Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to Future Leaders of Europe in Brussels

January 09, 1994

Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Mayor, distinguished leaders. I'm delighted to be here with the Prime Minister and with many of Europe's future leaders in this great hall of history.

I first came to Brussels as a young man in a very different but a difficult time, when the future for us was uncertain. It is fitting that my first trip to Europe as President be about building a better future for the young people of Europe and the United States today and that it begin here in Belgium. As a great capital and as the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, Brussels and Belgium have long been at the center of Europe's steady progress toward greater security and greater prosperity. For those of you who know anything about me personally, I also have a great personal debt of nearly 40 years standing to this country because it was a Belgian, Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone. [Laughter]

I have come here at this time because I believe that it is time for us together to revitalize our partnership and to define a new security at a time of historic change. It is a new day for our transatlantic partnership: The cold war is over. Germany is united. The Soviet Union is gone, and a constitutional democracy governs Russia. The specter that haunted our citizens for decades, of tanks rolling in through Fulda Gap or nuclear annihilation raining from the sky, that specter, thank God, has largely vanished. Your generation is the beneficiary of those miraculous transformations.

In the end, the Iron Curtain rusted from within and was brought crashing down by the determination of brave men and women to live free, by the Poles and the Czechs, by the Russians, the Ukrainians, the people of the Baltics, by all those who understood that neither economics nor consciences can be ordered from above. Equally important, however, their heroic efforts succeeded because our resolve never failed, because the weapons of deterrence never disappeared and the message of democracy never disappeared.

As the East enjoys a new birth of freedom, one of freedom's great victories lives here in Europe's West: the peaceful cleaving together of nations which clashed for centuries. The transformation was wrought by visionary leaders such as Monnet, Schumann, Spaak, and Marshall, who understood that modern nations can enrich their futures more through cooperation than conquest. My administration supports European union and Europe's development of stronger institutions of common purpose and common action. We recognize we will benefit more from a strong and equal partner than from a weak one.

The fall of the Soviet empire and Western Europe's integration are the two greatest advances for peace in the last half of the 20th century. All of us are reaping their blessings. In particular, with the cold war over and in spite of the present global recession which clouds your future, all our nations now have the opportunity to take long, deferred steps toward economic and social renewal. My own Nation has made a beginning in putting our economic house in order, reducing our deficits, investing in our people, creating jobs, and sparking an economic recovery that we hope will help not only the United States but also will lift all nations. We're also facing up to some of the social problems in our country we have ignored for too long, from the challenge to provide universal health care to reducing crime in our streets to dealing with the needs of our poor children. We have a truly multicultural society. In one of our counties there are people from over 150 different national and ethnic groups. But we are working to build an American community for the 21st century.

And with the European Union, we have recently led the world to a new GATT agreement that will create millions of new jobs in all our countries. In many ways, it would be easy to offer you only a message of simple celebration, to trumpet our common heritage, to rejoice that our labors for peace have been rewarded, to cheer on the economic progress that is occurring. But this is not a time for self-congratulation. And certainly we have enough challenges that we should act as true partners. That is, we should share one another's burdens rather than only talking of triumphs. And we should speak honestly about what we feel about where we are and where we should go.

This is the truth as I see it. We served history well during the cold war, but now history calls on us again to help consolidate freedom's new gains into a larger and a more lasting peace. We must build a new security for Europe. The old security was based on the defense of our bloc against another bloc. The new security must be found in Europe's integration, an integration of security forces, of market economies, of national democracies. The purpose of my trip to Europe is to help lead the movement to that integration and to assure you that America will be a strong partner in it.

For the peoples who broke communism's chains, we now see a race between rejuvenation and despair. And the outcome will—bound to shape the security of every nation in the transatlantic alliance. Today that race is being played out from the Balkans to central Asia. In one lane are the heirs of the enlightenment who seek to consolidate freedom's gains by building free economies, open democracies, and tolerant civic cultures. Pitted against them are the grim pretenders to tyranny's dark throne, the militant nationalists and demagogues who fan suspicions that are ancient and parade the pain of renewal in order to obscure the promise of reform.

