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Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Munich Security Conference | Munich, Germany

Hotel Bayerischer Hof
Munich, Germany

2:38 P.M. CEST

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS:  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon.  (Applause.)  Thank you, thank you.

Thank you, Christoph.  Thank you.  Thank you for your leadership.

Before I begin today, we’ve all just received reports that Aleksey Navalny has died in Russia.  This is, of course, terrible news, which we are working to confirm. 

My prayers are with his family, including his wife, Yulia, who is with us today. 

And if confirmed, this would be a further sign of Putin’s brutality.  Whatever story they tell, let us be clear: Russia is responsible. 

And we will have more to say on this later.

As Christoph said, this is my third time here, and I’m honored to be with so many friends.

This year, we gather amid an increased instability and conflict in the Middle East.  We gather amid Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine, China’s efforts to reshape the international order, transformative technological change, and, of course, the existential threat of the climate crisis.

In this context, I know that there are questions here in Europe and around the world about the future of America’s role of global leadership. 

These are questions the American people must also ask ourselves: Whether it is in America’s interest to continue to engage with the world or to turn inward.  Whether it is in our interest to defend longstanding rules and norms that have provided for unprecedented peace and prosperity or to allow them to be trampled.  Whether it is in America’s interest to fight for democracy or to accept the rise of dictators.  And whether it is in America’s interest to continue to work in lockstep with our allies and partners or go it alone.

Today, I will explain how President Biden and I answer these questions, with full knowledge that how America responds will affect the American people, the people of Europe, and people around the world.

I believe it is in the fundamental interest of the American people for the United States to fulfill our longstanding role of global leadership.

As President Biden and I have made clear over the past three years, we are committed to pursue global engagement, to uphold international rules and norms, to defend democratic values at home and abroad, and to work with our allies and partners in pursuit of shared goals.

As I travel throughout my country and the world, it is clear to me: This approach makes America strong, and it keeps Americans safe.

However, there are some in the United States who disagree.  They suggest it is in the best interest of the American people to isolate ourselves from the world, to flout common understandings among nations, to embrace dictators and adopt their repressive tactics, and abandon commitments to our allies in favor of unilateral action.

Let me be clear: That worldview is dangerous, destabilizing, and indeed short-sighted.  That view would weaken America and would undermine global stability and undermine global prosperity.

President Biden and I, therefore, reject that view.

And please do understand, our approach is not based on the virtues of charity.  We pursue our approach because it is in our strategic interest. 

I strongly believe America’s role of global leadership is to the direct benefit of the American people.  Our leadership keeps our homeland safe, supports American jobs, secures supply chains, and opens new markets for American goods.

And I firmly believe our commitment to build and sustain alliances has helped America become the most powerful and prosperous country in the world — alliances that have prevented wars, defended freedom, and maintained stability from Europe to the Indo-Pacific.  To put all of that at risk would be foolish.

President Biden and I have demonstrated there is a smarter way. 

When it comes to America’s national security, our approach starts with our historic, direct investment in the working people of America, an investment which has helped build a resilient and innovative economy.

We are clear: We cannot be strong abroad if we are not strong at home.

We have made a once-in-a-generation investment to rebuild our roads and bridges and ports and highways with more than 40,000 infrastructure projects across all of our 50 states.  We’re bringing semiconductor manufacturing back to America, which will secure our supply chains and enable the future of technology.  And we have invested $1 trillion to address the climate crisis and build a new clean energy economy, reduce emissions, and meet our global climate commitments.

Our economic vision has ensured America’s economy remains the strongest in the world, with historic job creation, historic creation of small businesses, and broad-based economic growth. 

And over the past three years, backed by this strong track record at home, we have implemented our National Security Strategy.

In the Indo-Pacific, we have invested heavily in our alliances and partnerships and created new ones to ensure peace and security and, of course, the free flow of commerce.

We have responsibly managed competition with China, standing up to Beijing when necessary and also working together when it serves our interest.

In the Middle East, we are working to end the conflict that Hamas triggered on October 7th as soon as possible and ensure it ends in a way where Israel is secure, hostages are released, the humanitarian crisis is resolved, Hamas does not control Gaza, and Palestinians can enjoy their right to security, dignity, freedom, and self-determination.  (Applause.) 

This work — while we also work to counter aggression from Iran and its proxies, prevent regional escalation, and promote regional integration.

In addition, we have strengthened our partnerships on the continent of Africa, understanding that the innovation happening on the continent will shape the future of our world.  We have also worked with partners in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America to increase private sector investment, address the climate crisis, and address the root causes of migration.

And the Biden-Harris administration has led the world to respond to the climate crisis and ensure AI is developed in service of the public interest. 

