Ambassador John Bolton addressed Boys State last night in Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
Ambassador John Bolton [applause] Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Well, it’s a great, uh, pleasure to be here with you this evening. I have a, uh, lot of contacts, uh, with the state of Missouri. My wife was born in Kansas City. [applause, cheers] Uh, I have a lot of friends, uh, from Missouri. I was, uh, preceded as, uh, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. by Jack Danforth, uh, who was a great senator from this state, held many state offices besides. One of my, uh, law school classmates, uh, worked for Jack Danforth when he was Attorney General, uh, of Missouri and then went with, uh, Senator Danforth when he went to Washington. Uh, and he’s now, uh, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, one of the great, uh, judges, I think, we’ll see in American history…
Ambassador John Bolton speaking at Missouri Boys State from the stage on Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri.
…Uh, my, my background was probably a lot different than, uh, than yours. I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Uh, and when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties Baltimore was the second largest port in the United States after, uh, after New York. It was the sixth, at that time, the sixth largest city in the United States. Uh, but Baltimore was centered around its port, and while obviously a lot that went in and out, uh, was domestic commerce, uh, the majority of what came in was from overseas. So, from the perspective of somebody growing up in Baltimore trade with the rest of the world was, uh, was a very important part of the life of the city, uh, and the, uh, and the state as a whole. In fact, I remember every Sunday morning watching a, uh, television program called “The Port That Built a City.” It was hosted by the Baltimore Sun’s maritime reporter, a woman named Helen Delich Bentley who later went on to be elected to, uh, Congress. But one thing that she picked up as a maritime reporter was, uh, the ability to swear with any sailor in any bar in port in the world, which talent she brought to the House of Representatives only to find that, uh, even she was outmatched by a lot of the people who were already there. [laughter]
Uh, but it is a, uh, it is great, uh, privilege to be here with all of you this evening and to, uh, to welcome your interest in public affairs and public life. We all have our personal lives, we all have our private careers, but it is critical for America, uh, both for ourselves and for the example we set for the rest of the world that our citizens are active on matters of public policy. Uh, and it’s really hard to describe, hard to imagine really, for people, uh, here in the United States how different this experience is from, uh, the way citizens even in other democracies in Western Europe and, uh, other countries treat their civic responsibilities. Uh, and in fact, uh, as I’m sure you understand, even the tradition of Boys State and Girls State itself goes back, uh, to the time when Nazism was, uh, taking control of Germany and, and rising in other countries in Europe, when we faced the threat of international Communism . And, and this is really the American alternative to that. Uh, and it survives and flourishes to this day and I think gives a real basis, uh, for all of you whatever your future career plans, uh, to keep your eye on what, uh, politicians do and perhaps even to pursue the career yourself.
Uh, because this is really the embodiment, uh, of American sovereignty. To us sovereignty is not an abstract concept, it doesn’t rest in our government. In America we understand that sovereignty rest with ourselves. We the people are sovereign in America and we really don’t fundamentally have anything to worry about from the rest of the world as long as we keep that in mind. It’s when we forget it, when we turn our attention away from those civic obligations I think that we find ourselves, uh, threatened. Uh, and I think that’s especially true even at a time when we’re focused on, uh, domestic problems, uh, understandably so, we have an economy that’s still not fully recovered, we’ve got a major environmental disaster going on in the Gulf of Mexico, we have a lot of issues that focus our attention on domestic policy.
I wanted to take a few minutes tonight to talk to you about international affairs and, of course, I’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have on really anything that’s on your mind. But, I think it’s, uh, it’s especially important, uh, to remember that even as we, uh, debate many important issues at both the federal and the state level that affect our daily lives our adversaries around the world are not waiting for the United States to get its house in order. In fact, if anything, they see our current economic difficulties, our preoccupation with, uh, domestic issues, uh, as an opportunity for them to advance their own agendas, uh, which are a long way from benefiting, uh, the United States. And I’ll just focus, uh, for my remarks here, uh, on something that may seem remote to some of you but which is in fact, I think, the central organizing, uh, premise for threats to the United States in, in the years ahead. And that’s the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical, and biological, uh, and the ballistic missile systems that can be used to deliver them.
During the cold war we had a very precarious stability based on, uh, the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. And one consequence of, uh, the cold war was that proliferation, particularly of nuclear weapons to other countries, uh, was not very much of a threat. But unfortunately one of the adverse consequences of the end of the cold war, and there aren’t many, thank goodness, we’re happy to have it behind us, but one consequence, uh, is the threat of nuclear proliferation has grown over the years. And indeed, we’re at a point where if we don’t address it seriously, the entire structure of nonproliferation around the world, uh, is in danger of collapsing. Uh, and this, to me, is a very clear, uh, point of emphasis about the importance of American leadership in the world. You know, you can talk about, uh, multilateral organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, you can talk about the role of the U.N. Security Council, you can talk a lot, about a lot of different, uh, uh, ways in which, uh, the nations of the world try and prevent proliferation, but when it comes right down to it, it is only the United States, uh, that can summon the will to stop proliferation, uh, if it’s inclined to do so. And unfortunately over the past several years in administrations both Republican and Democratic we have not, uh, assumed the responsibility that, uh, that we can, uh, to defeat this very grave risk to ourselves and our friends and allies, and really all civilized countries around the world.
