Speech to the US Congress

2003-07-17 - Tony Blair


Mr Speaker and Mr Vice-President, honourable members of Congress, I'm deeply touched by that warm and generous welcome.

That's more than I deserve and more than I'm used to, quite frankly.

And let me begin by thanking you most sincerely for voting to award me the Congressional Gold Medal.

But you, like me, know who the real heroes are: those brave service men and women, yours and ours, who fought the war and risk their lives still.

And our tribute to them should be measured in this way, by showing them and their families that they did not strive or die in vain, but that through their sacrifice future generations can live in greater peace, prosperity and hope.

Let me also express my gratitude to President Bush.

Through the troubled times since 11 September changed our world, we have been allies and friends.

Thank you, Mr President, for your leadership.

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is, kind of, late, but sorry.

Mr Speaker, Sir, my thrill on receiving this award was only a little diminished on being told that the first Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to George Washington for what Congress called his "wise and spirited conduct" in getting rid of the British out of Boston.

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library.

I know this is, kind of, late, but sorry.

Actually, you know, my middle son was studying 18th-Century history and the American War of Independence, and he said to me the other day: "You know, Lord North, Dad, he was the British prime minister who lost us America. So just think, however many mistakes you'll make, you'll never make one that bad."

Challenges ahead

Members of Congress, I feel a most urgent sense of mission about today's world.

11 September was not an isolated event, but a tragic prologue, Iraq another act, and many further struggles will be set upon this stage before it's over.

There never has been a time when the power of America was so necessary or so misunderstood, or when, except in the most general sense, a study of history provides so little instruction for our present day.

We are bound together as never before. And this coming together provides us with unprecedented opportunity, but also makes us uniquely vulnerable

We were all reared on battles between great warriors, between great nations, between powerful forces and ideologies that dominated entire continents. And these were struggles for conquest, for land, or money, and the wars were fought by massed armies.

And the leaders were openly acknowledged, the outcomes decisive.

Today, none of us expect our soldiers to fight a war on our own territory. The immediate threat is not conflict between the world's most powerful nations. And why?

Because we all have too much to lose. Because technology, communication, trade and travel are bringing us ever closer together.

Because in the last 50 years, countries like yours and mine have tripled their growth and standard of living.

Because even those powers like Russia or China or India can see the horizon, the future wealth, clearly and know they are on a steady road toward it.

And because all nations that are free value that freedom, will defend it absolutely, but have no wish to trample on the freedom of others.

We are bound together as never before.

And this coming together provides us with unprecedented opportunity, but also makes us uniquely vulnerable.

Virus of terrorism

And the threat comes because in another part of our globe there is shadow and darkness, where not all the world is free, where many millions suffer under brutal dictatorship, where a third of our planet lives in a poverty beyond anything even the poorest in our societies can imagine, and where a fanatical strain of religious extremism has arisen that is a mutation of the true and peaceful faith of Islam.

In the end, it is not our power alone that will defeat this evil. Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs

And because in the combination of these afflictions a new and deadly virus has emerged.

The virus is terrorism whose intent to inflict destruction is unconstrained by human feeling and whose capacity to inflict it is enlarged by technology.

This is a battle that can't be fought or won only by armies. We are so much more powerful in all conventional ways than the terrorists, yet even in all our might, we are taught humility.

In the end, it is not our power alone that will defeat this evil. Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs.

Democratic myth

There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values, or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taleban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's saviour.

Members of Congress, ours are not Western values, they are the universal values of the human spirit.

The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defence and our first line of attack

And anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.

The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defence and our first line of attack.

And just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty.

We must find the strength to fight for this idea and the compassion to make it universal.

Abraham Lincoln said: "Those that deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."

And it is this sense of justice that makes moral the love of liberty.

In some cases where our security is under direct threat, we will have recourse to arms.

In others, it will be by force of reason.

But in all cases, to the same end: that the liberty we seek is not for some, but for all, for that is the only true path to victory in this struggle.

But first we must explain the danger.

