In Brussels, Menendez Calls for Stronger U.S.-European Alliance and Support for NATO in Keynote Speech at German Marshall Fund

In Brussels, Menendez Calls for Stronger U.S.-European Alliance and Support for NATO in Keynote Speech at German Marshall Fund

“In a world where we need to work together to face real threats, I humbly believe that the U.S. should lecture less and lead more.”



BRUSSELS – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered keynote remarks at the German Marshall Fund on the crucial role played by the transatlantic alliance in global affairs and the importance of protecting and expanding that partnership in the Trump era.

“This relationship has served as the basis for peace. The basis for growth and prosperity. American presidents have consistently looked to European capitals over the decades and joined forces to accomplish great things. And leaders across the continent have been able to rely on those in the Oval Office,” said Menendez, calling for deepening dialogue between the United States and Europe, robust and unwavering support for NATO, and renewed policies to promote democratic processes, civil society, and human rights abroad. 

Menendez, who earlier this week traveled to Germany as part of the largest-ever Congressional Delegation to participate in the Munich Security Conference, also outlined a new transatlantic strategy to redouble efforts to respond to the challenge of a rising China, confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East, and against Kremlin aggression.

Citing the importance of the principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1975 Helsinki Accords, Menendez spoke about the Trump Administration’s diplomatic isolationism which has created a rift between the United States and Europe.

“So instead of attacking our friends in Europe as President Trump has done, we should redouble our efforts to find areas of common ground and common interest. In a world where we need to work together to face real threats, I for one humbly believe that the U.S. should lecture less and lead more.” added Menendez. “I’m not advocating that we naïvely see the world only as we would like it to be. I’m calling on us to strengthen our multilateral institutions out of a recognition that in the 21st century, insularity is a dead end. The answer to the challenges we face cannot be reflexive nationalism and nativism. These sentiments nearly tore both my own nation and this continent apart over the centuries, and they can do so again.”

While in Brussels, in addition to today’s keynote remarks, Ranking Member Menendez will meet with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and other senior leaders from NATO, the European Commission and the European External Action Service. 


A copy of the Senator’s full speech can be found below.  

Ian, thank you for that kind introduction. I am honored to be here at the German Marshall Fund, a key pillar of the transatlantic relationship…a manifestation of the historical commitment that binds our continents. Your power of convocation combined with sensible policy recommendations for those on both sides of the Atlantic have made GMF a truly indispensable organization. Thank you for your leadership and the efforts of your fine staff.

We meet here today on the fifth anniversary of the start of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity.  The courage shown by the Ukrainian people during those uncertain days is a true testament to the Ukrainian spirit and a simple, but powerful desire for true independence and sovereignty.  In the weeks that followed February 18, 2014, Russia would begin its illegal occupation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine.  On this anniversary, I want to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people as this conflict grinds into its sixth year. May it be the last.


We also meet this morning at a time when the transatlantic relationship is under serious strain. We can point to specific actions from the Trump Administration… its decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, its imposition of steel tariffs…but more fundamentally, its downgrading of long-held universal values of democracy and human rights….of the importance of these shared values in driving our strategic partnerships… all having dealt serious blows to the relationship with our friends in Europe. 

I come before you as a strong advocate and supporter of the transatlantic relationship - which truly has served as the basis for so much progress across the globe since the end of World War II.

This relationship has served as the basis for peace. The basis for growth and prosperity. American presidents have consistently looked to European capitals over the decades and joined forces to accomplish great things. And leaders across the continent have been able to rely on those in the Oval Office.

The fall of the Berlin Wall; The Paris Climate Accords; Diplomatic efforts to counter common adversaries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea;  Responding to the challenge of a rising China; Building democratic institutions and advancing human rights abroad. Simply put, the United States is stronger, safer and more prosperous when we work in concert with our friends and allies across Europe. 

The German Marshall Fund itself is a tribute to what America and European partners together can achieve.


Some have recently criticized “multilateralism” as if it were an ideological end unto itself. As if the multilateral institutions the United States and our European partners spent over half a century building were not born out of common values or shared challenges. As if we lived in a world where countries and our citizens exist in isolation.

That, of course, belies history and reality. Working with our allies and partners is the most durable way to ensure that we meet and sustain mutual goals of peace, security, and prosperity for all our citizens…that we build and support institutions that respect and build upon our shared values.

