Secretary of State John Kerry
Speech at the World Economic Forum
January 22, 2016
SECRETARY KERRY: Klaus, thank you very, very much. Hello, everybody. Good morning to you. Klaus, first of all, thank you for your very warm, generous introduction. I especially want to thank you for your superb leadership of the World Economic Forum for many years. As you’ve said, it’s been my honor to come here. This may have been the hardest trip of all. I was looking up at the mountain, fresh snow, and I saw those beautiful powder tracks carved up there, and I could – none of them were done by me. (Laughter.) I felt – I feel somewhat deprived.
And a moment ago I had the luxury in the room out there of meeting your panelists for the last session, those of you who were here for it. I was very gratified to meet the grand mufti and the ayatollah. We had a great conversation for a few minutes, one that I want to follow up on. And I think that, for sure, we need more and more conversations like that. More and more people need to see that the Sunni-Shia divide is being exploited and Islam itself is being hijacked. So a great privilege to talk with both of those courageous spokespeople for the true Islam and for reconciliation and peace.
I want to tell you that it is genuinely good to be back in Davos. I’ve been here a long time. I’ll just share a really quick personal story. I came here – my dad was in the Foreign Service, and he was serving in Berlin shortly after the war. And he was a legal adviser to the high commissioner of Germany, and I was at school, and he dragged me here at age 11 and took me up – I’d never been on skis, and he took me up to do the Parsenn on day one. And I want you to know I went down the entire mountain on my rear end. But it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Folks, we have so much on our minds as we come here today. So I’m going to jump right in. I’m going to ask all of you to think back to the most indelible images of last year – the body of a tiny boy lying face-down in the sand, masked figures wielding knives over kneeling prisoners in orange jumpsuits, a teenager clinging desperately to the outside of a packed bus, urban neighborhoods reduced by war to cinders and rubble, the Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage. I can’t think of a time in my life – and I grew up in the shadow of World War II – where I have seen so much atrocity, live, thrown at us so relentlessly. Headlines bear grim stories of savage terrorist crimes, populations racked by sectarian violence, social media marred by eruptions of hate, and millions of refugees risking everything to cross dangerous waters to reach freedom, to reach for a better life.
Now, engaged as we are in some parts of the world in a daily struggle with terror and conflict, with people who want to blow themselves up, people who care not about life here today but about something they’ve been told about the future, people who kill innocent people simply to destroy, shock.
So living as we do with those images, it’s understandable that some people wonder whether we are now trapped in some irreversible decline, whether we are, in fact, forced to accept a new normal – a new normal that is far less than any of us anticipate or want. And certainly if this were true, let me tell you, the best-intentioned efforts of any secretary of state or foreign minister or president or prime minister would all be lost in vain. We could just spend our time rearranging the deck chairs all we want in our global Titanic, which still would go down.
But I do not believe that this is where we find ourselves. We are not living a new normal, and we don’t have to. We are not the prisoners of a pre-determined future. To me, the frustrations that we feel are definitely not the sign of a weakness. In fact, I believe that our commitment to address the challenges that we face is in fact the most reassuring strength. People don’t fly to Davos to celebrate the status quo; none of you are here for that. You’ve come here to change the world for the better and to define the future.
Now, obviously that is not to say that we don’t face real and immediate challenges. Of course we do. When has any generation not been tested? This moment is particularly defined by narrow tribalism, by aggressive nationalism, and even by medieval thinking that reminds us of a distant and bloody past. And we feel the anguish of the displaced and the international homeless. And from all of this and more, I believe that everyone here – and I’ve felt this just in the two days I’ve been here, the conversations I’ve had; that’s what Davos provides, an opportunity to really put your fingers on the pulse of the world, and that pulse tells me that everyone here senses a call to action, and, in fact, welcomes our shared duty to respond.
But I don’t believe that the road ahead should be defined by the Cassandras, who see only turmoil and challenge. Frankly, they are missing much of the positive change occurring in the world. I know media automatically, because of the competition of the media and the 24/7 nature of the media, finds a self-selecting audience to a certain degree and does it by exploiting some of the worst of what we see. Good stories just don’t sell as bad as the conflict.