We have also worked to advance and uphold rules and norms for outer space and to empower women around the globe.

And here in Europe, we have joined forces with our friends and allies to stand up for freedom and democracy.

Christoph, I reflect on two years ago, when I first stood on this stage on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Many of — of us will recall that time when many thought Kyiv would fall within days. 

Yet, the skill and the bravery of the people of Ukraine, along with the leadership of President Zelenskyy and the 50-nation coalition the United States has led, has allowed Ukraine to achieve what so many thought was impossible.

Today, Kyiv stands free and strong.  (Applause.)

The world has come together, with leadership from the United States, to defend the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity and to stop an imperialist authoritarian from subjugating a free and democratic people.

Make no mistake, Putin’s war has already been an utter failure for Russia.

Ukraine has regained more than half the territory Russia occupied at the start of the conflict thanks, in part, to a massive supply of American and European weapons.

The Russian military has suffered severe setbacks.  It has lost two thirds of its tanks and more than a third of its fleet in the Black Sea.

Because of Putin’s aggression and recklessness, Russia has also suffered over 300,000 casualties.  Remember, that’s more than five times what it lost in 10 years in Afghanistan.  And now it forces conscripts onto the frontlines with as little as two weeks of training.

We have also imposed economic costs on Russia for its aggression.  And together with our G7 partners, we have frozen Russia’s sovereign assets and made clear Russia must pay for the damages it has caused to Ukraine.

I applaud the recent $54 billion commitment the EU made to support Ukraine on top of the more than $100 billion our European allies and partners have already dedicated.

You have made clear that Europe will stand with Ukraine, and I will make clear President Joe Biden and I stand with Ukraine.  (Applause.)

In partnership with supportive, bipartisan majorities in both houses of the United States Congress, we will work to secure critical weapons and resources that Ukraine so badly needs.  And let me be clear: The failure to do so would be a gift to Vladimir Putin.

More broadly, NATO is central to our approach to global security.  For President Biden and me, our sacred commitment to NATO remains ironclad.  And I do believe, as I have said before, NATO is the greatest military alliance the world has ever known.

NATO was founded on a very simple premise: An attack on one is an attack on all.  And when it comes to conflict between nations, NATO has deterred aggression against its members to the benefit of the security of the American people.

For the past 75 years, NATO members have maintained this solemn pact, including on 9/11 when terrorists attacked America and for the first and only time, NATO invoked Article 5, the collective defense clause.  And NATO stood by America’s side.

Nevertheless, recall, before the President and I took office, some questioned the usefulness of NATO, suggested it was, quote, “obsolete.”

Some in my country also questioned the value of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany.

Now, thanks to the leadership of the United States, NATO is stronger, larger, more unified, and more effective than ever before.

We have reinforced NATO’s eastern flank with more weapons and forces, including air defense and fighter coverage, a sustained presence of army brigades, and a permanent U.S Army headquarters in Poland.

And, of course, Europeans are also stepping up.  Since President Biden and I took office, the number of NATO members that have met the goal of spending 2 percent of GDP has doubled.  NATO has also added one new member, and we’re on track to add another.  And we look forward to welcoming both Finland and Sweden to Washington for NATO’s 75th anniversary summit this summer.  (Applause.)

Around the world, we have made great progress.  But ultimately, I do believe none of the gains we have made will be permanent unless we are vigilant.  And let us remember, none of these gains were inevitable.

I ask you: Imagine if America turned our back on Ukraine and abandoned our NATO Allies and abandoned our treaty commitments.  Imagine if we went easy on Putin, let alone encouraged him.

History offers a clue.  If we stand by while an aggressor invades its neighbor with impunity, they will keep going.  And in the case of Putin, that means all of Europe would be threatened. 

If we fail to impose severe consequences on Russia, other authoritarians across the globe would be emboldened, because you see, they will be watching — they are watching and drawing lessons.

History has also shown us: If we only look inward, we cannot defeat threats from outside.  Isolation is not insulation.

In fact, when America has isolated herself, threats have only grown.

I need not remind the people of Europe of a dark history when the forces of tyranny and fascism were on the march, and then America joined our allies in defense of freedom and to safeguard our collective security.

So, I’ll close with this.  In these unsettled times, it is clear: America cannot retreat.  America must stand strong for democracy.  We must stand in defense of international rules and norms, and we must stand with our allies.

That is what represents the ideals of America, and the American people know that is what make us strong.

And make no mistake, the American people will meet this moment, and America will continue to lead.

I thank you very much.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN:  Th- — thank you.  Thank you very much, Madam Vice President, for these strong words, for this strong commitment to NATO. 