Do we always see eye to eye? Of course not. But as democratic societies founded with a respect for freedom of thought and speech, we recognize that differences of opinion are only natural. That is why we build multilateral institutions that empower us to work out our differences and find common ground.  That is how we achieved such historic progress over the last seventy years.  And that’s how the United States and Europe will counter the threats and seize the opportunities that await us in this century.


So instead of attacking our friends in Europe as President Trump has done, we should redouble our efforts to find areas of common ground and common interest. In a world where we need to work together to face real threats, I for one humbly believe that the U.S. should lecture less and lead more.  Lecture less and lead more. 

What do I mean by lead more? 

Instead of diminishing support for democracy, devaluing human rights, and disregarding long-held freedoms of the press and expression, we should be expanding space for civil society, fortifying our commitment to universal human rights, and advancing journalistic freedom at home and abroad.

Instead of attacking regional and international institutions, we should be working constructively to ensure they are responsive to the concerns of our people and resilient enough to grapple with new challenges.

Instead of imposing tariffs on China, we should lead an international effort at the World Trade Organization to make Beijing to abide by its international trade commitments. 

Instead of simply calling for energy diversification in Europe, we should more proactively encourage and incentivize the private sector, as well as involved countries, to finalize projects like the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline. 

Instead of precipitously withdrawing from Syria and abandoning those that fought alongside us, we finish the job of eradicating ISIS from the region and call upon our allies to bear part of that burden.

That, my friends, is what I mean by leading with allies, not lecturing.

My friends, efforts such as these should not be dismissed as elements of some kind of idealistic pipe dream. I’m not advocating that we naïvely see the world only as we would like it to be. I’m calling on us to strengthen our multilateral institutions out of a recognition that in the 21st century, insularity is a dead end. The answer to the challenges we face cannot be reflexive nationalism and nativism. These sentiments nearly tore both my own nation and this continent apart over the centuries, and they can do it again. That’s why giving them a platform and amplification is so dangerous and reckless.


It’s time we get back to the fundamentals. Instead of brazenly attacking long-standing institutions that have served to keep the peace since 1945, we must ask ourselves: what can we do to restore and reform their central pillars? What can we do to strengthen the transatlantic bond?

I have a few ideas.

First, I believe change begins at home. We must defend our alliances by making clear to our people exactly what is at stake: nothing short of peace, prosperity, and democracy itself.

We must call out political parties and leaders who stoke hatred and division, and instead strive for a political discourse that appeals to the highest hopes of our citizens rather than their worst fears and instincts. 

Of course, this is about more than rhetoric. We cannot ignore conditions at home that serve as breeding grounds for various strains of populism and nationalism. Economic insecurity. Displacement from globalization and technological change. The shrinking of wages and concentration of wealth. Throughout history, autocratic leaders have taken advantage of this anxiety. As democratic leaders, we must address its root causes.

Second, likeminded public servants on both sides of the Atlantic must renew efforts to support the democratic process, civil society, and human rights abroad. Repressive corners of the world have grown even darker in recent years as dictators and despots find themselves subject to less scrutiny from the United States and others in the international community.

Many of our friends and partners in Europe have come to expect that the United States would be a steadfast partner in supporting these values of democracy and human rights. That we would unequivocally stand on the side of real freedom – of good, representative, and respectful governance.

As someone who has been a champion of these values over nearly three decades in the House of Representative and U.S. Senate, I was saddened to see that the venerable organization Freedom House downgraded the United States in its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties in 2018. We cannot champion these values abroad without a strong democratic foundation at home.

While this Administration has not prioritized support for democracy and human rights, we must not lose heart, we must not lose focus, and we must not become unmoored from the principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1975 Helsinki Accords. These fundamental principles matter now more than ever. I want to be clear and unequivocal: On these issues, this administration does not speak for and does not represent all Americans.  Or even most Americans. 

Third, we must consistently act in support of NATO.  That means that all political leaders in the United States, including the president, should never waver from a robust and rock solid commitment to the Alliance. It also means that each member state must spend 2% of GDP on defense, in line with commitments made at the 2015 Wales Summit.  

Fourth, and in a more practical sense, the dialogue between the United States and Europe, at all levels, must deepen.  Every bond requires nurturing. And that cannot only be the work of government officials. 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.

There are countless areas where we share common ground, but today I would like to highlight three countries where our common efforts could significantly contribute to peace and stability. Those countries are Iran, Russia, and China.

