Europe remains the cornerstone and catalyst for America’s engagement with the world, Vice President Joe Biden said in Munich Feb. 2.
The vice president spoke at the annual Munich Security Conference, where he also addressed the situation with Iran and what the nations of the world can do together to confront the terrorist threat.
The Munich Conference is one of the preeminent gatherings of security leaders in the world, and Biden is not stranger to the group. As a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee he often journeyed to Munich and he last addressed the body in 2009, as the newly elected vice president.
The sanctions the world has placed on Iran are working, the vice president said. He stated that the U.S. position on Iran is not containing the rogue nation from gaining nuclear arms, but preventing it. “We’ve also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation,” he said. “There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach.”
Biden contrasted what the world was like when he last addressed the conference in 2009. “Four years ago, the world was mired in the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression,” he said. “Today, times remain tough for too many American and European families – but conditions are improving.”
The United States and European nations must work to put their economies on a sound footing, he said. That, after all, is the key to national power and influence, Biden added.
In 2009, al-Qaida was on the ascendancy, the vice president said. “Osama bin Laden was alive and well and plotting against our countries, inspiring followers,” he said. “Now, as a result of the joint efforts of all of our countries and renewed and relentless focus on counterterrorism, the cooperation of our law enforcement agencies, and President [Barack] Obama’s unflinching determination to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, … we’ve made progress. We’ve dealt that organization, al-Qaida, a crippling blow, [and] made all our homelands more secure.”
Now it is the affiliates of al-Qaida that pose the danger, he said. Affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, Iraq and Syria, while not posing the same threat as the original group, still are dangerous. “Increasingly they are targeting Western interests overseas,” he said. “That’s why we have been just as relentless in taking them on.”
These extremists are exploiting porous borders, broad swaths of ungoverned territory, readily available weapons and “a swelling generation of disaffected young people whose futures are stifled by stagnant economies,” he said.
The solution is not to spend billions on defense, but to reach out and engage these nations and peoples, Biden said. “It will take a comprehensive approach – employing the full range of the tools at our disposal – including our militaries,” he said. “That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”
Biden noted there has been progress over the past four years in many areas, but much remains to be done. The issues confronting the United States and Europe are solvable, he said, but the nations must work together closely to address those issues.
Over the next four years, he said, the United States wants to advance a comprehensive nuclear agenda to strengthen nonproliferation; combat climate change; enhance initiatives to promote global health and food security and end extreme poverty; and strengthen alliances.
“As I hope we’ll all agree, although our mutual agenda has shifted over the past four years, one important thing remains unchanged: We need to work together; we need to stick together,” Biden said. “We need you as much as you need us. Neither the United States nor any other country can alone address the challenges we face.”