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At Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Menendez Delivers Speech about Threats to Democracy across the Globe

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a speech today at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for an event titled “Democracy Under Assault: How American Foreign Policy Can Rise to the Challenge.” Menendez spoke about threats to the liberal international order and the role Congress can play in defending it.

“We must show the American people and people around the world that democracy is capable of solving problems big and small. Because if we cannot make democracy work at home, then we have no hope at selling it abroad. And we will grow ever vulnerable to foreign actors intent on tearing at our social fabric, and sowing the failure of democracy itself,” said Menendez. “Unfortunately, this Administration’s insistence on viewing this new era of competition solely through the lens of power, without any regard to our values, leaves us unable to meet today’s challenges. We face serious threats to our democratic institutions, our security, our values, and our economies. Only together will we overcome them, by renewing our alliances and leveraging every tool in our diplomatic arsenal to defend good governance and advance our ideals.

“We must vigorously champion our values and defend the democratic norms that have empowered the American people to bend the arc of history towards progress for the past two hundred years. When we champion these values, they echo far beyond our borders.  That is the story of our democracy. That is the power of our example.”

Below are the Senator’s full remarks as delivered:

“Thank you Ambassador Burns, for that kind introduction. And thank you to Andrew Weiss and your entire Carnegie team for bringing us together today.

Few institutions command as much respect as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Your work embodies the serious policy analysis that is so sorely needed in Washington today and I can tell you firsthand it is appreciated and relied upon every day.

I also want to thank you personally, Mr. Ambassador, not just for your service but for all you have recently written about diplomacy as a true craft and indispensable tool for solving challenges.

At a time when we constantly hear diplomacy dismissed, devalued and even derided, your spirited defense both of the practice and the profession has never mattered more.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the democratic values and institutions that have underpinned our peace, prosperity, and stability for the better part of the past century are under assault like never before.

We’ve seen elections disrupted and political discourse manipulated by nation-state actors in ways that just a few years ago were inconceivable.

And for those who think the worst is behind us, I beg to differ.

In the years ahead, efforts by nation-states like Russia and China, among others, to undermine democracy will only grow in sophistication.

We know that China’s investments in technology and artificial intelligence have applications far beyond internal repression, into to the realm of influence abroad.

Likewise we know that the Kremlin’s successful investment in our 2016 presidential election – and this Administration’s refusal to hold it accountable for its interference – has emboldened it to recycle its playbook. 

And if there’s anything we’ve learned from Ukraine and Syria, it’s that Russia is ever-willing to use military force to advance its aims.

Are these threats new? Of course not. Yet the scale and the reach of our adversaries’ efforts to undermine democracy is unparalleled since the end of the Cold War.

Indeed we might take lessons from the Cold War. For that historic struggle was not won through the size of our militaries alone.

It was won through the strength of our values, by our belief in democracy, human rights, religious and social freedom, the rule of law and free and fair competition.

We students of history recognize that those democratic values – and the international institutions we’ve built in support of them – are in large part responsible for the peace, prosperity, and stability the American people have enjoyed for decades.

Simply put, democracy prevailed. Democratic values prevailed. Democratic institutions prevailed.

We cannot forget this lesson of history. For our adversaries and strategic competitors, namely Russia and China, have also learned it.

Even as they exercise greater military power, they see that their path to dominance in the 21st century will not be won on the conventional battlefield.

Nor will they win by offering a better alternative to the liberal, rules-based international order.

They know their path of victory is not so much the triumph of their own ideals, but rather the defeat of ours.

So before we discuss the many ways that democracy is under threat, we must ask ourselves why democracy is under threat in the first place.

And I believe it begins with looking inward rather than outward.

Because while our adversaries may have played a role in the resurgence of white nationalism and populism around the world – in the Brexit vote, and in the election of President Trump – the vulnerabilities they exploited remain ours and ours alone.

These seismic events are a symptom of a larger disease, a growing dissatisfaction with democracy among citizens of the western world that has festered for years.

We can call out political parties and leaders who stoke hatred and division and talk about democracy being humanity’s greatest hope until we are blue in the face.

But we cannot ignore the very conditions that serve as breeding grounds for divisive politics and authoritarian strongmen.

We face no shortage of challenges: displacement from globalization and technological change; the shrinking of wages and the concentration of wealth; climate change and migration; radicalization and extremism.

Ask a worker whose real wages haven’t risen since the 1990s if democracy is working for them.

Ask a millennial drowning in student debt if democracy is working for them. Ask a diabetic who cannot afford insulin if democracy is working for them.

Throughout history, autocratic leaders have taken advantage of this anxiety. As democratic leaders, we must address its root causes. We must make democracy deliver again.

