September 8, 2022 Remarks at Aspen Institute Germany
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Frau Schmitz for the welcome, thank you, Dr. Mildner, for inviting me, and thank you all for being here today. In my role as a scholar and University President, I was proud to engage in Aspen activities in the United States, and, as Ambassador, I am more than proud to be a part of your community here. I am reassured in these tumultuous times.
Never in our lifetimes has the US-German alliance and cooperation among allies been more important and more urgent. Advancing our alliances is one of my highest priorities as Ambassador. A primary reason is well captured by the first American diplomat who is also my icon, Benjamin Franklin, who reputedly said upon the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence, “We must hang together, or surely we will hang separately.”
Fast forward 248 years, from 1776 to 2022: Working together we must do our utmost to enable Ukraine to win the war in Europe. Working together—and creatively—we also must combat climate change and resist rising nationalism and authoritarianism. Meeting each of these existential threats to our freedom, security and prosperity requires new levels of cooperation, commitment, and creativity. A commitment to our shared values of universal freedom, democracy, and the rule of law has never been more important.
During the second half of the 20th century, the U.S., Germany, and our allies set an example for the world as we worked together productively to promote these values. A spirit of what I call “inclusive innovation” enabled us to build a post-World War II order, an order based not just on military power but also on the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, speech, and association, and an ongoing aspiration to secure liberty and justice for all.
For several decades, our countries enjoyed unprecedented peace and increasing prosperity. That peace and prosperity –although unequally distributed within our countries – was built on cooperation, innovation, and investment geared to better realizing democratic values. These values have increasingly come under attack, both domestically and worldwide. If together you and I can convey only one message with the utmost clarity and conviction to all our potential allies, it would be this: the defense of democracy is the defining challenge of our time.
Why? First, because democracy is under attack from within democratic countries like ours – in the United States, Germany, throughout Europe, and around the world. Escalating levels of violence, economic inequality, climate change, food insecurity, Antisemitism, racism, and sexism have left many feeling like democracy will not work for them. Polarization and disinformation have eroded trust in public institutions. Political opponents within many democracies treat one another as mortal enemies rather than legitimate competitors. We are witnessing a troubling rise of antisemitism, racism, and hate crimes.
Secondly, democracy is also under massive attack from outside forces. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Ukraine. Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine blatantly violates the democratic sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, individual human rights, energy and food security, and a rules-based international order. When we help Ukraine, we are also defending our own peace and prosperity.
We have responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with a new unity of purpose and action, a new period in transatlantic solidarity, one in which NATO, the EU, and the G7 are all more united and resolute than ever.
Germany has been a stalwart partner with the U.S. and allies in forging this unity. Chancellor Scholz is one of the most prominent architects of our new transatlantic solidarity. I watched with admiration and appreciation as the Chancellor put his mark on history on February 27 when he announced an historic turning point for Germany, a Zeitenwende.
The Chancellor made it clear then – and most recently doubled down in his speech at Charles University – that turning points come not just with words, but with concrete actions. Germany has decided to modernize its military and to meet its NATO commitment of 2% defense spending through a 100 billion Euro special fund; to deploy troops, vessels, and air assets to bolster its eastern allies; and to provide a secure, diverse energy supply for the German people.
President Biden and the U.S. Congress have been crystal clear about the U.S. commitment: our military and humanitarian support for Ukraine is unwavering – no matter how long this tragic war goes on.
Without a doubt, the war also carries an enormous cost. Russia is clearly weaponizing energy and grain as part of a hybrid war strategy to try to break our joint commitment to the Ukrainian people.
The Kremlin’s war of aggression in Ukraine is one of many conflicts around the globe where basic democratic principles are threatened.
China’s foreign policy is increasingly aggressive, its trade practices blatantly unfair, and human rights in China grossly abused. Make no mistake: China has a choice, to be a competitive partner that plays on fair ground with democracies and other countries or to act as an adversary to our core values and interests.
How can we most effectively respond to the challenges we face? I firmly believe that nothing beats investing in the foundations of our strength at home – our democracy, and more specifically our innovation ecosystems, our education, and our public health. In cooperation with our allies and partners, and acting with common purpose and in common cause, we can and we must lead a race to the top on tech, on climate, infrastructure, global health, workforce development, and inclusive economic growth.
That was a primary lesson of the Marshall Plan 75 years ago. Combine action-oriented cooperation with value-based investments: this is the most effective way to strengthen a system in which as many countries as possible can work together effectively, can resolve differences peacefully, and can write our own futures as sovereign equals.
We have many opportunities to work together productively and inclusively on shared priorities. In the spirit of the Aspen tradition, I hope we can discuss some of those options this evening and over the course of the coming months and years.
In concluding, I recall the answer former Aspen President Walter Isaacson gave to the question: who – of all the people you have written about – would you invite to dinner? His answer, of course: Benjamin Franklin. Why? “He was insatiably curious and interested in knowing everything one possibly know about every subject. His credo: Let’s get together and figure out the evidence and see what’s going to work the best.” Surely Franklin was right: our hanging together—our working together, creatively—this is the key to our mutual defense of democracy. In this creative and collaborative democratic spirit, I look forward to your questions and comments.