The United States and our international allies, which for so long has been the centerpiece of what is rightly called “The Free World,” are facing the greatest threat to global stability since the end of World War II. Security arrangements, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which for more than seven decades have kept us safe from yet another global conflict, are quickly coming unraveled. These are the deep concerns I am bringing to the Munich Security Conference.
Here in America, I see the erosion of our alliances caused by growing tensions across the world and fed by angry voices at home. These forces threaten the future of an international security framework that has long ensured the United States and its partner nations of a stable world and the free flow of ideas and trade. Hearing those voices, many here are second-guessing the alliances and relationships that have served us so well in the post-war era.
Too many of my countrymen prefer that we stay at home instead of support our longstanding allies. And in many of those allied nations, similar doubts are taking root.
Through seven stressful decades since the end of World War II, these values and the moral standards they embrace have been the foundation of an international security framework, including NATO, which has helped us avoid global war and provided its partners widespread economic opportunity with free trade. The world has been down this road before, and it didn’t end well. Twice before, on the eve of World War I and again in the dark days before World War II, we witnessed regional instability that quickly led to global conflict — leaving tens of millions dead and large swaths of the world in ruin.
Now history threatens to repeat itself and we can see some of the same erosive forces at work: a weakening NATO and growing conflict in regions such as Georgia, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Perennial tensions and bloody conflict in the Middle East are joined by gathering storm clouds in North Korea and the South China Sea — and overhanging it all, international terrorism. Calls for disengagement, isolation and shuttered trade add to the sense that our world is coming undone.
Each of our allied nations is safer when freedom, democracy and the rule of law are embraced around the world. In places like Ukraine, there is a deep yearning for these values and we must encourage that desire, not dismiss it.
The notion that it somehow makes Americans safer at home to sacrifice support for a free Ukraine in exchange for a better relationship with Russia — which continues to deny its unacceptable interference in our presidential election — is wrong and naïve. It’s inconsistent with our shared ideals and leads other allies to doubt American resolve. Putin only respects strength, which is one reason why I support tougher sanctions against Russia and Putin’s inner circle.