Politics & Policy

Freedom’s Defense

A worthy fight.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the text of a speech delivered by Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) on February 8, 2003, at the Munich Conference on Security Policy before European Parliament and defense ministers.

The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom,” wrote the great German philosopher Hegel, when kings ruled Europe and empire-building ordered the world. In our time, freedom’s consciousness defeated fascism and destroyed a global empire of tyranny.

Today, the free people of Europe and America turn our attention to lands where freedom’s absence not only offends our values, but imperils our security.

Freedom’s defense now calls us to act against global terrorism and rogue states that build weapons of mass terror. Our response to challenges and opportunities beyond the borders of NATO will determine whether the Atlantic Alliance, the greatest political-military alliance in the history of mankind, which forged the longest era of secure peace in Europe’s history and bound the world’s leading powers in the active defense of freedom, will continue to do so.

The enormously successful Prague Summit demonstrated the new NATO’s shared history, shared values, shared sense of threat, and an agreed way forward in meeting those threats. This new NATO will provide a firmer foundation for peace and a more resolute defense of our values. Prague lent considerable momentum to the construction of an integrated and peaceful Europe and taught us much about our alliance.

President Havel speaks of the “special responsibility” democracies have for more fragile democracies, and for those people who are just beginning to build just societies where the rights of all are protected, where ethnicity and confession are not conditions of citizenship, and where the innocent are free from fear. Our mission in Southeastern Europe is not yet complete and our responsibilities toward Europe’s new neighbors on the shores of the Black Sea and across Ukraine are barely understood.

It should be obvious to all that Turkey is an essential member of the Euro-Atlantic community and an integral part of Europe. Obstacles of prejudice, ethnic stereotype, and bureaucratic gamesmanship that block Turkey’s path to Europe do not reflect well on the fairness of our institutions and do damage to our security. Turkey is a front-line state in the war on terrorism, just as Germany was a front-line state in the Cold War. Lest its allies forget, NATO has a border with Iraq, in Turkey. Europe shares a border with one of the most evil, dangerous, and hostile regimes on earth.

The invitations to Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia to join NATO and establish clear dates for accession to the EU are the first foundations of a secure and fully integrated southeastern Europe. In the western Balkans, the United States will adopt an Adriatic Charter aimed at accelerating the democratic transformation of Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania and locking in their desire to build tolerant, multi-ethnic states. Once the last Serbian leaders charged with war crimes are delivered to the Hague, we should help accelerate Serbia and Montenegro’s progress of democratic consolidation and western integration, including their immediate participation in the Partnership for Peace and acceptance into the Council of Europe at the earliest opportunity. To the east, a pan-Black Sea structure that could build on the success of Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria might serve as a forum for regional coordination on common security and economic issues, and a useful way-station for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova on the road to integration with Western political and security institutions.

Europe’s eastern borderlands pose the greatest challenge. Sixty million people in Belarus and Ukraine press against six EU and NATO allies and demarcate a new, hard border across Europe stretching from Odessa to Kaliningrad. Soviet-style dictatorship in Belarus and weak institutions in Ukraine raise the prospect of millions of political and economic refugees on the borders of the European Union should these states collapse or Russia seek their integration. Western policy should stress the inviolability of borders and actively promote democratic change in Ukraine. We should work with Moscow to end Europe’s last dictatorship so Belarus becomes a path between Russia and Europe rather than a prison for its own people.

As for NATO’s near-term agenda, in addition to close cooperation in the war on terrorism and common defense of member states in the event of war with Iraq, I believe the United States should welcome the transformation of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan into a NATO operation to secure Afghanistan’s democratic future. NATO could also play a central role in the security and reconstruction of a free Iraq.

Most Americans still have a positive perception of trans-Atlantic solidarity, as we unite behind the power of our values to expand the consciousness, and the enjoyment, of freedom, in and beyond Europe. But an enduring relationship premised on the common defense of freedom must address and end existential threats to our community of values. Free nations must agree not only on the shape of world order, but also on the means and the responsibility to uphold it. Failure to address this central responsibility of all democracies will only serve to embolden and expand the reach of our enemies.

