View Header


Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release October 18, 1995
              Vice President Gore's Remarks at West Point
                             (as prepared)

                         U.S. Military Academy
                             West Point, NY 

                            October 17, 1995

Thank you, General Graves. It's a real honor to be here.

The reason I accepted your invitation to speak here at West Point is because, even more than most American citizens, I feel that I owe a great debt of gratitude to this institution. I rely heavily on the outstanding work of the West Pointers on my staff: Lt. Colonel Rick Saunders, class of '73, is a key player on my national security team; Lt. Colonel Bill Bradshaw, class of '80, is my military aide; and Captain Marc Thomas, who taught here two years ago, has served for the past 14 months in my office as a White House Fellow.

Ladies and gentlemen, Firsties, Cows, Yearlings, and Plebes:

In just six days, not far from here at the historic home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park NY, President Clinton will be meeting with President Boris Yeltsin to discuss a wide range of issues of concern to our two countries, from the implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, to the latest events in the Former Yugoslavia.

And tomorrow, Congress will meet to make important decisions about the future of American assistance to promote democratic reforms in Russia. At issue is nothing less than the central question of whether America will have the resources and the courage to lead in the post-Cold War era.

At this moment of great decision, I thought it appropriate and timely to offer the American people, and you, America's next generation of military leaders -- our vision for the future of Americas relationship with Russia and the Russian people.

This is the second in a series of three speeches I am giving on this important topic. I began this series last Friday in San Francisco, and will conclude this trilogy later this week at Washington D.C.'s Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies.

Make no mistake: our nation truly is at the crossroads of great opportunity.

After two world wars and a nuclear balance of terror lasting four decades, before us lies the opportunity to help Russia and the Russian people successfully complete its historic transformation to a society accustomed to freedom and no longer subject to authoritarian rule. Before us is a rare and perhaps unique chance to help foster a Russia which we no longer regard as an ideological foe, but as a friend and partner.

History is rife with "might-have-beens", and President Clinton and I believe it would be absolutely criminal to pass up this opportunity.

Let there be no doubt: the course we pursue toward Russia will affect the security and economic well-being of American families in every community in our land.

It will also provide the basic context for your careers as soldiers, whether you'll be serving at Fort Bragg, in Germany, Korea, the Pentagon, or the White House.

Quite simply, your jobs will be much less dangerous, and your responsibilities more manageable, if we can keep U.S.-Russian relations on track, and if we can help keep Russia moving in the direction of stability, democracy, market economics and integration with the rest of the world.

Reflect for a moment on the dramatic transformations that have been underway in Russia since you firsties in this hall were seniors in high school: The utter collapse of communist tyranny; the birth of free enterprise, the first stirrings of the rule of law. Indeed, you will be pursuing your careers in a dramatically different context than the generations that went before you. The class of 1996 was among the first to enter West Point outside the shadow of the Cold War and the superpower confrontation it sustained. From today's vantage point, the terms "Iron Curtain" and "Fulda Gap" will find resonance only in your history books, and not as central parts of your professional lives. Indeed, you are the first generation in memory that can view Russia as a partner rather than as a threat to the peace.

In the heady first months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, some were quick to conclude that history itself was now over and done with; that the great struggle of human civilization had ended decisively, once and for all time; that all that was left for us to do was to hash out the details. But for most of us, even at that time it was clear that we were not at the end of history, but rather at the start of one of its most important new chapters -- an era of immense opportunity, as well as significant peril.

The hard work of governing the new nations of the former Soviet Union began only after the democratic revolution of '91 -- and after the initial euphoria had faded. The collapse of the Soviet Union left behind an organizational and philosophical void along with immense unmet social needs. The leaders of Russia spoke of making a rapid transition to democracy, the market, and the rule of law. But these institutions could not be built overnight. In their absence, the possibility had emerged of collapse or retreat into some form of tyranny or utter chaos. There was the clear possibility, in other words, that hope might be suddenly overwhelmed by despair.

