FEBRUARY 18, 2023
Hotel Bayerischer Hof
12:44 P.M. CEST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, Christoph. Thank you, Christoph. Thank you.
Well, it is my honor to be back at the Munich Security Conference.
As many of us remember, last year, on this stage, I warned of the imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And let us all recall: Many at the time wondered how we would all respond. Many wondered: Could Russia be stopped? Would NATO come together? Would NATO break apart? And would Ukraine be prepared?
Colleagues, today, a year later, we know.
Kyiv is still standing. (Applause.) Russia — Russia is weakened.
The transatlantic Alliance is stronger than ever. (Applause.) And most importantly, the spirit of the Ukrainian people endures.
And under Joe Biden, President of the United States, our country has demonstrated decisive leadership.
As President Biden often says: The United States will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will not waver.
And today, at this Munich Security Conference, I will describe what we all continue to have at stake: the moral interest, the strategic interest, and the reason Ukraine matters for the people of America, for the people of Europe, and for people around the world.
First, from the starting days of this unprovoked war, we have witnessed Russian forces engage in horrendous atrocities and war crimes. Their actions are an assault on our common values, an attack on our common humanity.
And let us be clear: Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population — gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape, and deportation. Execution-style killings, beatings, and electrocution.
Russian authorities have forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of people from Ukraine to Russia, including children. They have cruelly separated children from their families.
And we’ve all seen the images of the theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of people were killed.
Think of the image of the pregnant mother who was killed following a strike at a maternity hospital, where she was preparing to give birth.
Think of the images of Bucha. Civilians shot in cold blood. Their bodies left in the street. The jarring photograph of the man who was riding his bike.
Think of the four-year-old girl who the United Nations recently reported was sexually assaulted by a Russian soldier. A four-year-old child.
Barbaric and inhumane.
Long before I was Vice President of the United States, I spent the majority of my career as a prosecutor, beginning as a young lawyer in the courtroom and later running the California Department of Justice. I know firsthand the importance of gathering facts and holding them up against the law.
In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence. We know the legal standards. And there is no doubt these are crimes against humanity. (Applause.)
The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity.
And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes: You will be held to account.
In the face of these indisputable facts, to all of us here in Munich: Let us renew our commitment to accountability. Let us renew our commitment to the rule of law.
As for the United States, we will continue to support the judicial process in Ukraine and international investigations, because justice must be served.
Let us all agree, on behalf of all the victims, both known and unknown, justice must be served. Such is our moral interest.
We also have a significant strategic interest. The fight in Ukraine has far-reaching global ramifications.
No nation is safe in a world where one country can violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another — (applause) — where crimes against humanity are committed with impunity; where a country with imperialist ambitions can go unchecked.
Our response to the Russian invasion is a demonstration of our collective commitment to uphold international rules and norms. Rules and norms which, since the end of World War Two, have provided unprecedented security and prosperity not only for the American people, not only for the people of Europe, but people around the world.
Principles that state that sovereign nations have a right to peacefully exist, that borders must not be changed by force, that there are inalienable human rights which governments must respect, and that the rule of law must be preserved.
Indeed, this moment has tested our willingness to defend and uphold these rules and norms. And we have remained strong, and we must stay strong. Because if Putin were to succeed with his attack on these fundamental principles, other nations could feel emboldened to follow his violent example. Other authoritarian powers could seek to bend the world to their will through coercion, disinformation, and even brute force. The international order upon which we all rely could be at risk.
So, in the interest of global security and prosperity, one of our defining missions is to uphold international rules-based order. And nations around the world agree.
Consider, more than 140 countries voted at the United Nations to condemn Russia’s aggression and to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in defense of the core principles of the U.N. Charter.
Of course, we have also seen nations like North Korea and Iran send weapons in support of Russia’s brutal war.
We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began.
Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing, and further undermine a rules-based order.
Again, the United States will continue to strongly support Ukraine. And we will do so for as long as it takes.
The American people, you see, are in awe of the resolve of the people of Ukraine, in awe of their resilience and righteousness, their willingness to fight for freedom and liberty, and the extraordinary tenacity and leadership of President Zelenskyy.
In fact, joining me in Munich are distinguished members of the United States Congress. Republicans and Democrats. Members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. And they are here together because they understand the stakes.
The leadership of these members has been vital to America’s support of Ukraine. And President Biden and I know that their support for Ukraine will continue.
We also know Ukraine will continue to be supported by a united transatlantic community. (Applause.)
