Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good morning, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Dean Steinberg, Jim, thank you for the honor of joining the SAIS community to help inaugurate this truly magnificent new home.
Jim has contributed so much over his remarkable career, but his most lasting contribution is the generation of thinkers, the generation of doers that he’s educated, that he’s mentored, that he’s inspired. Including me.
Dr. Brzezinski also believed that one of his most enduring contributions to international affairs was shaping America’s rising scholars and practitioners – including President Carter, who described himself as “an eager student” of Zbig; and Ian, Mark, Mika – all of whom have strived to bring us closer to what Zbig called the pragmatic fusion of American power with American principle.
So eighty years ago, when Paul Nitze came together with then-Congressman Chris Herter to create this institution, they set about finding a place to house it.
They settled on a decaying mansion on Florida Avenue – (laughter) – that had once been home to a girls’ school. An old basketball court served as SAIS’s first library. As Jim mentioned, I had the experience of working in the original housing for SAIS – also the profound, distinct honor of temporarily occupying the office that Paul Nitze once inhabited.
But as Nitze and Herter both knew, buildings – from the humblest to the grandest – are just that: buildings. It’s people who infuse them with ideas and purpose.
Back then, the world was reeling from the Second World War. The old order was in ruins, and Nitze and Herter believed that this institution should play an integral role in building a new order. SAIS graduates have been fulfilling that promise ever since.
Now we find ourselves at another hinge moment in history – grappling with the fundamental question of strategy, as Nitze defined it: “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be, without being struck by disaster along the way?”
Today, what I want to do is set out the Biden administration’s answer to that profound and vital question.
So let’s start with where we are.
The international landscape that all of you are studying is profoundly different from the one that I encountered when I started out in government 30 years ago alongside Mr. Steinberg.
The end of the Cold War brought with it the promise of an inexorable march toward greater peace and stability, international cooperation, economic interdependence, political liberalization, human rights.
And indeed, the post-Cold War era ushered in remarkable progress. More than a billion people lifted from poverty. Historic lows in conflicts between states. Deadly diseases diminished – even eradicated.
Now, not everyone benefitted equally from the extraordinary gains of this period. And there were serious challenges to the order – the wars in the former Yugoslavia; the genocide in Rwanda; 9/11 and the Iraq War; the 2008 global financial crisis; Syria; the COVID pandemic – to name a few.
But what we’re experiencing now is more than a test of the post-Cold War order. It’s the end of it.
That didn’t happen overnight. And what brought us to this moment will be the subject of study and debate for decades to come. But there is a growing recognition that several of the core assumptions that shaped our approach to the post-Cold War era no longer hold.
Decades of relative geopolitical stability have given way to an intensifying competition with authoritarian powers, revisionist powers. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is the most immediate, the most acute threat to the international order enshrined in the UN charter and its core principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence for nations, and universal indivisible human rights for individuals.
Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China poses the most significant long-term challenge because it not only aspires to reshape the international order, it increasingly has the economic, the diplomatic, the military, the technological power to do just that.
And Beijing and Moscow are working together to make the world safe for autocracy through their “no limits partnership.”
As this competition ramps up, many countries are hedging their bets. The influence of non-state actors is growing – from corporations whose resources rival those of national governments; to NGOs providing services to hundreds of millions of people; to terrorists with the capacity to inflict catastrophic harm; to transnational criminal organizations trafficking illicit drugs, weapons, human beings.
Forging international cooperation has gotten more complex. Not only because of rising geopolitical tensions, but also because of the mammoth scale of global problems like the climate crisis, food insecurity, mass migration and displacement.
Countries and citizens are losing faith in the international economic order, their confidence rattled by systemic flaws:
A handful of governments that used rule-shattering subsidies, stolen IP, and other market-distorting practices to gain an unfair advantage in key sectors.
Technology and globalization that hollowed out and displaced entire industries, and policies that failed to do enough to help out the workers and communities that were left behind.
And inequality that has skyrocketed. Between 1980 and 2020, the richest .1 percent accumulated the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent.
The longer these disparities persist, the more distrust and disillusionment they fuel in people who feel the system is not giving them a fair shake. And the more they exacerbate other drivers of political polarization, amplified by algorithms that reinforce our biases rather than allowing the best ideas to rise to the top.
More democracies are under threat. Challenged from the inside by elected leaders who exploit resentments and stoke fears; erode independent judiciaries and the media; enrich cronies; crack down on civil society and political opposition. And challenged from the outside, by autocrats who spread disinformation, who weaponize corruption, who meddle in elections.