Iraq is the test that will determine whether the United States and Europe can rely on the founding charters of NATO and the U.N. Security Council to protect their most fundamental security interests–or whether we have entered an age in which security is pursued by other means. Should great powers determine that multilateral institutions such as NATO and the Security Council cannot protect their interests when they are imperiled, countries will increasingly be tempted to go it alone rather than relying on international institutions that shrink from their mission of upholding international security. The United States might succeed in such an environment, though I hate to contemplate it, but many nations, including many in Europe, will not.

The NATO alliance is strong, but the world in which it operates is fundamentally dangerous, insecure, and chaotic. Existential threats of a new order create pressures on member states that test their character and their commitment to an alliance that requires much of its members. An alliance with a proud history of uniting in the common defense, and standing down the greatest threat to Western civilization in the modern era, cannot have a future worthy of its past if such threats are seen as things to be managed with an eye to process rather than confronted with a determination to meet evil at its source; and if Alliance decision-making on matters of war and peace is determined more by narrow calculations of domestic and European politics than by transcendent security interests of trans-Atlantic partners.

I do not direct this criticism only at European nations. Many Americans were deeply moved when, only hours after the September 11th attacks, NATO defined itself for the new age by invoking Article Five of its charter for the first time in its history, claiming the defense of American security, American liberty, their shared responsibility with us. In that moment, I, like many of my countrymen, felt a pride and gratitude for our alliance that felt very much like patriotism, not of blood and soil, but love for a kinship of ideals. And, I, for one, regret that the United States did not respond, as openly as we should have, to the Alliance’s historic offer of support in our time of need.

But NATO’s enduring success will depend on more than a reverence that becomes nostalgia for our friendship, and our past triumphs together. It will require us all to appreciate today, just as much as we did in the Cold War and in the weeks following September 11th, the nature of the threat to our shared interests and values, and how our common defense against it is the paramount obligation of our governments. And it is in keeping with that recognition, as well as my reverence for our friendship, that I speak bluntly today, and with perhaps less tact than a skilled diplomat. And if it seems I’ve come to pick a fight, please understand that I don’t fight to alienate old friends, but to demonstrate that Americans believe in this Alliance, believe it is worth fighting for, and that our friendship can not only endure candid disagreements from time to time, but require our honesty to thrive. I hope it will be accepted in that spirit.

The French and German objection, for reasons of calculated self-interest–a very flawed calculation, I fear–to a routine American request to the North Atlantic Council to upgrade Turkey’s defenses against the military threat from Iraq was a terrible injury to an Alliance that has served their broader interests well. For nearly three weeks, the United States, with fourteen of our eighteen European allies in the North Atlantic Council, has supported this necessary action, but has confronted a new unilateralism conceived in Paris and Berlin, a unilateralism that exposed the sneering in those capitals about the impulsive cowboy in the White House for the vacuous posturing and obvious misdirection it is. Whatever NATO decides, Franco-German unilateralism will have a lasting impact on trans-Atlantic security calculations. If this minority French-German obstruction is not overcome by NATO’s deadline of Monday, France and Germany will have to answer to those who argue that Iraq could be to NATO what Abyssinia was to the League of Nations.

The United Nations Security Council risks that same fate should it not hold Iraq to account for its defiance. Patient American and British diplomacy at the U.N. delivered a unanimous vote in favor of Council Resolution 1441. France played a key role in negotiating the resolution and knew what they were voting for; Germany was fully aware of the debate as it prepared to assume the Council presidency in January. Americans, and many Europeans, were therefore astonished when France and Germany announced in advance of further consideration of the problem of Iraq that under no circumstances would they support enforcing the resolution’s terms against Iraq.

Recent actions by Paris and Berlin in the most important international fora–the Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, and the European Union–raise serious doubts among nations on both sides of the Atlantic about their commitment to multilateral diplomacy and cause real damage to those institutions. The behavior of France and Germany has set back European unity and created a divided front that makes Iraq’s peaceful disarmament less likely. Nations across Europe that have recently expressed a different view of multilateral obligations, including some of our oldest allies and our newest friends, expose the myth that France and Germany speak for Europe.

