WASHINGTON, May 25, 2011 — The United States and the United Kingdom are drawn together not just by language and shared sacrifice, but also by shared values that are an example to the world, President Barack Obama said in London today.
In a speech to both houses of the British Parliament, the president said the United States and United Kingdom have faced and overcome great obstacles in the past and together will overcome the challenges of the future.
“In a world where the prosperity of all nations is now inextricably linked, a new era of cooperation is required to ensure the growth and stability of the global economy,” he said. “As new threats spread across borders and oceans, we must dismantle terrorist networks and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, confront climate change and combat famine and disease.
“And as a revolution races through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa,” the president continued, “the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a generation that longs to determine its own destiny.”
Noting that the international order has become more complicated with the rapid rise of China, India and Brazil, the president said he welcomes these developments, but that American and European influence is still key.
Many argue that India, China and Brazil represent the future and that the time for U.S. and British leadership has passed, Obama said.
“That argument is wrong,” he added. “The time for our leadership is now. It was the United States and the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive. And even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just.”
The United States and United Kingdom are the nations most willing to stand up for the values of tolerance and self-determination that lead to peace and dignity, Obama said, while acknowledging that American and British leadership must change with the times.
“In this century, our joint leadership will require building new partnerships, adapting to new circumstances, and remaking ourselves to meet the demands of a new era,” he said. For more than 70 years, the U.S.-U.K. alliance was at the heart of NATO, but today’s challenges are different, the president said.
“Terrorists have taken the lives of our citizens in New York and in London,” he said. “And while al-Qaida seeks a religious war with the West, we must remember that they have killed thousands of Muslims – men, women and children – around the globe.”
The United States and United Kingdom are not at war with Islam, Obama said. The fight, he added, is focused on defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies. “In that effort, we will not relent, as Osama bin Laden and his followers have learned,” the president said. “And as we fight an enemy that respects no law of war, we will continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard — by living up to the values, the rule of law and due process that we so ardently defend.”
Afghanistan is the central front of the fight against terror, and the latest battleground where American and British service members have bled together, Obama said. “Together, let us pay tribute to all of our men and women who have served and sacrificed over the last several years — for they are part of an unbroken line of heroes who have borne the heaviest burden for the freedoms that we enjoy,” the president said. “Because of them, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum. Because of them, we have built the capacity of Afghan security forces. And because of them, we are now preparing to turn a corner in Afghanistan by transitioning to Afghan lead.”
Leadership from the United States and the United Kingdom is crucial to many security issues, Obama said, and leaders in both countries are working to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
“From North Korea to Iran, we’ve sent a message that those who flaunt their obligations will face consequences,” Obama said.
The nations share interests in resolving conflicts that prolong human suffering and threaten to tear whole regions asunder, Obama noted.
“In Sudan, after years of war and thousands of deaths, we call on both North and South to pull back from the brink of violence and choose the path of peace,” he said. “And in the Middle East, we stand united in our support for a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine.”
American citizens and British subjects also share an interest in development that advances dignity and security, the president said. “To succeed, we must cast aside the impulse to look at impoverished parts of the globe as a place for charity,” he added. “Instead, we should empower the same forces that have allowed our own people to thrive. We should help the hungry to feed themselves, the doctors who care for the sick. We should support countries that confront corruption, and allow their people to innovate. And we should advance the truth that nations prosper when they allow women and girls to reach their full potential.
“We do these things because we believe not simply in the rights of nations,” he continued. “We believe in the rights of citizens. That is the beacon that guided us through our fight against fascism and our twilight struggle against communism.”
Today, that idea is being put to the test in the Middle East and North Africa, Obama said, as people in country after country are mobilizing to free themselves from the grip of an iron fist.
“History tells us that democracy is not easy,” he said. “It will be years before these revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be difficult days along the way.”
But from Tehran to Tunis and Cairo’s Tahrir Square, all are “longing for the same freedoms that we take for granted here at home,” the president said.
“It was a rejection of the notion that people in certain parts of the world don’t want to be free, or need to have democracy imposed upon them,” he said. “It was a rebuke to the world view of al-Qaida, which smothers the rights of individuals, and would thereby subject them to perpetual poverty and violence.
“Let there be no doubt,” he added. “The United States and United Kingdom stand squarely on the side of those who long to be free.”
To take that principle beyond words, Obama said, the United States and United Kingdom must invest in the future of those nations that transition to democracy, by deepening ties of trade and commerce and by helping them demonstrate that freedom brings prosperity.
“That means standing up for universal rights – by sanctioning those who pursue repression, strengthening civil society, supporting the rights of minorities,” he said. This, he noted, guides U.S. and U.K. actions in Libya.
“It would have been easy at the outset of the crackdown in Libya to say that none of this was our business – that a nation’s sovereignty is more important than the slaughter of civilians within its borders,” Obama said. “That argument carries weight with some.
“But we are different,” he continued. “We embrace a broader responsibility. And while we cannot stop every injustice, there are circumstances that cut through our caution — when a leader is threatening to massacre his people, and the international community is calling for action. That’s why we stopped a massacre in Libya. And we will not relent until the people of Libya are protected and the shadow of tyranny is lifted.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)