Consider, for example, the situation in Russia at the beginning of 1992. At that time, Soviet-era bureaucrats still controlled most of the key levers of the economy; hyper-inflation was destroying savings and stifling production; and none of the legal or institutional infrastructure necessary to support a market economy was in place. Meanwhile, the deadlock between President Yeltsin and the Russian parliament threatened to bring economic liberalization to a grinding halt, thereby creating a crisis for Russian democracy as well.

When President Clinton came to Washington in January 1993, he saw both the magnitude of the challenges ahead and the vital U.S. interests at stake in the outcome. He quickly recognized the need to rethink the basic assumptions about our relations with the states of the former Soviet Union; to reinvent the Cold War-vintage machinery of the U.S. government responsible for implementing it; and to keep America engaged -- by making practical and prudent investments in Russia's democratic future.

The President set three clear priorities that challenged the power and ingenuity of American leadership:

To their lasting credit, several influential members of the Congress helped assemble crucial building blocks, some of which were already in place, which provided a crucial foundation for the President's program and the bipartisan partnership that sustains it to this day. Leaders of both houses, notably Senators Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Representative Lee Hamilton, rallied support behind the President's program. With their help, President Clinton successfully secured funding for the programs that deliver on his promise of practical, targeted assistance to encourage reform throughout the former Soviet Union, while safeguarding Americas vital national interests.

Many were quick to criticize the President's vision. They argued that Russia would remain forever shackled to its past, feeling secure only by making its neighbor's fearful.

We certainly recognized that the enormity of the task of reform outstripped the resources we could bring to bear. As the President himself said in Moscow last year, it is up to the Russian people to decide their place in the world. They must choose whether to define their role in yesterday's terms, or tomorrow's.

This remains more than a theoretical question. President Clinton didn't imply that he could provide the answer. Rather, he made it quite clear that it was up to the Russian people themselves to choose their own course. But he also made crystal clear that our national interests would not be served if we chose to retreat from this important opportunity to help the people of Russia shape a new destiny.

Through ardent diplomacy and tenacious personal leadership, the President set out to marshal our friends to the cause of Russian reform.

Our assistance programs are carefully-targeted and focused investments in Russia's future. They are not hand-outs. Our assistance is strictly monitored, carefully reviewed, and conditioned on clear indications that our Russian partners are carrying their fair share of the load.

Are there real results? Are the American tax payers getting their money's worth for our leadership abroad?

I think a quick canvass of our assistance efforts now underway in Russia offers convincing proof of the wisdom of our course.

Our first priority was to expand the humanitarian aid initiatives begun in 1992 to cushion the initial shock of the Soviet Union's collapse. But as the immediate humanitarian crisis subsided in most of the New Independent States, our focus shifted to helping build open societies and open markets - to provide direct support for political and economic reform.

Some of the best individuals America and our government had to offer seized the chance to do their share, from our leading agronomists who worked to help improve grain harvests to brave American entrepreneurs who staked out claims in cities they knew had not been visited by any foreigners, let alone Americans, for decades.

These American initiatives have been the most effective ambassadors that we could possibly send to the New Independent States. Paired with, and supported by, vigorous American diplomacy, they helped dispel lingering suspicions, and enabled us to build bridges to a region of the world that had long closed itself to us.

The starting point for reform, and our support for reform, has been the promise of the Russian people's embrace of democracy and free markets. And now their practical steps are bringing concrete results.

Many of the basic building blocks of democracy --a national constitution, political parties, independent newspapers and television stations and free and fair elections are slowly falling into place. The Russian people made a fundamental choice to embrace democracy, and it is they who deserve the lion's share of the credit, of course. But we Americans also are doing our share to bolster their efforts, through citizen-to-citizen exchanges and practical assistance and advice.

Meanwhile, the liberalization of the Russian economy has proceeded at a dizzying pace. With our help, Russia has privatized nearly 100,000 businesses representing 70% of Russian industry. Today, the private sector produces over 60 percent of Russia's income. And if Russian economic policy stays on its present course, next year might mark the beginning of real economic growth after years of painful decline. The door is also now open for Russia to build a vibrant, mutually-advantageous trade and investment relationship with the United States and the other market democracies. President Clinton and the supporters of Russian reform in Congress have long maintained that it would be trade, not aid, that would be the ultimate guarantor of economic growth in the former Soviet Union.

