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Friday, June 14, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a NATO 75th Anniversary Reception

AMBASSADOR SMITH:  Distinguished guests, ministers, ambassadors, Secretary Blinken, Mr. Secretary General, it is such a pleasure and an honor to welcome all of you to my home this evening – Truman Hall – to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of this wonderful Alliance.

Of course, 75 years ago this group would have been quite a bit smaller.  At the very beginning, as all of you know, it was 12 founding members that laid the foundations for an Alliance that is designed to preserve transatlantic peace.  And over seven decades, NATO added new missions and new members as countries that share our values and our commitment to peace and stability joined the Alliance and made all of us safer and stronger together.

What a momentous occasion it is tonight to have all 32 Allies together, represented for the very first time at this ministerial and here tonight for this celebration.  (Applause.)

Before turning the floor over to Secretary Blinken, I do have three very special announcements.  First, during this anniversary year, the U.S. mission will be renaming its executive conference room after Madeleine Albright, our 64th secretary of state.  (Applause.)  Many of you knew her – I know you did – and the first woman to ever serve in that role in the United States.

Now, as many of you know, Secretary Albright played a crucial role in advocating for NATO enlargement, leading to the inclusion of several Central and Eastern European countries.  She also championed NATO’s involvement in conflict resolution and peacekeeping efforts, particularly during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.  Albright’s diplomatic finesse and strategic vision strengthened NATO’s role as a cornerstone of transatlantic security cooperation, and it is so fitting that we honor her tonight, particularly with so many of my U.S. colleagues here that had a very close and special relationship with Secretary Albright, including Secretary Blinken and former colleagues Jim O’Brien, Jamie Rubin, and Suzy George, among others.

Second, I’d like to draw your attention to a very unique item that we’ve borrowed from the NATO archives, and this one might surprise you a little bit: NATO’s first cookbook.  (Laughter.)  That’s right, cookbook – you heard me correctly – titled The Best of Taste, published in 1957 by the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic Officers’ Wives Club.  (Laughter.)  And the book highlights recipes representing the 15 Allies that we had at the time.  Now, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first SACEUR and by that time president of the United States, submitted his favorite recipe: old-fashioned beef stew.

But now, in that spirit, we’ve prepared a wonderful menu for you tonight, but it does not include beef stew, so rest assured.  But what we did do tonight with the menu is we have created an array of very distinct dishes featuring the specialties and a special food of each of NATO’s 12 founding members.  So you’ll see trays passing tonight with flags on them denoting which country that particular dish is from.

Finally – and this is what I’m really most excited about – I’d like to introduce our special guest of honor, beyond the two gentlemen sitting to my left and right – standing to my left and right, our special guest of honor this evening, Harry S. Truman himself immortalized in bronze for his namesake home in commemoration of NATO’s 75th anniversary.  The eight-foot statue created by Missouri artist Tom Corbin is a very generous gift from the Truman Library Institute, and I’d like to thank our guests from the institute here tonight and also recognize Clifton Truman Daniel, President Truman’s eldest grandson.  (Applause.)

After tonight’s event, President Truman will be displayed permanently under the pergola in the garden behind us for residents and visitors to Truman Hall to admire for generations to come.  Clifton, will you please do the honors and unveil our guest of honor?  (Applause.)

And now, without further ado, it is my pleasure and honor to introduce Secretary of State Tony Blinken to share a few words with us on this very special occasion.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you, friends.  Very hard act to follow, but it’s so wonderful to see you, and we’re looking forward to President Truman’s permanent placement shortly after this evening.

So first, welcome, everyone.  And Julie, thank you so much for welcoming us to your very humble home.  (Laughter.)  I know you’ve been complaining for a long time that there’s just not a lot of elbow room, and we can all see what you mean by it.

Julie arrived just months before Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  The fact that the Alliance has not only weathered this crisis but emerged bigger, stronger, more united than ever is in no small part because of Ambassador Smith’s leadership.  There is no one I would rather have – but more important, the President would rather have – representing the United States in this place at this time than Julie Smith.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Similarly – and I think all of my colleagues are united in believing this – the United States, for all of the members of NATO, none of us could have hoped for a greater champion for this Alliance than Jens Stoltenberg.  No one could have done a better job holding us together when others were trying to divide us.  No one could have done a better job of really carrying the Alliance forward.  And Jens, we’ve all said it in different ways at different times, but it always bears repeating:  We’re so grateful for your leadership.  (Applause.)

I also want to thank all of the permanent representatives from the Alliance countries and the work that you’re doing every single day with your teams to really move forward the work of the Alliance.  None of this happens by itself.  None of it’s automatic.  It’s because of the day-in, day-out work that you’re doing to lead our Alliance forward.