We, none of us, can afford to be bystanders of that race. Too much is at stake. Consider this: The coming months and years may decide whether the Russian people continue to develop a peaceful market democracy or whether, in frustration, they elect leaders who incline back toward authoritarianism and empire. This period may determine whether the nations neighboring Russia thrive in freedom and join the ranks of nonnuclear states or founder under the strain of reform and cling to weapons that increase the risk of nuclear accident or diversion. This period may decide whether the states of the former Soviet bloc are woven into the fabric of transatlantic prosperity and security or are simply left hanging in isolation as they face the same daunting changes gripping so many others in Europe.

These pivotal decisions ultimately rest with the people who threw off communism's yoke. They must make their own decisions about their own future. But we in the West can clearly help to shape their choices, and we must summon the political will to do so.

The task requires a steady and patient effort, guided by a strategic star that points us toward the integration of a broader Europe. It also requires a fair amount of humility, understanding that we cannot control every event in every country on every day. But if we are willing to assume the central challenge, we can revitalize not only the nations of the East but also our own transatlantic relationship.

Over the past half-century, the transatlantic community only realized half the promise of World War II's triumph over fascism. The other half lay captive behind Europe's walls of division. Now we have the chance to realize the full promise of Europe's victories without its great disappointment: Normandy without Yalta, the liberation of the Low Countries without the Berlin blockade.

During this past half-century, transatlantic security depended primarily on the deterrents provided by our military forces. Now the immediate threat to our East is not of advancing armies but of creeping instability. Countering that threat requires not only military security but also the promotion of democratic and economic renewal. Combined, these forces are the strongest bulwark against Europe's current dangers, against ethnic conflict, the abuse of human rights, the destabilizing refugee flows, the rise of aggressive regimes, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The integration of the former Communist bloc with the rest of Europe will be gradual and often difficult, as Germany's bold efforts demonstrate. And like all great opportunities, we must remember that this one could be fleeting. We must not now let the Iron Curtain be replaced with a veil of indifference. For history will judge us as it judged with scorn those who preached isolationism between the World Wars and as it has judged with praise the bold architects of the transatlantic community after World War II.

With the cold war over, some in America with short memories have called for us to pack up and go home. I am asked often, "Why do you maintain a presence in Europe? How can you justify the expense when we have so many problems here at home?" We tried that, right after World War I. The American people this year proved their resistance to the siren song of global withdrawal. We did so when the Congress voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement, voted for America to compete in a global economy, not to retreat. And we did so when we reached out to Europe and to others and, in working with the European Union, led the world to accept a new GATT agreement on world trade. I have come here today to declare and to demonstrate that Europe remains central to the interests of the United States and that we will help to work with our partners in seizing the opportunities before us all.

Without question, Europe is not the only focus of our engagement. We must reach out to Latin America and to Asia, areas that are increasingly important both to the United States and to Europe. And our bonds with Europe will be different than they were in the past, but make no mistake about it, the bonds that tie the United States and Europe are unique. We share a passionate faith that God has endowed us as individuals with inalienable rights and a belief that the state exists by our consent solely to advance freedom and security and prosperity for all of us as individuals. That is still a radical idea in the world in which we live. Developed by Locke and Montesquieu, put into practice in my country by Jefferson and Madison, it has toppled tyrants, it has drawn millions to our country's shores. Over three centuries, the ties of kinship between the United States and Europe have fostered bonds of commerce, and you remain our most valued partner, not just in the cause of democracy and freedom but also in the economics of trade and investment.

But above all, the core of our security remains with Europe. That is why America's commitment to Europe's safety and stability remains as strong as ever. That is why I urged NATO to convene this week's summit. It is why I am committed to keeping roughly 100,000 American troops stationed in Europe, consistent with the expressed desires of our allies here. It is not habit but security and partnership that justifies this continuing commitment by the United States. Just as we have worked in partnership with Europe on every major security challenge in this century, it is now time for us to join in building the new security for the 21st century, the century in which most of you in this room will live most of your lives. The new security must seek to bind a broader Europe together with a strong fabric woven of military cooperation, prosperous market economies, and vital democracies.