First Iran. I understand that there is broad opposition in Europe to the Administration’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. While I did not support the JCPOA when it came up for a vote in Congress because the agreement delayed -- but did not end -- Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon, I was concerned that the Administration did not have a comprehensive strategy to deal with Iran when it pulled out of the deal -- one that should have included our allies here in Europe.  

And while we may disagree about the best path forward to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we should be able to agree that we must confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East: its ballistic missile program, its funding and support of terrorism, and its violations of human rights.

I appreciate that Iran’s support for terrorism presents a more acute threat across Europe. Its destabilizing actions across the Middle East have a much more significant reverberation here in this continent. 

For example, the IRGC’s support for Assad fueled the war in Syria, sparking the worst migration crisis in Europe since World War II. Hundreds of thousands are dead in Syria as a result.  Millions have been displaced, causing a serious migration crisis in Europe – one that Russia is only too quick to capitalize on. Hezbollah’s power to inflict terror across the region has grown exponentially.

The Iranian government is complicit in some of the most egregious human rights violations in the world, most notably against its own people.

According to nearly every independent human rights advocacy organization, the Iranian government continues to crack down on the rights of freedom of expression and association, jailing hundreds of journalists, students, writers, and average people who took to the streets to protest the gross mismanagement of the Iranian economy. Iran has detained American dual nationals on spurious charges.

But as you all know, of course, their ambitions extend well into this continent. I believe the EU’s decision to sanction members of Iranian intelligence who were responsible for the assassination of two Dutch nationals in 2015 and 2017 was an important step. 

France has rightly called out plots to bomb a rally of Iranian opposition members in October of last year. And Albania recently took important steps in expelling Iranian diplomats for their ties to foiled terror plots. The list goes on. 

Iran continues to violate UN arms embargoes, putting weapons into the hands of terrorist and rogue actors across the Middle East.

Iran’s ballistic missile program should remain an enormous cause for concern around the world, especially here, in Europe, given the range of those deadly weapons. Iran’s leaders continue to publicly insist they will test missiles beyond the current 2,000-kilometer limit, missiles that could hit continental Europe. We  know that Iran’s Sajjil missile is capable of hitting EU member states in southeastern Europe.  Germany, the UK and France said that the missiles launched by Iran into Syria on October 1 of last year were reportedly “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.  As we all know, UN Security Council resolution 2231 called upon Iran not to undertake these activities.  This month’s attempted space launch by Iran is yet another wake up call for all of us. 

So, we know the Iranian nuclear program is the central threat. However, ignoring more conventional threats to our security could come at a great cost, one that we should not be willing to pay. We can, we must, continue working together to confront Iran’s destabilizing activities.

Second, the United States and our European allies must do more to robustly counter aggression by the Russian Federation. Make no mistake – I was heartened to see overwhelming international solidarity in response to the Skripal attack in the UK. I hope that this will serve as the basis for renewed solidarity in addressing Kremlin aggression across the board. 

I’ve continued to press the Trump Administration to work with our European partners to reenergize our common front against Kremlin aggression. Russia’s attack in the Kerch Strait was nearly three months ago, yet there’s been no significant international response. Every time Putin’s actions go unanswered, I fear we set the stage for more aggression, more attacks. As we meet here today, 24 Ukrainian sailors remain in a Russian jail with no end in sight.  That’s  simply unacceptable.

Russian aggression also continues in Eastern Ukraine. As we speak, the Kremlin is working to destabilize Ukrainian politics in advance of next month’s presidential election. And Russian influence operations and malign efforts could destabilize upcoming European Parliament elections this year.

I think that we all understand the threat. But instead of moving forward with robust joint responses to Kremlin aggression, the U.S. and Europe are unfortunately spending more time and energy cleaning up messes after high level summits and presidential visits. With no real transatlantic strategy in place, we remain flat-footed while President Putin charges ahead.

Last week, Senator Lindsey Graham and I introduced legislation that would strategically position the United States to better counter Kremlin aggression.

The Defending Americas Security from Kremlin Aggression Act – or DASKA – would improve our ability to coordinate with Europe on the Russia challenge, invest in democratic institutions in countries most vulnerable to Kremlin aggression, and increase transparency with respect to real estate sales in the United States that we know is a go-to strategy for oligarchs looking to launder money. The bill also includes provisions that would increase sanctions pressure on Moscow. 

