Thank you very much. Good afternoon to you all. You know, at the end of the day, besides all the work that we all do on world affairs, on foreign policy and national security, we all also live lives. And I just want to note this afternoon as we get started that all of our thoughts and prayers are with Foreign Minister Wilmes, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with, who announced today that she is taking an unpaid leave of absence as Belgium’s Foreign Minister because her husband has an aggressive brain cancer.
And I think it just reminds us all that as we do these really important things in terms of the world, we all are sometimes brought back down to earth with the people that we love, our friends, our families, our colleagues. And it’s always important to remember each other. I always tell our incoming Foreign Service Officers that, at the end of the day, when you’re finished your career—and mine is almost finished, you can tell by my hair—what you have left, besides the good work you may have done, are your families and your friends. And so don’t forget them, make sure you spend time with them, don’t put everything you do into the work you do. Integrate your work and your life. So thinking of her this afternoon.
Thank you all so much for joining to talk about the big picture of the world. I especially want to thank Friends of Europe, including your co-founder Geert , for organizing today’s event and for that nice introduction. And thank you, Dharmendra for agreeing to serve as moderator and for your excellent overview and introduction of what we’re going to talk about this afternoon.
I also want to say a warm welcome to the College of Europe students, exchange program alumni, and all the young professionals and researchers who are here in person and joining us online. Before I became Deputy Secretary of State—the first woman to ever hold this position, which is sort of nuts, it took until 2021 to make that happen—I was teaching at Harvard Kennedy School. And I was working with many of you, with people just like you. And I found it the most energizing thing I’ve done in a long time because all of the young people in this audience have already done more with your lives than I’ve done with my many years in life. You all are entrepreneurial and filled with energy and ideas and enthusiasm, and we need every bit of it in this very challenging world that Dharmendra mentioned. I’m really looking for a lively and engaging discussion, so raise your hand even if you haven’t figured out what question you want to ask. By the time you get called on, you’ll think of something.
From the very beginning of the Biden-Harris administration, we have made restoring and strengthening America’s network of alliances and partnerships the cornerstone of our foreign policy.
And there’s a very simple reason for that. No matter how strong any country’s military is, no matter how big its economy, no matter how significant its natural resources or how creative its people, no nation—no nation—can address the biggest challenges of the 21st century—or take full advantage of its opportunities—by acting alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, cybersecurity, disinformation, food and water security—all of these challenges cross borders, regions, and domains of expertise. And that means they can only be addressed by working together.
From President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Secretary Blinken on down, we have reinvested in our most important relationships—including the transatlantic NATO alliance, the G7, and our very strong partnership with the European Union.
We have strengthened our treaty alliances and other partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, elevating the Quad with India, Japan, and Australia and launching AUKUS with Australia and the United Kingdom.
We are also investing in strengthening our bilateral and multilateral relationships in South and Central America, across Africa, in the Middle East, and in Southeast Asia, where we see ASEAN centrality as critical to the future of the world and the region.
As Secretary Blinken often says, the United States sees the EU as our partner of first resort. That’s reflected in the many dialogues and consultations we have launched over the last year—including the Trade and Technology Council, which will meet again next month, and the U.S.-EU China Dialogue and the U.S.-EU consultations on the Indo-Pacific, which have brought me to Brussels this week.
These dialogues are not a make-work exercise or a diplomatic photo-op—though you would not know it from all the cameras here. They offer both sides the opportunity to deepen our understanding of each other’s policy positions and priorities, to discuss shared challenges and opportunities, to formulate ideas and initiatives where we actually work together, and above all to strengthen our relationships at every level.
It’s through this work that we build the mutual understanding, respect, and trust that is so critical to responding quickly and decisively in moments of crisis—like the one we face right now.
All of us, I am sure, are paying close attention to Ukraine, and the consequences of the premeditated, unprovoked, unjustified, and utterly horrifying war of choice that Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed there.
On every front, the United States and our Allies and partners—the EU chief among them—are united with Ukraine and working in lockstep to respond to Putin’s war. We are surging defensive support to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We are providing substantial humanitarian aid, and we applaud the European nations who have welcomed more than 5 million Ukrainian refugees with open arms.
And, of course, we are imposing severe, coordinated costs and consequences on Putin and his enablers—as we warned him we would.
The United States and our Allies and partners have imposed wide-ranging sanctions, export controls, and other measures.
