Just 48 hours before leaving office, US Vice President Joe Biden made an impassioned plea for America’s role in upholding the post-War order from the stage in Davos.
In his final speech as VP, Biden spoke of the peace-building history of the Transatlantic relationship, Russia’s role in the US election, the future of the European Union and the importance of NATO. Here are some of the key quotes.
On history and the ‘liberal international order’
“For the past seven decades, the choices we have made – particularly the United States and our allies in Europe – have steered our world down a clear path. After World War II, we drew a line under centuries of conflict and took steps to bend the arc of history in a more just direction. Instead of resigning ourselves to ceaseless wars, we built institutions and alliances to advance our shared security. Instead of punishing former enemies, we invested billions in helping them rebuild.”
“Our careful attention to building and sustaining the international world order, with the US and Europe at its core, was the bedrock of the success that the world enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century.”
“In recent years it has become evident that the consensus upholding this system is facing increasing pressures, from within and from without... It’s imperative that we act urgently to defend the liberal international order.”
On globalization, technology and the squeezed American middle class
“Globalization has not been an unalloyed good. I am a free trader and a supporter of globalization, but it has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those struggling to hang on in the middle, or falling to the bottom.”
However, he stressed that “International trade and greater economic integration has lifted millions of people in the developing world out of abject poverty – improving education, extending life expectancies, opening new opportunities.”
In the United States, because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and automation, “We’re making more than ever with fewer and fewer workers.”
“We cannot undo the changes technology has wrought in our world – nor should we try. But we can and we must take action to mitigate the economic trends that are stoking unrest in so many advanced economies and undermining people’s basic sense of dignity. Our goal should be a world where everyone’s standard of living can rise together.”
Biden spoke of the importance of educating people for the jobs of the future, and called for a more “equitable” tax system to help solve the middle class crisis.
“Imagine in most middle class societies, Europe and ours, a person can’t get much of a raise but if you went and told them your kids will get free college education they’d be thankful. We could afford to do that in a heartbeat... The cost of federal government is $17 billion a year. I can pay for every single student in America, going to a community college, raising our productivity, for $6 billion a year.”
On insecurity and populism
“If you look at the long sweep of history, or even just the trend lines in wars and other incidents of large-scale violence over the past 50, 60, 70 years – as a practical matter, we are probably safer than ever. But it doesn’t feel that way.”
“Popular movements on both the left and the right have demonstrated a dangerous willingness to revert to political small-mindedness – to the same nationalist, protectionist, and isolationist agendas that led the world to consume itself in war during the last century.
“As we have seen time and again throughout history, demagogues and autocrats have emerged – seeking to capitalize on people’s insecurities. In this case, using Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, or xenophobic rhetoric to stoke fear, sow division, and advance their own narrow agendas. It offers a false sense of security in an interconnected world.”
“The impulse to hunker down, shut the gates, build walls, and exit at this moment is precisely the wrong answer. It will not resolve the root causes of these fears – and it risks eroding from the inside out the foundations of the very system that spawned the West’s historically unprecedented success.”
“We need to tap into the big-heartedness that conceived a Marshall Plan, the foresight that planned a Bretton Woods, the audacity that proposed a United Nations.”
On Russia, the European Union and NATO
“Under President Putin, Russia is working with every tool available to them to whittle away at the edges of the European project, test for fault lines among Western nations, and return to a politics defined by spheres of influence.”
“We even saw it in the cyber intrusions against political parties and individuals in the United States – which our intelligence community has determined with high confidence (they hardly ever use the phrase high confidence) were specifically motivated to influence our elections.”
Biden said he expected that Russia would intervene with similar tactics in the national elections coming up in Europe this year.
We need to “fight back against the dangerous proposition that facts no longer matter. That the truth holds no inherent power in a world where propagandists, demagogues, and extremists carry sway.”
“Defending the liberal international order requires that we resist the forces of European disintegration and maintain our long-standing insistence on a Europe whole, free and at peace. That means fighting for the European Union – one of the most vibrant and consequential institutions on earth.”
In the same week that President-Elect Donald Trump suggested NATO was in need of reform, Biden said:
“The single greatest bulwark for our transatlantic partnership is the unshakable commitment of the United States to all our NATO allies. An attack on one is an attack on all. That can never be called into question.”
“History has proven that the defense of free nations in Europe has always been America’s fight – and the foundation of our security.”