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Town Hall
En Espanol

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Vice President Al Gore
International Press Institute
Boston, MA

Sunday, April 30, 2000

I'm honored to be here in the Old South Meeting House—where the seeds of American liberty were first planted. And I'm delighted to have this chance to meet with the International Press Institute. The people in this room raise the banner of freedom around the world.

I know that you take your responsibility very seriously—to stand for freedom of expression, and the free flow of ideas, even in places where those freedoms are far from self-evident.

In this fundamental sense, you demonstrate, each and every day, a principle that I believe is essential to American foreign policy in this new global age.

America's power comes not just only from our weapons and munitions—but also from the American ideal itself.

For as long as the Old South Meeting House has stood, America has stood as proof of the principle that self-governance unlocks the highest fraction of human potential—that liberty and democracy allow our people to share in an ever-widening circle of freedom, human dignity, and self-sufficiency.

This is a time of great opportunity for our country. Our economy is the envy of the world. Living standards are rising—and the gap between the rich and the poor is closing for the first time in 20 years. America is a powerful engine for the global economy, because we have met our responsibility to balance our budget, to begin paying down our debt, and to embrace our role in supporting free markets and economic growth among all nations.

Just as we have an extraordinary prosperity, we also stand at an extraordinary time in our history. We are the only superpower. We are the strongest force for peace and prosperity that the world has ever known.

Twenty-five years ago today, the last helicopters lifted off from the roof of our embassy in Saigon. Although that brought an end to the war in Vietnam—a conflict I witnessed with my own eyes—it did not bring an end to its influence on our thinking about foreign policy.

Even now, a decade after the end of the Cold War, we hear echoes of the old arguments. Some seem to believe that with the fall of the old Soviet empire, we have nothing more to fear in the world and should dramatically cut our defense budget. Others keep insisting that we continue to prepare to face down a Cold War threat that no longer exists, and persistently ignore the world as it is. I believe that both groups are locked in a self-destructive argument over a false choice.

For all of my career, I have believed that America has a responsibility to lead in the world. That's why I was one of only a few Democrats in the United States Senate to vote in support of the use of force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And even as I was working hard in the Congress to help develop new approaches to arms control, I often disagreed with the predominant view in my own party as I pushed for a strong national defense and a new generation of less destabilizing missiles.

We are now in a new era. To label this time "the post-Cold War era" belies its uniqueness and its significance. We are now in a Global Age. Like it or not, we live in an age when our destinies and the destinies of billions of people around the globe are increasingly intertwined. When our grand domestic and international challenges are also intertwined. We should neither bemoan nor naively idealize this new reality. We should deal with it.

We must now view what could be called the classic security agenda—the question of war and peace among sovereign states—in light of these new realities. But we must also recognize that there is a New Security Agenda, which I discussed at the United Nations Security Council in January—a set of threats that affect us all and that transcend political borders; a set of challenges equal in magnitude to the challenges of the past.

Today, at the dawn of the 21st Century, we need a foreign policy that addresses the classic security threats—and understands the new ones as well. We need a new approach for a new century—grounded in our own economic and security interests, but uplifted by what is right in the world. We need to pursue a policy of "forward engagement"—addressing problems early in their development before they become crises; addressing them as close to the source of the problem as possible; and having the forces and resources to deal with those threats as soon after their emergence as possible.

We need a new security agenda for the Global Age based on forward engagement.

In that context, I want to make three essential points to you today. First, although the nature of the challenges we face are new, the bedrock of our foreign policy is not. America must always maintain a strong defense, and unrivalled national security—to protect our own interests, and to advance the ideals that are leading the world toward freedom.

Second, from our position of unrivaled affluence and influence, we have a responsibility to lead the world in meeting the new security challenges. We must make forward-looking investments at home and abroad to conquer the new threats that are jointly menacing to us all—and to rise to the possibilities of the moment to reshape the world.