Any single one of these developments would have posed a serious challenge to the post-Cold War order. Together, they’ve upended it.
So we find ourselves at what President Biden calls an inflection point. One era is ending, a new one is beginning, and the decisions that we make now will shape the future for decades to come.
The United States is leading in this pivotal period from a position of strength. Strength grounded in both our humility and our confidence.
Humility because we face challenges that no one country can address alone. Because we know we will have to earn the trust of a number of countries and citizens for whom the old order failed to deliver on many of its promises. Because we recognize that leadership starts with listening, and understanding shared problems from the perspective of others, so that we can find common ground. And because we face profound challenges at home, which we must overcome if we are going to lead abroad.
But confidence – confidence – because we’ve proven time and again that when America comes together, we can do anything. Because no nation on Earth has a greater capacity to mobilize others in common cause. Because our ongoing endeavor to form a more perfect union allows us to fix our flaws and renew our democracy from within. And because our vision for the future – a world that is open, free, prosperous, and secure – that vision is not America’s alone, but the enduring aspiration of people in every nation on every continent.
A world where individuals are free in their daily lives, and can shape their own futures, their communities, their countries.
A world where every nation can choose its own path and its own partners.
A world where goods, ideas, and individuals can flow freely and lawfully across land, sea, sky, and cyberspace, where technology is used to empower people – not to divide, surveil, and repress them.
A world where the global economy is defined by fair competition, openness, transparency, and where prosperity is not measured only in how much countries’ economies grow, but how many people share in that growth.
A world that generates a race to the top in labor and environmental standards, in health, education, infrastructure, technology, security, and opportunity.
A world where international law and the core principles of the UN Charter are upheld, and where universal human rights are respected.
We will advance this vision guided by a sense of enlightened self-interest that has long animated U.S. leadership at its best. We helped build the international order after World War II and invested in the progress of other nations and people because we recognized that it would serve humanity’s interest, but also our own. We understood that, even as the most powerful nation on Earth, forging shared global rules – accepting certain constraints – and supporting the success of others would ultimately make the American people more prosperous, more peaceful, more secure.
It still does. Indeed, America’s enlightened self-interest in preserving and strengthening this order has never been greater.
Now, our competitors have a fundamentally different vision. They see a world defined by a single imperative: regime preservation and enrichment. A world where authoritarians are free to control, coerce, and crush their people, their neighbors, and anyone else standing in the way of this all-consuming goal.
Our competitors claim that the existing order is a Western imposition, when in fact the norms and values that anchor it are universal in aspiration – and enshrined in international law that they’ve signed onto. They claim that what governments do within their borders is their business alone, and that human rights are subjective values that vary from one society to another. They believe that big countries are entitled to spheres of influence – that power and proximity give them the prerogative to dictate their choices to others.
The contrast between these two visions could not be clearer. And the stakes of the competition we face could not be higher – for the world, and for the American people.
When President Biden asked me to serve as Secretary of State, he made clear that my job was to deliver first and foremost for the American people. And he insisted that we answer two fundamental questions: How can America’s engagement abroad make us stronger here at home? And how can we leverage America’s renewal at home to make us stronger in the world?
Our answers to those questions have guided President Biden’s strategy since day one.
We started by investing in ourselves at home, so the U.S. is in the strongest position to compete and to lead in the world. As George Kennan reminds us: “Much depends on health and vigor of our own society.” And President Biden and our Congress have made America’s biggest investments – excuse me – in generations in shoring up our health and vigor. We’re upgrading infrastructure, boosting research, bolstering the key industries and technologies of the 21st century, recharging our manufacturing base, leading the global energy transition.
More than at any point in my career, in my lifetime, our domestic and foreign policy are fully integrated, in no small part thanks to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who has played a leading role in crafting our modern industrial and innovation strategy and aligning it with our foreign policy.
Our domestic renewal reinforces, and is reinforced by, American leadership in the world. And that’s where the power and purpose of American diplomacy comes in. At the core of our strategy is re-engaging, revitalizing, and reimagining our greatest strategic asset: America’s alliances and partnerships.
We’re working with purpose and urgency to deepen, broaden, and align our friends in new ways so that we can meet the three defining tests of this emerging era: a fierce and lasting strategic competition; global challenges that pose existential threats to lives and livelihoods everywhere; and the urgent need to rebalance our technological future and our economic future, so our interdependence is a source of strength – not vulnerability.
