As prepared for delivery by LTG H.R. McMaster on February 17, 2018.
Thank you Wolfgang. You and your entire team have done a wonderful job organizing this important conference. I also want to thank Chancellor Merkel, the German Government, and the German people for their generous hospitality and gracious welcome. For me, visiting Germany feels like coming home. And I know I speak for the entire American delegation when I say we all wish that Senator John McCain, a great advocate for this conference, could join us.
It is a great honor to be here. The Munich Security Conference convenes an unmatched assembly of distinguished leaders and thinkers. For over five decades, this conference has fostered open dialogue, candid debate, and lively discussion about how we might build a more peaceful and prosperous future together. This year, we meet at a critical time for our nations—and indeed for all humanity.
Critical, because we face a range of common threats. Rogue regimes that already imperil international security in the Middle East and northeast Asia are developing the most destructive weapons on earth. Revisionist powers are challenging the stability of the postwar international order through military force and other pernicious forms of aggression. And, jihadist terrorist organizations continue to use mass murder of innocents as their principal tactic in their evil war against all civilized people.
Although distinct, these three threats often intersect as they do, for example, in Syria.
To address these threats and improve international security, we must renew our faith in the principles that have made our nations strong, increased worldwide prosperity, and prevented Great Power conflict for over 70 years.
The United States, its allies, and its partners are proud nations of patriotic people, who cherish the ideals of liberty, individual rights, free enterprise, equality, and the rule of law. In our free and open societies, artists, intellectuals, and inventors expand our hearts, enliven our imaginations, and push us to new frontiers of science and exploration. We should be proud of what we have achieved around the world to safeguard our principles, defend our security, and unleash human potential.
This month, we are celebrating that the Berlin Wall—and the barbed wire fences that once divided the German people—have now been down longer than they stood. I was here, in Germany, when the wall fell. Our cavalry regiment was patrolling the border near Coburg when East German travel restrictions lifted. That day, we experienced an invasion of an unanticipated kind, as joyous East Germans brought us flowers and wine to celebrate reunions with friends and family—and their newfound freedom. Those moments remain among my fondest memories—when Freedom triumphed over oppression.
Our shared history reminds us of our common principles, our democratic values, and our enduring commitment to peace. Ewald von Kleist founded this conference in 1963, following two horrific world wars, in the hopes of preventing future conflict.
To realize his noble vision, we must all share responsibility. International peace and prosperity depends on all nations.
For this reason, President Trump has called for stronger alliances and partnerships based on shared values, shared interests, shared responsibilities, and shared burdens.
Today, I would like to highlight three priority areas that demand our collective efforts: first, ensuring the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and deterring their use; second, defeating jihadist terrorist organizations; and third, strengthening the international foundations for peace and prosperity.
Over the past four years, we have commemorated various 100-year anniversaries of World War I—a war that witnessed the routine use of chemical weapons, causing immense human suffering. In the wake of that war, nations came together and agreed not to use these horrifying weapons on the battlefield.
In April of 2017, when the Assad regime again used these heinous weapons against innocents, the United States responded. We acted to deter future chemical attacks and to ensure that the use of these weapons never again became routine. Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing. It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The non-proliferation regime is under tremendous pressure—not only from the use of chemical weapons, but also from the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. It needs our unequivocal support.
Last year, nations gathered here initiated an international campaign to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. We must pressure the Kim regime—using all available tools—to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth.
Many of us can be proud of the successes we have had in uniting behind United Nations Security Council resolutions. Today, let us resolve not only to enforce existing sanctions, but also to commit to downgrading diplomatic relations, cutting off all trade, military, and commercial ties, and expelling so-called guest workers.
Nations that evade full enforcement and fail to take these steps are acting irresponsibly. Now is the time to do more—a nuclear North Korea poses a direct threat to all of us and seriously undermines the non proliferation regime.
We know that Syria and North Korea are not the only rogue states developing and spreading dangerous weapons.
Now is also the time to address serious flaws in the Iran deal and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its development and proliferation of missiles—and its support for terrorist proxies and militias that fuel destructive conflicts across the greater Middle East. The Iranian regime foments this violence with support from commercial entities affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC—including Mahan Air, which lands right here in Munich Airport.
As a matter of international security and moral conscience, we must stop doing business with IRGC-affiliated interests, encourage the development of a true commercial sector in Iran, and pressure the regime to respect the rights of its people.
The second area that deserves our continued attention is defeating terrorist organizations that threaten our citizens and our way of life. In recent months, working together, we have made enormous strides in preventing terrorist attacks, denying terrorists control of their territory and populations, cutting off their funding, and discrediting their wicked ideology.
Over the past year, we have come together in partnership to create two new centers in Saudi Arabia dedicated to countering jihadist ideology and inhibiting terrorist financing.
In Syria and Iraq, our Coalition to Defeat ISIS has liberated territory previously held by these terrorists. We will continue our efforts to pursue ISIS fighters, secure populations, stabilize areas, and facilitate the safe return of those who have suffered under the grip of this evil organization.
And in Afghanistan, our heroic Afghan partners are working alongside American, NATO, and international forces to ensure a better future for their children. If we all work together, we have an opportunity to act against Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders, many of whom live in safety and luxury outside Afghanistan while plotting the murder of innocents.
To ensure progress in counterterrorism and non-proliferation, we must ALSO focus on a third area that transcends all efforts: strengthening the international foundations of peace and prosperity.
In this arena, we have much work to do. International institutions created to foster peace and facilitate cooperation are under threat by nations that subvert and corrupt their intended purpose. For example, some of the most egregious human rights abusers sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council. And trade organizations, like the WTO, have been unable to constrain countries that ignore its stated principles and refuse to follow its rules.
We must actively cooperate to protect, reform, and strengthen these institutions so that they honor their original aims—and serve the interests of states that value the rule of law and human dignity.
As President Trump noted in his address to the UN General Assembly, the success of international organizations also depends on the strength of their independent, sovereign members.
Unfortunately, respect for sovereignty is under siege around the world.
Some of the most dangerous forms of aggression fall below the threshold of military action.
We cannot allow repressive and revisionist powers to diminish our confidence in our sacred principles, to undermine our free market system, or to interfere in our democratic processes. As you have seen in recent days, the United States will expose and act against those who use cyberspace, social media, and other means to advance campaigns of disinformation, subversion, and espionage.
We are already improving our ability to defeat these pernicious threats. For example, in April of last year, nine countries, including the United States, established the new European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. This center will help free nations defend against cyber attacks and political subversion—preserving our way of life through common action.
Our nations are safer when we cooperate to advance shared goals. We are only as strong as our faith in our values, our pride in our heritage, and our resolve to do our part for peace.
If we renew our commitment to our noble principles, together, we can face down today’s threats and defeat them. We can uphold the non-proliferation regime. We can defeat jihadist terrorist organizations. We can protect our way of life. And we can fulfill the visionary dream of this conference’s founder: that even in the wake of two devastating world wars, our nations might come together to build a future of hope, light, and promise. Thank you.