Let me speak briefly about each of these. The first and most important element of the security must be military strength and cooperation. The cold war is over, but war itself is not over. As we know, it rages today not only in distant lands but right here in Europe and the former Yugoslavia. That murderous conflict reminds us that even after the cold war, military forces remain relevant. It also reveals the difficulties of applying military force to conflicts within as well as among states. And it teaches us that it is best to act early to prevent conflicts that we may later not be able to control.

As we work to resolve that tragedy and ease the suffering of its victims, we also need to change our security institutions so they can better address such conflicts and advance Europe's integration. Many institutions will play a role, including the European Union, the Western European Union, the Council of Europe, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United Nations. But NATO, history's greatest military alliance, must be central to that process.

Only NATO has the military forces, the integrated command, the broad legitimacy, and the habits of cooperation that are essential to draw in new participants and respond to new challenges. One of the deepest transformations within the transatlantic community over the past half-century occurred because the armed forces of our respected nations trained, studied, and marched through their careers together. It is not only the compatibility of our weapons but the camaraderie of our warriors that provide the sinews behind our mutual security guarantees and our best hope for peace.

Two years ago, our nations began to adapt NATO to this new era by creating the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. It includes all the states of the former Soviet bloc as well as the 16 of NATO. Now it is time to move beyond that dialog and create an operating partnership. That is why I have proposed that we create the Partnership For Peace.

This Partnership will advance a process of evolution for NATO's formal enlargement. It looks to the day when NATO will take on new members who assume the alliance's full responsibilities. It will create a framework in which former Communist states and others not now members of NATO can participate with NATO members in joint military planning, training, exercises, and other efforts. This partnership will build new bonds of cooperation among the militaries of the East and the West. It will reinforce the development of democracies and democratic practices, such as respect for human rights and civilian control over military forces. It can give NATO new tools for responding to ethnic instability and other dangers of our era. The use of NATO forces in such missions will always be considered, and must be, on a case-by-case basis. But tomorrow's summit will put us in a stronger position to make those decisions and to make them early and wisely.

The Partnership For Peace will not alter NATO's fundamental mission of defending NATO territory from attack. We cannot afford to abandon that mission while the dream of empire still burns in the minds of some who look longingly toward a brutal past. But neither can we afford to draw a new line between East and West that could create a self-fulfilling prophecy of future confrontation.

This partnership opens the door to cooperation with all of NATO's former adversaries, including Russia, Ukraine, and the other newly independent states, based on a belief that freedom's boundaries must now be defined by new behavior, not old history.

I say to all those in Europe and the United States who would simply have us draw a new line in Europe further east that we should not foreclose the possibility of the best possible future for Europe, which is a democracy everywhere, a market economy everywhere, people cooperating everywhere for mutual security. We can guard against a lesser future, but we should strive for the best future for you and your generation.

NATO can also help to meet Europe's new security challenges by doing more to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I tell you, frankly, it is one of our most difficult and challenging tasks. Countering those weapons and the missiles that deliver them will require close cooperation, honesty, and discipline, and a willingness of some not now willing to do it to forgo immediate financial gain.

The danger is clear and present. Growing missile capabilities are bringing more of Europe into the range of rogue states such as Iran and Libya. There are disturbing reports of efforts to smuggle nuclear materials into and out of Eastern Europe. And this eastward-looking summit will give us the chance to begin to address the threat on our own territory.

The second element of the new security we are building must be greater economic vitality, the issue which I would imagine is of most immediate concern to most of you. We must build it on vibrant and open market economies, the engines that have given us the greatest prosperity in human history over the last several decades in Europe and in the United States.