And tonight, we will honor, again, one of the strongest Republicans who has been here with the Munich Security Conference for many, many years, John McCain.  I think, if he were to listen — his wife is here — would be very grateful for your bipartisan words. 

We are running late.  So, I have to — afraid I cannot go into a long discussion.  But I want to pick up on the one issue, besides Ukraine, which you have covered very long — on the Israel-Palestine issue. 

From your perspective — you touched briefly on that — what is the long-term vision for the Israelis and Palestine — Palestinians?  And how will they live with each other?  Will it be possible, what we mentioned earlier — also with respect to Rwanda, where there was a genocide — is this possible to come instead of revenge to reconciliation?  How do we get from here to there?  How do we get to where — what you said about two-state solution, living by — side by side?  Is it actually achievable?

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS:  The short answer is yes, I do believe it is.  But we must then put the discussion in context, starting with October 7. 

On October 7th, Hamas committed a terrorist act that was about slaughtering over 1,200 Israelis, innocent people, many of them young people who were attending a concert.  Women were horribly tortured and raped — rape being used as a tool of war. 

And it is important that we remember what that was and, I will say, understand that Israel then had a right to defend itself.  We would.  We would.  And — (applause) — and how it does so matters. 

We have also been clear that far too many innocent Palestinians have been killed, that Israel must do better to protect innocent civilians. 

We have seen what has been happening in terms of the images that we see on a daily basis of the human suffering and the need for humanitarian aid.  And the President and our administration and I have been very adamant about getting that humanitarian aid in. 

We look at the circumstances of what’s happening: There are tunnels under hospitals and — and what that means in terms of this conflict and — and how it is implemented. 

But ultimately, Christoph, to your point, to get to the day after, hostages need to be released.  We must understand the importance of the principles that should be applied to the day after, including no reoccupation of Gaza, no change of its geographic territory, no return of — of terrorism by Hamas. 

And ultimately, apply certain principles to how the day after will look, including the importance of security for Gaza and the region, both interim and permanent; what must be done in terms of governance for Gaza; and then rebuilding Gaza.

We’ve been very clear that we believe that the PA should be the authority on that, with so- — reform — but that that should take place.  There cannot be, in my opinion, peace and security for that region — for the people of Israel or the Palestinians and the people of Gaza — without a two-state solution.  And we cannot give up on that.  (Applause.)  

But how we get there is going to matter.  And most recently, just this week, actually, I was with the King of Jordan in — in my West Wing office in Washington.  Previously, at the end of last year, I was with a number of Arab leaders in Dubai.  And the work that will happen among nations to help with these ultimate goals will be critically important — critically important. 

AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Last question. 

After Munich last year, you remember, we discussed about the Global South and how important it is.  You actually traveled to Ghana, to — and we just had the president here, too — Tanzania and Zambia.  What was your impression?  There seems to be a growing transactional mindset.  How do we react to this?  How can we — the U.S. and Europe — win them over?

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS:  Well, I’m going to challenge the premise of your question.  That for — on behalf of the United States, I will tell you that I believe that we must think differently about the relationship between the United States and the continent of Africa.  And I’m frankly very excited about what is happening on the continent and my trip being further reinforcement of that point.

We look at the — the future of the continent and how it will affect the future of the world: It is indisputable, there will be a direct impact. 

The median age on the continent of Africa is 19.  By 2050, it is estimated that one in four people occupying place on Mother Earth will be on the continent of Africa. 

So, when we think of it in terms of the future, we must see the innovation that is currently happening there and partner with African leaders and nations and change the way we are thinking in a way that it is not about aid, but about partnership; not what we do for the continent, but what we do with the continent and its leaders. 

When I was there, I was in — at Ghana, for example, meeting with a number of business leaders — leaders in the clean energy economy.  Afrobeats and what culture of Africa is doing to impact the world in terms of how it thinks about the arts is profound.  So, the future has to be about partnership and investment. 

To your point about tran- — the transactional issue, certainly, when I was there, the press asked me almost every day: Are you here because of China?  And my answer was, “No, we are here because of the Afri- — the people on the Af- — continent of Africa and what the partnership will mean.” 

And let’s not forget ever the interconnected history between the United States and Africa and what that means in terms of how we should think about the relationship and how we should think about our commitment to the African nations. 

AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much for this. 

We have to move on to our next session.  But we have a change in program, and I would like you to stay seated for our next speaker, who will be a bit of a surprise. 

So, thank you very much, Vice President.  (Applause.)

                              END                 3:06 P.M. CEST

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/02/16/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-at-the-munich-security-conference-munich-germany/

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