But the fact is change is occurring in our world for the better, and it is occurring faster, moving faster than perhaps ever before. Between 1990 and 2015, the rate of child mortality fell by over one-half. Life expectancy and the number of boys and girls attending primary school in developing countries has increased dramatically. In 2001 there were less than a million kids going to school in Afghanistan, and all of them were boys. Today there are almost 8 million kids going to school, and about 40 to 45 percent of them are girls – change. More than two-and-a-half billion people have gained access to clean water in the last years, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than one-half.
Success stories like these are really just the tip of the iceberg. Measure it. It wasn’t so long ago that we saw a rapidly growing nuclear program that Klaus referred to in which Iran was only months away from having enough weapons-grade uranium to build 10 to 12 bombs. We were on the cusp of confrontation – believe me. I can’t tell you how many leaders, when I traveled through certain areas, said, “You have to bomb it. That’s the way you will solve this problem.”
Now, because of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action whose implementation we formally certified this past weekend, Iran’s path to building a bomb has been closed off, and an additional source of danger in the Middle East has been removed. Believe me, President Obama understood that he would be criticized by some for reaching out to Iran. But he also knew that we were on a collision course, and Iran itself was on a collision course with the international community that in all likelihood, without diplomacy, would have ended in war.
Two years ago, when our formal negotiations began, Iran’s nuclear activities had already grown from a few hundred centrifuges in the years 2000 to more than 19,000. Iran was ready to commission – almost, months away from commissioning – a heavy water reactor that was able to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for a bomb or two a year. And Iran already had a large and rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Experts told us that Iran could, if it chose to, obtain all of the fissile material that it would need for a nuclear weapon in as little as two months.
Compare that to where we are today. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, every single one of Iran’s pathways to a bomb is blocked – its uranium pathway, its plutonium pathway, its covert pathway – blocked. Due to massive cuts in its uranium stockpile – about 98 percent, may I say – and reductions in its enrichment capacity – all of which, by the way, Iran agreed to – the country’s so-called breakout time has now stretched from two months to 12 months or more for at least a decade, while we build confidence, while we build accountability. And there’ll be 130 additional IAEA inspectors in Iran – 24/7, 365 – to make sure that that holds true.
Now, before the talks started, the idea – the IAEA was unable to get answers to its questions. That’s why we had sanctions. That’s why we were in confrontation. It did not have assured access to investigate locations at which undeclared nuclear activities might be carried out. Today, the IAEA put in place every one of the extensive transparency and verification measures called for in the JCPOA. And because of the unprecedented monitoring and verification requirements that are an integral part of the plan, the world can now be confident of precisely what Iran is doing.
For Iran to break out secretly, its technicians would have to do more than bury a processing facility deep beneath the ground. They would have to come up with a complete – from start to finish – nuclear supply chain. And our experts agree that they could not do that undetected. And although some of the specific limitations in the plan apply for 10 years, some for 15 years, some for 20 years, some for 25 years – uranium from the mine to the mill to the yellowcake to the centrifuge to the waste, through the full cycle, will be monitored for 25 years. But more importantly, all of the expanded monitoring and verification provisions that now exist within the IAEA because of the mistakes that were made in North Korea are now in effect for the lifetime – the lifetime – of Iran’s nuclear program. And Iran has agreed to never, ever pursue a nuclear weapon, and that is codified in the United Nations Security Council resolution as well as in the agreement itself.
My friends, the region is safer. The world is safer.
Last December, representatives from more than 190 nations came together in Paris to express their commitment to build a low-carbon energy future in which greenhouse gas emissions are curbed and the worst consequences of climate change are prevented. We’ve been working on that for 20-plus years. I was in Rio 1992, part of the delegation with Al Gore and Tim Wirth and a bunch of people many of you know. But it was voluntary; we weren’t able to get there. We went through machinations of Kyoto and other efforts. Finally, we came together in a unique, extraordinary multilateral event.