We’ve got two particular cases at the moment where nuclear proliferation is succeeding. Uh, let me start first with North Korea, a country which is, uh, probably the worst totalitarian state, uh, on the planet today. Uh, it is, if you can imagine it, the world’s only hereditary Communist dictatorship, uh, having passed from, uh, Kim Il Sung to the current ruler, Kim Jong Il, who’s busily preparing for, uh, one of his sons to, uh, take over the country when he dies, which could well be, uh, in the very near future.
North Korea is fundamentally a criminal state. It sells drugs in its diplomatic pouches, uh, it’s the world’s largest proliferator of ballistic missile
technology, largely into the very unstable Middle East, uh, it’s a country ruled by, uh, a military and a Communist party that, uh, don’t care, uh, at all about their own population. Let me just, uh, give you, uh, one example. Korea was partitioned right at the end of World War Two, in nineteen forty-five, the two halves of the country, after fifty years of Japanese occupation, were roughly equal, if anything North Korea had more industry than South Korea. From that point in nineteen forty-five to today, uh, the populations have developed in radically different ways. And in fact, the average person in North Korea is today four to six inches shorter than the average person in South Korea. Now think about that. In sixty-five years the same population, divided between, uh, the two very different governments along the thirty-eighth parallel has produced two radically different societies. If you look at a map of the Korean peninsula, uh, from space, a picture taken at night, South Korea is completely illuminated. Uh, you can pick out the big cities, you can see, uh, where the population centers are, and in contrast, North Korea is indistinguishable from the seas that surround it. There fundamentally has no electrical grid. And yet this desperately poor society, uh, which in imprisons large numbers of its own people continues to pursue nuclear weapons, and in fact, in two thousand six and two thousand nine tested nuclear weapons proving that they have that capability. Uh, North Korea has undoubtedly, uh, also cooperated in the nuclear field with countries like Iran and Syria. Uh, we know that because, uh, North Korea was building a nuclear reactor on the banks of the Euphrates River in Syria until it was destroyed in September of two thousand seven by the Israeli Air Force. Uh, ask yourself, why North Korea would be building a nuclear reactor in Syria. And the answer’s very clear – if you want to hide an illicit nuclear weapons program from prying international eyes, what better place to put it than the country where nobody’s looking. So, North Korea is not simply a threat to peace and stability in Northeast Asia, although it certainly is, it’s a threat worldwide. And you can bet if Al Qaeda or another terrorist group had sufficient hard currency, uh, North Korea would be delighted to sell them a nuclear weapon. So, the efforts that, uh, we need to make principally to, uh, persuade China that, uh, North Korea is really, uh, indirectly, at least, just as much a threat to them as it is to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the United States. Because as long as North Korea exists with nuclear weapons that instability in Northeast Asia will harm China’s own desire for its economic development. And it will ultimately induce even countries like Japan to consider the importance of getting nuclear weapons themselves in order to, uh, defend against the threat from North Korea.
Uh, but let’s, let’s follow the North Korean threat back into the Middle East. I mentioned Iran a moment ago. We will find out, I am certain, that that reactor the North Koreans were building in Syria, uh, was actually financed by Iran. And it was probably a three way joint venture, because after all, Iran has the same incentive that North Korea does to hide its nuclear weapons program from, uh, international inspection. Now Iran is a very different country than North Korea. It has enormous reserves of oil and natural gas. It has an ancient culture. Uh, it has a high degree, uh, of education for its citizens. It’s a very sophisticated country, even under the rule of the Islamic revolution of nineteen seventy-nine. And Iran, uh, sees itself as a major player, uh, in the Middle East, uh, within the struggle inside of Islam for dominance. And it aspires to be, uh, a global power. That’s one reason why its pursuit of nuclear weapons, in many respects, uh, is even more dangerous than North Korea’s, because Iran is not dependent, uh, on the outside world, in the case of North Korea, dependent on China. Iran could be uh, completely self sufficient and indeed is a major international supplier of oil and natural gas.