Third, we must resist those who would meet new global challenges with a newfound fear of the world itself. Isolationism and protectionism were dangerously wrong in the Industrial Age—and they are still wrong and even more dangerous in this new Global Age.

Let me consider each of these points in turn.

First, America must have a strong defense. We must never forget that our national defense is about much more than the land within our borders. Just as we fought and conquered totalitarianism during World War Two—just as we fought and conquered communism during the Cold War—we are defending the idea of freedom itself. All of our policies, in war and in peace, are extensions by other means of Lincoln's proposition that our founders' dream is humankind's last best hope.

That is why America must have a military capability that is second to none. It is central to the continuing demands of the classic agenda—to resist aggression, and to stop armed conflict. It is crucial to our security in this era of rogue states and international terror. And it is absolutely essential if we hope to wage peace through diplomacy. In our dealings with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, we have learned the importance of diplomacy backed with force. I look forward to the day when Serbia and Iraq will be free from the grip of Milosevic and Saddam and the terrors they have wrought on their own people.

We prevailed in those conflicts with minimal American casualties because we have maintained a superbly well-trained fighting force—and because the American people have supported investments in weapons that give us a technological edge.

Today, we need to ensure that our military personnel have adequate pay and benefits and continue to receive the training and leadership which makes them the finest in the world. And we are on the threshold of manufacturing and deploying the next generation of military weapons: weapons that are vitally needed to replace equipment that has been in service for far too long. Weapons that are critical to meeting changing needs on today's battlefields.

If I am entrusted with the Presidency, I will lead the effort to ensure that America has the new generation of weapons we need.

But we need not only a new generation of weapons. We need a new generation of thinking.

That means strengthening and renewing our key alliances. We must remain open to further enlargement of NATO, we must bolster our trans-Atlantic ties, and we must build a strong, stable relationship with the European Union. We must encourage Japan—one of our most important economic partners, to join us in meeting the global responsibility to assure growth, greater trade, and higher living standards. We must invigorate our ties with all the Americas—to combat the flow of drugs, to increase the flow of trade and the pace of economic development and continued political reform and modernization.

In the Global Age, we must be prepared to engage in regional conflicts selectively—where the stability of a region important to our national security is at stake; where we can assure ourselves that nothing short of military engagement can secure our national interest; where we are certain that the use of military force can succeed in doing so; where we have allies willing to help share the burden, and where the cost is proportionate. America can not be the world's policeman. But we must reject the new isolationism that says: don't help anywhere, because we can not help everywhere.

That means supporting the difficult work of democratic reform and economic growth, to help Haiti and other states in the Caribbean build a more hopeful future.

It means pressing for a lasting peace in Ireland—not merely the laying down of arms, but the joining of hands in a new political relationship that enables former rivals to govern and thrive together.

In the Balkans, we have to keep working with our European allies, to protect a fragile peace and secure the economic future of the entire region.

On the Korean peninsula, we must continue to work with our South Korean allies to maintain the peace. And that means not only exercising creative diplomacy toward the North, but standing ready to honor our commitments to the defense of South Korea.

In South Asia, we have to work with India and Pakistan to dampen down a nuclear arms race on the sub-continent and to continue to urge them to deal with their differences over their conflict in Kashmir with peaceful means.

In the Middle East, I am deeply committed to doing all I can to facilitate their efforts to forge a fair and acceptable peace with security. And this I have believed for all my years in public life: Israel is America's strongest ally in a region of strife and conflict. If I'm entrusted with the Presidency, I will ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong and unshakeable.

We need to intensify cooperation with civilized governments all over the world to combat the common threat of terrorism.

But perhaps the biggest change in our approach to the classic agenda is how we engage two countries that once were only known to us as enemies: Russia and China.

During the Cold War, we worked to contain these two powers and limit their reach. Our task in the 21st Century is not making them weak—but instead to encourage forces of reform.