We’re doing this through what I like to call diplomatic variable geometry. We start with the problem that we need to solve and we work back from there – assembling the group of partners that’s the right size and the right shape to address it. We’re intentional about determining the combination that’s truly fit for purpose.
These coalitions don’t exist in a vacuum. Creating and strengthening any one group brings capabilities that can be used across America’s vast network of partners. And the more coalitions we build, the more we can find new synergies between and among them – including in ways that we may not have fully anticipated. And together, the whole becomes much greater than the sum of the parts.
Fellow democracies have always been our first port of call for cooperation. They always will be. That’s why President Biden convened two Summits for Democracy to bring together leaders from democracies big and small, emerging and established, to tackle the shared challenges we face.
But on certain priorities, if we go it alone, or only with our democratic friends, we will come up short. Many issues demand a broader set of potential partners, with the added benefit of building stronger relationships with more countries.
So, we’re determined to work with any country – including those with whom we disagree on important issues – so long as they want to deliver for their citizens, contribute to solving shared challenges, and uphold the international norms that we built together. This involves more than just partnering with national governments – but also local governments, civil society, the private sector, academia, and citizens, especially young leaders.
This is the heart of our strategy to get from where we are to where we need to be. And we’re pursuing it in four principal ways.
First, we’re renewing and deepening our alliances and partnerships, and forging new ones.
Go back just a few years, and some were openly questioned the capabilities and relevance of NATO – and America’s own commitment to it. Today, the Alliance is bigger, stronger, more united than ever. We’ve added an incredibly capable new member in Finland, Sweden will join soon, and NATO’s doors remain open. We’ve enhanced our deterrence and defense, including adding four new multinational battalions to NATO’s Eastern Flank, and increasing defense investments to address emerging challenges from cyber attacks to climate change.
We’re transforming the G7 into the steering committee for the world’s most advanced democracies, combining our political and economic muscle to not only address the issues affecting our people – but also to offer countries outside the G7 better ways to deliver for their people.
We’ve raised the level of ambition in our relationship with the European Union. Together, we account for 40 percent of the global economy. We’re using that power to shape our technological and economic future to reflect our shared democratic values.
We’re taking critical bilateral relationships to a new level.
Our decades-long alliance with Japan is stronger and more consequential than ever – reaching new frontiers, from space to quantum computing.
We signed the Washington Declaration with the Republic of Korea, bolstering our cooperation to deter threats from North Korea; and the Jerusalem Declaration with Israel, reaffirming our commitment to Israel’s security – and to using all elements of U.S. power to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
We agreed to new basing and posture arrangements with allies Australia and the Philippines.
The U.S.-India strategic partnership has never been more dynamic, as we team up on everything from advanced semiconductors to defense cooperation.
And just a few days ago in Hanoi, President Biden cemented a new comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam.
We’ve galvanized regional integration. In the Middle East, we’ve deepened both recent and decades-old relations between Israel and Arab states – and we’re working to foster new ones, including with Saudi Arabia.
In our own hemisphere – which is experiencing the greatest mass migration and displacement in its history – we’ve rallied 20 countries and counting around a regional strategy to ensure safe, orderly, and humane migration, while also addressing the root causes that are driving people from their homes in the first place.
And President Biden has hosted summits with leaders from the Americas, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Pacific Island countries, to drive transformational partnerships.
Second, we’re weaving together our alliances and partnerships in innovative and mutually reinforcing ways – across issues and across continents.
Just consider for a minute all of the ways that we’ve rallied different combinations of allies and partners to support Ukraine in the face of Russia’s full-scale aggression.
With Secretary of Defense Austin’s leadership, more than 50 countries are cooperating to support Ukraine’s defense and build a Ukrainian military strong enough to deter and beat back future attacks.
We’ve aligned scores of countries in imposing an unprecedented set of sanctions, export controls, and other economic costs on Russia.
On multiple occasions, we’ve marshaled 140 nations at the United Nations – more than two-thirds of all the member states – to affirm Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and condemn Russia’s aggression and atrocities.
We’ve rallied donors, philanthropies, humanitarian groups to get lifesaving assistance to millions of displaced Ukrainians.
We coordinated the G7, the European Union, and dozens more countries to support Ukraine’s economy, to build back its energy grid – more than half of which Russia has destroyed.
That’s what variable geometry looks like: for every problem, we’re assembling a fit‑for‑purpose coalition.
