Opening Remarks for George C. Marshall Center Seminar

March 30, 2016

Good morning. I’d like to thank the George C. Marshall Center for organizing this seminar and inviting me to provide a few remarks. I actually offered to provide many remarks, but Dr. Zeneli assured me that a few would be sufficient. When I asked her what I should speak about, she said, “About five minutes.”

I am happy to see representatives from so many countries and so many ministries participating in this seminar. It reflects the importance of the issues that you will be tackling over the next two days. We are all vulnerable to threats against our economic security.

Economic stability and peace are intimately entwined. If you lose one, you are likely to lose the other. Peace is a necessary precondition for trade, sustained economic growth, and prosperity. In turn, economic stability, and a rising prosperity that is broadly shared—both within and among countries—can foster peace and expand international cooperation.

All too often, however, we are forced to deal with the negative consequences of economic and financial insecurity. Economic marginalization and destitution can lead to social unrest, political instability, a breakdown of democracy, or even war. Poverty and economic stagnation lead to desperation. Those with little hope of employment or a decent standard of living turn to other activities, including crime and violence. Competition for control over natural resources can also trigger conflict, while windfalls from natural resource wealth have been used to finance war.

As we have seen recently, migration flows can complicate economic cohesion. And it is important to recognize that this is a global phenomenon: there are currently over 60 million refugees or displaced persons worldwide. Taken all together, they would form the 24th largest country on earth!

Total dependence on others for key natural resources, such as energy, can make a country vulnerable to blackmail and crippling economic sanctions. That is why energy security has to be a key component of economic security in this region.

Corruption is another factor in economic insecurity that undermines inclusive economic growth and can breed instability. Corruption feeds organized crime, makes a mockery of good governance and rule of law, and undermines whole communities. It marginalizes people and compromises their future. Corruption flourishes when the criminal justice system and government are weak and inefficient, where decision-making is unaccountable, and where people are disenfranchised. So, combatting corruption and promoting economic growth are two essential components of national and international security.

Finally, cyber-security is an increasingly important component of economic security. As our economies become more modern, and IT plays an even larger part in our daily lives and our critical infrastructure, our vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks also increase.

These are all important concerns, but I prefer to revert back to the positive message. When people can put food on the table, and when they see opportunities for themselves and their children, they are also more likely to support moderate governments that favor steady improvements in living conditions, and turn away from radical revisionists likely to provoke international conflicts. Open markets for trade and investment also can lead to closer contacts and closer ties between people and communities. These ties in turn all increase stability.

So this is the challenge before you for the next two days. The issues I have enumerated, such as poverty, high unemployment levels, corruption, energy dependence, and vulnerability to cyber-attacks are all present in this region. I hope this seminar will help us all gain greater insights into the challenges we face, but also offer new directions to help build a more prosperous, economically secure region. The challenges in this area are not specific to the Balkans, but are in fact transnational and global. But I am convinced that the solutions will likely start at the national and regional level. EU integration is one step that is crucial, as is further trade liberalization through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact. Finding ways to encourage further foreign direct investment is also crucial. I am sure you will be able to identify other avenues to address these problems, and look forward to hearing the results of your efforts. Best of luck to all of you! Thank you.