For those of us who have spent the better part of our lives watching America's deepening involvement in the world around us, it is easy to forget that the United States has, throughout most of its history, only episodically been concerned with foreign affairs.
Forty years ago we could not even glimpse the enormous dangers of nuclear weapons or the complexities we would face today in our efforts to control them. And 40 years ago few could foresee that the collapse of the old order would bring with it the spread of increasingly sophisticated military arms to new and contending nations, so that today regional conflicts carry with them the constant threat of escalation.
Today most Americans recognize that a steady and coherent involvement by the US in the affairs of the world is a necessary condition for peace and prosperity. Over and over again since the close of the Second World War, the US has been the global power to whom others have turned for help, whether it be to assist in the process of economic development or in finding peaceful solutions to conflicts.
In our international endeavors, we are strengthened by a structure of alliances that is of central importance. Ours is not a hegemonic world but a diverse and pluralistic one, reflecting the complexity of the free, independent, and democratic societies with which we are associated. Just as we expect others to act in partnership with us, so we must conduct ourselves as responsible partners.
Friction and differences are inevitable among allies, and we can never assume complacently that they will automatically disappear. Tolerance of the needs and perspectives of others is essential. So is candid recognition of our difficulties and challenges. Above all, there has to a commitment to the common values and interests on which the truly unique multilateral institutions of the last three and a half decades have been based.
If we are strong, we buttress our allies and friends and leave our adversaries in no doubt about the consequences of aggression. If we provide assistance to help others to be strong, our own strength can be husbanded and brought to bear more effectively. If we are confident, we give confidence to those who seek to resolve disputes peacefully. If we are engaged, we give hope to those who would otherwise have no hope. If we live by our ideals, we can argue their merit to others with confidence and conviction.