Now, I am really pleased that we’re her when we’re renaming the conference room of the U.S. mission to NATO for Secretary Albright.  She was, as for so many of us, a real mentor as well as a friend, a supporter, an incredible counselor.  I think we all miss her every single day, but we’re also animated by her spirit, her determination, and in many ways animated by her vision of what the United States can be, should be, as well as what this Alliance can be and should be.  This would be her kind of night.  She loved NATO, and she made a huge contribution to it.

Almost exactly 25 years ago – across the Atlantic, at the Truman Library in Missouri – Madeleine formally welcomed Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary into the Alliance, and she quoted an old Central European expression to mark the moment: Hallelujah.  (Laughter.)  That grew the Alliance to 19 members. Today, of course, we’re 32.

At the time, Madeleine and her counterparts were also looking forward to another Washington Summit – that was the one marking the 50th anniversary of our Alliance.  She reminded the audience that day NATO’s strength depends on its unity.  And she warned, and I quote her, “We know that when the democracies of Europe and America are divided, crevices are created through which forces of evil and [forces of] aggression may emerge; [but] that when we stand together, [there is] no force on Earth… more powerful than our solidarity on behalf of freedom.”

Madeleine understood this because she’d lived it personally.  As a small child, her family had been driven from their home not once but twice – first by the Nazis, then by the communists – before finding refuge in the United Kingdom and then the United States.

Someone else understood this profoundly: Harry S. Truman.  He understood on a personal level what can happen when we allow the forces of evil, the forces of aggression to spread.

When the United States entered World War I, he rejoined the U.S. National Guard, and he was put in command of an artillery unit that saw brutal combat in France.  He later wrote this:  “I know the strain, the mud, the misery… of the soldier in the field.  And I know too his” – and add today her – “courage.”

The experience left Truman – along with generations of men and women who survived the two World Wars – determined that history would not repeat itself.  Harry Truman believed that the best way, maybe the only way, to ensure that was to bind America’s fate to that of other nations who shared our values; for all to commit to defending one another’s territory as if it were their own.

Now, those of us here today in some ways may take that for granted now, after 75 years, but this was a radical belief in its time, and it was also an untested one.  And in some ways it’s also easy to assume that NATO’s success was somehow preordained.  It wasn’t.

It required that the 12 founding members of the Alliance – and then those who came after – not only to build foundations of peace, but then to keep fortifying, adapting those foundations as new challenges emerged, challenges that the founders of NATO couldn’t possibly foresee.

And for three-quarters of a century, that’s exactly what our Alliance has done.  That’s how NATO helped prevent the Iron Curtain from enveloping the free nations of Western Europe, how it helped avert war with the Soviet Union, and helped newly independent nations walk the path to democracy.

For those achievements and so many others, we are indebted to the millions of soldiers, sailors, aviators whose courage and willingness to put their lives on the line have given weight to our sacred commitment to defend one another.

We’re also indebted to all the leaders and diplomats who shaped the Alliance over these 75 years – not just those who were present at the creation, but also those present at NATO’s many recreations over subsequent decades.  Their collective service has given generations of people on both sides of the ocean that joins us a rare and invaluable gift: unprecedented security.

And yet, even as we meet here this evening, that security – together with the Alliance’s core principles of democracy, liberty, the rule of law – this is once again being challenged, challenged by those who believe that might makes right and those who would seek to redraw borders by force.

And of course, we know many new challenges have emerged – again, ones that the founders of NATO could not possibly have foreseen, challenges that would’ve been unimaginable to NATO’s architects: a growing climate crisis, cyber attacks, disinformation.

The Alliance is meeting these threats as we always have: by adapting together.

Over the past three years, we’ve enhanced our deterrence, we’ve reinforced our eastern flank, we’ve ramped up investments in our defense industrial capacity, we’ve launched a new Strategic Concept, we’ve welcomed two exceptionally capable new members – all work that our leaders will carry forward at the Washington Summit in July.

But even as our Alliance changes, even as it evolves, its purpose remains enduring.  Ours is a defensive Alliance.  It’s never had and it never will have designs on the territory of any other country.

As Truman said at the founding, the purpose of this defensive Alliance is to allow us to get on with the real business of life, the real business of government, the real business of society: “achieving a fuller and happier life for all… our citizens.”

In that way, the true measure of NATO’s success is not merely the enemies that it’s deterred or the territory it’s defended, but all the ways our citizens have used their security, used their freedom to improve their lives in tangible ways.

No wonder that democracies continue to make great sacrifices to join this Alliance.  No wonder nations far beyond the transatlantic region – including dozens represented here this evening – are striving to deepen their partnership with NATO.