As a result, more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports have been cut off. More than 80 percent of assets in the Russian banking sector are now under sanction. The U.S. and our partners have announced more than 6200 designations on more than 2100 Russian and Belarusian individuals and entities—including President Putin and his adult daughters, senior government officials and their families, and business leaders who are enabling the Kremlin’s war.
Looking at the situation in Ukraine, one can only conclude that Putin believed his own propaganda. He believed the Ukrainian people would welcome the Russian invasion, that the Ukrainian military would not put up a fight, that he could easily topple the democratically elected government in Kyiv. He believed that NATO would fracture, that the EU wasn’t capable of reacting quickly, that the international community would be indifferent.
He has been proven wrong at every turn. Ukraine is putting up an extraordinary resistance to defend their nation, its sovereignty, and its future. Russia is being made weaker on virtually every measure. The transatlantic alliance is stronger than it has ever been. Nations around the world have taken unprecedented steps to oppose Putin’s war and support the people of Ukraine.
And the rules-based international order hasn’t been shattered. Instead, Putin’s actions are rallying the world to reinforce and revitalize that order. At the United Nations, 141 countries voted to condemn Putin’s invasion, and just four nations stood with Russia. You can probably guess who they are. The Council of Europe, the UN Human Rights Council, and other international bodies have expelled or suspended Russia.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that not everyone in the world is experiencing Putin’s war against Ukraine in the same way. Families have been thrown back into poverty by two years of this grinding pandemic. Putin’s war is causing chaos in the oil and gas markets, driving up energy prices for those who can least afford it. It is disrupting international shipping of critical commodities—like wheat—that millions of people depend on to survive, raising food prices and threatening to push more people into hunger.
Although Putin’s war is the reason behind rising prices for food, fuel, fertilizer, and other basics, it’s incumbent upon the international community to step up and take action to prevent a global food security crisis—and to deal with the one it appears we already have. I joined a UN Security Council meeting last month to discuss this very issue, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen convened a high-level meeting earlier this week to urge greater action from international financial institutions to deal with food security. I expect you will see more activity in the weeks and days ahead, but I don’t want to get ahead of those announcements.
Ultimately, Putin’s war against Ukraine will impact every nation and every person in the world. Because a threat to the rules-based international order anywhere risks undermining it everywhere.
No country has the right to dictate another country’s political choices, or to change another country’s boundaries by force, or to choose another country’s alliances for them. Those are rights inherent to each sovereign state. In a democracy like Ukraine, they are rights that belong to the people. And when autocrats like Putin believe they can act with impunity and violate these rules and principles—that makes all of us less secure.
As I mentioned at the outset, I am here in Brussels for the third round of the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China, which I launched with my counterpart EEAS Secretary General Stefano Sannino on my first trip as Deputy Secretary last May. Even as the eyes of the world are on Ukraine, we are continuing our diplomatic engagements in every region on the entire slate of challenges we face.
That includes the People’s Republic of China. The United States has been clear that we will compete—and compete vigorously—with the PRC where we should, including on trade and the economy, technology and innovation, and other areas. We have also been clear that we are committed to managing this competition between our countries so that competition does not veer into conflict.
We will cooperate with the PRC where it is in our interest—and indeed, in the world’s interest—to do so, hopefully on such things as climate change, global health, counter-narcotics, and non-proliferation.
And we will challenge—contest—the PRC where we must, such as when Beijing takes actions that run counter to America’s values and interests, or those of our allies and partners, or which threaten the rules-based international order we have all worked so hard to build.
And in fact, the PRC has itself been one of the biggest beneficiaries of that rules-based international order over the last half-century. Trade and economic development have built a booming middle class, and lifted millions of people out of extreme poverty.
Today, however, Beijing is seeking to undermine the very system that they benefited from—to return instead to a system where might makes right, and big nations can coerce smaller countries into acting against their own interests.
We’ve seen the PRC’s playbook in action right here in Europe. After Lithuania announced a new Taiwan representative office in Vilnius, the PRC launched an all-out campaign to economically coerce Lithuania into changing its political choice, including by blocking imports of its goods and third-country goods made with Lithuanian components.
This and other attempts at economic coercion amount to no more than bullying—not only of the nations in question, but of the European continent and the common market as a whole.