The bill increases sanctions on Russian oligarchs complicit in the spread of Russian malign actions and includes measures that would increase sanctions on Russia’s energy and financial sectors in response to Russian interference in democracies, and continued aggression in Ukraine.

The bill has specific sanctions on the Russian ship building sector, to the extent that Russia continues to interfere with freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait or elsewhere, and on those complicit in the November attack on the Sea of Azov.

We have seen President Trump question the NATO alliance both publicly and privately over the past two years – and we know that destroying the transatlantic alliance remains at the top of Putin’s wish-list.

Our bill also includes an important provision that would prevent any President from pulling the United States out of NATO without Senate approval.  A Senate vote was required to get us in to the North Atlantic Treaty – it should also be required on any attempt to get us out. 

President Trump has made clear his skepticism of NATO, a sentiment the Senate has strongly and unanimously rejected on several occasions over the past year.  NATO is the strongest military alliance in the history of the world.  And it should remain so. 

I know that there are different views in Europe as to whether new sanctions should be imposed on the Kremlin. I only ask that we review the facts as to whether there is a need.

The attack on the 2016 U.S. election.

The use of chemical weapons in the UK.

Continued attacks in eastern Ukraine.

Aggression abroad and repression at home.

Support for nationalist fringe movements.

Support for Bashar al Assad’s bloodbath in Syria, which fueled the incredible migrant crisis here in Europe. 

Russian cyberattacks across Europe and interference in the French elections.

The threat of interference in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections.

The violations of international law on the high seas with respect to the Kerch strait.

The violation of the INF treaty.

Moscow will continue to push until it meets genuine resistance. Our collective sanctions measures taken to date, while commendable, have failed to change Kremlin behavior because they have not succeeded in changing the Kremlin’s calculus. I believe that increased sanctions pressure should be done in coordination with Europe. And we must take a balanced and smart approach.

Increased pressure on Russia’s energy sector must come alongside a renewed effort to support Europe’s energy diversification, such as the East Med Pipeline.  Increased focus on coordination with Europe must come with a new office at the State Department focused on sanctions diplomacy.  Increased vigilance against Russian malign influence must come with more resources for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, the NATO/EU Hybrid Center and other nongovernmental efforts in the U.S. and Europe.

I know that increased sanctions pressure is difficult in a consensus-based organization like the EU. But the stakes are too high, the threat from the Kremlin is too great. 

This imperative for cooperation with Europe on sanctions is so important that we included a whole title in our bill that mandates the administration to report on diplomatic efforts to build bridges on sanctions implementation.  The bill establishes an office at the State Department, which would solely focus on sanctions diplomacy, something that many European friends have asked for over the past two years.  Let us build the infrastructure for a better dialogue on these issues, while also focusing on results and a stronger, more effective pressure track with the Kremlin.  Working together, working concretely, this is what I mean by America leading, not lecturing. 

As a champion of the transatlantic relationship and a friend of Europe, I hope that you agree with how I have characterized the threat. And instead of allowing Moscow to drive a wedge between us, I hope that we can work together in devising a credible response and deterrent.


Third, China. Responding to the rise of China falls squarely in the mutual interests of the U.S. and Europe. As China assumes a global role and the Belt and Road Initiative expands around the world, the United States and Europe must be present at the creation, able to shape, and set standards for the twenty-first century.

We must actively work closely with recipient Belt and Road countries to strengthen their ability to negotiate good terms for Chinese investment. We must make every effort to ensure that the rule of law in these developing countries is not washed away in a flood of Chinese cash.

We may not be in a position to counter ‘Euro for Euro’ China’s state-owned enterprises or checkbook as it builds infrastructure around the world. But we also don’t need to be.  That is not where our competitive advantage lies. We are ideally positioned to help countries protect themselves and their people under the rules-based order by setting standards, by standing up for human rights, including labor and the environment, by supporting institutions that allow the weak to arbitrate fairly and justly with the strong, by offering technical assistance and diplomatic backing. I would add that our transatlantic China strategy must include joining forces on trade. China’s predatory and mercantilist practices challenge both sides of the transatlantic economy.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has not made addressing these challenges easy. We’ve spent too much time fighting over tariffs between us than working together on a China strategy that will benefit both of us.