Those who deign to speak for Europe, notwithstanding the objections of elected governments across Europe, confuse consensus with effectiveness and appear to give priority to achieving a lowest-common-denominator result that preserves the illusion of unity at the expense of action to protect our security. Many Americans who support the historic project of European integration worry that rather than enhancing Europe’s power in the world, the rush to integrate, and a cynical desire to define differences with America rather than meet common challenges together, reduces Europe’s influence by turning the attention of European leaders inward, away from grave challenges to European security itself, and channeling their hostility toward the United States rather than our common enemies.

Foreign Minister Fischer recently warned against “primitive anti-Americanism.” I thank and commend him for his statement. But I am concerned, we should all be concerned, not only with the “primitive” anti-Americanism of the street that resents America’s successes, exults in our misfortunes, and ascribes to us motives that one must be a fool or delusional to believe. We should also be concerned with the “sophisticated” anti-Americanism, or perhaps more aptly, the “cynical” anti-Americanism of political leaders who exploit for their own ends the disinformed, “primitive” hostility to America voiced in some quarters of their societies; to further their ambitions to govern or to inflate perceptions of their international influence.

Just as some Arab governments fuel anti-American sentiment among their people to divert them from problems at home, so a distinct minority of Western European leaders appears to engage in America-bashing to rally their people and other European elites to the call of European unity. Some European politicians speak of pressure from their “street” for peaceful solutions to international conflict and for resisting American power regardless of its purpose. But statements emanating from Europe that seem to endorse pacifism in the face of evil, and anti-Semitic recidivism in some quarters, provoke an equal and opposite reaction in America.

There is an American “street,” too, and it strongly supports disarming Iraq, accepts the necessity of an expansive American role in the world to ensure we never wake up to another September 11th, is perplexed that nations with whom we have long enjoyed common cause do not share our urgency and sense of threat in time of war, and that considers reflexive hostility toward Israel as the root of all problems in the Middle East as irrational as it is morally offensive.

The legacy of the German election campaign last fall has complicated and harmed U.S.-German relations. Millions of Americans have been stationed in Germany over the course of six decades, creating the kind of abiding friendship our people share with few other countries. Many of us, Americans and Germans, have trouble understanding why a German chancellor would seek reelection on a platform reduced to criticism of the United States, assailing a friendship so many Americans and Germans have sworn to protect, and from which so many Americans and Europeans have benefited. That said, we are still friends. And I am confident we can act together to build on the long history of alliance between our nations to build an even stronger friendship. I believe many Americans will put this issue behind them if Germany meets its responsibilities in the Security Council on the matter of Iraq.

History teaches that hard choices deferred–appeasing Hitler, choosing not to deter Saddam Hussein in 1990, failing to act sooner against al Qaeda–often bring about the very circumstances we wished to avoid by deferring action, requiring us to react in freedom’s defense.

The government of Saddam Hussein is a clear and present danger to the civilized world and the values that unite our people. His moral code is so perverse that he has gassed his own people. He has attacked five of his neighbors. His will to power has so affected his judgment that he has started two major wars and lost them, each time imperiling his own grip on power. He is the worst kind of modern-day tyrant–a conscienceless murderer who aspires to omnipotence and who has repeatedly committed irrational acts since seizing power. Given this reality, containment and deterrence and international inspections are unlikely to work any better than did the Maginot Line 63 years ago. Containment has failed. Deterrence has failed. As long as Saddam remains in power, he will deceive, bribe, intimidate and attack his way out of any containment scheme.

