Obama: The West's day is not yet done
In a rallying call to the Western world, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday denied that the rise of powers such as China, India and Brazil meant the inevitable decline of Europe and the United States.
In a keynote speech to Britain’s two houses of parliament meant to inject new momentum into the transatlantic alliance which has bolstered global security since World War II, Obama said Western nations must renew themselves.
“Countries like China, India and Brazil are growing by leaps and bounds,” Obama told the assembled lawmakers, arguing that in the end, the emergence of new powers would benefit everyone.
“As this rapid change has taken place, it has become fashionable in some quarters to question whether the rise of these nations will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world,” Obama said.
“Perhaps, the argument goes, these nations represent the future, and the time for our leadership has passed.
“That argument is wrong. The time for our leadership is now.”
The US leader joined a select list of foreign political leaders who have addressed both houses of parliament in 900-year-old Westminster Hall, following Nelson Mandela and Charles de Gaulle.
Obama’s speech in the historic hall has long been awaited by foreign policy experts and political leaders who have speculated that Obama believes America’s future lies with emerging giants and not its old allies.
But he dismissed that idea, saying: “It was the United States, the United Kingdom and our democratic allies that shaped a world in which new nations could emerge and individuals could thrive.
“And even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our Alliance will remain indispensable to the goal of a century that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more just.”
“We remain the greatest catalysts for global action.”
But the president said that though the bonds between the United States, Britain and Europe were forged in two world wars, they needed to be refashioned to meet a new era of threats including terrorism and climate change.
The president also argued that nations such as his own, and his hosts, had an inherent advantage in a new global economy that threatens their competitive edge but which prizes a well educated workforce.
“To maintain this advantage in a world that’s more competitive than ever, we will have to redouble our investments in science and engineering, and renew our national commitments to educating our workforces,” Obama said.
Obama also praised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), currently fighting in Afghanistan and Libya, as the “most successful alliance in human history” and vowed never to relent in the fight against al-Qaeda, and to ensure that Afghanistan was purged of terrorism.
He also said that the West had a crucial interest in the wave of revolt raging in north Africa and the Middle East and called on fellow leaders to help ensure that political transitions succeeded.
“It will be years before these revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be difficult days along the way. Power rarely gives up without a fight,” he said.
“Make no mistake: What we saw in Tehran, Tunis and Tahrir Square is a longing for the same freedoms that we take for granted at home.
“So let there be no doubt: the United States and United Kingdom stand squarely on the side of those who long to be free,” Obama said, reprising many of the themes of his major speech on the Arab uprisings last week.
“We will proceed with humility, and the knowledge that we cannot dictate outcomes abroad.
Ultimately, freedom must be won by the people themselves, not imposed from without.”