Our combined economies are a force to be reckoned with. Our best hope at negotiating more fair trade practices with China and establishing the rules of the road for global commerce in this century and beyond is to work together. But as we work together in this regard we need to carefully navigate these economic issues with China.  What may seem like regular economic transactions can have serious security implications.  For example, the increasing prevalence of Huawei and other Chinese technologies in the European market is of growing concern and akin to entering into a deal where the Chinese military is your partner.  By moving forward with these deals, Europe runs the risk of endangering its telecoms infrastructure for years to come.  

Chinese investments in ports is another example.  While these ports may be commercially desirable, can they be relied upon at times of national emergency when the movement of goods or military vessels become critical?  

As we look to address these issues, lecturing European or other allies and partners about the dangers of relying on Huawei and Chinese technology for 5G goes only so far if we don’t have an alternative for that architecture. If we want to be competitive with China, and not just confrontational, it needs to start with serious investments at home in the cutting-edge technologies of tomorrow.  Just being confrontational for the sake of being confrontational is not a good strategy.  Its attitude, not policy.  

 Being serious about the resources that it takes to compete so that we can continue to work together to develop a world that reflects our values, open to all – that is what successful strategy is all about. 

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 Iran’s support for terror, a revanchist Russia, and a rising China. We face serious threats to our democratic institutions, our security, our values, and our economies. Only together will we overcome them.

Looking back, the Marshall Plan showed the United States at its best.  It was indeed a substantial commitment by American taxpayers. But we should not look at George Marshall’s efforts in purely altruistic terms.  I believe that the investment under the Marshall Plan has paid us dividends in the form of an international system that has allowed democracy, economic growth, and innovation to flourish. 

President Trump may not understand this concept, but it has been a great return on investment. These rules of the road have kept the peace. These rules of the road, embedded in our institutions, have given us economic progress and provided a better life for tens of millions of our people.

I am not suggesting that the world should be frozen in amber. Yes, we need to be open to reform, refinement and adaptability. New technologies, new challenges, the changing distribution of power around the world…all suggest that we must be flexible in adopting and readapting the transatlantic order for a new era.

Our transatlantic architecture and the values it represents must remain central to the new era as well. The wholesale dismissal of the values and institutions that have served us so well is not only destabilizing and shortsighted, I believe it is dangerous.

As I wrap up, I want to quote from George Marshall’s speech to the UN General Assembly in 1948.

In it he said, “...we will not compromise essential principles. We will under no circumstances barter away the rights and freedoms of other peoples. We earnestly hope that all members will find ways of contributing to the lessening of tensions and the promotion of peace with justice. The peoples of the earth are anxiously watching our efforts here. We must not disappoint them.”

At its core, that is the purpose of the UN and so many other important institutions we helped develop to keep peace in the post-war period. And the sentiment expressed is still important today.

I am the senior Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently re-elected to a six-year term. I believe in the values that I have described here today. I have many colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, who believe in these values. Some of them also just started six-year terms.  These values, honed in close friendship with Europe for decades, are who we are. These values represent the best aspirations of America. And those fundamental core principles do not change, cannot change, and will not change because of any one president. 

Make no mistake, our system is being challenged in ways we haven’t seen in over a century. But people of good faith have a significant say in our system and in the course of events, and many have pledged to protect and defend these institutions at home and abroad. 

In closing, Americans are more secure because we have friends in Europe. And Europeans are more secure because you have friends in America. Americans are more prosperous because we have friends in Europe. And Europeans are more prosperous because you have friends in America. Both Americans and Europeans will have a better future if we build upon and strengthen the transatlantic architecture constructed over the past 70 years.  

Our shared values…our respect for a rules-based international order…our respect for democracy and human rights.  These are the fundamentals of the transatlantic partnership; they are what has changed the course of human history for the better.   

I stand before you as proud transatlanticist, one who believes in the limitless possibilities the United States and Europe can accomplish when we work in concert. One who believes that the strength of our leadership comes through our alliances and not simply lecturing.  

The path ahead may be rocky. The challenges may be great. But I believe in the people of good faith on both sides of the Atlantic who have pledged to protect and defend our democratic institutions both at home and abroad.

No one else will defend our vision of peace and stability, free and fair competition, and a rules-based world. It is up to us. As transatlantic partners, only we can secure our future together.

Senator Robert Kennedy famously would often say, “Some men see things as they are and ask why?” I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” As we meet here in Brussels, we should look to our common future. We should look to the possibility of a revitalized transatlantic bond. We should look to a renewed commitment to our democratic principles… and ask why not. 

Thank you. 



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