Because of the remarkable bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people and our support, Putin’s war continues to be a strategic failure for Russia. Our goal is to ensure Ukraine not only survives, but thrives, as a vibrant, prosperous democracy so that Ukrainians can write their own future – and stand on their own.
Some once saw threats to the international order as confined to one region or another. Not anymore. Russia’s invasion has made clear an attack on the international order anywhere will hurt people everywhere. We’ve seized on this recognition to bring our transatlantic and Indo‑Pacific allies closer together in defending our shared security, prosperity, and freedom.
When Russia cut off oil and gas supplies to Europe in the winter to try to freeze the country out of – freeze countries out of supporting Ukraine, Japan and Korea joined America’s leading liquified natural gas producers to ensure European countries had the energy needed to keep their homes warm throughout the winter. Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand are now regular and active participants in NATO meetings.
Meanwhile, European countries, Canada, and others have joined our allies and partners in Asia in sharpening their tools to push back against the PRC’s economic coercion. And U.S. allies and partners in every region are working urgently to build resilient supply chains, particularly when it comes to key technologies and the critical materials that are needed to make them.
We created a new security partnership – AUKUS – with Australia and the United Kingdom to build modern nuclear-powered submarines, and to advance our joint work on AI, quantum computing, and other cutting-edge technologies.
Coming out of the first-ever trilateral Leaders’ Summit at Camp David last month between the United States, Japan, and Korea, we are taking every aspect of our relationship to the next level – from increasing joint military exercises and intel sharing to aligning our global infrastructure investments.
We’ve elevated the Quad partnership with India, Japan, and Australia to deliver for our countries and the world on everything from manufacturing vaccines to strengthening maritime security to addressing climate challenges.
When I set out the administration’s “invest, align, and compete” strategy toward China last year, we pledged to act with our network of allies and partners in common purpose. By any objective measure, we are now more aligned, and acting in more coordinated ways, than ever before.
That allows us to manage our competition with China from a position of strength, while taking advantage of open channels of communication to speak clearly, credibly, and with a chorus of friends about our concerns; demonstrating our commitment to cooperate on issues that matter most to us in the world; and minimizing the risk of miscalculation that could lead to conflict.
Third, we’re building new coalitions to tackle the toughest shared challenges of our time.
Like closing the global infrastructure gap.
Now, pretty much everywhere I go, I hear from countries about projects that are environmentally destructive and poorly built, that import or abuse workers, that foster corruption and burden them with unsustainable debt.
Of course, countries would prefer transparent, high-quality, environmentally sound investments. They don’t just always have a choice. We’re working with our G7 partners to give them a choice.
Together, we’ve committed to deliver $600 billion in new investment by 2027 through the Partnership of Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGI. And we’re focusing our government support on areas where reducing risks will unlock hundreds of billions more in private sector investment.
So let me just give you a couple of quick examples of how we’re doing this. We’re making a series of transformative investments in the Lobito corridor – that’s a band of development connecting Africa, from Angola’s port of Lobito, across the DRC, to Zambia – with a new port, new rail lines and roads, new green power projects, new high-speed internet.
The project will deliver 500 megawatts of power – enough to provide electricity for more than 2 million people, cut around 900,000 tons of carbon emissions every year, create thousands of jobs for Africans, thousands more for Americans, and bring critical minerals like copper and cobalt to global markets.
When I visited Kinshasa last year, President Tshisekedi said that Lobito is the choice that they’ve been waiting for – a chance to break from the exploitative, extractive development deals that they had had to accept for far too long.
And just this past week at the G20, President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Modi announced another ambitious transportation, energy, and technology corridor that will connect the ports of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy, the EU will team up with the U.S. and India to turbo charge clean energy production, digital connectivity, and strengthen critical supply chains across the region.
These and other efforts to build infrastructure in developing countries are ultimately investments in our own future – creating more stable, prosperous partners for the United States; more markets for American workers, businesses, and investors; and a more sustainable planet for our children.
Making a stronger offer for our partners is a good deal for America too.
The same is true for our leadership to address the global food crisis.
More than 700 million people worldwide face food insecurity – fueled by COVID, climate, and conflict – exacerbated now by Russia blocking the flow of grain from Ukraine, the world’s breadbasket.
Now, I’ve had a chance to listen to leaders in countries that have been the hardest hit by this crisis. And what they make clear to me is this: Yes, they need emergency aid; but what they really want is investment in agricultural resilience, in innovation, in self-sufficiency, so that they don’t find themselves in a crisis like this again. We’re partnering with them to deliver just that, together with more than 100 countries that have signed on to a global roadmap for action.
