By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 7, 2009 - In his address to the 45th Munich Security Conference today, Vice President Joseph R. Biden said allied cooperation and teamwork is vital to meet mutual economic and security challenges. "America will do more, but America will ask for more from our partners," he told the international government officials and foreign and defense policy experts gathered at the annual conference to discuss trans-Atlantic security issues. "The threats we face have no respect for boarders [and] no single country, no matter how powerful, can best meet them alone," Biden said.
The United States will engage, listen and consult, he said. But it needs the alliances, treaties and international organizations it builds with other countries to be credible and effective. "That requires a common commitment not only to live by the rules, but to enforce them," he said.
Biden said this approach could be at the heart of collective efforts to convince Iran to abandon its development of nuclear weapons.
"Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its people. Its illicit nuclear program is but one manifestation," he said.
"We are willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation," he said. "Abandon your illicit nuclear program and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives."
The United States also will strive to act preventively, not preemptively in order to avoid having to make a last-resort choice between war and the dangers of inaction, he said. While America will draw on all its elements of power to ensure that last-resort choices are not needed, it will begin with diplomacy, specifically in the Middle East.
The president named two of America's most tenacious diplomats to contend with two of the world's most urgent and vexing challenges, Biden said. The first of which is the need for a secure, just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The second is the imperative of stopping the mountains between Afghanistan Pakistan from providing a haven for terrorists.
"In both these efforts, America seeks your partnership," he said. "In the near term, we must consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza by working with Egypt and others to stop smuggling and [develop] international relief and reconstruction that strengthens the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas.
"Neither of these goals can be accomplished without close collaboration among the United States, and Arab partners," he added. "Then, we must lay the foundation for broader peacemaking efforts. It is past time for a secure and just two-state solution."
As for the issue of a terrorist safe haven on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Biden said the United States seeks ideas and input from its partners. He warned, however, that the result must be a comprehensive strategy that brings together civilian and military resources to prevent such a safe haven and to help Afghans develop the capacity to secure their own future.
Biden also emphasized that no strategy for Afghanistan can succeed without Pakistan. "We must all strengthen our cooperation with the people and government of Pakistan, help them stabilize the areas and promote economic development and opportunity throughout the country," he said.
This will occur as the United States responsibly draws down forces in Iraq, he said. America also will "extend a hand to those who unclench their fists," he said.
"Poor societies and dysfunctional states can become breeding grounds for extremism, conflict and disease," Biden said. "Non-democratic nations frustrate the rightful aspirations of their citizens and fuel resentment.
"To meet the challenges of this new century, defense and diplomacy are necessary, but not sufficient," he added. "We also need to wield development and democracy, two of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal."
The two, common prosperity and physical security, are inextricably linked, he said.
"This year, more than ever before, we know that our physical security and our economic security are indivisible," he said. "Our obligation to our fellow citizens is to put aside the petty and the political to reject zero sum mentalities and rigid ideologies, to listen and to learn from one another and to work together for our common prosperity and security."
In calling attention to NATO's upcoming 60th anniversary, the vice president touched on the alliance's relations with Russia, saying the last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between the country and alliance members.
"It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together," Biden said. "Our Russian colleagues long ago warned about the rising threat from the Taliban and in Afghanistan. Today, NATO and Russia can and should cooperate to defeat this common enemy."
He went on to say the United States and Russia have a special obligation to lead the international effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. Going beyond existing treaties to negotiate deeper cuts into both countries' arsenals is just one suggestion.
"We will not agree with Russia on everything," he said. "But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide."
Biden noted the conference's beginnings in the shadow of the Cold War and many changes that have taken place since.
"As a great poet once wrote, our world has changed utterly. We must change too, while remaining true to the principles upon which our alliance was founded," he said. "We must have the courage and commitment of those who came before us to work together to build together and to stand together.
"Our partnership benefits us all," he added. "Now is the time to renew it."