Three years ago, when I first became Secretary of State, we were living with the experience of the failure of Copenhagen and the problem of China being on the other side of the ledger. President Obama asked me to go to Beijing and open up a new collaboration, if it was possible, on climate change. Everybody was skeptical. But we built a strong working relationship, and in the end, our two presidents – President Xi and President Obama – were able to stand up in Beijing a year before Paris and make an historic announcement that changed the entire dynamic of the negotiations in Paris.
In August, I had the privilege of traveling to Havana to raise the American flag above our embassy for the first time in 54 years. President Obama’s bold decision to normalize diplomatic ties with Cuba reflects, yes, both our national interests, but it also reflects our desire to try to help the citizens of that country live in a more open and prosperous society. We were determined to turn a corner after decades of a policy that just simply didn’t work. You know the old saying, the first way to solve the problem of digging a hole deeper and deeper is stop digging. But we have a long way to go, we know, but we’re already seeing progress.
Last year, travel by Cuba – to Cuba by United States citizens to deepen the ties between our people increased by more than 50 percent over the previous year. We have further empowered a growing Cuban private sector that now employs thousands of Cuban workers. And the Government of Cuba signed its first cellular telephone roaming agreement with a United States company that will help Cubans connect to the world and access information. And every one of you here knows that helps change – changes thinking, changes behavior.
Now, of course the United States and Cuba still remain far apart on some very important issues. But we are much closer than we were in our ability to be able to address those differences in a systematic and mutually respectful way. I talked to my counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, the other day. We will meet again shortly to talk about those other differences and to continue to try to march down this road.
In October, after seven years of negotiation, the United States joined 11 other nations along the Pacific Rim in signing and sending to Congress the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade agreement that will ensure heightened labor and environmental standards in 40 percent of the global economy. And already, other nations in the region are beating on the door and saying, “We want to be part of that. We want to be part of these higher standards and environmentally responsible, labor responsible business enterprises.”
At this time last year – I remember this, because we talked about it here – experts were predicting that the Ebola virus was going to kill a million people or more by Christmas of last year. Again, President Obama led an effort at the United Nations to bring people together. He took the risky decision without knowing all of the consequences and all of what was happening, but on the basis of our health care expert advice – we sent several thousand American troops and put them on the ground to build the capacity to be able to respond to this crisis. And together with partners around the world – France, Great Britain particularly, but China, Japan, others all joined in – we built a broad coalition of actors to educate the public, isolate the stricken, and stop the spread of the virus – spelling the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of people.
And in response to the global refugee crisis, President Obama is going to host a summit at the UN this fall. And the summit will be the culmination of a sustained, rigorous effort to rally the world community on several fronts to increase by 30 percent the response to humanitarian funding appeals; the number of regular humanitarian donors, to increase it by at least 10; to at least double the number of refugees who are resettled or afforded other safe and legal channels of admission; to expand by 10 the total number of countries admitting refugees; and to get a million children in school and a million people working legally.
Now, the private sector, civil society, religious organizations will also be called on to help integrate refugees into host communities socially, academically, and through access to employment. And I know we know how to do this in a way that protects the security of our countries.
Across the globe, my friends – you don’t hear about it every day. You don’t read about it every day. But every day, I can tell you our diplomats – myself and others – are deeply involved in trying to bring peace, together with regional organizations, and trying to do so in troubled lands. We’re working with countries to help stand up a government in Libya. Just before Christmas, we held a ministerial in Rome. We brought Libyans there. They agreed to sign the makings of a new government. And now we are working together to try to find a way to stand it up in Tripoli and bring people together and begin to move forward and take on Daesh in Libya.
We’re trying to end the war in Colombia. I appointed a special envoy to the task, and we are welcoming President Santos to Washington in two weeks to celebrate 15 years of our relationship under Plan Colombia, and we are working to help end the fight with FARC that is one of the longest-running conflicts on the planet.
We’re working to encourage a thawing of relations between India and Pakistan. It wasn’t an accident that Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Sharif began discussions. And earlier this week here at Davos, Vice President Biden and I met with Ukrainian President Poroshenko to help ensure full implementation of the Minsk agreements. And I believe that with effort and with bona fide, legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to find those Minsk agreements implemented and to get to a place where sanctions can be appropriately, because of the full implementation, removed.
