Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Official Text

Text: President William J. Clinton Remarks on American Security in a Changing World

Thank you very much. President Trachtenberg, Dean Harding, members of the George Washington University community, Congressman Cardin, Congressman King, Congressman Matsui. Senator McGovern, thank you for coming, sir. And by the way, thank you for writing your brave book about your daughter and for going around the country and talking about her. Thank you so much.

I want to thank the family members of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 who are here with me today, as well as two of those who were held hostage in Iran back in 1980 who are here today -- and '79. Thank you for coming.

I'm pleased to be back here at George Washington, especially as you celebrate your 175th anniversary. President James Monroe signed the congressional charter establishing GW. I can only applaud his wisdom and hope that 175 years from now our administration will be associated with a similarly proud legacy. I think he would be very proud if he could see what GW has become.

Last night the Centennial Olympics came to an end. It was a great Olympics for America not only because of the triumphs of our athletes, but also because of the magnificent job done by the city of Atlanta and all the other hosts. But, in a larger sense, it was a great event not just for Americans, but for people everywhere who believe in peace and freedom, who believe in individual achievement and common effort.

I believe we love the Olympics because they work the way we think the world ought to work. They are possible because all different kinds of people come together in mutual respect and mutual acceptance of the rules of the games. No one wins by breaking their opponents legs or by bad-mouthing their opponents in a public forum. Instead, victory comes from doing well in a good way. And all who strive are honored, as we saw when our volunteers cleared the track for the brave, injured marathon runner who was the very last finisher in the race.

Most individuals and teams from the 197 competing nations did not win any medal, but they all had their chance, did their best, and were better for their efforts. That is what we want for our country and the world at the edge of a new century and a new millennium.

In the world of the 21st century, the Olympic way will become possible in the lives of more people than ever before. More people than ever before will have the chance to live their dreams. The explosion of knowledge, communication, travel, and trade will bring us all closer together in the global village. But as we saw in that terrible moment of terror in Centennial Park, this new openness also makes us more vulnerable to the forces of destruction that know no national boundaries.

The pipe bomb reminded us, as did the murder of 19 fine American servicemen in Saudi Arabia and the still unresolved crash of TWA 800, that if we want the benefits of this new world, we must defeat the forces who would destroy it by killing the innocent to strike fear and burn hatred into the hearts of the rest of us. This is a lesson and a responsibility every American must accept. As the mayor of Montoursville, a town of just 5,000 people in Pennsylvania that lost 21 of its brightest hopes of the future on TWA Flight 800, said, "No matter how secluded and how innocent we are, once we leave our community we're subject to the troubles of the outside world."

America faces three great challenges as we enter the 21st century: keeping the American Dream alive for all who are willing to work for it; bringing our own country together, not dividing it; and making sure America remains the strongest force in the world for peace and freedom, security and prosperity.

I come to this place of learning and reason, a place so focused on the future, to explain why we cannot meet our own challenges of opportunity and responsibility and community unless we also maintain our indispensable role of leadership for peace and freedom in the world.

The worldwide changes in how people work, live, and relate to each other are the fastest and perhaps the most profound in history. Most of these changes are good: the Cold War is over, our country is at peace. Our economy is strong. Democracy and free markets are taking root on every continent. The blocks, the barriers, the borders that defined the world for our parents and grandparents are giving way with the help of a new generation of extraordinary technology. Every day millions of people use laptops, modems, CD ROMs and satellites to send ideas and products and money all across the planet in seconds. The opportunities to build a safer world and a more prosperous future are enormous.

But for all the promise of our time, we are not free from peril. Fascism and communism may be dead or discredited, but the forces of destruction live on. We see them in the sudden explosions of ethnic, racial, religious, and tribal hatred. We see them in the reckless acts of rogue states. We see them especially in the dangerous webs of new threats of terrorism, international crime and drug trafficking, and the continuing threat that weapons of mass destruction might spread across the globe. These forces of destruction find opportunity in the very openness, freedom, and progress we cherish.

We must recognize that modern technologies by themselves will not make for us a new world of peace and freedom. Technology can be used for good or evil. American leadership is necessary to assure that the consequences are good. That is why we have worked so hard to seize the opportunities created by change and to move swiftly and strongly against the new threats that change has produced.

To seize the opportunities, we are strengthening our alliances, dramatically reducing the danger of weapons of mass destruction, leading the march for peace and democracy throughout the world, and creating much greater prosperity at home by opening markets to American products abroad.

