U.S. President Bill Clinton summed up what he sees as America's hopes and challenges at the dawn of the 21st century in a speech Thursday night to the U.S. Congress. The 90-minute address focused largely on U.S. domestic policy issues. But it also outlined Clinton's hope for democracy and prosperity in Russia and China.
Washington, 28 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says America must continue to help its former Cold War adversaries -- Russia and China -- become stable and prosperous democracies.
Clinton made the comments Thursday night in his annual State of the Union address to both chambers of Congress, members of his cabinet, and other invited guests. In it, Clinton outlined the hopes and challenges he believes the United States faces at the dawn of the 21st century.
"We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis or so few external threats."
Pointing to a booming U.S. economy fueled by high employment, low inflation, and technological innovations that are the envy of the world, Clinton declared:
"My fellow Americans, the state of the union is the strongest it has ever been."
The bulk of the speech focused primarily on U.S. domestic issues. Clinton asked for big increases in spending on education, health care, and fighting crime. His Republican Party opponents in Congress said, however, that they are against large increases in government programs.
In his speech, Clinton said Russia and China face serious problems despite the collapse of communism in Europe and liberalization of Chinese economic policies.
"We must continue to encourage our former adversaries, Russia and China, to emerge as stable, prosperous, democratic nations. Both are being held back from reaching their full potential: Russia by the legacy of communism, economic turmoil, a cruel and self-defeating war in Chechnya; China by the illusion that it can buy stability at the expense of freedom."
"But think how much has changed in the past decade: 5,000 former Soviet nuclear weapons taken out of commission; thousands of former Soviet nuclear weapons eliminated; Russian soldiers serving with ours in the Balkans; Russian people electing their leaders for the first time in a thousand years. And in China, an economy more open to the world than ever before. No one can know for sure what direction these great countries will choose. But we must do everything in our power to increase the chance they will choose wisely, to be constructive members of the global community."
The American president said that for these reasons, the United States must continue to encourage democratic forces inside Russia.
"We must support those Russians struggling for a democratic, prosperous future; continue to reduce both our nuclear arsenals; and help Russia safeguard weapons and materials that remain."
Clinton urged Congress to support the agreement his administration negotiated to bring China into the World Trade Organization and to grant Beijing normal trading status. He said China's economy is more open now than ever before.
Concerning the Balkans, Clinton said America should be proud of the men and women of its armed forces and those of its allies for stopping ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. He said NATO military action enabled a million Kosovars to return to their homes.
One of the chief threats facing the civilized world, Clinton said, is international terrorism. He cited potential threats by such countries as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. The United States says these countries have been trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
"The same advances that have shrunk cell phones to fit in the palms of our hands can also make weapons of terror easier to conceal and easier to use. We must meet this threat: by making effective agreements to restrain nuclear and missile programs in North Korea, curbing the flow of lethal technology to Iran; preventing Iraq from threatening its neighbors; increasing our preparedness against chemical and biological attack; protecting our vital computer systems from hackers and criminals; and developing a system to defend against new missile threats -- while working to preserve our Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia."
The State of the Union address provides an opportunity for the president to share his vision of the nation and its place in the world. In it, the president proposes new programs or changes to existing ones.
The proposals then go to Congress, a legislative body that has its own priorities.
Both chambers of Congress are controlled by the Republicans. Clinton is a member of the Democratic Party. The situation is further complicated by the fact that 2000 is Clinton's last full year in office as president. Elections are scheduled in November. A new president and vice president will take office in January 2001.
Congress has the power to reject presidential requests - whether dealing with domestic or foreign policy matters - even those deemed crucial by the White House.
For example, in his speech last year, Clinton urged Congress to approve the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty dealing with nuclear weapons. Congress rejected the treaty.
Clinton also urged Congress in his last speech to pay U.S. debts to the United Nations. After much domestic politicking, Congress agreed to pay nearly $1 billion in arrears to the UN.