Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec at the Bucharest Security Conference

U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec delivers remarks at the Bucharest Security Conference. October 20, 2023, Bucharest, Romania.

October 20, 2023
Grand Hotel Bucharest

Foreign Minister Odobescu,
Professor Remus Pricopie and other SNSPA students and professors,
Distinguished guests,
Good morning.

As President Biden has noted, we are at an inflection point in history. The Cold War is long over but so are the declarations of the so-called end of history in which the inevitable dominance of liberal democracy was taken as a given.

Today, we face a host of complex challenges, both internal and external, that threaten our shared vision of a free, democratic, prosperous, and stable world. Our task today is to shape what comes next, in light of growing strategic competition, shared global challenges and the revolution in technology.

As Secretary Blinken has described it, “one era is ending, a new one is beginning, and the decisions that we make now will shape the future for decades to come.”

Romanians are familiar with historical inflection points. More than two decades ago, at a similarly critical moment in time, Romania made the strategic – and wise — decision to join NATO and the EU, putting it on a path of democratic transformation.

Returning earlier this year to Romania, after fifteen years away, I have been struck by the many positive changes visible throughout the country thanks to these key decisions.

Romania’s GDP has almost tripled since it joined the EU. Per capita income grew from around 45% to nearly 80% of the EU average. Trade with the U.S. has grown to $5 billion.

Romania has gone from a recipient to an exporter of peace and security, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with us and our NATO Allies in Afghanistan and Iraq and we have mentioned also Kosovo here recently, and providing critical security today in the Western Balkans.

Today, Romania is infinitely more ready to defend its borders with the support of NATO allies and partners than it was just a few decades ago.

Romanians understand what is at stake at this new inflection point since it is on the frontlines of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine—the biggest war in Europe since World War II and most immediate and acute geopolitical challenge to international order today.

It is difficult to know the exact numbers, but recent media reports indicate at least half a million people have been killed since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022.

Many more lives have been jeopardized by Russia’s unilateral and callous withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative that disrupted grain markets and prevented food from reaching the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made clear that an attack on the international order anywhere can negatively affect peace and stability everywhere.

While we are currently seized by the immediate threat posed by Russia, the long-term challenge of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is perhaps even more challenging. China is the only country with both the aspiration and increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to reshape the international order.

The extraordinary transformation of China in the past 50 years is not in and of itself a problem. Unfortunately, however, its current leadership appears to be intent on undermining the laws, agreements, and institutions that made China’s economic rise possible. The answer to this is not to decouple from an economy like China’s which is not really feasible or wise, but to de-risk and diversify by securing resilient supply chains, as Jamie Shea was mentioning, protecting our technological edge, and investing in industrial capacity, something that Jamie also referred to.

In addition to an emboldened China and Russia, the complicated international landscape we find ourselves in today also includes transnational threats like climate change and pandemics, as well as a technological revolution, which is rapidly changing the way we live, work, communicate and compete.

A revitalized security architecture that will address these complex conditions will require partnerships based on shared values, like the U.S. -Romania Strategic Partnership launched in 1997 by Presidents Clinton and Constantinescu.

Since the beginning of our partnership, our collaboration has flourished. We have expanded trade and investment between our countries with nearly 1,000 U.S. companies operating in Romania today and triple the volume of trade from 2007.

We have strengthened our people-to-people ties and cultural exchanges through the Fulbright, FLEX, and similar programs. And we have grown our defense and security relationship.

It is vital that we continue to invest in our alliances and partnerships, starting with NATO. When we are confronted with Russian aggression, or with Hamas’ attacks on Israel, or with any other global injustice, we are stronger if we stand together.

The importance of strategic unity has never been clearer than following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin made a strategic miscalculation believing he could divide Europe and the West. Instead, we stand more unified than ever with Finland’s recent accession to NATO and Sweden’s impending membership.

As we work together to strengthen our security architecture, it is important that we take an even more inclusive approach. We are stronger when we include more voices, including especially those of women.

And I don’t just say this because I am the first woman U.S. ambassador to Romania. Research has shown time and again that that including diverse voices in decision-making and conflict resolution leads to better solutions.

Take for example the field of women, peace, and security. UN studies show women’s participation in peace negotiations contribute to the equality and durability of peace after civil war.

Sadly, the percentage of peace processes that include women negotiators or signatories is negligible. This is why I am proud the United States and Romania are co-chairing the UN Women, Peace, and Security Focal Points Network this year. We must do better if we hope to build lasting and sustainable peace.

On the day the U.S.-Romania partnership was signed, President Clinton stood in Piata Universitatii and proclaimed, “The Romanian people have won the world’s respect for moving so far, so fast, and for believing in yourselves and your future…” He urged Romanians to stay the course, saying, “the future is yours.”

President Clinton’s words still resonate, despite the unprecedented challenges. Romania, like the United States made a commitment to our shared values and I am convinced that by continuing to invest in our alliances and promoting more inclusive democracies the future will continue to be ours.

In closing, let me just say that I heard some of the comments and concerns about some of the divisions in the United States, but I would urge you all to listen to President Biden’s speech yesterday, I think he gave a strong and compelling speech about unity and about working together and I highly commend that to all of you.