Even in lands at peace, my friends, reconciliation is still an imperative, and we are working at it. That is why we’re supporting the best chance in decades to achieve a settlement in Cyprus. I was there recently; met with both leaders, had dinner with both of them together. Others are engaged in trying to encourage this process.
We are able to welcome something that we’ve encouraged and supported for a long time in addition to that – a resolution between Japan and South Korea to end the sensitivity of the legacy of World War II.
So ladies and gentlemen, the world is not witnessing global gridlock. We are not frozen in a nightmare that we can’t wake up from. The facts and the lessons are clear: If we stay at it, if we stay serious, if we’re willing to work in good faith to resolve problems, not create them, then we can make progress. And what I find really exciting about this moment is that we are staring at extraordinary opportunities everywhere we look in the world, if we make the right choices. Like our boldest predecessors who overcame depression, fascism, global wars, we can turn this story into the story that we want if we show that we have the same fierce determination to succeed. And succeeding will require that we tell the truth and take on and stand up to and try to resolve three interrelated challenges, not in order of priority – but first, the demand for good governance; second, the critical need to provide young people around the world growing at an extraordinary pace to provide them with the economic and social opportunity that they deserve and want; and third, to win the campaign against the great exploiters and liars and criminals who literally steal a great religion, to win the campaign against violent extremism.
So start for a moment – and I’ll run through them quickly – with the challenge of governance.
We have to acknowledge in all quarters of leadership that the plagues of violent extremism, greed, lust for power, sectarian exploitation often find their nourishment where governments are fragile and leaders are incompetent or dishonest. And that is why the quality of governance is no longer just a domestic concern. And I say to all of you who are businesspeople who engage in the politics of one country or another and support people in them, you need to demand accountability from those potential leaders or existing leaders. In Ukraine, under the previous regime, official venality and greed triggered an international crisis. In Syria, Assad was unwilling to respond to the legitimate concerns of young people who came out in the streets to demonstrate for opportunity, for jobs, for education. And when their parents were upset that they had been met with thugs, the parents went out and demonstrated on behalf of their kids and they were met with guns and bullets. Assad turned on his own people with a brutality delivered the largest humanitarian disaster of our times, literally employing the long-forbidden weapon of mass destruction – gas – outlawed in World War I, employing it against his own people. In Libya and Yemen, the absence of effective governance fueled regional strife. In Burundi, disrespect for the constitution has spawned an outbreak of violence. In far too many countries, just plain rank corruption has generated such powerful headwinds that local economies have to expend all of their energy just to tread water.
Now, obviously, corruption’s not a new problem. Every nation has faced it at one time or another in its development. America’s own Founding Fathers knew the threat of corruption all too well, warning of the dangers that it posed to democratic governance. But today, corruption has grown at an alarming pace and threatens global growth, global stability, and indeed the global future.
And when Prime Minister Abadi, who I met with yesterday – and we talked about the reform effort in Iraq – when he took office in Iraq over a year ago, he found the government payroll weighted down with 50,000 soldiers who didn’t even exist. That meant $380 million of dishonest public officials that got that money instead of it going to build the kind of inclusive and capable security forces that Iraq desperately needed.
When Nigeria’s President Buhari took office last spring, he inherited a military that was under-paid, underfed, and unable to protect the Nigerian people from Boko Haram. And one reason is that much of the military budget was finding its way into the pockets of the generals. And just this week, we saw reports that more than 50 people in Nigeria, including former government officials, stole $9 billion from the treasury.
Still in the United States, my friends, we continue to prosecute corruption and we live with a pay-to-play campaign finance system that should not be wished on any other country in the world. I used to be a prosecutor and I know how hard it is to hold people in positions of public responsibility accountable. But I also know how important it is.
The fact is there is nothing – absolutely nothing more demoralizing, more destructive, more disempowering to any citizen than the belief that the system is rigged against them and that people in positions of power are – to use a diplomatic term of art– crooks who are stealing the future of their own people; and by the way, depositing their ill-gotten gains in ostensibly legitimate financial institutions around the world.
