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Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec at the Born in NATO Event

April 23, 2024

Minister Odobescu,Director Tarnea,Director Stoica,Dear students and guests,   It is a privilege to be here today, meeting with you, one of Romania’s best high schools, to commemorate two important anniversaries. I want to thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the invitation, and the director of Sava National College, Ana Stoica, for the warm welcome. And I thank you, students, in advance. You are not just the future of Romania; you are the future of our relationship.   Twenty years ago tomorrow, on March 29, 2004, Romania became a member of NATO. And next week, on April 4, we will mark the 75th anniversary of NATO’s establishment.   NATO’s mission is to ensure the freedom, prosperity and security of its members. You probably know that NATO is a military alliance – and it is that. The North Atlantic Treaty, which is NATO’s founding document, says that an attack against any one of NATO’s 32 Allies is an attack against all of us. And as President Biden has said, “we will defend every inch of NATO territory.” As NATO Allies, Romania and the United States work together with all Allies to contribute to our common security, and the security of Europe. That’s a big part of our jobs. [gesture to FM] But NATO is not only about tanks and planes.   NATO is not just a military alliance. Perhaps most importantly, NATO is a political alliance based on our shared values – liberty, democracy, the rule of law. These are the values that bind us together as Allies. We prepare for a common defense because we are seeking a common future rooted in these values.   As the title of this event suggests, those of you who are students are young enough to have never known a Romania that was not in NATO. Romania’s membership in NATO was probably obvious to you the moment you learned what NATO is.   But it was not always obvious that Romania, and other states in Eastern Europe, would join NATO. When Romania, along with six other countries – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia – were invited to join NATO (at the Prague Summit in 2002), this was in fact a bold step that brought together two halves of Europe that had been divided by the cold war.   It was a commitment, taken by Romania’s leaders at the time – taken by all of our leaders at the time – that the foundation of relations amongst a reunified Europe and transatlantic alliance would be our common values. We agreed that we would live by the same basic rules of democratic states in a rules-based international system. Together we would pursue not only the security but the liberty, dignity and prosperity of our citizens.   Freedom and prosperity go hand in hand with security. We are reminded of this truth every day as we see horrific images of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. We are reminded that when there is no security, when there is no peace, it is so much harder to pursue everything else we want in our lives: an education, a job, a business, romance, a family. Whatever your dreams are, security lets you pursue them, lets you prosper.   Indeed Romania – and the other Allies that joined around the same time – have prospered. Economists have done a lot of math to determine how much increased investment and trade came with NATO membership. (Indeed, I understand they determined that once a country received its invitation to NATO, foreign investment generally tripled in the next two years). They have studied how membership of NATO and the European Union have caused per capita incomes to rise (Romania’s per capita income is 500% greater now, in real terms, than when it was invited to join NATO).   But you can see this yourselves without doing math. Just look at the history of Eastern Europe over the past 35 years. You have, in 1989, a number of countries in Eastern Europe that are starting at the same point in terms of freedom and in terms of their economy.   Freedom — they didn’t have it. They didn’t have economic freedom, they didn’t have political freedom, they didn’t have the rule of law or human rights guarantees. In terms of economic development, they were largely in the same place. What the World Bank then called middle income countries. Thirty-five years later, if we look back, we see that countries have made drastically different choices in terms of their freedoms. Some of these countries are full democracies that guarantee economic, political and legal freedoms, that have sought Euro Atlantic integration by joining NATO and the EU. Others are brutal dictatorships like Russia and Belarus. And some you could call democracies – perhaps imperfect democracies – that have sought a different path than joining the EU or NATO. We see huge differences in the prosperity – the wealth and opportunity in these countries based on which paths they have chosen.   If you look on the World Bank website, you can plug in different countries and different years and see how countries have developed economically. In 1990, Romania, Belarus, and Serbia next door had about the same GDP per person, very similar levels of economic development. Ten years later, in 2000, Romania and Belarus still had very similar GDP per capita [a difference of only $47/year]. Serbia had a slightly higher level of growth and GDP. But by 2000, Romania had set as its goal to join NATO and the EU. In 2005, a year after Romania joined NATO and two years before it joined the EU, you see Romania’s economic growth take off compared to the other two. Now, in 2024, Romania’s GDP per person is about 80 percent higher than either of those two states.   Your parents’ generation knows this very well because they witnessed firsthand the benefits of integration in real time, as they were happening. They saw the benefits that security brought in terms of jobs, investment, opportunity to study abroad, political freedoms. That’s why that generation of Romania’s leaders worked so hard for Romania to transition to a full democracy, to join NATO and then the EU. These were bold political decisions, and it wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always obvious.Their parents’ generations – perhaps some of your grandparents but, if not, their parents – remembered the harsh legacy of war throughout Europe, the threats to security that hampered their hopes and dreams.   It is important that we, as a society, do not forget the lessons they learned. But societies do forget the lessons of history too easily. In my own country, the generation that survived World War II and its aftermath felt very passionately about our common security. They understood that security and prosperity in the United States was irrevocably linked to the security and prosperity of our Allies in Europe.   The rules-based international order that kept peace in most of Europe since World War II was something precious for that generation and the one that followed. One thing your parents’ generation did not have to deal with while Romania was making these decisions was social media, memes, and fake news that rapidly spread disinformation.   Today, in my own country, I see attempts at disinformation that aim to undermine our shared values, erode trust in our institutions, and discredit the international order. They provoke fear and speak half-truths to convince people that the world is against them. That it’s a trap, or a conspiracy. I’m not going to repeat these ideas because fake news and conspiracy theories do not deserve repeating. But I highlight it because I see similar attempts at disinformation here in Romania, that seek to call into question all the hard work and courage that went into the efforts of previous generations to set Romania on its rightful path to Euro-Atlantic integration. Misinformation and conspiracy theories are not new. But the speed at which they spread is. News was once amplified based on the reputation and reliability of its source. Now it is often amplified based on its appeal to attract “shares.” I encourage you as news consumers, to approach such stories with skepticism. Consider the sources: are they reputable and informed? Who is spreading the message and why? What are the motivations behind the story? Who benefits? Before sharing, ask yourself: Is this information credible?   As you look at the great progress Romania has made over the past 35 years and consider the benefits and obligations of Romania’s membership in our Euro Atlantic institutions, I encourage you to seek insights from those who were involved, such as the Foreign Minister here.   The transformation of Europe over the past 75 years, and the transformation of Eastern Europe over the past 35 years into a community of states sharing core values of democracy, liberty, and justice, bound by mutual defense, is monumental. It was at the time a bold idea, that took courage of countless leaders from our countries. That’s why, on these important anniversaries, the Minister and I have chosen to speak to you, Romania’s next generation, entrusted with carrying this legacy forward.   Thank you.   (Source: U.S. Mission Romania )

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