Munich Security Conference
February 15, 2020
Foreign dignitaries, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, members of Congress, who are with us here today, it’s my honor to be here this morning. It’s great to be back at the Munich Security Conference. I was just talking with some of the leaders. I’ve been here many times. I came here with Senator McCain. I came here as the CIA director. I’m also not new to Munich. If you’re looking for a good bierhalle from the late ‘80s, I can find it. (Laughter.)
This is also the third trip to Germany in just the past four months. I was in Berlin in November to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an incredibly special trip for me, for me personally, because I had the incredible privilege to serve on freedom’s frontier from 1986 to 1989 patrolling the then East German-West German boundary during the Cold War as a young officer in the United States Army. I was just a little younger, not that much.
It was thrilling for me, I remember, to watch when freedom won, to watch people dancing on the Berlin Wall, as we all saw people who had been so cruelly separated for decades. It was an incredible celebration of freedom and of sovereignty. The people of East Berlin, and the people of East Germany, knew that the end of the Evil Empire’s occupation was at hand.
And our countries together have maintained our freedoms and our sovereignty for the past 30-plus years now. We should all be incredibly proud of that. We’ve done it through the challenges of radical Islamist terrorism, we’ve done it through a global financial crisis, and we’re doing it now in the face of an increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party.
But over the past few years, I’ve seen, we’ve all seen, democratic leaders questioning America’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance and America’s leadership in the world.
A few recent quotes from Western leaders. These quotes frankly surprised me.
The first was from the middle of 2017: Quote, “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.” End of quote.
The second one is from about a year ago. It said, quote: “The multilateral order is experiencing its perhaps gravest crisis since the emergence – its emergence after the Second World War.” End of quote.
The final one was from just yesterday. A quote suggested, quote, that the United States “rejects the international community.” End of quote.
I’m here this morning to tell you the facts. Those statements simply do not affect in any significant way or reflect reality. I am happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated.
The West is winning. We are collectively winning. We’re doing it together.
Let’s start with a simple fact: Free nations are simply more successful than any other model that’s been tried in the history of civilization. Our governments respect basic human rights, they foster economic prosperity, and they keep us all secure.
It’s why so many people risk a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Greece and Italy, but you don’t see the world’s vulnerable people risking their lives to skip illegally en masse to countries like Iran or to Cuba.
It’s why people clamor to study in Cambridge, and not Caracas.
It’s why they compete to start businesses in Silicon Valley, but not in Saint Petersburg.
It’s why countries in Asia went from abject poverty in the 1950s and ’60s to become world-leading economies today. You have all seen the map of the differences between South Korea, that light-studded map with North Korea in complete darkness.
Just look, too, just look at the winning westward path of other nations.
Vietnam has moved into our same direction since the 1980s.
I’ll head off from here to Africa. I’ll be in Ethiopia, a country working hard to reform its economy. It wants to be more like us.
Today, throughout the Western Hemisphere, we have only Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as redoubts of authoritarianism.
Meanwhile, the United States is thriving. Our political system is free and enormously resilient. Our economy, too, is strong.
The overall unemployment rate is the lowest in more than half a century, economic growth tripping right along. The unemployment rate for women is at the lowest level in almost 70 years. Wages are rising for all income levels in the United States, including our blue-collar workers. This is the power of the Western idea.
I saw the topic for this weekend’s gathering, this idea of “Westlessness” as the core theme for this year’s conference. And I am sure, too, there are many of you who would call yourself here realists, but let me give you an idea of what’s real.
The West is winning. Freedom and democracy are winning. And by that, I don’t mean just geographical nations. The West doesn’t define a space or a piece of real state. It’s any nation – any nation that adopts a model of respect for individual freedom, free enterprise, national sovereignty. They’re part of this idea of the West.
I want to talk for a minute this morning about how sovereignty underpins our greatness collectively.
Look, we patrol our borders to keep our people safe, so that they can continue to worship, to work, and to make our countries great without disruption.
We honor the right of every nation to carry on their affairs as they choose, so long as they don’t try to interfere with our sovereignty or do harm to our friends.
Look, we urge other nations to protect human dignity, because we believe in unalienable rights.
We support independent nations. Our signature – our signature military project together is a defensive alliance.
We respect the rule of law and we honor intellectual property rights.
We don’t interfere in other nations’ elections.
As my 29-year-old son would say, “In the West, we just don’t roll that way.”
Respect for sovereignty of nations is a secret of and central to our success. The West is winning.
But now, more than 30 years since the fall of the wall, countries that don’t respect sovereignty still threaten us. Some nations still desire empire.
Let’s talk about territorial integrity, or rather, those nations that have contempt for it.
Russia has seized Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine and Georgia.
Iran’s missiles explode on Saudi oil facilities, and its proxy forces are present in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria, and in Yemen.
China. China encroaches on the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. And on that point, China has had a border or maritime dispute with nearly every nation bordering it.
And let’s talk for a second about the other realm, cybersecurity. Huawei and other Chinese state-backed tech companies are Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence. Russia’s disinformation campaigns try to turn our citizens against one another. Iranian cyberattacks plague Middle East computer networks.
We’ve talked about physical security. We’ve talked about cybersecurity. Economic coercion is at play as well.
Russia demands fealty in Central Asia.
China demands silence on Taiwan and Hong Kong so that deals will keep flowing. It exacts pieces of national infrastructure as payment when countries can’t meet its onerous loan terms.
Let’s talk, too, about respect for other countries’ political structures.
Iran is stifling today, as we sit here, stifling young Iraqis and Lebanese who want nothing more than a clean and sovereign government.