We must shore up faith in our democratic institutions and processes. We must show the American people and people around the world that democracy is capable of solving problems big and small.

Because if we cannot make democracy work at home, then we have no hope at selling it abroad.

And we will grow ever vulnerable to foreign actors intent on tearing at our social fabric, and sowing the failure of democracy itself.

The United States and Europe have spent decades working to build a rules-based international order that supports stability, preserves peace, and advances economic opportunity for all.

Yet these rules of the road are under steady assault by a revanchist Russia and a rising China.

Some of the Trump Administration’s own strategy documents acknowledge this new era of strategic competition.

But diagnosis is only half of the equation. In the face of powerful destabilizing forces, we need real leadership.

Unfortunately, this Administration’s insistence on viewing this new era of competition solely through the lens of power, without any regard to our values, leaves us unable to meet today’s challenges.

We face serious threats to our democratic institutions, our security, our values, and our economies.

Only together will we overcome them, by renewing our alliances and leveraging every tool in our diplomatic arsenal to defend good governance and advance our ideals.

We need our friends to work with us. 

We have to be honest that in certain corners of the world, the models put forward by adversaries like China and Russia have growing appeal.

Look no further than China’s growing influence over the recipient Belt and Road nations, or Russia’s steadfast support of Maduro in Venezuela.

We in the West must offer a better model, a better example.  We must offer a modern day and appealing version of the rules-based international order.

Democracy must be the guiding light of our foreign policy.

Every element of our national security strategy – robust diplomacy, strong alliances, strategic economic statecraft – is stronger when we champion democracy as a fundamental governing principle.

Consider our competition with China, which continues to play four dimensional chess around the world, militarily, economically, diplomatically, and culturally.

China’s island-building campaign in the South China Sea threatens not just regional stability but long-standing U.S. interests in the world’s fastest growing economic region, from the free flow of commerce, to freedom of navigation, to the resolution of disputes consistent with international law.

Over the past decade we’ve seen China bend the rules to suit its economic goals, through the cyber-enabled theft of Intellectual Property Rights; the manipulation of market access; the underwriting of State owned enterprises and so much more.

Globally, China’s brand of international diplomacy is best described as manipulative investment.

Through its Belt and Road initiative, China has used lucrative port contracts and U.N. votes to grow its influence and win friendly trade terms.

As China grows its economic reach, we cannot turn a blind eye to its domestic repression. 

Xi Jinping has overseen the emergence of a neo-Maoist authoritarian surveillance state, from the internment of  religious minorities in ‘reeducation’ labor camps, to ongoing repression in Tibet, to the deployment of surveillance systems that rival the movie ‘Minority Report.’

This President may wonder why China’s repressive tactics are of any concern to us.

Well, if China cannot respect the basic human rights of its own people, how can we expect it to respect the human rights of all people? 

This go-it-alone strategy is not sustainable for the long-term.

The United States is a country of approximately 320 million people. China is a country of nearly 1.4 billion.

We are not in a position to counter yuan for yuan China’s state-owned enterprises.

But if we leverage our partnerships and lead with our allies, we don’t need to be.

The combined economies of the United States and our partners are a force to be reckoned with.

Together, we must engage recipient Belt and Road countries and empower them to negotiate Chinese investment on better terms.

America and our allies must be present to create, shape, and set standards for the 21st century, or risk seeing the rule of law in these countries washed away in a flood of Chinese cash.

Revitalizing the rules-based order means setting strong up environmental and labor standards. It means standing up for human rights. It means supporting institutions that arbitrate fairly and justly, and offering technical assistance and diplomatic backing to those who need it.

The longer this Administration insists the United States ‘go it alone’ the more time we give China to bend the global economy to its will and rewrite the rules of commerce in the 21st century in its repressive image.

The EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, even India offer real prospects for partnership, but we’ve spent too much time fighting over tariffs between us rather than working together to create, shape, and set standards that benefit all of us.

Our best hope at establishing the rules of the road for the future of global commerce is to work together.

For example, the entry of Huawei and other Chinese technologies in the European market is of growing concern because of national security questions.

Adopting these technologies is akin to entering into a deal where the Chinese military is your partner, endangering Europe’s telecoms infrastructure for years to come.

But lecturing our allies about the dangers of relying on Chinese technology is no replacement for the development of viable 5G alternatives.

Unfortunately this Administration’s ability to appeal to our European friends on that basis is limited.

In an environment poisoned by U.S. positions on the Paris Climate deal, the JCPOA, and trade disputes, this debate on 5G may end being a casualty of President Trump’s ‘America alone’ strategy. 