That is why we have worked hard these past seven years to help Russia make a transition to a market-based democracy. We have helped Russia privatize its economy and build a civil society marked by free elections and an active press. We have brought Russia into a working relationship with NATO through the Permanent Joint Council and the Partnership for Peace program. We have been able to work with Russian forces successfully inside a NATO framework in the Balkans.

We have helped safeguard Russian nuclear material against the danger of theft. We have made it possible for thousands of Russia's nuclear scientists and weapons experts to find peaceful pursuits. And we have helped Russia to reduce its nuclear arsenal by nearly 5,000 warheads.

This work has not been without difficulty, or controversy. We strongly disagree with Russia's course in Chechnya. Russia must intensify its own work to stop the flow of dangerous technologies that irresponsible groups and rogue states can use to create weapons of mass destruction. Russia must still take decisive steps to combat corruption and achieve reform. But a new Cold War is not the right path to progress. Engaging Russia is the right thing to do. That's why I took on the task of leading our effort to work with Russia—not because it was politically popular, but because it was right for America's security, and right for the spread of democracy around the world.

For these same reasons, we must also follow a policy toward China that is focussed on results, not rhetoric.

Make no mistake: we have strong disagreements with China over human rights and religious freedom, and over Chinese treatment of Tibet. These issues cannot—and must not—be ignored or marginalized. They must constantly be pursued. Human rights and human dignity speak to the deepest bonds we share, across all borders and nationalities. America has to prod China to make progress in all these areas—and as President, that's exactly what I'll do.

We also have concerns over tensions building between China and Taiwan. We need to maintain our commitment to the One China policy, but urge China and Taiwan to intensify their dialogue and to resolve their problems by peaceful means. The Administration is honoring its obligation to make defensive weapons available to Taiwan. But I am deeply concerned that those in the Congress who are pushing the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act are blind to its consequences: a sharp deterioration in the security of the region.

It is wrong to isolate and demonize China—to build a wall when we need to build a bridge.

As all of you know, I have friends and supporters who disagree with me on the best way to bring change and reform to China. I understand their views. They are justifiably impatient with the pace of change in China. I am, too. But the question is not whether we should be dealing with China. The question is whether we can afford not to.

Can we really abandon the kind of frank and open exchange that allows us to raise our differences in the first place? Can we really isolate a nation with 1.2 billion people and a nuclear arsenal? Can we really turn our backs on one of the most dynamic economies on the planet?

I strongly support Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China—and I will continue to press the Congress to support it this year. I support China's membership in the World Trade Organization—to make China abide by the same rules of international trade that we follow today.

We have to engage China—even as we challenge China on key areas of difference. It is in America's clear national security interest to do so. It is in America's vital economic interest to do so. And in the long run, I believe it is the only way to bring freedom and reform to the people of China.

There is another reason for principled engagement with Russia and China, and a renewed commitment to our alliances. And that brings me to my second major point today.

While the old threats persist, there are new things under the sun—new forces arising that now or soon will challenge our international order, raising issues of peace and war: a New Security Agenda.

Because of the historically unprecedented power of the technologies now widely available around the world, mistakes that were once tolerable can now have consequences beyond our calculation. Threats that were once local can have an impact that is regional and global. Damage that might once have been temporary and limited can now be permanent and catastrophic.

A rogue state or terrorist group with biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons—or the technical skill to disrupt our computer networks—can bring destruction far out of proportion to its size.

The international drug trade and corruption spill across borders—subverting democracy and the rule of law in country after country.

New pandemics and new mutations of disease can devastate entire societies—with impacts threatening to destabilize entire regions.

The disruption of the world's ecological systems—from the rise of global warming and the consequent damage to our climate balance, to the loss of living species and the depletion of ocean fisheries and forest habitats—continues at a frightening rate. Practically every day, it becomes clearer to us that must act now to protect our Earth, while preserving and creating jobs for our people.