And we’re leading by the power of our own example.
The United States is the largest donor in the world to the UN World Food Programme – we provide about 50 percent of its annual budget. Russia and China? Less than 1 percent each.
Since 2021, the United States has also provided more than $17.5 billion to address food insecurity and its root causes. That includes more than a billion dollars every year toward Feed the Future – the USAID flagship program – our partnership with 40 countries to strengthen food systems. And it includes our support for something called VACS – a new program we launched with the African Union and the UN to identify the most nutritious African crops, to breed their most climate-resilient varieties, and to improve the soil that they grow in.
The more countries can feed their own people, the more prosperous and more stable partners they’ll be; the less they can be victimized by countries willing to cut off food and fertilizer; the less support they’ll need from international donors; the more abundant the global food supply will be, lowering prices in markets everywhere, including in the United States.
We’re bringing a similar approach to emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence.
In July, President Biden announced a new set of voluntary commitments from seven leading AI companies to develop safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems. And just yesterday, eight more leading companies signed on.
These commitments are the foundation for our engagement with a wide range of partners to forge an international consensus around how to minimize the risks and maximize the potential of rapid AI advances.
We’re starting with our closest partners, like the G7, where we’re designing an international code of conduct for private actors and governments developing advanced AI – and common regulatory principles – and partners like the United Kingdom, which is convening a Global Summit on AI Safety to better identify and mitigate longer-term risks.
Now, for these norms to be effective, we will need to bring a wide range of voices and views into the discussion, including developing countries. We’re committed to doing just that.
Shaping AI’s use is critical to preserving America’s competitive edge in this technology and also fostering AI innovation that actually benefits people everywhere, like helping predict individuals’ risk of deadly disease or forecasting the impact of more severe, more frequent storms. That’s the idea behind a meeting I’ll host at the UN General Assembly next week to focus governments, tech firms, civil society on using AI to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.
Let me give you just one final example of how we’re building a new coalition to address a problem that many people probably didn’t think of as a foreign policy issue: synthetic drugs.
Last year alone, nearly 110,000 Americans died of a drug overdose. Two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, making synthetic opioids the number-one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49. The crisis cost the U.S. nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020 alone, to say nothing of the suffering it’s inflicting on families and communities across our country.
We’re not alone in this. Every region is experiencing an alarming rise in synthetic drugs, and no one country can solve this problem.
That’s why we created a new global coalition to prevent the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of synthetic drugs, to detect emerging threats and patterns of use, to advance public health responses. More than 100 governments and a dozen international organizations have joined that coalition. Together, we’re aligning joint priorities, identifying effective policies, integrating health care providers, chemical manufacturers, social media platforms, and other key stakeholders in our efforts. We’ll meet next week in New York to broaden this work.
Of course, these are far from the only areas where we’re building or sustaining coalitions. We’re also using them to address security threats, from the multinational task force we set up to protect the ships crossing the Strait of Hormuz to the longstanding coalition of countries that we created to defeat ISIS.
We continue to partner with governments, with regional organizations, and citizens to press for diplomatic solutions to conflicts new and old – from Ethiopia and eastern DRC, to Armenia and Azerbaijan, to Yemen where we helped forge and maintain a delicate truce.
Our mediation helped Israel and Lebanon reach a historic agreement to establish a maritime boundary between their countries, enabling the development of significant energy reserves to the benefit of people in both countries and beyond.
The more we bring together allies and partners to make real progress on critical issues like infrastructure, like food security, like AI, like synthetic drugs, like conflicts new and old, the more we demonstrate the strength of our offer.
Take any recent challenge where nations around the world have looked to powerful countries to lead. At best, our competitors have sat on the sidelines, closed their checkbooks. At worst, they’ve made bad problems even worse and profited from others’ suffering – extracting political concessions in order to sell countries vaccines; deploying mercenaries who make unstable places less secure, plunder local resources, and commit atrocities; turning people’s basic needs – for heat, for gas, for food, for technology – into a cudgel to threaten and coerce them.
At this critical inflection point, we’re showing countries who we are. So are our competitors.
Finally, we’re bringing our old and new coalitions together to strengthen the international institutions that are vital to tackling global challenges.
That starts with showing up. When the United States has a seat at the table, we can shape the international institutions and the norms that they produce to reflect the interests and values of the American people and advance our vision for the future.