Likewise the United States must work with our allies to counter aggression by the Russian Federation.

Putin wants nothing more than to see the transatlantic alliance crumble, and the light of our democratic values die out.

As we speak, the Kremlin is likely interfering in the second round of the Ukrainian presidential election. Meanwhile Russia’s malign influence operations could destabilize upcoming European Parliament elections in May.

Whatever the conclusions of the full Mueller report may be, I hope the report gives us greater insight into why the Trump Administration has yet to rally our allies against Russian aggression. 

The attack in the Kerch Strait was nearly five months ago, yet the international response was indisputably weak.

Five months later, 24 Ukrainian sailors remain in a Russian jail with no end in sight. 

It’s unacceptable, and with no real multilateral strategy in place, we remain flat-footed while President Putin charges ahead.

This is why last month Senator Lindsey Graham and I introduced the Defending Americas Security from Kremlin Aggression Act – or DASKA – to improve our ability to meet the Russia challenge.

Our bill would invest in democratic institutions in countries most vulnerable to Kremlin aggression, and increase transparency when it comes to beneficial ownership and money laundering in real estate deals.

The bill increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine and its malicious influence campaigns, both by targeting the oligarchs complicit in the Kremlin’s malign actions as well as Russia’s energy and financial sectors.

I know there are differing views among our allies as to whether increasing sanctions pressure is the right track.

But let’s remember the facts of this case.

Russian violations of sovereignty and ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. The use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. The assault on the 2016 United States election. Aggression abroad and repression at home. Support for nationalist fringe movements abroad that sow division in democratic societies. Active support for Bashar al Assad’s war crimes in Syria. The violations of international law on the high seas. The list goes on.

I believe Moscow will continue to push until it meets genuine resistance. Our sanctions thus far have failed to change Kremlin behavior because they have not succeeded in changing the Kremlin’s calculus.

That’s why we’re proposing a new office at the State Department focused on sanctions diplomacy – something that many European friends have asked for over the past two years. 

We need to build the infrastructure for a better dialogue on these issues as we assert more effective pressure on the Kremlin. 

Countering Russia’s malign influence also demands more resources.

That’s why we seek to bolster the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, the NATO/EU Hybrid Center and other nongovernmental efforts in the U.S. and Europe.

Likewise, we need to be more diplomatically present in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia.  Without American diplomats empowered to lead, more and more countries in these regions will succumb to the Russian model.

The post-World War II international order will not stand on its own.

Generation after generation must renew it and revitalize it. We must strengthen institutions like NATO, the EU, the UN, the OSCE, ASEAN, the OAS, and the Bretton Woods Institutions.

We know that Russia and China have directly and indirectly helped undermine the public’s faith in these institutions.

That is why the first step toward countering these challenges is to renew our alliances.

We need our friends with us. Together, we must make clear to our people exactly what is at stake: nothing short of peace, prosperity, and democracy itself.

We’ve heard some in the Administration use ‘multilateralism’ as if it were a bad a word.

As if the multilateral institutions the United States and our partners spent over half a century building were not born out of common values or shared challenges.

I fear the dismissal of our alliances leaves America with a weaker hand. 

How much reputational damage have we suffered in pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord?

How do we maintain our influence in the global economy after the Trump Administration has announced U.S. withdrawal from four treaties since 2017?

And despite positive messaging last week around the 70th anniversary of NATO, how can we restore our partners’ trust that a United States under a President Trump will defend Article Five unequivocally?

When Secretary General Yens Stoltenberg addressed a joint session of Congress last week, he remarked that it is good to have friends. Indeed, it is good to have friends.

In February, I visited NATO headquarters and saw the memorial to those lost on September 11th, 2001.

It was a sober reminder that the only time that NATO’s Article Five has been invoked was for us.

Our allies were there for us in our time of need. There should be no question that we will be there for them.

That’s why our legislation also requires Senate consent for any effort by this or any other Administration to remove us from NATO.

Second, we need to invest in diplomacy to effectively promote American interests.

And yet, just this morning Secretary Pompeo was before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for nearly three hours regarding the State Department’s budget request, which – for the third consecutive year – proposes slashing international affairs funding.

If budgets are a statement of our values, it’s clear that this President does not value diplomacy.

While we take comfort in knowing Trump’s budget is dead on arrival because of Congressional action, it’s beyond frustrating that we must defend what we have instead of building what we need.

We cannot counter Russia’s aggression or compete with China with one hand tied behind our back.

We’re talking about America’s future. We cannot and should not do this on the cheap.

And yet, this Administration has gutted the State Department and USAID, from its targeting of career diplomats to its denigrating of the very idea of diplomacy.