And at the very same time that these threats are developing, the traditional nation-state itself is changing—as power moves upwards and downwards, to everything from supra-national organizations and coalitions all the way down to feuding clans. Susceptible to tyrants willing to exploit ethnic and religious rivalries, the weakest of these states have either imploded into civil war or threatened to lash out across their borders.

To meet these challenges requires cooperation on a scale not seen before. A realistic reading of the world today demands reinvigorated international and regional institutions. It demands that we confront threats before they spiral out of the control. And it requires American leadership—to protect our interests and uphold our values.

But the Global Age is not just a time of security threats, it's a time of unprecedented opportunities.

From Asia to the Americas, from sub-Saharan Africa to our own country, there are still far too many who have not benefited from the explosion of worldwide wealth. More than one billion of the Earth's inhabitants live on less than one dollar a day. And this deep and persistent poverty has a security dimension as well as a moral one—for it invites social dislocation, violence, and war.

I believe that now we have a profound responsibility to open the gates of opportunity for all the world's people so that they can become stakeholders in the kind of society we would like to build at large in the world and at home. Let me be clear: promoting prosperity throughout the world is a crucial form of forward engagement.

We know how to launch this renaissance—for what has worked to spark the economic boom here in the United States is, at its essence, the way we can spark the fires of growth abroad. The difference is one of degree, not kind.

It starts with the rule of law, and with fiscal discipline and sound economic policy—but it does not end there. We must also invest in people, giving them the education they need to seize the jobs of the future—and in the developing world, that especially applies to women and girls; the health security they require to raise a family; the confidence that when they become old, they will not become abandoned.

An African leader, Julius K. Nyerere, said part way through the last century: "the most powerful contraceptive in the world is the confidence of parents that their children will survive." Along with the education and empowerment of women, improvement in child and maternal health, and culturally appropriate access to information and technologies for family planning, this basic confidence that smaller families are more prosperous families has helped the world make progress toward stabilizing population growth. It is crucial that we continue this effort with new resources—and the U.S. must lead in this effort.

We must also promote global access to the Internet. We need to bridge the digital divide not just within our country, but among countries. Only by giving people around the world access to this technology can they tap into the potential of the Information Age.

We need not only open trading systems, but systems that work for people around the world—taking into account not only the bottom line, but the well-being of working men and women, the protection of children against sweatshop labor, and the protection of the environment. We have to ratify the Kyoto Agreement while making sure that all nations—developed and developing—do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, we should take steps to boost the export of environmentally-clean technologies, an area where we have a decisive trade advantage. It is not only good for the environment. It is also good for economic growth.

We need to promote the stable flow of investment around the world—which, in turn, requires healthy financial institutions that can work to prevent financial instability, and that are capable of dealing with it should it occur.

We need to give the poorest countries a hand up—through passage of legislation such as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the Caribbean Basin Initiative. We need more economic engagement and expanded trade with all the Americas. And we must assist the poorest nations through debt relief. I called for this process last year in Davos. We have begun it. We need to pursue and intensify it.

Certainly, we cannot do this alone—we need to inspire the cooperation of others. The rebirth of Africa's economies, for example, is a task well-matched to the capabilities of the European Union and the United States working together. But if we do not point the way, if we are not as ready to invest in peace as in war, then others will not follow.

I believe that we must not waste this moment. A responsible foreign policy must look outward from a stance of forward engagement, to our broadest hopes for the world—not just inward, to our narrowest fears.

A responsible foreign policy must harness all our economic and military might—but it must also make use of our values and principles.

And that is what concerns me about the foreign policy pronouncements of George W. Bush.

From what we can tell of his foreign policy, Governor Bush does not prepare us to meet the grand challenges of both the classic and New Security Agendas.

Just as we are about to deploy the next generation of military weapons, Governor Bush wants to "skip" that generation of weapons. Instead, he talks in vague terms about undefined new technologies. This would leave our armed forces ill-equipped for the battlefields of the next two to three decades. Is that a responsible approach to foreign policy?

