the delivery of this aid.

The ISSG also agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in one week’s time. Why in a week? Why not yesterday? For the simple reason that the modalities have to be worked out and for the simple reason that people have to be communicated to in order to not have it start with failure. And this will apply to any and all parties in Syria with the exception of the terrorist organizations Daesh and al-Nusrah.

Now, there is a lot of work to do before this effective cessation can commence, and to that end, we have established another task force with Sergey Lavrov – who is here, the foreign minister of Russia – and I will chair together with other ISSG members, and we will work on the modality of how we deal with this. And to date, the vast majority, in our opinion, of Russia’s attacks have been against legitimate opposition groups. And to adhere to the agreement that has been made we think it is critical that Russia’s targeting change. And the entire ISSG, including Russia, has agreed to work to make that happen.

Now, let me be very clear about this. Foreign Minister Lavrov has said that we need to work together as a group to determine who should be attacked, who is qualified as a terrorist, who isn’t. And I will say bluntly that there is no way to properly put a humanitarian access as ambitious as the one we’ve embraced in place, and there is no way to adequately deal with the cessation of hostilities, unless we do sit down and work together on every aspect of this from the political to the humanitarian to the military also. And we are doing that now.

So we’re not approaching this with some sense of pie-in-the-sky hope. We will work through where this targeting should take place, where it shouldn’t, how we work together in order to be effective so we don’t drive people away from the table, because obviously, if people who are ready to be part of the political process are being bombed we’re not going to have much of a conversation. So that’s what we’re working on.

And the Security Council Resolution has demanded that “all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians.” That, too, has not happened to date. And indeed, the violence by the regime, as we all know, went up. Free-fall bombs are being used, which are not precise. We all know civilians are being killed. So we hope this week can be a week of change.

Now, some have argued that the reason humanitarian access has been denied and has – and there’s been this bombing is because Assad and his allies, including Russia, might believe that by defying the will of the international community, they can win the war. That is a proposition that is being discussed. If that is what Russia and Assad think, then I believe they would be missing the lessons of the last five years. The Syrians who have rejected Assad have endured four years of shelling, barrel bombs, gas, Scud missiles, chemical attacks, torture; and they may be pushed back here or there, but they are not going to surrender. I don’t believe there’s anybody who believes they will. And the countries that have supported Assad and the countries that have opposed him say they’re both committed to continuing that. That is not a recipe, obviously, for a resolution.

So it is critical for all of us to take advantage of this moment to make this cessation of hostilities work. And one thing I would say is that the more successful people are in standing up Assad, at the same time, the more successful they will be in attracting more jihadis to the fight. That’s the perverse reality of what has happened there.

So whether one side or another has an advantage today, this conflict will still require a political solution at some point in time in order to make peace, no matter what happens.

This is the moment. This is a hinge point. Decisions made in the coming days and weeks and few months could end the war in Syria – or it could define a very difficult set of choices for the future.

Everyone here knows what we have to do to get this right. Putting an end to the violence and the bloodshed is essential, but also providing Syrians with the humanitarian aid they need is critical. And ultimately, the end of this conflict will come when the parties agree on a plan for a political transition that was accepted as the standard for this in 2012 in Geneva with the Geneva communique.

So let me just close by saying to everybody that at dinner last night, it was interesting. I was listening to a conversation, and I’ve listened and chatted with a lot of colleagues over the last few days. It’s pretty clear that the uncertainty, even the fear, of what’s happening to Europe with these refugees of Syria, of terrorism, it’s different. And everybody feels that. And as a result, in some quarters there is a pessimism in the air. I believe we have good reason, actually, to be optimistic about the future. And the reason is the size, the durability, the capacity, the talent, the extraordinary resilience of this alliance in one form or another that has been expressed not just in the formality of this alliance since it came into being since World War II, but throughout the last century.

Yeah, there’s violence in the world; you better believe it. But you know what? It’s changed. The 20th century was defined by state-on-state violence and millions upon millions of people dying. There are actually fewer people dying in conflict today than ever before. And despite the challenges we face, between 1990 and 2015, remarkable things have happened that changed life for hundreds of millions of people. The rate of child mortality fell by over one-half. Life expectancy has increased dramatically around the world, particularly in developing countries. In 2001 there were less than a million kids going to school in Afghanistan and all of them were boys. Today there are almost 8 million kids going to school and 40 percent of them are girls. More than two-and-a-half billion people have gained access to clean water in the last few years and the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than one-half. It is for the first time in history below 10 percent. I could run a longer list of things, and you know them, that we’re doing – productivity, the changes of technology.

A century ago, the numbers of people brought into the near middle class or middle class in China and India and many other countries – a century ago this month, the battle of Verdun was just beginning – the most excruciating chapter of a horrific war that would cause 37 million casualties and kill one German and French man out of every five.

Seventy years ago – seventy-five years ago, to be precise, millions of refugees were streaming not into Europe, but out of Europe – seeking refuge from a confrontation with fascism that would climax in unprecedented savagery and the Holocaust.

Fifty years ago, half of Europe lived behind the iron curtain.

A quarter of a century ago, Europe was witness to a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that would rage for years.

My friends, we cannot come to Munich to a security conference and ignore the underlying message of this history. This moment is not as overwhelming as people think it is. We know what needs to be done, and most importantly, we have the power to do it.

The transatlantic community is not strong because we’ve somehow been exempt from tragedy or strife. We’re strong because we are resilient; because in a decade after decade we have stood together to defend our security, our prosperity, our values; and because we have resisted attempt after attempt to divide and make us turn on one another; and above all, we are strong because of the core beliefs that hold us together.

We need to heed the advice of President Kennedy on his trip to Berlin the year this Munich Security Conference began: “Lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today,” he said, “to the hopes of tomorrow.” If we do that – if we remember the values at the heart of our partnership, if we take the lessons of history, of what we’ve been able to accomplish and what this incredible alliance means – I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever we’re going to get this right, we’re going to get through this moment, and we’re going to build the prosperity and the security and the stability that every single one of us wants. We are going to do just fine.

Thank you. (Applause.)

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