So, as we celebrate this extraordinary Alliance, let’s not lose sight of why we created it, or why it has endured these 75 years.  And let’s recommit ourselves to shoring up the foundations of peace, as well as anticipating new and emerging threats.

Finally, let us together protect all we’ve built in 75 years under NATO’s shield, and ensure that it remains strong to keep building for the next 75 years and well beyond that.  To each and every one of you who are the life force of NATO today, thank you, thank you, thank you for your engagement.  Thank you for your partnership.  Thank you for your solidarity.  Thank you for the work that still lies ahead.

Thanks, everyone.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR SMITH:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  And Mr. Secretary General, the floor is now yours.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG:  Secretary Blinken, Tony; Ambassador Smith, Julie, thank you so much for hosting us all here tonight.  Ministers, ambassadors, dear friends, it’s great to be here at the Truman Hall next to President Harry S. Truman – at least, a statue of him – and together with the grandson of Harry S. Truman.  So this is really a Truman evening.

And it is in particular great to be here as the secretary general of NATO, because I’m not able to think about any individual person that has played a more important role for this Alliance than President Truman, because we have to try to imagine how the world looked like at the end of the Second World War.  Because then the plan was of course to get the troops, the forces back home.  That was the case for everyone, but especially for the United States, who sent people across the Atlantic and to Europe to help end the Second World War.

The United States left Europe after the First World War.  That was not a big success.  So therefore, I’m glad that after the Second World War, the United States decided to stay – stay with their forces, stay with their troops, and not only that, but also to underpin the transatlantic bond with the Marshall aid, with a big economic program to underpin the transatlantic bond.  And then on top of that – not only keeping their forces and providing enormous economic support to Europe, but on top of that, actually signed a treaty obligation to protect and defend Allies in Europe.

And the president responsible for all those decisions, knowing that to not bring back the troops, not bring back all the boys after war was potentially a very unpopular, difficult position – economically costly, politically costly, and of course also paying in human cost – the president responsible for that decision that was brave and not obvious and actually controversial at the time was President Harry S. Truman.  So therefore, we would have not been here and would have not been a 75th anniversary to celebrate if it hadn’t been for that very brave political decision by the United States to stay in Europe.  And therefore, it is great to celebrate the 75th anniversary, and to do that at Truman Hall together with the grandson and next to the statue of the great president.

Then, ever since the Alliance was established or founded in ’49, it has been a great success – preserving peace, preventing war, and enabling economic prosperity – and the fact that, as mentioned both by Tony and Julie, that we have gone from 12 members to now 32 demonstrates that at least we have – there is at least something right we have done over these years – (laughter) – establishing a group that so many want to join.

And the great success has been enabled or has happened not least because of U.S. leadership, from President Truman to President Biden, from Secretary Acheson to Secretary Blinken, and from General Eisenhower to General Cavoli, and also supported by many very capable U.S. ambassadors, today represented by Julie Smith.  So many thanks to all them for their leadership and the commitment they have demonstrated to our Alliance over all these years.

Then, what we will do tomorrow is to celebrate, but we will also do what has actually made this Alliance a success, and that is to focus on how can we continue to adapt.  Because the only reason why we are the most successful Alliance in history is for two reasons: one, our unity; and second, that we’ve been able to change when the world is changing.

So therefore we need to prepare for the upcoming NATO summit in July, where we once again are going to celebrate but also going to demonstrate our ability to take the necessary decisions to demonstrate our unity and ensure that we stand together.  Because I cannot tell you exactly what the next crisis or the next conflict or the next war will be, but what I can tell you is that regardless of what the next crisis will be, we will be safe as long as we stand together – North America and Europe.  Because together we represent 50 percent of the world’s economic might and 50 percent of the world’s military might, so as long as we stand together, no one can threaten us; we are safe.

So if you ensure that we demonstrate that at the summit in Washington, our unity and our ability to change, then we’ll continue to be the most successful Alliance in history.  And that will be in the spirit of President Truman and that will be in the spirit of this Alliance over these 75 years.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR SMITH:  Well, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General, both you and Secretary Blinken, for your remarks this evening.  And thanks to all of our guests that joined us this evening.  I also must say thank you to the amazing team at USNATO and at Truman Hall that are responsible for bringing together this incredible event this evening.  And to our honored guests tonight, please enjoy a taste from the 12 original founding Allies.  I invite you to explore the library and maybe even take a glimpse at that cookbook from very, very long ago.  And do enjoy the music tonight provided by some members of the American (inaudible).  And last but not least, I ask you before you leave tonight, please do sign the guestbook so we can remember this very, very historic occasion.

Thanks again and enjoy.  (Applause.)

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-a-nato-75th-anniversary-reception/

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