China is increasingly trying to co-opt officials at the state and local level. Our FBI director, our Attorney General, and I have all spoken about this in just the last week. They’re trying to affect not only our federal level but our state and local officials as well. And this is happening all across Europe and, indeed, all across the world.
Look, this matters. This matters because assaults on sovereignty destabilize. Assaults on sovereignty impoverish. Assaults on sovereignty enslave. Assaults on sovereignty are, indeed, assaults on the very freedom that anchors the Western ideal.
But here’s the good news, and there’s a lot of it.
The United States has stared and will continue to stare these dangerous threats in the face, and we will not blink. We’re protecting our citizens. We’re protecting our freedoms. We’re protecting our sovereign right to choose how it is that we live.
The United States has worked diligently to deprive the Islamic Republic of Iran of diplomatic sanctuary and financial ability to fuel its campaigns of terror – both in the Middle East and right here in Europe.
The United States has woken up to the world where China’s unfair trading practices impact us, the Chinese Communist Party’s newly aggressive turn, and its military and diplomatic efforts that confront.
The United States has armed Ukraine to help that brave nation defend itself from the Russian aggression and has worked with Baltic nations on cybersecurity to defend against Moscow’s repeated cyberattacks.
And as a brand new statement today of our support for sovereignty, prosperity, and energy independence of our European friends, today I want to announce that through the International Development Finance Corporation, and with the support of our United States Congress, we intend to provide up to $1 billion in financing to Central and Eastern European countries of the Three Seas Initiative. Our aim is quite simple: It is to galvanize private sector investment in the energy sector to protect freedom and democracy around the world.
Now, I would ask you, as I go back to where I began: Are these actions, these American actions, are they consistent with the claim that America “has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership?”
Consider, too, what we’ve done alongside each of you, what we’ve done to support NATO in particular.
The United States has urged NATO on to $400 billion in new pledges. We did this because our nations are safer when we work together and when we field the strongest forces and capabilities.
The United States has, too – with our Allies – undertaken the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank since the Cold War.
The United States has restored credibility to arms control when we withdrew from the INF Treaty – with unanimous NATO support – after Russia repeatedly violated its terms.
These are just a few signature efforts of American leadership with our partners. We always work to bring allies and partners on board with everything that it is that we do.
We’re leading, for example, Defender Europe 20, an exercise alongside NATO Allies – the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in more than 25 years.
The United States has marshalled nations to help us protect the waterways of the Straits of Hormuz and to defend freedom of navigation throughout the South China Sea.
The United States, too, has worked with international sanctions, global sanctions, to prevent North Korea from continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program, and we’ve worked to bring Pyongyang consistently back to the negotiating table.
We’ve led 81 nations in the global fight to defeat the ISIS caliphate. We took out al-Baghdadi. We took out the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula just this past month.
Is this an America that “rejects the international community?”
And – I know of particular concern in this room – we’ve pursued the mission of protecting sovereignty in the multilateral context.
A few examples:
The United States has supported the Organization of American States in its efforts to revive institutions to go back to its mandate and improve its effectiveness.
We’re leading a 59-nation coalition to oust Maduro and honor the will of the Venezuelan people.
The United States is leading on the environment as well. The International Energy Agency’s latest global emissions report from just these past few weeks found that America’s energy-related CO2 emissions declined by 2.9 percent in 2019, in spite of significant economic growth.
The United States has convinced the C5+1 to bolster Central Asian nations’ sovereignty against Russian hegemony and Chinese economic pressure.
The United States, too, has warned the Arctic Council about Russian and Chinese designs to exploit the Arctic for unfair gain – something I know we care about collectively.
So let’s be straight-up.
The United States is out there fighting alongside you for sovereignty and freedom.
We should have confidence in our alliances and our friends.
The free West has a far brighter future than illiberal alternatives.
We’re winning – and we’re doing it together.
Momentum is clearly on our side. We’ve got to do more.
Don’t be fooled. Don’t be fooled by those who say otherwise.
When so-called Iranian moderates play the victim, remember their assassination and terror campaigns against innocent Iranian civilians and right here on European soil itself.
When Russia suggests that Nord Stream 2 is purely a commercial endeavor, don’t be fooled. Consider the deprivations caused in the winters of 2006 and 2008 and 2009 and 2015.
When Huawei executives show up at your door, they say you’ll lose out if you don’t buy in. Don’t believe the hype.
Look, I know it’s not without cost to be courageous, to stand up for our sovereignty. I get it.
But it’s never been the case that this was free.
Name me a moment in history when the weak and the meek have prevailed.
I’m confident. I’m confident in you all. I’m confident in us together. I’m confident that the West will win.
You know, just 15 days ago I was in Kyiv, Ukraine. I visited a hospital where Ukrainian service members who had been injured in the conflict, who had been wounded in the fight against Russian-backed aggression, were being convalesced. There was a young, brave warrior there – we had a conversation – who had sustained a serious injury and he was in significant pain. We spoke for a few moments. He, through the translator, told me that he was a captain. I reminded him that several decades ago I, too, was a captain.
And as we were getting ready to leave, he got up. He grabbed his crutches. He moved across the room and he went to his wall locker, grabbed his uniform, pulled off his patch, and he handed me his unit logo. He told me to keep it; he wanted me to have it.
That moment hit home for me. It reminded me that sovereignty is worth fighting for and that it’s real, that we’re all in this fight together.
Let’s keep at it. Let’s keep winning.
May God bless you all, and may God bless the free world and the United States of America.
Thank you all for being with me this morning. (Applause.)