Chaos as a weapon

Our new world rests on order. The danger is disorder. And in today's world, it can now spread like contagion.

The terrorists and the states that support them don't have large armies or precision weapons; they don't need them. Their weapon is chaos.

The purpose of terrorism is not the single act of wanton destruction.

It is the reaction it seeks to provoke: economic collapse, the backlash, the hatred, the division, the elimination of tolerance, until societies cease to reconcile their differences and become defined by them.

The terrorists and the states that support them don't have large armies or precision weapons; they don't need them. Their weapon is chaos

Kashmir, the Middle East, Chechnya, Indonesia, Africa - barely a continent or nation is unscathed.

The risk is that terrorism and states developing weapons of mass destruction come together.

And when people say, "That risk is fanciful," I say we know the Taleban supported al-Qaeda.

We know Iraq under Saddam gave haven to and supported terrorists.

We know there are states in the Middle East now actively funding and helping people, who regard it as God's will in the act of suicide to take as many innocent lives with them on their way to God's judgment.

Some of these states are desperately trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

We know that companies and individuals with expertise sell it to the highest bidder, and we know that at least one state, North Korea, lets its people starve while spending billions of dollars on developing nuclear weapons and exporting the technology abroad.

This isn't fantasy, it is 21st-Century reality, and it confronts us now.

Can we be sure that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction will join together?

Let us say one thing: If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering.

That is something I am confident history will forgive.

But if our critics are wrong, if we are right, as I believe with every fibre of instinct and conviction I have that we are, and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership.

That is something history will not forgive.

Need for unity

But precisely because the threat is new, it isn't obvious.

It turns upside-down our concepts of how we should act and when, and it crosses the frontiers of many nations.

So just as it redefines our notions of security, so it must refine our notions of diplomacy.

There is no more dangerous theory in international politics than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitive powers; different poles around which nations gather.

Such a theory may have made sense in 19th-Century Europe.

It was perforce the position in the Cold War.

Today, it is an anachronism to be discarded like traditional theories of security.

And it is dangerous because it is not rivalry, but partnership we need; a common will and a shared purpose in the face of a common threat.

And I believe any alliance must start with America and Europe.

If Europe and America are together, the others will work with us.

If we split, the rest will play around, play us off and nothing but mischief will be the result of it.

European future

You may think after recent disagreements it can't be done, but the debate in Europe is open.

Iraq showed that when, never forget, many European nations supported our action.

And it shows it still when those that didn't agreed Resolution 1483 in the United Nations for Iraq's reconstruction.

Today, German soldiers lead in Afghanistan, French soldiers lead in the Congo where they stand between peace and a return to genocide.

So we should not minimise the differences, but we should not let them confound us either.

So don't give up on Europe. Work with it

You know, people ask me after the past months when, let's say, things were a trifle strained in Europe: "Why do you persist in wanting Britain at the centre of Europe?" And I say: "Well, maybe if the UK were a group of islands 20 miles off Manhattan, I might feel differently. But actually, we're 20 miles off Calais and joined by a tunnel."

We are part of Europe, and we want to be. But we also want to be part of changing Europe.

Europe has one potential for weakness. For reasons that are obvious, we spent roughly 1,000 years killing each other in large numbers.

The political culture of Europe is inevitably rightly based on compromise.

Compromise is a fine thing except when based on an illusion.

And I don't believe you can compromise with this new form of terrorism.

But Europe has a strength. It is a formidable political achievement.

Think of the past and think of the unity today.

Think of it preparing to reach out even to Turkey - a nation of vastly different culture, tradition, religion - and welcome it in.

But my real point is this: Now Europe is at the point of transformation. Next year, 10 new countries will join.

Romania and Bulgaria will follow. Why will these new European members transform Europe?

Because their scars are recent, their memories strong, their relationship with freedom still one of passion, not comfortable familiarity.

They believe in the trans-Atlantic alliance. They support economic reform. They want a Europe of nations, not a super state.

They are our allies and they are yours. So don't give up on Europe. Work with it.