Comment: Now America must invest in peace

Bill Clinton From a speech by the US President to the 100th meeting of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, Missouri
Click to follow
TODAY, AFTER the victory in Kosovo and in Bosnia, we have an opportunity to invest in peace so that future wars do not occur there. The people of the Balkans have been crippled by conflict, really since the end of the Cold War. Today, we have a chance to integrate them with each other, and into the mainstream of Europe - where they will have strong incentives to maintain democracy and good behaviour, and avoid conflict.

To do this, we don't need anything as ambitious as the Marshall Plan. And whatever is done, we must insist that our European partners carry most of the load, and that Balkan leaders themselves take responsibility for changing their policies. Still, the United States should be a part of this process. If we don't, and the effort fails, make no mistake - there will be another bloody war that starts in the Balkans, and spreads throughout southeastern Europe.

And some day, more young Americans may be asked to risk their lives at far greater cost than our part of the rebuilding of the region. If we are to succeed in winning the peace, we may see a 21st century - I'll say again - in which we do not have to send the young people of America to fight in another European war. That is a worthy objective. We have seen enough wars in Europe, claiming the lives of their children and America's young people. Now we have a chance to avoid it, and we ought to take the chance.

We also have a responsibility to protect the American people from the dangers most likely to surface in the 21st century. The gravest of those may not be another country launching a nuclear weapon, but that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of terrorists and their rogue- state sponsors.

We have worked to reduce that doomsday scenario. Since 1992, our support has helped to deactivate almost 5,000 nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union; to eliminate nuclear weapons from three former Soviet republics; to strengthen the security of weapons and materials at over 100 sites; to tighten export controls in Russia and to purchase hundreds of tons, literally hundreds of tons, of highly enriched uranium that otherwise could be used for nuclear weapons that end up in the wrong hands..

Today, the Russian economy is struggling, as we all know. Listen to this - the average salary of a highly-trained weapons scientist in Russia is less than $100 a month. Now, for a small investment, we can help them turn that expertise to peaceful projects that help the world and draw a living wage doing it. Or we can do nothing, and pray that each and every one of those thousands of scientists will somehow resist the temptation to market their expertise to those who wish to do us and the cause of freedom harm. Common sense says to me that we ought to give them something useful and good to do and let them make a decent living.

Another challenge is to create a durable and comprehensive peace in the region that every president since Richard Nixon has considered among the most dangerous in the world - the Middle East. Today, we have a real opportunity to do that.

Finally, there is the question of the United Nations. One of the great legacies of our victory in World War II is an institution where nations seek to resolve differences with words instead of weapons. Paying our dues to that organisation is a legal and a moral responsibility. That ought to be reason enough to do so. If we fail to do so soon, the United States will actually lose its vote in the General Assembly.

But obligation is not the only reason for doing this. So is opportunity. The UN helps us to mobilise the support of other nations for goals Americans cherish - from keeping the peace to immunising children to caring for refugees to combating the spread of deadly weapons.

We've been working with growing success to make sure that the UN operates better, at lower cost. But we have to do our part. Unless we want America to pay all the costs and take all the risks to solve the world's big problems, we have to work with others - and that means paying our fair share of dues, like every other country does, to the United Nations.

The bottom line is this: today we have a unique opportunity, and a real responsibility, to advance the values in the world won in the 20th century, over the last 100 years, by America's veterans. But if we have only one arrow in our quiver - our military - we sacrifice the work of peace and increase the risk of war. We have to do our part to keep the world on a stable path toward democracy - the democracy that every single one of you put your lives on the line to defend.