Our alliances are the bedrock of American leadership. As we saw in the Gulf War, in Haiti, and now in Bosnia, many other nations who share our goals will also share our burdens. In Europe, we have supported the forces of democracy and reform in the former Soviet Union, the removal of Russian troops from the Baltics, and led the way to opening NATO's doors to Europe's new democracies through the Partnership for Peace, as Europe, the main battleground for the bloodiest century in history, is finally coming together peacefully.

In Asia, we have revitalized our security alliance with Japan, joined with South Korea to promote lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and worked steadily to encourage the emergence of a strong, stable, open China. The end of the Cold War has also allowed us to lift the dark cloud of nuclear fear that had hung over our heads for 50 years. Today not a single Russian missile is pointed at our citizens or cities. We are cutting Russian and American arsenals by two-thirds from their Cold War height. We helped Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to give up their nuclear weapons, which were left on their land when Soviet Russia dissolved.

We are working with Japan and Korea, and we have persuaded North Korea to freeze the dangerous nuclear program it had been developing for over a decade. We have advanced the struggle for peace and freedom. When people live free and at peace, we are more secure because they are less likely to resort to violence or to abuse human rights, and more likely to be better trading partners and partners in our common struggle against terrorism, international crime and drug trafficking, environmental degradation.

Because America is taking those risks for peace and democracy, the dictators are gone from Haiti. Democracy is back and the flow of desperate refugees has stopped. In Bosnia, the snipers' killing fields have become children's playing fields once again. In Northern Ireland and the Middle East, though difficulties remain, conflicts that once seemed unsolvable are moving closer to resolution.

None of these struggles is easy. There is no guarantee of success. But we will continue to work for success, and we will make a difference.

Finally, we have seized the opportunity to better our people's lives at home by opening markets abroad. The true measure of our security includes not only physical safety, but economic well-being as well. Decades from now people will look back on this period and see the most far-reaching changes in the world-trading system in generations. Changes that are good for the American people. Changes that include 200 new trade agreements, including GATT and NAFTA, the Summit of the Americas, the Asian Pacific leaders' commitment to bring down trade barriers. Because of these changes, America is the world's number one exporter again, and we have a million new high-paid jobs as a result.

Now, none of these achievements just happened. They came about because we work with others to share the risk and cost of engagement, because we use the power of our example and, where necessary, the example of our power. They happened because we were willing to make tough choices today knowing they would pay off for you tomorrow. Above all, they happen because we refuse to listen to those who said that with the Cold War over, America could choose escapism over engagement. Had we done so, we would have weakened the world's reach for freedom and tolerance and prosperity and undermined our own security and prosperity.

The fact is America remains the indispensable nation. There are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear. Of course, we can't take on all the world's burden. We cannot become its policemen. But where our interests and values demand it and where we can make a difference, America must act and lead.

Nowhere is that responsibility more clear or more urgent than in the struggle against terrorism. No one is immune, whether you're riding a subway in Tokyo or a bus in Tel Aviv, whether you're window shopping in London or walking the streets in Moscow, whether you're doing your duty in Saudi Arabia or going to work in Oklahoma City. Terrorism has become an equal opportunity destroyer, with no respect for borders.

Whether we like it or not, in ways both good and bad, we are living in an interdependent world. That's why we must break down the walls in our mind between foreign and domestic policy. And I might say, Mr. President, on this 175th anniversary, that is one of the intellectual objectives that I hope our great universities will commit themselves to.

The reality is (that) our personal, community, and national prosperity depend upon our policies on economics in trade at home and abroad. Our personal, community, and national well-being depends upon our policies on the environment at home and abroad. Most dramatically, our personal, community, and national security depend upon our policies on terrorism at home and abroad. We cannot advance the common good at home without also advancing the common good around the world. We cannot reduce the threats to our people without reducing threats to the world beyond our borders. That's why the fight against terrorism must be both a national priority and a national security priority.

We have pursued a concerted national and international strategy against terrorism on three fronts: First, beyond our borders, by working more closely than ever with our friends and allies; second, here at home, by giving law enforcement the most powerful counter-terrorism tools available; and, third, in our airports and airplanes by increasing aviation security.

This will be a long, hard struggle. There will be setbacks along the way. But just as no enemy could drive us from the fight to meet our challenges and protect our values in World War II and the Cold War, we will not be driven from the tough fight against terrorism today. Terrorism is the enemy of our generation, and we must prevail.