Corruption is a social danger because it feeds organized crime, it destroys nation-states, it imperils opportunities particularly for women and girls, it facilitates environmental degradation, contributes to human trafficking, and undermines whole communities. It destroys the future.
Corruption is a radicalizer because it destroys faith in legitimate authority. It opens up a vacuum which allows the predators to move in. And no one knows that better than the violent extremist groups, who regularly use corruption as a recruitment tool.
Corruption is an opportunity destroyer because it discourages honest and accountable investment; it makes businesses more expensive to operate; it drives up the cost of public services for local taxpayers; and it turns a nation’s entire budget into a feeding trough for the privileged few.
And that is why it is imperative that the business community of the world starts to demand a different standard of behavior, that we deepen the fight against corruption, making it a first-order, national security priority. It’s why we are now providing technical assistance to more than 25 countries to build online business registration sites, which helps to reduce red tape and opportunities for graft – for the bribery necessary to get the permit, to get the local zoning, to get the land, to get the go-ahead. It’s why we’re expanding our law enforcement programs that send judges overseas to share best practices. And it’s why the U.S. Department of Justice has successfully returned $143 million since 2004 and is litigating now more than a billion dollars’ worth of stolen assets. It’s why we are working with businesses to spur reform and civil society groups whose investigative work on the ground is vital to strong law enforcement and justice. And it’s why we are developing stronger intelligence on kleptocrats and their networks on those who were using targeted economic sanctions and visa restrictions to deny bad actors the profits from graft.
All told, corruption costs the global economy – global GDP – more than a trillion dollars a year and costs the global economy on an international basis about $2.6 trillion. Imagine the difference that would make to all those kids under the age of 30 – 60 percent in some countries – yearning for jobs and opportunity, for electricity, for education. This corruption complicates, I assure you, every single security, diplomatic, and social priority of the Government of the United States and other governments who are trying to help countries in the world. And this in and of itself creates tension, instability, and a perfect playing field for predators. It is simply stunning to me – I head up the interagency task force of the all-government effort of the United States to deal with human trafficking – it is simply stunning that in the year 2016, more than 20 million, some estimate 27 million people, are the victims of modern-day slavery in what has become a $150 billion illicit human trafficking industry. New York Times recently had a compelling story on its front page of a young Cambodian boy seduced into leaving his country, going to Thailand, believing he’d be part of a construction company, and he wound up at sea for two years with a shackle around his neck as a slave for illegal fishing. Those numbers should shock the conscience of every person around into action, because although money is legitimately and always will be used for many things, it shouldn’t be hard for us to agree that in the 21st century, we should never, ever, ever allow a price tag to be attached to the freedom of another human being.
The bottom line is that it is everybody’s responsibility to condemn and expose corruption, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to replace a culture of corruption that has changed the way in which people accept the standards that the world long ago adopted, whether in Basel banking standards or in the universal standards of behavior or human rights, and it replaces malfeasance with a standard that expects honesty as a regular way of doing business. Never forget: The impact of corruption touches everyone – businesses, the private sector, every citizen. We all pay for it. So we have to wage this fight collectively – not reluctantly, but wholeheartedly by embracing standards that make corruption the exception and not the norm.
Now, the same emphasis on excellence and openness also needs to define our approach to the second challenge – and that’s meeting the demands of booming youth populations for economic opportunity.
In Africa, as we sit here today in Davos – a pretty special place – there are 700 million people under the age of 30. All of them are seeking opportunity, but they’re also seeking dignity and respect. And most of them nowadays have a smartphone. On the other side, we see these people in touch with the world and we know all too well that there are extremists out there who are totally ready – not even ready – they count on this, they rely on malfeasance and misfeasance and corruption, because they come at these guys in an organized fashion to seduce them into accepting a dead-end future. It’s not just a lack of jobs and opportunity that gives an extremist the opening for recruitment. They’re just as content to see corruption and oligarchy and resource exploitation fill the vacuum – because it may look like economic growth on paper, but it is another way to build frustration and indignity and then seize on the anger of those young people who are denied real opportunity and turn them into the radical religious extremists of today.