Early in 1993, the President asked me to become personally involved in this effort, by working with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to develop for the Russian leadership and for ourselves a better understanding of what needed to be done to transform Russia into a magnet for foreign trade and investment, especially in the fertile energy and defense technology sectors.

The Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, established in April, 1993, has become a crucial mechanism for collaborative bilateral efforts to lower barriers to trade and investment while launching joint efforts to harness new technologies, explore space, protect the environment, and address Russia's pressing public health and agricultural needs. On a more immediate level, we have focused on other hindrances to investor confidence -- the need for clear legal protection of equity, a non-punitive tax system, and more open import-export markets.

Among other things, we have learned that as Russia develops a market economy, it must be mindful of the dangers of crime and corruption. The Russian people, as well as American investors, know that economic change has created new opportunities for crooks as well. Today's criminals in Russia mock the aspirations of the average Russians and budding entrepreneurs who want to earn an honest living and live according the rules of an open society.

Russian organized crime and drug-trafficking have a real impact not only in Russia, but also in Europe and here in the United States. American and Russian law enforcement agencies are now working together to combat this common enemy. Indeed, we have opened an FBI field office in Moscow.

President Clinton is committed to protecting American citizens and our borders against these threats while strengthening the international structures and institutions that will allow us to build a more integrated global community.

Economic and political integration with the rest of the world is also a key goal of Russian foreign policy. With our full support, the Russian government has, to its credit, set a firm course toward increased cooperation and membership in the world's most important economic and political bodies. Russia already participates in political discussions with the G-7, which links together the world's leading industrial democracies. Russia is also building practical ties that give it a voice in international economic institutions and arrangements, including the World Trade Organization, the European Union, the OECD, the ASEAN Regional Forum.

And as Russia strives to embrace the opportunities of free trade and economic cooperation, it also is beginning to build bridges to promote security across what had once been a divided Europe.

This course of integration is still regarded with suspicion by many in Russia. Some Russians, inflamed by the fear of an uncertain future, and by the humiliating memory of the utter failure of communism, will continue to express their frustrations at the ballot box by supporting candidates who fan the flames of ultra-nationalism. Let us not deceive ourselves: parties of the angry and the disaffected are likely to remain fixtures of the Russian political landscape for some time to come.

But people of the Russian Federation and the people of United States share an interest in working to ensure that the dissonant voices of fear and division do not triumph in the end. We must work together to make sure that history does not repeat itself. Instability in Central Europe, that seed-bed of European wars, has twice in this century brought tragedy to the entire continent. The best way to ensure a stable future is by working together to build an undivided Europe.

Russia deserves credit for having done its own part to promote good relations with its European neighbors. On August 31 of last year, after years of patient but firm American diplomacy, the last active duty Russian troops withdrew from Germany and the Baltics. And similarly, the Russian and Ukrainian governments have worked together to manage a number of difficult issues, such as economic cooperation and the implementation of START I.

For our part, the United States has worked with our NATO allies to realize our vision for an integrated Europe that includes an important role for Russia. This structure includes an enlarged NATO, a strengthened Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an enhanced Partnership for Peace, and a closer relationship between Russia and NATO. While we understand full well that many Russians question the wisdom of NATO enlargement, we are working with Russian leaders at all levels of government to ensure Russia will remain open to broad cooperation with Europe and with NATO, and to resolve our differences in a manner that respects their stature and their needs.

Part of our strategy for building this new Europe calls for taking the issue out of the realm of theory -- and partisan politics -- and putting it in an immediate, very practical context. With a peace settlement for the former Yugoslavia possibly within sight, we now have an opportunity to make cooperation between NATO and Russia concrete, productive, and meaningful. Agreement on a formula for Russian participation in a Bosnia peace implementation force would serve both the cause of peace and our common goal of a more stable, integrated Europe.

We are taking a similarly constructive, cooperative approach to other areas of possible disagreement and potential friction between Russia and the West. The most important fact is not the existence of these problems, but the level-headed way in which we are both approaching them.