Our combined success in leading the world to a new GATT agreement capped 7 years of effort to expand prosperity to all trading nations. Now we must define a successor agenda to GATT that focuses on the renewal of advanced economies and the enlargement of prosperities to the nations of our East that are making the difficult transitions to market economics.

First, the renewal of our own economies is critical. Unless we are creating jobs and unless we are raising incomes in Europe and in the United States and Japan, in the advanced countries of the world, it will be difficult for the people of those nations, all our nations, to continue to support of policy of involvement with the rest of the world.

The nations of the European Union face particular severe economic challenges with nearly 20 million people unemployed and, in Germany's case, the extraordinarily high costs of unification. All our nations have had to struggle against the restless forces of this new global economy, against the competition that comes from countries with lower wages or that is generated when technology enables us to do more with fewer workers but there is not new technology to provide new jobs for those who are displaced. This is a problem not just for Europe but also for the United States and now for Japan as well.

Among the Atlantic nations, economic stagnation has clearly eroded public support and finances for outward-looking foreign policies and for greater integration. Our respective efforts to revive our own economies are therefore important not only for our own living standards but also for our collective strength. And both of them will shape the future you and your children will have.

We must proceed quickly to implement the GATT agreement. But we also must learn together and from each other on making a broader and bolder series of adjustments to this new global economy.

We Americans have a lot to learn from Europe in matters of job training and apprenticeship, of moving our people from school to work, into good paying jobs with the capacity to continue to learn new skills as the economy forces them to do so. But we also may have something to teach in the area of the flexibility of our job structure and our capacity to generate work and new employment opportunities. This is an area in which we can usefully draw lessons from each other. And that is why I am pleased that in March our leading ministers will hold a jobs conference that I proposed last July. We simply must figure out how to create more jobs and how to reward people who work both harder and smarter in the workplace. It is the basis of all the other attitudes that we want to foster to remain engaged with one another and with the rest of the world.

But as we work to strengthen our own economies, we must know that we serve our own prosperity and our security by helping the new market economies of Europe's eastern half to thrive. Successful market reforms in those states will help to deflate the region's demagogs. It will help to ease ethnic tensions. It will help new democracies to take root. It is also in your long-term interest because one of the things that we have learned is that wealthy nations cannot grow richer unless they have customers beyond their borders for their goods and their services. So the short-term difficulties of taking Eastern Europe into our economic alliance will be more than rewarded if they succeed and if they are customers for Western Europe's goods and services tomorrow. That is why early on in our administration we committed to increase support substantially for market reforms in the new states of the former Soviet Union and why we have continued our support for economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe.

Ultimately, the success of market reforms to the East will depend more on trade than aid. None of us have enough money to markedly change the future of those countries as they move to free market systems in the government coffers. We cannot give them enough aid to make them full partners. They must grow and trade their way into full partnership with us.

One of our priorities, therefore, should be to reduce trade barriers to the former Communist states. It will make little sense for us to applaud their market reforms on the one hand while offering only selective access to our markets on the other. That's like inviting someone to a castle and refusing to let down the drawbridge. The United States has already eliminated many of our cold war barriers to products from these countries. And all our nations must find more ways to do the same thing. The economic success of these states simply cannot be separated from our own renewal and security.

In 1931, a remarkable British political cartoon portrayed the United States and Europe in a rowboat. At the back end of the boat, where Europe's more Eastern powers sat, there was a terrible leak, and it was sinking fast. The front end, where the United States and Western Europe were, was still afloat. The boat was sinking from the back end. And one of the figures in our end of the boat was saying, "Thank goodness, the leak's not at our end of the boat." In the end, the whole boat sank. That will happen again unless we work together. Europe's Western half clearly, as history shows, cannot long be secure if the Eastern half remains in turmoil.

The third and final imperative of this new security is to support the growth of democracy and individual freedoms that has begun throughout Europe's former Communist states. The success of these democratic reforms make us all more secure because democracies tend not to wage war on one another and they tend not to break their word to one another. Democratic governments nurture civil society, respect for human rights, and habits of simple tolerance. The democratic values at the heart of the Western community are also our best answer to the aggressive nationalism and ethnic hatreds unleashed by the end of the cold war.