Here again, my friends, we cannot afford business as usual. We’re not going to win the battle for the minds of those 700 million kids unless they can go to school, and millions of them need to go to school tomorrow – not 10 years from now. A kid 10 years old now is going to be 20 in 10 years. What are they going to do? Where will they be? These swing voters in the struggle against violent extremism – if they grow up without an education, if they grow up without values, if they grow up without opportunities for a better life – who knows? And that’s another reason why the development goals that were passed at the United Nations last year are so important. They address all of this. It is the holistic approach that Klaus talked about in introducing me.
Just go back 14 years to the first Arab Human Development Report. Do you remember it? The report underscored – and I quote – “the mismatch between aspirations and their fulfillment has in some cases led to alienation and its offspring – apathy and discontent.” That was written way before Syria, way before Tahrir Square, way before a Tunisian fruit vendor thought he had to go self-immolate himself to address his sense of alienation. And in one way, that report’s analysis, I have to tell you, remains profoundly disturbing. Because if we subtract oil from the equation, we are left with countries that simply don’t produce enough of what the rest of the world wants; they don’t do what’s necessary to encourage investment; they don’t trade efficiently even among themselves; and they aren’t always making the wisest use of their capital, their human capital. Only about one woman in four participates in the economy, and youth unemployment is at 25 percent. This leaves millions of young people who – because of social media – are not only frustrated, but completely aware of what they don’t have in a world where everyone is connected, 24/7. So what happens to all their energy and ambition? Who are they going to listen to? What ideas will command their loyalty?
Now, on the plus side, those same studies show the extraordinary potential of the region in sectors ranging from farming to professional services to alternative energy development to tourism. And that potential is not going to be realized by doing another study; it’s going to be realized by taking action. Governments, the private sector, the international community – everybody’s got to do more to proactively take advantage of the opportunities that do exist. And that imperative applies all around the world.
Governments everywhere have to remove barriers to innovation; they have make it easier to start a business; they have to be more open to foreign investment; and focus like a laser on diversification; streamline bureaucracies; prevent military establishments from crowding out private enterprise; and above all, give women and girls an equal chance to compete in the classroom and in the workplace. This is the only way to provide for the needs of nation and of the modern world.
Now, everyone knows that even as we build prosperity and improve governance and fight corruption, we also have a fundamental obligation to keep our people safe. And that’s the last challenge, the third challenge I want to just mention quickly. In the 21st century, we’re learning every day that “next door” is everywhere, and there can be no limit to our vigilance either in territory or in time.
Last year, in this forum, I suggested that the fight against violent extremism may well be the defining challenge for our generation. Nothing that has happened since has caused me to change my mind. But I want to emphasize that this confrontation with the forces of terror is not separate from reforming governance or from strengthening our communities in other ways, because doing so, as I’ve tried to describe, is fundamental to eliminating the opportunity for extremism.
And as we take on this challenge, we have to avoid two dangers. The first is that we treat this violence as some sort of “new normal,” as I mentioned earlier – just a fact of modern life with which we’re going to have to coexist. And the second is that we overreact, and define our adversary so broadly that we invite remedies that backfire. Our efforts have to be properly directed at those who plan, finance, and carry out terrorist attacks – no less, but also no more. Because we recognize an important and an inescapable truth: The conflict is not between one civilization and another, which I sometimes read and you read. It’s between civilization itself and barbarism. Every day begins – remarkable examples are brought to us of civility fighting back.
Last month, an al-Shabaab gunman stopped a bus near the town of El Wak, Kenya, demanding that the passengers separate themselves according to religion. Instead, the Muslims shared their head scarves with the Christians to conceal their identity. And one Muslim passenger said simply: “We stuck together tightly. The militants told us they would shoot us but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters. Finally, the terrorists gave up and left.”