So, Putin thought he could divide NATO. Remember where we were a year ago. In this, he has failed.
The NATO Alliance is stronger now than ever before, and the United States commitment to NATO and to its Article 5 is ironclad.
Just look at our track record over the past year. Just look at our multilateral cooperation. Together, we have provided historic assistance to Ukraine. Together, we have dealt Russia a strategic failure. Together, we have imposed unprecedented cost on Russia. And together, we have pursued energy security and reinvested in our collective defense.
And we have come together to stand for our common values and our common interests and our common humanity. I have no doubt that this unity will endure.
I also have no illusions about the path forward. There will be more dark days in Ukraine. The daily agony of war will persist.
The global ripple effects will continue to be felt by countries near and far — from Africa, to Southeast Asia, to the Caribbean.
But if Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken. Time is not on his side.
To be sure, Ukrainians will continue to be tried and tested, just as they have been over this past year. Transatlantic unity will continue to be tried and tested. And I am certain that Ukraine will rise to the task, that the United States and Europe will rise to the task.
So, my last point: America will continue our leadership in defense of human dignity, in defense of rules and norms, and in defense of freedom and liberty. There is too much at stake to do anything less.
Americans know well the meaning of independence. We believe in the fundamental importance of sovereignty and rule of law. And we will always stand on the side of justice.
Colleagues, I do believe we all know when future generations look back at this moment, they will see that we understood the task before us and rose to the occasion.
And so, to you I say: The United States of America is proud to be your partner in this noble pursuit.
Thank you. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: Madam Vice President, thank you for this very, very strong speech, this commitment to transatlantic unity, this commitment to the support of Ukraine. And we have many, many representatives from Ukraine here in the room, and they certainly were reassured by what you have said.
Let me ask you: You confirmed this U.S. support, but we all know next year the United States will enter into an election campaign. We are in a democracy. We know which side of the aisle the result will be. How sure are you that — or certain are you that what you have said that Putin, who wants to wait us out, that in the end he will not succeed?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Christoph. As I said, I believe and I believe the American people understand the stakes. And the stakes being our moral interest and our strategic interest.
I will tell you, I travel around the United States, and I have seen the Ukrainian flag fly in places most of you have probably never heard of in the United States: in store fronts — (applause) — in front of homes, people proudly wearing — Americans proudly wearing the colors of Ukraine. The American people are aware of the images of Bucha.
The American people take great pride in a fight for independence — that being part of the foundation of our nation and in our principles and values.
I think about where the United States is going on this issue based on the track record of where we’ve been. You only have to look at where we were a year ago and where we are today, in terms of the contributions and resources that America has put into everything from ammunition to artillery to air defense, from Stingers to Abram tanks, HIMARS, Javelins.
I look at it in the context of the United States Congress, which is here in force. I’m told it is the largest delegation, bipartisan and bicameral, of the United States Congress to this meeting — to this Munich Security Conference. (Applause.)
And how forward the United States Congress, in a bipartisan way, has been in terms of the track record of our support just over the last year, not to mention in a — it’s a technical term called an “omnibus” in our budgetary processes — but at the end of last year, dedicating another $45 billion for this upcoming year to support Ukraine.
Our priority is to ensure Ukraine’s strength on the battlefield, and that is our commitment. And it is a commitment not only to the people of Ukraine, but it is a commitment to our values and the principles we hold dear as a nation. And I cannot be here without also mentioning the importance of the Alliance: Europe and what it has done; our host, Germany.
I was with Chancellor Scholz yesterday. What we collectively have done — we are not only joined, I think, by our values and our understanding of the stakes and what is at stake in terms of a moral and a strategic interest, we have been great colleagues in terms of pooling our resources, coordinating our resources in a way that I believe will give Ukraine the best support they need to fight this fight.
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for this.
And for the outsiders, it is indeed the impression that this relationship — this transatlantic relationship; the relationship also between European, the German government, and the U.S. administration — is as strong as ever. And thank you very much for — for this.
If I may, nevertheless, there is something called IRA. And —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, the Inflation Reduction Act.
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: And it has raised a lot of concern on this side of the Atlantic. But we have been reminded also by members of Congress about CBAM on our side.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: How do we prevent transatlantic rifts on very important questions? Business, trade issues are very important. How confident are you that these differences can be overcome and don’t disturb this wonderful, but absolutely necessary, close transatlantic relationship?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m very happy that you chose to raise this topic. So let me start with the spirit and the intent behind the Inflation Reduction Act.