Upon taking office, President Biden moved swiftly to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, the World Health Organization. We won back a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. We recently rejoined UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – that will play a role in shaping the norms that define artificial Intelligence.
We’ve competed intensely to elect the most qualified leaders to head international standard- setting agencies, like the UN International Telecommunication Union and the International Organization for Migration. Not only were the two Americans who won these races the best candidates for the job – each is also the first woman to lead her respective institution.
Now, however imperfect these institutions may be, there’s no substitute for the legitimacy and capabilities that they bring to bear on issues that matter to our people. So we have an abiding self-interest in working through them and in making them work better – and not just for the U.S., but for everyone.
The more people and nations around the world see the UN and organizations like it representing their interests, their values, their hopes – the more effective these institutions will be and the more we can rely on them.
That’s why we’ve put forward an affirmative vision for expanding the UN Security Council to incorporate more geographically diverse perspectives – including new permanent and non-permanent members from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.
With Secretary Yellen’s leadership, we’re making a major push to revitalize and reform the multilateral development banks so that they can meet the pressing needs of low- and middle-income countries who are facing a perfect storm of challenges: the growing impact of the climate crisis, economic fallout from COVID, inflation, and crushing debt.
President Biden is working with Congress to unlock new lending capacity for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to provide more financing – at cheaper rates – for investment in climate mitigation, in public health, and other critical issues in these countries.
Together, these U.S.-led initiatives would generate nearly $50 billion in lending for low- and middle-income countries.
And with our strong push, the World Bank will soon enable countries to defer debt payments after climate shocks and natural disasters.
When we strengthen international institutions – and when they deliver on their core promises to ensure security, to expand opportunity, to protect rights – we build a broader coalition of citizens and countries who see the international order as something that improves their lives in real ways and deserves to be upheld and defended.
So when the Beijings and Moscows of the world try to rewrite – or rip down – the pillars of the multilateral system; when they falsely claim that the order exists merely to advance the interests of the West at the expense of the rest – a growing global chorus of nations and people will say, and stand up to say: No, the system you are trying to change is our system; it serves our interests.
And just as important, when our fellow Americans ask what we are getting in return for our investments abroad, we can point to tangible benefits for American families and communities, even as we spend less than one percent of our federal budget on diplomacy and global development.
Those benefits include more markets for American workers and businesses; more affordable goods for American consumers; more reliable food and energy supplies for American households, leading to lower prices at the pump and the dinner table; more robust health systems that can arrest and roll back deadly disease before it spreads to the United States; more allies and partners who are more effective in deterring aggression and addressing, with us, global challenges.
For these and so many other reasons, America’s return on the international order far exceeds our investment in it.
In this pivotal time, America’s global leadership is not a burden. It’s a necessity to safeguard our freedom, our democracy, and our security; to create opportunities for American workers and businesses; to improve the lives of American citizens.
Dean Acheson – who led the State Department after the Second World War – observed in his account of that period, Present at the Creation, that – and I quote – “History is written backwards, but lived forwards.”
Acheson was writing about a different inflection point, of course, but his words hold true for every period of profound uncertainty and chance, including our current one.
In retrospect, the right decisions tend to look obvious, the end results almost inevitable.
They never are.
In real time, it’s a fog. Rules that had provided a sense of order, stability, and predictability can no longer be taken for granted. There are risks inherent in every course of action, currents beyond our control, countless lives at stake.
And yet, even in such times – indeed, especially in these times – policymakers don’t have the luxury of waiting for the fog to lift before choosing a course.
We must act, and act decisively.
We must live history forward – as Acheson did, as Brzezinski did, as have all the other great strategists who’ve guided America through these hinge moments.
We must put our hand on the rudder of history and chart a path forward, guided by the things that are certain even in uncertain times – our principles, our partners, our vision for where we want to go – so that, when the fog lifts, the world that emerges tilts toward freedom, toward peace, toward an international community capable of rising to the challenges of its time.
No one understands this better than President Biden. And America is in a significantly stronger position in the world than it was two and a half years ago because of the actions that he’s taken.
I’m convinced that, decades from now, when the history of this period is written – maybe by some of you – it will show that the way we acted – decisively, strategically, with humility and confidence to reimagine the power and purpose of U.S. diplomacy – we secured America’s future, we delivered for our people, we laid the foundation for a more free, a more open, a more prosperous era – for the American people and for people around the world.
Thanks very much for listening.