The PRC’s coercive actions go beyond governments, as well. They have targeted companies like H&M, Adidas, and Nike for choosing to remove products made with forced labor from Xinjiang from their supply chains—both to punish the companies for their actions, and to discourage others from standing up to the PRC’s human rights abuses.
Less than three weeks before Putin launched his unprovoked war against Ukraine—actually 20 days earlier—he and PRC President Xi Jinping declared that the PRC and Russia have a, quote, “no limits partnership,” unquote, with, quote, “no forbidden areas,” unquote, of cooperation.
Since then, we’ve seen the PRC signal its support for Russia on multiple fronts. The PRC has failed to condemn Russian war crimes and voted against the resolution to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council. They have repeatedly drawn false equivalencies between Russia’s war of aggression and Ukraine’s self-defensive actions. PRC state media has parroted the Kremlin’s disinformation, including absurd claims that Ukraine and NATO posed a security threat to Russia.
I could give dozens of examples of PRC actions that seek to undermine nations’ political autonomy, to coerce businesses’ decision-making, and more—to literally steal intellectual property and trade secrets, to hunt down and silence human rights defenders and members of ethnic and religious minorities who have left the PRC, to bend the rules of the international system to suit their interests at the expense of the rest of the world.
These are some of the reasons why, last year, we launched the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China. To understand each other’s perspectives and experiences. To share information and raise concerns with each other. And, above all, to converge on a common approach to strengthening the rules-based order we built together in the first place.
Here’s the bottom line. The question all of us face—in the United States, in Europe, and in nations around the world—is a simple one. What do we want the world to look like? What do we want our future to be? What do I want my eight- and six-year-old grandsons to have when they grow up?
Do we want to have societies where people are free to speak their minds, to call a war by its name and to peacefully protest—or societies where governments are free to crack down harshly on anyone who contradicts the party line?
Do we want to have governments that are transparent and accountable to their people, or governments that exist to consolidate their own power and control their people in turn?
Do we want a global economy that works for working families and the middle class, or one that further enriches those who are already wealthy beyond measure?
Do we want to have an Internet that is a tool for international connection, for discovery and innovation, or an Internet that is a tool of coercion and disinformation?
Do we want to trust in each other, to embrace our ability to come together and solve our common challenges, to recognize our mutual humanity and build a better world? Or do we want to be at war and in conflict with each other?
I know how I’d answer those questions. I expect you know how you would answer those questions as well. We have decades of evidence that free, open, democratic societies are more innovative, more prosperous, and more peaceful.
That’s not to say our countries are without challenges, without flaws and shortcomings. We all have painful histories, full of examples of times when we have fallen short of our values. We all struggle with contemporary inequalities that keep us from reaching our highest goals.
But one of the strengths of a democratic system is that we can acknowledge those issues, that we face those issues. We don’t have to rewrite our histories to flatter ourselves or to soothe our egos. We don’t have to sweep ugliness under the rug, or censor opinions we don’t like. We can face up to our problems and talk about them openly. We can debate the best way to go about fixing them—including at forums like this one.
It can make our systems seem more contentious—and sometimes they are pretty contentious! It can sometimes be uncomfortable, and it can certainly be messy. But ultimately, wrestling with difficult issues openly, based on facts and evidence, with accountability and transparency—that helps us come to more durable solutions. It surfaces new ideas and new voices. It makes us stronger.
Which is why it is critical that the United States and Europe not only recommit ourselves to strengthening our relationship with each other, but to delivering results for our own people and for people around the world. To continue demonstrating how democracies work. How we deliver—really deliver—growth and prosperity, creativity and innovation, higher standards of living—all while embracing human rights, freedom of speech and the press, and diversity in all its forms.
As Geert mentioned, a little less than a month ago, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright died. The first woman Secretary of State in the United States. I was lucky to be her counselor when she was Secretary. She was then my former boss; she later became my private-sector business partner. She was a beloved teacher at Georgetown and everywhere. And she was a very dear friend. Above all, she was a fierce champion of democracy. She fought for democratic systems and democratic futures with everything she had, to the very end of her life, literally. Because like many of you here in Europe, and your parents and grandparents, she knew the alternative all too painfully and all too personally. Her family fled Hitler, her family fled Communism, she came to the United States as a refugee. And loved more than anything the day she became a U.S. citizen.
She believed we could always do better. And so do I. So does the United States. So does Europe. And so do people all over the world.
Thank you again for having me. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. Thank you.