For instance, one of the most important items on the two Presidents' agenda at Hyde Park will be the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, which calls for dramatic reductions in military equipment levels across the continent.

The Russians are now pressing for modifications to the Treaty's flank limits in light of the manner in which Russia's security needs have shifted since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The United States and our NATO allies acknowledge that the world has indeed changed since the CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 and that Russia is meeting its overall destruction requirements. Now we have developed a proposal which takes Russia's legitimate needs into account while preserving the central elements of the Treaty and protecting the interests of countries along Russia's northern and southern borders. We are looking to the Russians to work with us and other CFE parties to achieve an early resolution of this problem.

Another area where practical cooperation is vital is nuclear safety and non-proliferation. Arms control and disarmament issues still lie near the center of our relationship with Moscow, just as they did during the Cold War; but in this new era they have acquired a new meaning and a new context. Today, Russian missiles are no longer targeted at America's cities or homes. Thanks in large part to U.S. and Russian leadership and cooperation, the danger that the Soviet Union would give way to four nuclear-weapons states is well on its way to being resolved.

And thanks to the foresight of Senators Nunn and Lugar, we have the resources to help the Russians dismantle the vast former Soviet arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Americans and Russians are now working side by side to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of would-be terrorists and smugglers. Uranium from Russian warheads is being converted into fuel for our domestic power plants to help light our schools and factories and cities. After agreeing to reasonable restraints on arms and technology sales abroad, the stage has been set for Russia to become a full member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and to be a founding member of the New Forum, the organization succeeding COCOM that is now charged with keeping sensitive technologies out of the hands of rogue states.

Where all of these challenges are concerned, I cannot overstate the importance of bipartisan Congressional support as we build on our nations initial achievements and initiatives. America's enduring legacy is the triumph of our engagement in the world. But now, as we enter a new season in our national political life, that legacy is being threatened by those who would legislate the surrender of America's global leadership. Today, on Capitol Hill, the critically important Nunn-Lugar programs are facing up to a twenty percent cut. Nuclear safety initiatives -- like the ones that are designed to prevent incidents like the Chernobyl disaster -- are under threat of being zeroed-out. Far-reaching arms control treaties, including START II and the Chemical Weapons Convention are in limbo because of Congressional foot-dragging and obsequious homage paid to a tiny minority of right-wing extremists who were disoriented by the end of the Cold War -- and who seem at times to be trying to recreate it. The very programs that support the development of free media, the rule of law, and democratic institutions in the Former Soviet Union risk being sacrificed on the altar of short-sighted political expediency. Even programs that support American trade and investment -- at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Export-Import Bank -- face being gutted.

We cannot allow our future prosperity and security to be held hostage by short-term partisan maneuvers. At stake are nothing less than America's fundamental interests.

When Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin meet at Hyde Park on Monday, you will see a clear determination to reinforce the core of the relationship against further shocks or domestic political pressures.

Wherever possible, the President has sought to work with -- rather than browbeat -- Russian reformers. We are well aware that we will have areas of disagreement. But we do not think it will be helpful, as some in the some in the Senate have suggested, to treat each and every disagreement we have with the Russians as some sort of final, High-Noon showdown that puts the entire relationship, including our support for reform, on the line. We are no longer engaged in a global ideological struggle with Soviet communism, and our relationship with Russia should reflect not old habits of mind , but that new reality.

Of course, there are those who doubt whether the Russian government really wants to change. It's a little like the old joke: how many psychiatrists does it takes to change a light bulb? The answer is one -- if the light bulb really wants to change. I believe that there is no longer any doubts that in their hearts, the overwhelming majority of Russians want change. Most Russians realize that there can be no return to the failed policies of the past, and would not trade away there hard-won freedoms.

At the same time, we all know that there is nothing automatic or guaranteed about happy endings. No one is naive about the real difficulties Russia faces. We do not -- indeed we cannot -- know for sure what kind of state Russia will be in the 21st century.