First, on the international front, stopping the spread of terrorism clearly requires common action. The United States has a special responsibility to lead in this effort. Over the past four years, our intelligence services have been sharing more information than ever with other nations. We've opened up a law enforcement academy in Budapest that is training people from 23 nations, an FBI office in Moscow, and just last Friday, Congress gave us the funding for FBI offices in Cairo, Islamabad, Tel Aviv, and Beijing.

We've requested more money for intelligence in 1997. This focus is making a difference. As the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in its 1996 report on the Intelligence Authorization bill, the work of U.S. intelligence agencies against terrorism has been an example of effective coordination and information sharing.

I've also worked to rally other nations to the fight against terrorism -- last year at the U.N. General Assembly; this spring at the historic Summit of Peacemakers at Sharm el-Sheikh where 29 nations, including 13 Arab nations, for the first time condemned terrorism in Israel and anywhere else it occurs in the Middle East and throughout the world; at the G-7 Summit in Lyon; and the recently held follow-on conference we called for in Paris, where we were represented ably by the Attorney General.

Now, the point of all these efforts with other countries is not to talk, but to act. More countries are acting with us. More countries are taking the "no sanctuary" pledge and living up to their extradition laws so that terrorists have no place to run or hide. More countries are helping us to shut down the gray markets that outfit terrorists with weapons and false documents.

Last week in Paris, the G-7 nations and Russia agreed to pursue a sweeping set of measures to prevent terrorists from acting, and to catch them if they do. And we set timetables with specific dates by which progress must be made. We're also working with Saudi Arabia to improve the security of our forces stationed there, so that we can continue to deter aggression by rogue states and stand against terrorism in the Middle East.

After Khobar Towers, I immediately ordered (an) investigation by the FBI and a commission headed by (retired) General Wayne Downing, which is to report to me later this month. While it's too early to reach conclusions, these investigations are moving aggressively in cooperation with our host. And we are working with the Saudi government to move almost all our troops to other bases to better protect them from terrorist attacks.

Even though we're working more closely with our allies than ever, and there is more agreement on what needs to be done than ever, we do not always agree. Where we don't agree, the United States cannot and will not refuse to do what we believe is right. That's why we have maintained or strengthened sanctions against states that sponsor terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan. You cannot do business with countries that practice commerce with you by day while funding or protecting the terrorists who kill you and your innocent civilians by night. That is wrong. I hope, and expect, that before long our allies will come around to accepting this fundamental truth.

This morning I signed into law the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. It builds on what we've already done to isolate those regimes by imposing tough penalties on foreign companies that go forward with new investments in key sectors. The act will help to deny them the money they need to finance international terrorism or to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It will increase the pressure on Libya to extradite the suspects in the bombing of Pan Am 103.

With us today, as I said before, are some of those families and the loved ones of other victims of terrorism sponsored by Iran and Libya. Let me repeat the pledge I made to them earlier. We will not rest in our efforts to track down, prosecute, and punish terrorists, and to keep the heat on those who support them. And we must not rest in that effort.

The second part of our strategy is to give American law enforcement officials the most powerful tools available to fight terrorism without undermining our civil liberties. In the wake of Oklahoma City, I strengthened the terrorism bill I had previously sent to Congress, but which had not then been passed. Despite the vow of Congress to act quickly, it took a year before that bill came to my desk to be signed.

The bill had some very good points. It made terrorism a federal offense, expanded the role of the FBI, imposed the death penalty for terrorism. As strong as it was, however, it did not give our law enforcement officials other tools they needed and that they had asked for, including increased wiretap authority for terrorists to parallel that which we have for people involved in organized crime now, and chemical markers for the most common explosives so that we can more easily track down bomb makers.

After the bombing in Atlanta, Congress said it would reconsider these and other measures. I immediately called the congressional leadership to the White House and urged them to put together a package and vote it into law before they left for the August recess last Friday. I am disappointed and, more importantly, the America people are disappointed that that job was not done. These additional measures would save lives. They would make us all more secure. When the Congress returns from the August recess, we will take them up again, and we must get the job done.

There is more I will ask Congress to do. Next month I will submit to Congress the International Crime Control Act that our Justice, State and Treasury Departments drafted at my request, because more and more, terrorism, international organized crime, and drug trafficking are going hand in hand. This bill expands our fight against money laundering so criminals and terrorists will have a tougher time financing their activities. It strengthens our extradition powers and border controls to keep more criminals and terrorists out of America. It increases the ability of American law enforcement to prosecute those who commit violent crimes against Americans abroad. Congress should pass it.