We in the transatlantic community must commit ourselves to helping democracy succeed in all the former Communist states that are Western Europe's immediate neighbors, because their security matters to our security. Nowhere is democracy's success more important to us all than there, and then in Russia. I will say again: In Russia, if the nation continues to evolve as a market democracy, satisfied within her borders and at peace with her neighbors, defining her greatness in terms of the ability to enable all of the children of Russia to live to the fullest of their potential, then our road toward Europe's full integration will be wider and smoother and safer. As one Ukrainian legislator recently stated, "If Russia is democratic, Europe will be calm."

The results of the recent elections in Russia and the statements of some Russian political figures have given us all genuine cause for concern. We must consistently condemn expression of intolerance and threats of aggression. But we should also keep those concerns in some historical perspective. It was only 2 years ago, after all, that the Soviet Union dissolved. Just 2 months ago, Russia appeared to be on the brink of a civil war. But since then Russia has held a free and fair national election, its people have ratified a genuinely democratic constitution, and they have elected their first-ever post-Soviet legislature. And the government continues to pursue democratic and economic reform.

The transformation Russia is undertaking is absolutely staggering. If you just think about what the country has been like since 1917, if you go back to the 18th century and imagine the history of the nation from that point to this, the idea that the nation could seriously be involved by democratic vote in undertaking these transformations is absolutely staggering. We cannot expect them to correct overnight three-quarters of a century of repressive leadership, three-quarters of a century of totalitarian policy, or a whole national history in which there was no democracy.

As in the other Communist nations, this will be the work of generations. We in the United States have been at it for 200 years now, and we're still working to try to get it right. All of us have to recognize that there will be wrong turns and even reversals, as there have been in all of our own countries throughout our histories. But as long as these states continue their progress toward democracy and respect the rights of their own and other people, they understand the rights of their minorities and their neighbors, then we should support their progress with a steady patience.

In order to support these new democracies, we are supporting grassroots efforts to build the institutions of civil society, from community organizers in the Czech Republic to election volunteers in Bulgaria. We also will take steps to encourage cooperation among the new democracies. As with Western Europe after World War II, we must get regional neighbors working together rather than looking at each other with suspicion.

The broader integration in peace we are building is not only a European concern, I say again, it is distinctly in the interests of the United States. My Nation has thrilled at the progress of freedom on this continent over the past 5 years. And we understand well the toll that European discord ultimately takes on our own people.

Only a few hours from this place lie the graves of thousands of Americans who died in Europe's two great wars. History records where they fell, at Flanders Field, on the shores of Normandy, and in the Battle of the Bulge. But let us remember as well why they came here, why they left the safety of their homes to fight in a distant land. They came because our security depends more on things that go far beyond geographical divides. Our security depends on more than the ocean that divides us. It depends on the existence of a strong and free and democratic Europe.

Today we can honor the sacrifice of those Americans buried here on your soil by expanding the reach of the freedoms they fought and gave their lives to preserve. The fight for your generation across a broader Europe will be joined and won not on this continent's beaches or across its plains but rather in its new parliaments and city councils, in the offices and factories of its new market economies, in the hearts and minds of the young people like many of you here. You have the most to gain from a Europe that is integrated in terms of security, in terms of economics, in terms of democracies.

Ultimately, you will have to decide what sort of Europe you want and how hard you are willing to work for it. But I want you to know that the United States stands by you in that battle, as we have in the other battles of the 20th century.

I believe that our freedom is indivisible. I believe our destinies are joined. I believe that the 21st century can be the most exciting period that Europe and the United States have ever known and that your future can be the richest and brightest of any generation. But we will have to work to make it so.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6 p.m. in the Gothic Room at the Hotel de Ville. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene of Belgium and Mayor Jose Desmaret of Brussels.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Future Leaders of Europe in Brussels Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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