As I speak to you today, many Russians are preparing for December's parliamentary elections and next June's presidential contest. As with any young democracy, holding free and fair elections will offer proof that a majority of Russians now accept that political combat should be waged on the hustings, the floor of parliament, or on the pages of Russia's free press, rather than in the streets or on the barricades. That doesn't mean that Russia's friends abroad will always welcome the results at the polls. I well remember the day I landed in Moscow to receive the news that the election the night before gave a victory to the ultra-nationalist (and loosely-wrapped) demagogue, Vladimir Zhironovsky. But good sense prevailed over time, and it is clearly a net positive that real politics is emerging as the basis of the system that governs the geographically largest country on earth.

It is precisely because we cannot bet on a predetermined outcome in Russia that we must continue to assert American leadership: steadily, patiently, and firmly. It is precisely because the future is never foreordained that we must summon the courage and the wisdom to invest in Russia's democratic future in ways that are consistent with our interests and values.

The key point here remains that support for economic and political reform in Russia, and promoting Russia's integration with Europe and the world, are in our own national interests.

Just as the Nunn-Lugar program and the implementation of START II are defense by other means, so too are these initiatives an investment in a safer future. They are the best and least expensive investments we can make in our own security, and in the security of all the peoples of Europe and the former Soviet Union.

We must not shirk the burdens of leadership. America's finest hours have come when we have rejected the easy temptations of isolationism.

I am reminded of a young Army Captain who initially succumbed to these temptations some 75 years ago, after the conclusion of another great global conflict, World War I. That young man, not much older than all of you, was stuck in Europe while diplomats haggled over the terms of peace at Versailles. He wrote to his future wife about his yearning to come home. "As far as we're concerned," he wrote, "most of us don't give a whoop whether Russia has a red government or no government, and if the King of Lollipops wants to slaughter his subjects or his Prime Minister -- it's all the same to us."

The young Captain who wrote those words was one Harry S Truman. Fortunately for all of us, he and his generation changed their minds as they grew older and learned and became engaged with the world. Men like Truman, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, and President Dwight Eisenhower for whom this hall is named, decided to confront the challenges of the Cold War era head on, in the former Soviet bloc, in Western Europe, in Asia, and all over this earth.

Thanks in large part to their leadership, the political and economic principles that we have nurtured here in the United States for over 200 years are now ascendant in nations around the globe.

Now, to be sure, fifty years ago, the flush of victory in World War II and the unrivaled prosperity that followed made it easier to project a bipartisan vision of America's role and policies abroad. New, more complex challenges have emerged in the landscape of the post-Cold War world.

Still -- in many respects, the choices we face today are analogous to many of the choices we faced at the end of World War II: will we uphold a bipartisan consensus on America's international affairs? With it, we prevail; without it, we will fail. Will we continue to engage in world events, and foster the enlargement of democracy in all corners of the world? And will we do everything in our power to ensure that a changing and turbulent Russia evolves as a democratic and free nation?

The answers, I believe, should be as clear to our generation as they were to the wise men and women who built an enduring bipartisan consensus on American foreign policy two generations ago.

Then, as now, America's destiny is to lead, not to retreat.

To stand, as we have in Haiti -- returning democracy and hope to a nation ravaged by tyranny and oppression.

To stand as we have with those seeking a new day of freedom in South Africa.

To stand as we have with those who would make peace in the Middle East, who ended the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, who would work to stop the cycle of violence and retribution in Northern Ireland, and who would safeguarded a prayed-for peace in Bosnia.

Though there may be new, misguided voices in Congress and elsewhere calling for America's withdrawal from the world stage, we've learned time and again not to heed these calls of defeatism. We've learned that isolationism is not the American way.

In a few short months and years, those of you here will join the ranks of trusted guardians of our nation's security, and become the trustees of our liberty. The mantle of responsibility you will bear will be heavy. I know, as I look across the faces in this room, that you will ready to bear that burden. Your nation is proud of you. We thank you for your commitment to your country, and we thank you for your service yet to come. Rest assured that as you prepare to stand tall for America's interests and her security, your nation's leaders will stand with you. We will not be daunted. We will not be deterred.

We will carry on until the great worldwide march to democracy -- in Russia, and throughout the world -- brings us all to a new day of security, freedom, and prosperity, and opportunity, now and for generations to come.

God bless the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. God bless the long gray line. And God bless America.