The evidence of his deceit and defiance is overwhelming, as Secretary Powell, in his statement before the Security Council, a statement that exposed the folly of further accommodation, irrefutably made clear. Saddam Hussein has developed stocks of germs and toxins in sufficient quantities to kill many millions of people in the most horrible of ways, and has placed weapons laden with these poisons on alert to fire at his neighbors within minutes. He develops nuclear weapons with which he would hold his neighbors and us hostage. Failure to end the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq makes it more likely that the interaction we know to have occurred between members of al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime may increasingly take the form of active cooperation to target the United States and Europe with weapons whose use threatens civilization itself.

Saddam Hussein has unrepentantly violated 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions, defying the will of the international community so consistently, so compulsively, so completely that no leader who professes allegiance to the values the United Nations was formed to uphold can sanction his audacity. He has had twelve years to meet his basic obligations the world, as demanded by the Security Council in April 1991, when it gave Iraq 15 days to fully declare and disarm its weapons of mass destruction.

It is Saddam Hussein who puts his own regime at risk by developing these weapons. The burden is not on the United States, or Britain, or the Security Council, to justify going to war. The burden is Saddam Hussein’s, to justify why his regime should continue to exist as long as its continuing existence threatens the world. What could possibly constitute weaker statesmanship than to persist in believing that Saddam Hussein’s defiance of every Security Council mandate can somehow be met with accommodation because, as the French foreign minister has said, “Nothing justifies envisaging military action.” At a minimum, such a declaration represents a counterproductive signal to a regime that we are trying to compel into disarmament, reminding us all of Churchill’s admonition against feeding the crocodile in the hope that it will eat you last.

Our regional allies who oppose using force against Saddam Hussein warn of uncontrollable popular hostility to an allied attack on Iraq. But what would really be the effect on Arab populations of seeing other Arabs liberated from oppression? Far from fighting to the last Iraqi, the people of that tortured society will surely dance on the regime’s grave. Perhaps that is what truly concerns some of our Arab allies: that among the consequences of regime change in Iraq might be a stronger demand for self-determination from their own people.

At the end of the day, we will not wage this war alone. It is revealing that shortly after Secretary Powell finished his presentation before the Security Council, ten new allies in Central and Eastern Europe declared that Saddam Hussein’s regime requires a united response from the community of democracies. Many nations are threatened by Saddam Hussein’s rule; few have rejected Hans Blix’s contention that Iraq has not made a strategic decision to disarm; and many nations have a stake in the new order that will be built atop the ruins of Saddam Hussein’s fascist state. Together with our allies, we should help the liberated Iraqi people embrace universal political values that NATO was organized to defend, which would constitute real progress toward a new Middle East, in which Israel and a Palestinian democracy enjoy the peace of free people, and citizens across the region have a genuine voice in the way they are governed.

We should not stop there. North Korea and Iraq present different faces of the same danger. Today, North Korea poses a greater danger than Iraq, and confronting it presents a more difficult challenge. That is all the more reason to take whatever action necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from becoming a threat of equal magnitude, and just as difficult to confront.

The use of military force to defend vital national-security interests must always be the option of last resort. Certainly it is in the crisis between Pyongyang and the world. The United States should lead the Security Council to sanction North Korea for its defiance, and provide another opportunity for multilateral diplomacy to address a clear breach of international peace and security by requiring North Korea to meet its commitments to the world. But if we fail to achieve the international cooperation necessary to ending this threat, particularly from Beijing, then North Korea and other countries in the region should know with certainty that while they may risk their own populations, the United States will do whatever it must to guarantee the security of the American people.

In this age, liberating oppressed peoples from the tyranny of those who would do us harm serves not only narrow national interests, but the ordered progress of freedom–the force that drives history, as Hegel said. The global success of liberty is our greatest strategic interest as well as our most compelling moral argument. All our other interests are served in that cause.

As the leaders of Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Portugal have written, “The real bond between the United States and Europe is the values we share…. These values crossed the Atlantic with those who sailed from Europe to help create the United States of America. Today they are under greater threat than ever…. Today more than ever, the transatlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom.” Let that continue to be our creed in the uncertain years ahead, confident that we are stronger together than apart, that our values ennoble our common defense of them, and that we can, together, make this a safer, freer, better world. It’s worth fighting for.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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