But Iran is also in the grip, uh, of a, uh, of its own form of totalitarianism, in this case, religious fanaticism that has over the past several years moved into a kind of military theocracy. The real power in Iran today is held by the Revolutionary Guards which are controlled by, uh, by military officials loyal to, uh, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now, we are almost exactly today, uh, on the fifteenth of June, one year after the election in Iran last year held on June twelfth that was quite obviously stolen by Ahmadinejad. And you’ll remember the pictures of the demonstrators in Tehran and other Iranian cities going out into the streets to protest the fraud that was, uh, was so evident. And, you know, when the, when the, when the people who went out, students, middle class people, uh, all over the country, uh, they didn’t begin their protest by, uh, calling for the overthrow of the regime itself, although the regime is very unpopular. They just thought, uh, that they ought to have a free and fair election. The regime’s response was to bring the Revolutionary Guards and their militia allies, the Basiji, into the streets, uh, resulting in, uh, hundreds and hundreds of deaths of, uh, innocent civilians, students, uh, uh, shop owners, uh, regular people who had probably never demonstrated in their lives. This was the real face of the regime in Iran. It is a dictatorship. It is essentially today a military dictatorship. Uh, and so effective was it in crushing the opposition, uh, that this past weekend on the first anniversary of that fraudulent election, uh, there were almost demonstrations at all. And that reflects the unfortunate reality that the Revolutionary Guard’s power in Iran is even more entrenched then it was before, and reflects also their growing confidence that their pursuit of nuclear weapons is getting closer and closer to success.
What will this mean when Iran gets nuclear weapons? Well, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, has himself, uh, announced that it’s his desire to wipe the State of Israel off the face of earth. Uh, he has held conferences in Iran with names like “The World Without the United States and Israel.” So, he’s made his intentions pretty clear. Uh, but even if Iran doesn’t use nuclear weapons against Israel, simple having nuclear weapons will exert a profound change on the balance of power, uh, in the Middle East. Uh, and if you don’t like the price of gasoline at what it is today, imagine Iran with hegemonic control, not only over its own oil and natural gas supplies, but exerting effective control over the supplies just across the Persian Gulf, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. That kind of power, uh, in the hands of this theocratic dictatorship in Iran could have a profoundly disturbing consequence for the American economy and the economy of Western Europe and, and the world as a whole. Moreover, if Iran gets nuclear weapons, and I think it’s very close to that point, uh, I don’t think we can count on being able to contain and deter Iran as we did the Soviet Union during the cold war. I think the calculus of the Mullahs, the Ayatollahs in Iran, is very different. Say what you want about the Communists, they were atheists, and they thought they only went around once in life. They weren’t about to throw that away too quickly. But if you believe, uh, as the Ayatollahs do, that life in the hereafter is a lot better than life on Earth, it’s pretty hard to deter somebody, uh, with that kind of approach. I like to think the American view, uh, is summed up in the, uh, Kenny Chesney song, uh, “Everybody want to go to Heaven, nobody want to go now.” That’s how deterrence works for us. It doesn’t work that way with the Iranians. But, even if I’m wrong on that, and Iran could be contained and deterred, it doesn’t stop with, uh, their achieving nuclear weapons status.
Other countries in the region will respond. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and perhaps others w
ill get nuclear weapons. So, in a very short period of time, five to ten years, you could have a multi-polar nuclear Middle East which almost guarantees, uh, because of the instability that’s the consequence of that, uh, display of nuclear weapons, uh, almost guarantees that somebody will decide to strike one of their neighbors before their neighbors decide to strike them. And that level of uncertainty and risk, uh, will no doubt have profound consequences, uh, for the global price of oil and other natural resources.
Moreover, the lesson that others will draw when they see that the United States is not able to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, when they see that Iran, despite U.S. sanctions, despite four, uh, sanction resolutions in the U.N. Security Council, despite sanctions by the European Union and Japan, still Iran is able to achieve nuclear weapons status. That will prove to every other would be proliferator, uh, that if they’re simply determined enough they too can obtain nuclear weapons. Uh, and that will inspire the terrorists groups, too, Al Qaeda and Taliban and others. So that the risk that we see here is a world that, despite the end of the cold war, doesn’t become more stable and more peaceful, uh, it becomes at greater risk because the threat of a terrorist with a nuclear weapon or a biological or a chemical weapon is far worse, even than the threat from terrorists, uh, who brought the attacks of nine eleven.
That’s why I think we are at a very critical point in the overall struggle, uh, against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And as I say, while it may seem distant from your concerns here and the concerns we face with our economy, uh, and with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, these are the forces that are shaping, uh, the rest of the world. These are the kinds of challenges that you will face, uh, as you grow into adulthood and take up your responsibilities as citizens. Uh, and that’s why thinking about, uh, the rest of the world, thinking about, uh, the challenges and opportunities that face America today and in the future, uh, is so important. Because if we’re not preparing for those challenges and opportunities now, when they finally come upon us we will be at much greater risk.
So, I congratulate you on your, uh, interest that brings you to Boys State, that leads you to participate, uh, in all of these activities. I hope you have a wonderful week here. And I hope you carry this forward with you, uh, when you leave and go back to your home.
Thank you very much. [applause]
Transcripts of the question and answer session will follow in subsequent posts.