In June, a group affiliated with Daesh attacked one of the oldest Shiite mosques in Kuwait; 27 worshippers lost their lives. The attack’s purpose was to sow hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Instead, Kuwait’s Sunni leaders urged their followers to pray at Shiite mosques. Thirty-five thousand people attended the funeral for the victims. The government vowed to rebuild the mosque and a Sunni business leader stood up and offered to do the job for free.
The truth is that, for every act of terrorism, there are a multitude of efforts to promote inter-religious respect and pluralism. In Kenya, an organization called Sisters Without Borders is striving to prevent radicalization of young people. In the Central African Republic and Nigeria, Christian and Muslim leaders have joined ranks to ease sectarian tensions. In Norway, more than a thousand Muslims formed a human chain around a synagogue to condemn extremist threats against Jews. In London, Orthodox Jews formed street patrols to shield Muslim neighbors from hate crimes. In country after country, citizens of all backgrounds have responded to deadly attacks by showing that we will not be intimidated, we will not be split apart, and we will not be provoked into abandoning our values.
Just last month, when the leader of Daesh asked Muslims everywhere to wise up and join the cause, Muslims responded on Twitter: “Sorry, but I’m watching Star Wars.” And “Sorry, I’m too busy being part of a civilized and functioning society.”
Some terrorists say that the greatest advantage they have – or as some people say of the terrorists – that the greatest advantage they have is that they have the dedication of fighters who are willing to blow themselves up. But the truth – our advantage is we would never ask anyone to blow themselves up. The terrorists drive people apart; we want people and nations to come together – and they are. Governments from Niger and Chad are helping Nigeria to fight Boko Haram. The African Union is coordinating with Somalia to oppose al-Shabaab. And the international coalition to counter Daesh now has 65 members and is making steady gains.
And that coalition is something that the world has never seen before. Its members are drawn from every corner of the globe, they’re engaged along multiple lines of effort. Some are training or equipping Iraqi armed forces. Some are blocking Daesh’s money. Some are countering the terrorists’ propaganda. All are trying to stop the recruitment of foreign fighters. And much of the leadership within the coalition has come from Arab states, because no one knows better than they how high the stakes are and how to best win the battle of public opinion.
I’ll just tell you quickly that since coming together 16 months ago, the coalition has launched almost 10,000 airstrikes. We’ve shown how effective the combination of coalition air support and ground action by local partners can be. We are eliminating terrorist leaders. We’re hammering their oil wells, cash collection centers, refineries. We are closing in on the full control of the Turkey-Syria border. We have seized major portions of the strategic highway between Daesh’s two remaining strongholds – Mosul and Raqqa. Daesh has already had to slash the salaries they pay their fighters by 50 percent, and that was one of the great recruitment tools. And we have pushed the enemy already out of 30 to 40 percent of the territory that it once controlled.
Now, yes, the struggle is far from over. But we are headed in the right direction.
Look at Tikrit, Iraq’s Sunni heartland. A year ago, the city was being pillaged by Daesh. Everybody left. Its thugs were everywhere, stealing anything not nailed down, killing anyone who didn’t cooperate, posting images of their atrocities on YouTube. The local university was their headquarters. Today, that university has reopened with 16,000 students, 90 percent of Tikrit’s population has returned, and Daesh is nowhere to be seen.
Then there’s Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. Last May, it fell to the terrorists – a searing moment. Iraq’s Prime Minister immediately vowed to put together a plan to retake it. And now, after months of training, clearing away explosives, fending off snipers, and sustaining more than a thousand of Iraq’s forces as casualties, they have reclaimed the heart of the city. And Iraqi Security Forces, with our support, are on the march to retake all of Anbar province.
Each day, we’re learning more about what works, and each day, we are intensifying the pressure on Daesh. Now, we’ve known from the moment that we started that this international coalition’s success was going to take years. I said that here a year ago; I said it when we formed the coalition. So we have been consistent, but now we are consistently achieving our goals and making progress. In the end, mark my words, Daesh will be defeated – and the progress that we have made toward that end is undeniable. Our operational tempo is accelerating, the support of our allies is broadening, our partners on the ground are becoming stronger, and the terrorists never know what might hit them or from where.