Meanwhile, Governor Bush dangerously fixates on the Cold War past when speaking of the use of force. He suggests that he would not intervene to relieve even the brutal repression of ethnic cleansing and genocide. No wonder it took him six weeks to say anything about our action against the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Is that the right message for America to send to people around the globe struggling for freedom?

Stuck in a Cold War mindset, Governor Bush continues to view Russia and China primarily as present or future enemies. While we must remain vigilant against any deterioration in our relationships, the reality of the Global Age is that Russia and China are indeed competitors, but also vital partners in our efforts to tackle problems menacing to us all.

Just this past week, Governor Bush used his brief meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov to issue a warning that his intention would be to build and deploy a global "Star Wars" system that he believes could defend the U.S. and all our allies against any missile launch from any source. In the 1990s, most serious analysts took a look at the implausibility of this endeavor, the fantastical price that our taxpayers would be expected to pay, and the dangerously destabilizing consequences of traveling down that path—and rejected this notion. Governor Bush wishes to return to it, and chose the worst possible venue in which to launch—for lack of a better phrase—his risky foreign policy scheme. I won't even guess at the new math needed to make his risky foreign policy scheme and his risky tax scheme add up.

Instead I favor—and we are negotiating with the Russians—changes in the ABM treaty that would lead to a responsible and practical defense against a nuclear attack from a rogue state.

When it comes to the challenges of the New Security Agenda, Governor Bush's foreign policy is noticeably blank. Although Africa represents a vast untapped market, has major health and environmental concerns that directly impact us, and the reaches of modern terrorism took American lives in two of our embassies on that continent, Governor Bush said that Africa "doesn't fit into the national strategic interests." Is that a responsible assessment of our national interest?

One has to assume that these gaps in Governor Bush's foreign policy views and experience will be filled by the ideologies and inveterate antipathies of his party—the right-wing, partisan isolationism of the Republican Congressional leadership. Since 1994, the Republicans in Congress have recklessly tossed aside decades of bipartisan cooperation on foreign policy.

They have refused to adequately fund our diplomatic and international development efforts—from promoting peace in the Middle East to fighting drugs in South America. They have held our contributions to the United Nations hostage to their own political agenda for years. They have repeatedly tried to sabotage this Administration's programs, even in places like Bosnia and Kosovo where what is needed is steadiness and continuity of purpose. They have made themselves the sworn enemies of a worldwide effort to deal with the global environment.

And in the end, despite their constant assertion of concern for our alliances, they have rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In one blatant partisan move, they have profoundly shaken the confidence of our allies in American steadiness, purpose, and in our capacity to lead. Governor Bush joined with the isolationist, partisan Republican majority in Congress in opposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He chose politics over principle.

Last Thursday, Governor Bush called for a return to "comity:" to an era when men and women of good will could reach across party lines for the sake of the national good. I couldn't agree more. But on the very same day, one of the Republican Party's great institutions, Senator Jesse Helms, out of overt distaste for the President—said that he will block any new arms control pact until a new President is inaugurated in January.

Well, this Administration is working on the entry into force of the START II Treaty, the negotiation of a START III Treaty providing for even deeper reduction in weapons pointed at the United States, and an agreement with Russia to adjust the ABM Treaty to make it possible to defend ourselves against rogue states.

If Governor Bush were to inherit from us an arms control agreement so clearly in the best interests of the American people, is Senator Helms the last word? Is Governor Bush willing to put aside partisanship for the cause of peace?

I believe America can do better—for our own national security, and for the ideals we must model to the world.

And that is the choice in this election when it comes to foreign policy. Will we meet our responsibility? Will we move forward and do what is right for our country, our interests, our ideals, and our leadership in the world? Or will we build new walls, neglect new and urgent challenges, and pursue an irresponsible neo-isolationism?

If we meet our great responsibility, I believe we can not only deter aggression and create an ever more secure and widening world of security—but we can also shape, step by step, a future of liberty and opportunity across the world. Thank you.



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