And, once again, I urge the Senate to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, so that we can eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles and give our law enforcement new powers to investigate and prosecute people planning attacks with such weapons. We have seen the terrible, destructive impact of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway. Within a month of that attack, Japan's Diet ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, but we still have not done so. If the Chemical Weapons Convention were in force today, it would be much more difficult for terrorists to acquire chemical weapons. They are not waiting, and we shouldn't either.

Finally, the third front of our struggle against terrorism (is) at the airports and airplanes that bring us all closer together. Air travel remains the safest form of transportation. And our airlines have the best safety record and security record in the business. But that's a small consolation when a single attack can take so many lives.

Last year we began field testing new high-tech explosive detection machines in Atlanta and San Francisco. We significantly increased security at our airports, and the FAA created a new government and industry panel to review airline security.

After the TWA crash, I ordered new measures to increase the security of air travel. As any of you who have flown in recent days will have noticed, we're doing more hand searches and machine screening of luggage. We're requiring pre-flight inspections for every plane flying to or from the United States -- every plane, every cabin, every cargo hold, every time. The Vice President is leading a commission on aviation security that is to report back to me within 45 days with an action plan to deploy machines that can detect the most sophisticated explosives and other needed changes.

Now, I know all this has led to some extra inconvenience for air travelers, and it may lead eventually to a modest increase in the cost of air travel. But the increased safety and peace of mind will be worth it.

So, greater international cooperation, stronger American law enforcement, safer air travel -- these are the fronts of our concerted strategy against terrorism. Much of this work by law enforcement, intelligence, and military professionals goes unheralded, but we are getting results. For example, we prevented attacks on the United Nations and the Holland Tunnel in New York. We thwarted an attempt to bomb American passenger planes from the skies over the Pacific. We convicted those responsible for the World Trade Center bombing and arrested suspects in the Oklahoma City and Unabomber cases. We've tracked down terrorists around the world and extradited more terrorists in four years than in the previous 12.

But I want to make it clear to the American people that while we can defeat terrorists, it will be a long time before we defeat terrorism. America will remain a target because we are uniquely present in the world, because we act to advance peace and democracy, because we have taken a tougher stand against terrorism, and because we are the most open society on earth. But to change any of that, to pull our troops from the world's trouble spots, to turn our backs on those taking risks for peace, to weaken our opposition against terrorism, to curtail the freedom that is our birthright, would be to give terrorism a victory it must not and will not have.

In this fight, as in so many other challenges around the world, American leadership is indispensable. In assuming our leadership in the struggle against terrorism, we must be neither reluctant nor arrogant, but realistic, determined, and confident. And we must understand that in this battle, we must deploy more than police and military resources. Every one of you counts, every American counts.

Our greatest strength is our confidence. And that is the target of the terrorists. Make no mistake about it: The bombs that kill and maim innocent people are not really aimed at them, but at the spirit of our whole country and the spirit of freedom. Therefore, the struggle against terrorism involves more than the new security measures I have ordered and the others I am seeking. Ultimately, it requires the confident will of the American people to retain our convictions for freedom and peace and to remain the indispensable force in creating a better world at the dawn of a new century.

Everywhere I travel on behalf of our country, I encounter people who look up to us because of what we stand for and what we're willing to stand against. I have said this before, but when Hillary and I visited the Olympic Village, I was so moved by the athletes who came up to me and talked about what America had meant to their country: a young Croatian athlete who thanked me for our efforts there not long after Secretary Brown's plane crashed, and Secretary Kantor had finished the mission; an Irish athlete who thanked me for our efforts to bring peace in Northern Ireland; a Palestinian athlete who said that he came from a very old people, but they never had an Olympic team until they made peace with Israel, and that many people wanted to keep that peace.

This responsibility is great, and I know it weighs heavily on many Americans. But we should embrace this responsibility because at this point in time no one else can do what we can do to advance peace and freedom and democracy -- and because it is necessary at this point in time for our own peace and freedom and prosperity.

As we remember the Centennial Olympics, the weeks of courage and triumph, the wonder of the world's youth bound together by the rules of the game in genuine mutual respect, let us resolve to work for a world that looks more like that in the 21st century, to stand strong against the moments of terror that would destroy our spirit, to stand for the values that have brought us so many blessings, values that have made us at this pivotal moment the indispensable nation.