Now, I close by saying to you that nothing, in the end, would do more to terminate the threat of Daesh than, obviously, to negotiate an end to the war in Syria, and that is precisely what we are trying to do.
Achieving it will not be easy. It isn’t already, though we’ve taken important first steps. We’ve assembled a 20-member support group that includes every major country with a direct stake in Syria – including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, and Russia. We’ve all been together at the same table. Second, we’ve agreed on a list of principles endorsed by the UN Security Council, pointing the way toward the kind of stable, sovereign, inclusive, and non-sectarian Syria that we all seek. And third, we’ve set in motion a plan for direct negotiations between the government and the opposition, soon hopefully to begin in Geneva, to try – to try to find the political settlement that everybody says is the only way, ultimately, to end the war. We’re trying to find a political transition and internationally supervised elections. And we have agreed on a timetable for taking these steps so the process is not allowed to drag on endlessly. That’s the outline and now it has to be implemented.
Now, many obstacles remain, but there are also compelling reasons why this initiative is so important. Every country in the region opposes Daesh, and even governments that disagree with each other on other issues acknowledge that the war has to end and a diplomatic solution has to be found. No one has more incentive to do that than the Syrians themselves to try to write a new chapter in their history.
As usual, as we gather here in Davos in 2016, it’s obvious from my comments and your own discussions and everything we know about the world today, we face gigantic challenges. But please, we should remember that compared to any earlier generation, we have tremendous advantages. A child today is more likely than ever before in history to be born healthy, more likely to be adequately fed, more likely to get the necessary vaccinations, more likely to attend school, and more likely to actually live a long life. Individuals and companies around the world thrive on new technologies that have made possible incredible breakthroughs in communications, education, health care, and economic growth. And Klaus has designated the work of these days in Davos to figure out how to harness the fourth iteration of the technology revolution.
According to World Bank projections, the extreme poverty rate has fallen below 10 percent for the first time in history. Compared to 1987, when the World Economic Forum first met, the number of democracies has doubled and the number of nuclear weapons has fallen by two-thirds.
All of this isn’t because any one country did something or because what governments alone have done. It’s what happens when people, writ broadly, in faith-based groups, NGOs, governments, private sector, business all come together valuing skills and valuing dignity, respect the rights of each other, and when they believe in the possibilities of progress no matter how many setbacks are confronted along the way.
That is really not a very complicated formula, folks, but it does give me a powerful sense of confidence about what we can achieve. By encouraging innovation, we can count on the individual ingenuity of people in our universities and laboratories, and yes, in basements and garages, to generate new ideas that will enable us to push back the boundaries of what is possible in energy, education, food security, health. And through a process of open discussion like we engage in here, we will continue to identify ways to improve governance, to foster shared prosperity, to create societies whose leaders are accountable and whose citizens have the privilege of thriving under rule of law. And by insisting on rights and dignity of every human being, we will ensure the defeat of Daesh and similar groups who have nothing to offer anybody except destruction and death. That is how we choose to have a world defined – not by shutting off the world, not by segregating it by tribe, sect, religion, not by conflict, but by opportunity. And believe me, opportunity is something that the Daeshes and the Boko Harams and the Shabaabs can never offer.
So our responsibility is clear: To build for ourselves a future where the most indelible images are not what I described in the beginning, but instead are not the products of violence, but are prosaic and profound in the simplicity that they present – a girl in a school where she never had been able to be, a workplace in high gear in a place where jobs never existed, a voter’s ink-stained finger where they never before had had the privilege of choosing anybody to lead them, a head bowed in prayer with a sense of security and safety, and a tiny boy with plastic shovel in his hand playing on a beach.
This is the shared mission of our generation, less to make history than to calm history, to create the largest possible oasis of time about which no future war movies will be made, no epic battle diaries kept, no genocide memorials needed; a time of quiet building and the peaceful pursuit of a rewarding life. That is a task in which we can all have a stake and in which we actually can all play a role. And I hope it will inspire all of us to take more steps – hopefully giant steps – to define a future of decency and peace.
Thank you. (Applause.)