I know I don’t need to tell this room that morale remains really low at Foggy Bottom.

Many of our nation’s best diplomats have left the profession. Their knowledge – and their relationships around the world – will take years to rebuild.

On the world’s stage, we cannot sanction our way out of every challenge. Nor can we bomb or shoot our way out.

We must invest in career public servants who dedicate their lives to promoting American interests abroad and amassing global expertise.

Fortunately, members on both sides of the aisle understand that we need a well-resourced and fully-staffed State Department and USAID.

And given President Trump’s assertion that he would bring on ‘the very best people,’ I hope you do not mind if I turn for a moment to the matter of personnel.

I want to correct the record about some of the Administration’s recent statements on the Senate confirmation process, which cast the blame on the Democratic minority. Here are the facts:

Under President Obama, State Department nominees took an average of 63 days to be confirmed. Under Trump, the process is taking an average of 74 days.

So let me be clear about what accounts for this 11-day difference. The additional vetting underway in our Committee is a direct result of the Administration’s negligence, incompetence or indifference.

This President has put forward some of the most poorly-vetted, least qualified nominees I’ve ever seen in twenty-seven years of doing foreign policy in the Congress, between the House and the Senate.

To give you just a taste, our committee has received nominees who’ve had court-issued restraining orders against them, unreported lawsuits, issues of #MeToo, and records of what I can only describe as unsavory behavior.

The bottom line is that we need a fully-staffed State Department. But quality matters. Expertise matters. Conduct matters.

If we are not sending our best abroad, we are doing a disservice to the American people and our allies.

Third, democracies around the world need to do a better job of banding together. We need to create and strengthen forums where democracies can address big problems, together.

And this can’t just be about Europe, though that’s where our natural and most long standing allies are.

No, I think we have to do a better job of extending this conversation those democratic countries across Africa, Latin America, and Asia, countries that for whatever reason may not have played an elevated role in world affairs before.

Standing up to those opponents of democracy should require all hands on deck and we need them. 

The Community of Democracies, a forum set up towards the end of Clinton Administration by Madeleine Albright is an interesting model – and we must be open to other ideas as well.

We need engagement not just between heads of state, but also from legislature to legislature, political party to political party, civil society to civil society, business to business, and citizen to citizen. 

Beyond our constitutional duties to appropriate funds, ratify treaties, and confirm nominees, Congress has a role to play as the voice of the American people.

We must continue to invite world leaders and activists to our end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a world away from the chaos of this White House.

And when Democrats and Republicans together engage in dialogue with our foreign friends, we not only widen our worldview but we remember that we are all on the same American team. 

Finally, I want to underscore that America’s power of example is only as strong as the vibrancy and durability of our own democratic system.

I was saddened to see Freedom House recently downgrade the United States in its global survey on political rights and civil liberties.

We’ve seen ‘white power’ movements on the rise, metastasizing on social media, and fomenting death and mayhem from Charlottesville to Pittsburgh to Christchurch. 

These malign movements are very real, very dangerous, and easily exploited by foreign actors.

Part of the answer lies in addressing some of the fundamental economic inequalities that have gone ignored.

Part lies in our leaders rising above the politics of division and speaking out forcefully for our values. 

And part relies on implementing reforms to restore faith in our democracy.

As I said before, we must make democracy deliver again. There are worthy reforms being proposed in Congress and by leading contenders for the White House.

I for one am a cosponsor of the For the People Act, which would dramatically reduce influence of special interests in our politics.

We must rebuild democracy’s brand. We must create a government that’s more responsive to the needs of our people.

We must be bold in our actions, whether it’s defeating the opioid epidemic or combating climate change.

To end on an optimistic note, I am encouraged that in the absence of a President willing to champion our greatest democratic values, we see democratic institutions and everyday citizens stepping up to fill the void.

We see our courts reigning in executive overreach.

We see civil society groups playing the critical role of watchdog.

We see a free press taking investigative journalism to a new level.

And if our democracy is in the midst of a great test, the American people are refusing to fail.

They are standing up for our values like never before, from the renewed activism of our citizens, to the record number of American women just elected to Congress, to the teenagers uniting in common cause to demand gun safety reforms.

The American people continue to be the greatest ambassadors of our nation’s character, reminding us of the sheer power of an informed democratic society living in freedom and without fear.

We must vigorously champion our values and defend the democratic norms that have empowered the American people to bend the arc of history towards progress for the past two hundred years.

When we champion these values, they echo far beyond our borders. 

That is the story of our democracy. That is the power of our example.

And in the absence of a President willing to champion our democratic values, that is why we ‘small-d’ democrats still have a fighting chance.

Thank you very much for joining us and for listening.”