By no means is America perfect. But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, and to grow stronger over time. Freedom of speech and assembly has allowed women, minorities, and workers to protest for full and equal rights. The rule of law and equal administration of justice has busted monopolies, shut down political machines, and ended abuses of power. Independent media have exposed corruption at all levels of business and government. Competitive elections allow us to change course and hold our leaders accountable. If our democracy did not advance those rights, I – as a person of African ancestry – wouldn’t be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a President.
Around the world, America supports these values because they are moral, and also because they work. The arc of history shows us that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not. Governments that represent the will of their people are far less likely to descend into failed states, to terrorize their citizens, or to wage war on others. Governments that promote the rule of law, subject their actions to oversight, and allow for independent institutions are more dependable trading partners. And in our own history, democracies have been America’s most enduring allies, including those we once waged war with in Europe and Asia – nations that today live with great security and prosperity.
Now let me be clear: America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country. Even as we meet here today, America supports the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies. We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not.
That leads me to the final area that I will discuss, which is America’s interest in an international system that advances cooperation while respecting the sovereignty of all nations.
State sovereignty must be a cornerstone of international order. Just as all states should have the right to choose their leaders, states must have the right to borders that are secure, and to their own foreign policies. That is true for Russia, just as it is true for the United States. Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy. That is why this principle must apply to all nations – including Georgia and Ukraine. America will never impose a security arrangement on another country. For any country to become a member of NATO, a majority of its people must choose to; they must undertake reforms; and they must be able to contribute to the Alliance’s mission. And let me be clear: NATO seeks collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.