One very important area of focus for us has been to address and take our responsibility for what we must do in terms of the climate crisis, which, of course, is global in nature. And so — and, in fact, our friends in Europe have been asking for years that we would actually step up and do more.
So under President Biden’s leadership, we are proud that — that the United States has invested an historic amount in what we must do to take on our role of responsibility in the climate crisis. And by that, I mean we have, with the support of Congress, dedicated $370 billion to this effort.
When I think of the impact on our friends, and the interconnection and interdependence, if you will, between whatever we do in each of our — in any of our nations and the effect on the others, we think of this investment as having a global impact in predominantly two ways.
One, the United States — I’d say this, sadly — is one of the biggest emitters in the world. And we need to reduce our emissions not only for the sake of the health and wellbeing of the people of our own country, but, as we know, the people of the world are impacted. So this is a historic and very significant investment to actually turn the tide on that.
And as you know, as many of our European friends and others around the globe have done, we have set strict standards for ourselves based on timelines. So there is that, which is the goal of reducing emissions.
The other piece of it is: We are very excited about thinking about the investment that we are making to spur innovation. We are entering a moment where we are creating a new economy, a clean energy economy. And if you think of us as being an investor, if you will, in creating incentives for the private sector for scientists and academics to research, develop, and innovate around a clean energy economy, this investment that we are making will do that and have global impact. So that is how we think of it.
But to your point, there are also issues that we need to address and do that in close consultation with our friends around the world. We have created a task force — the United States-EU Task Force — closely coordinating and in consultation around working out some of the specific concerns. And those conversations are continuing.
I met with President Macron yesterday and Chancellor Scholz. And I think we are seeing some progress there, and the work will continue.
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: Well, thank you for this reaffirmation, because we don’t need these quarrels at that time.
If time allows, one last question, if I may.
This Munich Security Conference is, of course, dedicated to Ukraine, to the support of Ukraine, to confirm the transatlantic Alliance, but we have widened the participation this year. We have invited a record number of representatives from the so-called “Global South,” because while we have this unity between us, when you talk to representatives of the Global South — and we had them on the podium this morning — you see that many countries sit on the fence. They see this as kind of a continuation of the conflict between U.S. and Russia or NATO and EU and — or European countries and Russia, and they feel the consequences. And they want to get it over with. They have an equidistant position there. And why we had — and you pointed to the 141 votes.
But when you talk to important partners in the Global South, they are — they abstain. They, you know, say, “Get it over with. We don’t want to take — take one side.” And the point we’re making, of course, is this is not East-West; this is about the rules-based inter- — the rule of law that you mentioned. But we have to do some convincing, because our track record is also not the best.
So what can we do together to win over those countries that continue to sit on the fence?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we have to treat them as partners.
And you and I talked about this briefly as we were walking in, and I thanked you — and I will thank you in front of the friends — for bringing this issue to the stage and making it a part of the agenda for this conference. I agree it is an important subject.
And I have met with many African leaders, leaders in the Caribbean, CARICOM, and in Southeast Asia. And what I believe is that they are right to want to make sure their voices are heard on every level on this topic, including the impact to their nations.
You look at, for example, African nations and what Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has meant in terms of food insecurity, energy insecurity. And these are nations, as we know, that are great importers of food and energy. So when the supply decreases, it has a significant impact on their nations. So I think it is important for us to recognize the impact that Russia’s war has had on these nations.
I think of it in the context of what we must do to also — on the previous discussion — consider the impact to the climate crisis — of the climate crisis on those nations. We are some of the biggest emitters, and the impacts are clear.
I meet with CARICOM nations — so, island nations in the Caribbean — and they tell me about how they’re seeing land erosion; how they are seeing, through the extreme climate occurrences, a reduction in tourism and what that means in terms of a depletion of their GN- — GDP.
And so these are issues that we must keep in mind when we — when we have this discussion with them as partners around what the solutions look like, including standing in a unified way on these principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
My friend, the President of Ghana, I believe spoke yesterday, and I think he captured it well when — I’m going to paraphrase — but my understanding is he said that we need to dispense with this paradigm that is about “us versus them” and think differently about the relationship that we have.
And for all of those reasons, I thank you for raising this, and I think it is worthy of the type of elevation and the discussion that you are giving it.
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: Thank you. Thank you very much for this. And this will remain a theme here. We’ll discuss this also next year. And maybe, Madam Vice President, can we already booked a hotel room so you come back next year?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
AMBASSADOR HEUSGEN: Thank you for being here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)
END 1:16 P.M. CEST